By Lynda Rego
I was hoping to have time for a research trip or two this summer. Just to towns in New England. A couple of previous trips taught me what to do — and not do.
First things first
Obviously, the more research you do in advance, the more productive the trip will be. Before I went on a trip to Albany, N.Y., I researched heavily online for weeks to track down anything I could find in advance. You don’t want to spend precious time on your trip looking for something that’s already online.
The trip to Albany also was a learning experience on researching away from home. It was offered by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and they asked us to present a list of what we hoped to accomplish. It made me focus on what I hoped to find and forced me to make lists of what I was missing and where there were gaps in my research.
Check out the library, town hall, historical society, churches, graveyards (and their caretakers or office or church office) in advance. Get their hours and rules on copying, photographing and what you can bring in.
Many sites allow you to access their online catalogs. This saves you valuable time at the repository. Before I go to the NEHGS library in Boston, I search extensively online and print out call numbers, etc., on any books, manuscripts or records I want to look at when I get there. And, if there are things that need to be ordered in advance or only certain hours of the day, you will have a headstart.
And, it doesn’t hurt to speak to someone at the historical society, library or church and ask their advice if you have questions the websites don’t answer (or if they don’t have a helpful site).
What to take
A bookbag, briefcase or small zippered carrier is ideal for holding all your charts, laptop, cords, etc. I have a small one just to take to a library with dividers that allow me to file each family group separately. Just make sure bags aren’t so big they won’t fit in a locker if you need to store them at some repositories.
I bring my laptop and all of my paper charts, too, just in case. I take some notes, but enter most found information right into my genealogy program on the laptop.
I have a list of things I bring with me, which I tweak after each trip — Post-It notes, pencils (most libraries and archives don’t allow pens), pencil sharpener, a good eraser, extra batteries, and paper clips (I use plastic covered clips for my genealogy paperwork).
Most genealogical facilities no longer require change for copiers. You can buy a card and put money on it and use the card, or you can copy directly onto a flash drive you bring with you. But, some smaller libraries might require dimes or quarters. Check ahead.
Bring your digital camera; but, first make sure you’re allowed to use it at the library or repository you’re visiting. If you haven’t used it to take pictures of books or paperwork, practice at home until you know which settings to use and what works best. At the NEHGS library, I use the copiers to copy from books onto a flash drive I bring with me; but, the camera is good for taking photos of maps or photographs, which don’t copy well.
And, of course, the camera is necessary for taking pictures of old houses, gravestones and other things you might discover on your trip!
Finally, even if you don’t like or use research logs, take some with you. Write down where you searched and if you did or didn’t find anything.
I also use the call number sheets I printed out in advance and note on them if the item was a dead-end or successful. If I have copies of what I found, I paperclip them to the call sheet or make a note that I copied information to the flash drive. The sheets save time, again, because you don’t have to write down all the source information.
Don’t forget to make a note of the sources of everything you find. If I make copies of pages from a book, I copy the title page and publisher’s page if there is one.
I like to print out a couple of maps (even if I have GPS in the car). The GPS route isn’t always the best bet. I use Map Quest and Google and pick the route that’s best for me, depending on where I want to stop (and the type of driving I like — not too much interstate).
With Google Earth, Maps and Street View, you can see particular buildings and houses before you go. With a satellite view, get the lay of the land at cemeteries you plan to visit and see an entire town for an overview of where things are located and what you might want to search out.
Use www.epodunk.com, one of my favorite go-to websites for a new place I’m not familiar with. Type in the name of any city and state, and you get an historic postcard with a view of that city, along with a little history, population, other current information, and a list of historical societies, libraries, historic sites, museums, cemeteries, hospitals and much more.
I research some restaurants in the area where I can eat or get take-out. If you’re staying at a hotel or B&B, the proprietors are also a good source of information.
Down the road
For your next trip or trips, think about what you want to accomplish. I keep a folder online and one in my file cabinet called “Research Possibilities” with leads or ideas, things I want to track down, or dodgy information I got from a family member that needs to be verified.
Then, if I have a chance to go to Boston (or a research trip is offered to a particular city or institution), I check both files to see if I can accomplish any of my goals there before going through my trees in search of missing links.
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