In less than a week, I am taking off for a little genealogy trip out east. This trip, I will be researching my maternal side of the family. A few years back, my dad and I went on a road trip out west to research his family, and a year prior to that, he and I took a short weekend trip to Illinois to do some research. As my trip gets closer, I’ve been starting to plan a research strategy. Since I’ll be flying several states away from my home town, I want to make the most of my time.
TIPS I’VE LEARNED TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL GENEALOGY ROAD TRIP
- Create a research plan. I have made a list of the records I want to find, the people I want to research, and the places I want to visit. I have found out which records are available where, and made note of specific details like call number, etc, if possible. This time around, I have adapted a spreadsheet as a research plan. I’ve made a calendar of the days I will be on the ground out east and included the opening hours of all the places I’d like to visit. I also mapped out the locations I want to visit so I can hit up places that are geographically close together and therefore minimize back tracking.
- Make contact before I depart. I have emailed the archives I plan on visiting before I leave to make sure they have will be open, clear up copying fees, and clarify special rules I need to be aware of. On the first trip with my dad, in order to see church records, we had to make an appointment. We learned the courthouse doesn’t allow cellphones in the building so knew to store them safely away. Some places may only allow a certain number of people in research rooms, some don’t allow pens, or scanners or cameras. It’s best to know before I go.
- Prioritize. This means doing some research before I leave. Since my trip involves a flight, I don’t want to get home and realize I missed something. In order to maximize our time, Dad and I had a list of the top questions we needed answered. We prioritized the records that weren’t available online or would otherwise be difficult to obtain. This trip I might visit some cemeteries, even though there are already photos on Find A Grave. That will be low priority, but if I have time, I’ll do it.
- Be flexible. When dad and I went out west, we stumbled upon a historical society we didn’t know existed. They turned out to be a wealth of information, and since it was a very, very small town, they knew the families we were researching. They told us we needed to go visit with an elderly relative who lived nearby and even got her phone number for us. We also learned that a general store had a sort of local museum in the basement and the walls were covered in old (labeled) photos, including some of our ancestors. These stops weren’t originally in our plan, but they turned out to be valuable.
- Bring snacks. We were so busy skipping to and from sites that we didn’t even think about lunch. But when our stomachs started to grumble, I had snacks ready to go and dad had a cooler of drinks. Genealogy fuel!
- Take a risk. At the courthouse, we found death listings for a man and a lady with our family name but we weren’t certain if they were part of our family. We ended up requesting the death certificates anyways, figuring we could at least rule them out. Turns out the man was our family member, but the lady was not. Boy am I glad we didn’t pass on those death certificates!
- Pay it forward. On both trips with my dad, we visited cemeteries. After visiting our ancestor’s graves, my dad turned to me and asked if there were any requests for photos on the Find A Grave website. And each time, I whipped out a list I had in my pocket. I have requested photos on the website before, so I feels it’s just good karma to pay it back when I can. I will do the same on my upcoming trip.
- Don’t forget the living. While searching for dead people I managed to learn more about my dad along the way as well. We also had the serendipity of meeting our older relative who the locals led us to. On my upcoming trip, I will try to meet with my great uncle. I am also going to interview my aunt. A few weeks after returning from our trip out west, my dad received news that his aunt had passed away. You never know when someone won’t be around.