1. Allen County Public Library (ACPL)
Where: Fort Wayne¸ Indiana
Why go: The ACPL contains the country's second-largest genealogy department. Holdings include census records, passenger lists, city directories, military records from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, Native-American records, African-American records, and Canadian records. They also carry Colonial newspapers and some records from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany.
As a partner with the Family History Library, they also have access to more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, which they can provide for a small fee. Patrons also have access to nine online databases, including Ancestry.com, Footnote, and NewEnglandAncestors.org.
Planning the Trip: Fort Wayne's website www.visitfortwayne.com promotes the city's genealogical offerings in a big way. "Genealogy" earns its own green tab near the top of the page, along with "What to Do" and "Where to Stay".
The genealogy page explains not only what the ACPL can do for genealogists, but suggests what a genealogist's spouse and kids can do – zoos, ballparks, museums, shopping and more. If the family isn't as thrilled with the idea of a genealogy vacation as you are, Fort Wayne might be a good choice, especially for people living in the Midwest.
2. Family History Library (FHL)
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
Why go: It's the Family History Library. Genealogical Mecca. The largest library of its kind in the world. Millions of records, hundreds of thousands of books, a team scouring the world constantly bringing in more records.
The real question to ask is why shouldn't you go to the Family History Library, and there are reasons not to, or at least to wait. Many genealogists will tell you that the Library, at 142,000 square feet spread over five floors, is overwhelming, even to seasoned pros. A visit to the FHL requires preparation and prioritizing.
Make sure you have explored all records available to you locally before you think of the FHL; you don't want to waste time at the FHL chasing records your local archives could give you when there is a dazzling array of international and rare records you could be looking up instead.
The Library itself recommends that you visit your local Family History Center before heading to Salt Lake City. This will help you get used to the microfiche, materials, and organization systems used by the FHL ,and will help you plan your time at the Library better. Since some materials must be pre-ordered, it will also help you plan which records you would like waiting for you.
Planning the Trip: Head to www.visitsaltlake.com for a trip planner that offers a special genealogy theme, listing accommodations, dining, and attractions specific to a family history researcher. Rest your cursor on the "Visit" tab at the top of the page and a menu will pop up with a genealogy option. On that page, you can learn more about the FHL, plan your trip, and even look up genealogy services in Salt Lake, besides the FHL. There is also a widget on nearly every page allowing you to book hotels, flights, and event tickets through travelocity.
3. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Where: Washington D.C., St. Louis MO, and smaller, local locations across the country
Why go: NARA is the repository for federal records, including about 9 billion pages of text, 7.2 million maps, charts and drawings, and 20 million photographs. According to NARA, the most requested record collections are census records, military service records, immigration, naturalization, passport applications, land records, and bankruptcy records.
Planning the Trip: With 33 locations across the country, where your trip will take you depends on what you're looking for. The Washington D.C. location houses most records, but only contains military records from the American Revolution to 1912. Military records covering World War I to the present are kept in the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Also, naturalization records before 1906, immigration records before 1820, and land transfer records for several states may not have taken place under federal jurisdiction and so would not be in Washington D.C. NARA's local archives and regional affiliates may have the local records you are looking for, but you need to find out first. NARA's website offers the page www.archives.gov/locations/where-records-are.html to help you determine which locations hold the records you are looking for, and they encourage a phone call to your proposed destination, as well, for more information.
Like the FHL and the Allen County Public Library, NARA requires research and preparation before you plan a trip to visit. Then again, the armfuls of information you come home with after a carefully-planned trip will make every moment worthwhile.