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Genealogy on the Road

No vacation is complete if it does not have some sort of genealogical component to it. Here are some ideas for those with RVs getting ready to go on a genealogical adventure!


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Well, it's that time of the year where everyone seems to be busier than ever and most likely it's because they are planning a trip of some kind. Much to the chagrin of my family, I feel like no vacation is complete if it does not have some sort of genealogical component to it.

One of the ways we save money on our vacations is by using our travel trailer. Recreational vehicles or RVs allow you to bring the comforts of home with you, besides saving money on accommodations and food. RVs also allow you to set up a base of operations for your genealogical vacation. With an RV, you can bring more things with you then you could if you were flying to your destination.

My opinion is that at the very least, for your genealogical vacation, you need to pack a laptop computer and a camera. A laptop allows you to bring your genealogical database and research notes and provides you access to the Internet. The other thing I like about bringing a laptop is that I can update my research calendars while I research, instead of waiting until I arrive home.

Those without a laptop computer can make do with a 3-ring binder that includes paper to for taking notes and copies of their pedigree charts and family group sheets. On one trip to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, when I did not own a laptop, I prepared a research guide for the family I was going to research. Information in this guide included a pedigree chart and family group sheet; a timeline for each member of the family with information on what I knew and how I knew it (what resources I had already checked); maps of the area the family lived in; printouts of resources that the FHL had that I needed (such as microfilm numbers and descriptions and books). I also added some photocopies (never take originals) of various documents that I thought might be helpful to me as I researched. I took all of this information and went down to my local copy center and had it copied and bound with a plastic comb (spiral) binding to make it easy to use.

As you prepare for your research trip, you may pack differently according to what type of research you are doing. For example, are you checking out local cemeteries? If so, what you need will differ from a trip where you will be in libraries. Some ideas for what to take include:

For a library or research facility trip:

· Laptop computer

· Flash drive (or some way to back up your files)

· Folder or 3-ring binder to store photocopies in

· Pencils

· Rolls of coins for photocopier

· Some sort of snack (granola bars work nicely)

For a trip to a cemetery I would recommend:

· Laptop computer (for looking up information on your database and recording findings)

· Camera, preferably a digital camera

· Soft brush (for wiping debris off tombstones so pictures come out better)

· Bottle of water (to wash off dirty tombstones)

· Bug Spray (some states have killer mosquitoes!)

For a family reunion or a visit with relatives I recommend:

· Laptop computer

· Digital camera

· Hand-held tape recorder or other voice recording devise (could also bring a camcorder)

· Scanner

Another item, which can help you on a genealogy trip, is a cell phone. I know my family would rather eat mud then sit and watch me research, so usually my family drops me off and then I call them to come and get me when I am finished. This allows them the freedom to go have fun and allows me uninterrupted time.

A recent trip to the Midwest afforded us the opportunity to not only participate in a family reunion for my husband's side of the family but also hear family stories and legends and have access to photos and documents. We had brought with us a flatbed scanner, which surprised some family members. Scanners are relatively inexpensive now and I recommend investing in an inexpensive multipurpose computer printer and scanner. These can often be had for under $100.00. They come in really handy when you are visiting relatives that either don't have computer technology to scan photos or don't have the time or inclination to do it. In minutes you can hook up the scanner to your laptop computer, or their computer, and scan family photos. Once finished, you can then offer to burn CDs for family members so that everyone has copies. I also recommend sitting down with the photo owner and take notes for each photos scanned, identifying the people in the photograph and the possible date the picture was taken.

RVs don't provide you with a lot of room to acquire stuff, so you might want to limit what you take and then make a plan for what you pick up along the way. I know for me, it can get pretty crowded in there after I have made several trips that include book purchases or acquiring photos and documents from family members. One way to deal with the extra cargo is to make a pre-vacation trip to your local U.S. Post Office and obtain some Priority Mail flat-rate boxes. You can purchase postage for these boxes ahead of time, if you like, either at the post office or online at . You can also order these boxes to be delivered to your home for free through the U.S. Postal Service's web site. You can then use them to mail back books or other items that you don't immediately need or want to get out of the way.

One of the niceties that makes camping not as "rough" as it use to be is that many campgrounds now try to provide a home-like atmosphere so roughing it isn't really roughing it. Many campgrounds have either WIFI or some sort of Internet system so that you can check e-mail, consult genealogy web sites, or conduct last minute research.

To save money on camping accommodations, consider such discount/membership cards as AAA, , the KOA Value Kard,, or the Good Sam Club, Each organization has a membership card that can help save you money on campgrounds and other services. Campground guides with listings for campgrounds throughout the United States are available from such places as KOA and Travel Life,>.

Remember when you get back it will be time to organize and review all that you have found. An article that may be of help to you is, "A Genealogist's Post-Vacation Checklist" on at It has some great tips for what to do with your research once you return home from your vacation.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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