3 Pre-trip Steps for Making the Most of Your Research Trip

By Drew Smith

Summer is the perfect time for taking road trips, including journeying to record repositories and libraries. Co-host of The Genealogy Guys podcast and author Drew Smith shares some thoughts about how to best plan for research trips.

In a time when documents from all over the world are being digitized and made available to us in online databases, we might not spend much time thinking about the need to travel to physical repositories, near and far. Libraries, archives, courthouses, cemeteries and churches continue to hold materials that may never be scanned during our lifetimes, and this means that eventually we genealogists need to pack up our travel kits and hit the road for hours, days or even weeks to accomplish our research goals.

But before you put the first piece of clothing in a suitcase—or even worry about which chargers to bring—you need to knock out a few quick tasks before planning the rest of a research trip;

  1. Do as much online research as you can. There is no point in wasting a single moment of precious research trip time in viewing materials that we could have seen from the comfort of our own research workspace at home.
  2. Learn all you can about each repository’s online catalog, including how to use it. This will help you not only do preparatory research, but also make you proficient in checking it when you’re at the physical repository. You should also read (and if possible, download) a copy of the finding aids for the research collections you plan to use. These finding aids will describe the scope of each collection, and may identify the specific boxes and folders you’ll want to request when at the repository. In some cases, you may want to request that the repository pull the items you so you can have them as soon as we walk in the door, saving you time better spent on examining the materials.
  3. Study the repository’s hours, rules and regulations. What can’t you bring into a repository’s research room? Can you make an appointment with an archivist or member of the staff? How long is the repository open? Knowing answers to these questions ahead of your visit will free you to do more research when you’re actually at the archive. Specifically, you might even email the repository in advance with your planned dates of visit and the kinds of records you’re looking for. The repository can then inform you of any unusual closures for local events or renovations, or if records you want to use are actually located elsewhere.

When you’re done with all of this pre-trip research work, you’re finally ready to create your research itinerary, book your flights and hotels, and think about what to pack. Safe travels!

Learn more about planning research trips and organizing your travel by purchasing your copy of Drew’s Organize Your Genealogy today.