Genealogy is my passion, but my “real job” is that of a travel consultant. I help families plan their vacations. So the idea of combining these two loves of mine is a “natural.” Here are a few tips to help your research trip/family vacation be successful:
Plan in advance: If at all possible, plan your trip several months in advance. This gives you time to research ahead of the trip, and to order/receive anything that will help make your trip go more smoothly.
Study Up On The Ancestors: The first thing to do is research as much as possible about your ancestors in the area you are visiting. The more information you gather ahead of time, then the better your list of questions to be answered or documents to look for will be.
Study Up On The Area: Next, learn all you can about the area you will be visiting. Pour over maps of the area, so that it will feel familiar to you when you arrive. Find out what resources are available to you in the area, like libraries, courthouses, churches, cemeteries, archives, historical societies, local genealogical organizations, etc. If possible, contact these resources before you go – to find out what their hours are, what days they are open, and what rules they have that might apply to your research. Sometimes libraries and archives have their genealogical materials listed on their website, so you can have your list already made out before you go. If not, then it’s a good idea to give them a call, explain what you’re looking for, and make a personal contact. Those personal contacts can make all the difference in a small community! When you get there, try to follow up and meet your "local contacts." It's very possible that these people will become your new friends, and even if that doesn't happen, it's nice to build some good will.
Check in With the Message Boards: And speaking of locals, I’ve found that asking for trip advice on the county Rootsweb message board is very helpful. Many of the most active participants on a given county’s board or mailing list will be local, or (or at least used to be!). They can give you directions to cemeteries, advice on local motels and restaurants, and even activity suggestions for the rest of your family to do while you’re researching!
This brings me to another important point: BALANCE. If you are traveling by yourself or with a research-buddy, you’ll probably be happy spending each and every day in front of a microfilm reader or tromping around cemeteries, but if this is a family vacation, chances are not everyone else will! Check out the area for other sightseeing opportunities or activities to enjoy. Include downtime in your schedule! For ideas, check out the state's tourism website. Most states will send you a free vacation planner -- and that will give you some ideas of what's available for the "non-genealogy" days.
Packing List: I’m sure you’ve seen this list before, but here’s a list of things you want to be sure to bring with you:
- Digital Camera, with extra memory cards, extra batteries and the charger.
- Laptop Computer or PDA with Genealogical software: Both, if you have them. The laptop is great to have in the evenings for entering your information as your find it. But the PDA is handy to take with you into libraries, courthouses, etc. It fits in your pocket so when you get up to move to the stacks or the microfilm room, you don’t have to worry about the security of your computer.
- A Good Mapping Program. I use Microsoft Street & Trips, but there are others that you might like as well. Many of the mapping programs now have GPS features that could come in very handy. For European maps, I've been pleased with Multimap.
- The Usual Cemetery Gear: Old shoes or boots, long pants, water bottles (both kinds – the kind you drink, and the kind you squirt on headstones), insect repellant, and sunscreen.
There are lots of good tips that I haven’t covered yet, but I’d be interested in hearing yours! If you have a favorite genealogy trip suggestion that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment.