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Successful Research Trips Part 2: What to Bring

This article contains handy suggestions for organizing all the paperwork you need to bring on your trip, including maps, previous research, family information, research logs, etc., as well as some other items that you might find helpful.


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There are several items necessary to bring on a research trip, beginning with papers! First, you need a map (probably several) so you know where you're going. It's very frustrating to waste time getting lost. Obtain maps of the states and cities you will visit and highlight your route. Use a mapping website such as to get directions between destinations. I use a two-pocket folder with my itinerary on one side and directions on the other, in the order I plan to visit everything. You might also have one place for all your maps so you can find what you need in a hurry.

I like to use folders for other things, too. I create a different folder for each family (husband, wife and children) I plan to research. I put a family group record, summary of previous research, and copies of any documents I want for reference in the folder. I often include research notes or questions that I want to find answers to. I can add new information to the folder as I find it. You could use a binder with clear page protectors instead.

For each repository that I plan to visit, such as a library or courthouse, I make another folder. I include the basic information—address, hours of operation, research policies, etc. I also make a research log specific to that location and fill it out before I go! This is where online library catalogs are especially handy. I can write down the title, author, publishing info, call number, and what I'm looking for (surnames, dates, etc.) If you only have a general idea of the sources available, write down as much as you know. For example, when you visit a courthouse you might list marriage indexes, deed indexes, probate indexes, estate packets, or death records. This will help you remember everything you wanted to search.

I find this method extremely helpful when I am on location because I can use my time more efficiently. If you are researching ten different families from Arkansas at the state library, it is difficult to remember which records you want to look up for which people. I like to write all the surnames I'm interested in at the top of my research log, so when I look through indexes I can make sure I remember all of them (I always include collateral lines, so for a family with six married children you could easily have ten surnames to look for). For research trips, I organize my research logs by location instead of family so that I only have one paper to keep track of. Otherwise I'd have to keep flipping between ten research logs and would certainly get confused!

Sometimes it may be helpful to create a folder for each state. You might include research guides such as LDS Research Outlines, copies of the statewide section from Ancestry's Redbook, and maps from each census year showing the county outlines. I find it useful to have this information at my fingertips if I have any questions about state history, genealogical records or repositories while I'm traveling (and it's a lot lighter than bringing along several big books!)

If your destinations include any cemeteries, plan for the unexpected. On our trip we visited a couple of very overgrown cemeteries (picture climbing over fallen trees and walking through waist-high grass). If we weren't prepared with good shoes, gloves, and an old paintbrush to sweep away dirt, we would never have found the gravestones we were looking for. It would have been helpful to have some small yard clippers for cutting away grass and branches. Even if you don't know which cemeteries your ancestors were buried in, you might find the information along the way, so it's a good idea to be prepared just in case!

Besides all the paperwork, there are other things you might want to bring:

• A camera (film or digital) for taking pictures of people, gravestones, buildings, etc.

• A video camera or tape recorder for interviews. Consider using a separate microphone for better audio quality.

• Small bills and change for copy machines (have plenty on hand each day).

• A water bottle and snacks for the car, or a small cooler for drinks and lunches.

• Something to entertain children or adults while waiting.

• Your favorite research supplies—notebook, pencils, colored paper for help reading microfilm, a bag to hold everything.

This may seem like a lot to organize and bring with you, but being able to find the information you need when you are on-site is worth it! I hope these tips will help you be successful on your next research excursion.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

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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