Preparation is the Key to a Successful Genealogy Vacation

by Bob Brooke

Combining a summer vacation with a genealogy research trip cannot only be rewarding but fun for you and your family. Regardless of whether you travel 25 or 2,500 miles to do research, there are many things you should do at home in preparation for your trip.

Adequate preparation for any trip can prevent frustration and aggravation along the way, as well as making it more productive. Deciding what branch of the family or person to focus on is the first part of the planning process. Having a purpose in mind for your trip will help to keep you focused and make the planning easier. The more you plan, the better your trip will be.

Once you've decided which region you'd like to visit, make certain that you become familiar with record sources there. The LDS Family History Library offers research guides that provide excellent background information for most geographic areas. And don't forget to take the research guide along with you.

In addition, check your local library for books about the county or state to which you're traveling. It may also be beneficial to check out city or county Web pages to assist in travel preparations.

If you're planning to visit libraries, look and see if they have their catalog available online. Searching it before your trip should provide information about specific books, so you can spend your time in the library more efficiently. Also, check out the Library of Congress Card Catalog to determine what books have been published on the county or area you're planning to visit, so that you can look them up in the local library you'll be visiting. Write the libraries that don't have online information to find out about their genealogical collection and hours of operation.

Don't forget to contact county courthouses, libraries, and other record repositories you plan to visit to determine their office hours. There's nothing more frustrating than to get to a destination and find it closed for whatever reason.

Are you planning on taking photographs of tombstones or making tombstone rubbings on your trip? If you are, and you've never taken a photograph of a tombstone or made a tombstone rubbing, practice on some local stones before you leave. The time to learn isn't at a cemetery 2,000 miles from home, on the last day of your trip.

Be sure to check sources where you live. Does your local library have any statewide indexes or published records for the area you're visiting? Searching these indexes before you leave may provide microfilm roll numbers or book page numbers which will cut down on research time while on your trip. Your local library may even have a book or two that may be useful in your planning.

And don't just concentrate on libraries, courthouses, and cemeteries. Frequently, genealogists ignore regional archives or regional libraries that may contain useful records.

Also, take your genealogical charts with you, but leave your original documents at home. Fill out the family group charts, pedigree charts, and research logs as completely as you can. Traveling a distance to check a source you've already checked is a waste of time.

Be sure you have all your genealogical and office supplies you need. There are some courthouses, etc., that don't allow pens to be used, so bring pencils-either use a mechanical one or bring a sharpener. You'll also need blank charts and forms for use during your trip. Family group charts, pedigree charts, research logs, and abstract and extract forms may prove useful. You'll probably not be able to find these on your trip unless you're traveling to a major genealogical center.

You can take advantage of the American Automobile Association trip mapping service or use one of several computer mapping programs-Rand McNally Trip Finder or DeLorme Street Atlas--to plan your itinerary. Planning it should be an integral part of the research process. It's one thing to have to take a detour because of road construction. It's quite another to miss an important genealogical society's library because they were closed for vacation.

Finally, plan something for the rest of the family to do while you're doing research. Caroline Lewis Kardell, general historian for the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Plymouth, Massachusetts, says a member of a family will often come to the library to do genealogical research while the rest of the family tours the Mayflower II, Pilgrim Hall and Plimoth Plantation, all local sights. Or get them to join in on tombstone rubbing and picture taking.

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