AncestorNews: Readers’ Advice for Genealogy Trips

AncestorNews: Readers’ Advice for Genealogy Trips

Last week I wrote about a road trip I'm planning to Kansas and Missouri. Although my main goal is to get photos of where my great-great-grandparents are buried, I also want to poke into a few courthouses along the way. I asked everyone for suggestions for my trip and...

Last week I wrote about a road trip I’m planning to Kansas and Missouri. Although my main goal is to get photos of where my great-great-grandparents are buried, I also want to poke into a few courthouses along the way.

I asked everyone for suggestions for my trip and wow, did I get some great ideas! When Rachel Lattimore-Hasenyager wrote me about her trip from Illinois to New York, I could hardly wait for my own: “I came home with boxes of pictures, two Bibles (not filled with information, but a meaningful memento to me), my great-grandmother’s teapot and her cup and saucer, and so much more!”

As you might remember, the burial plot I want to photograph is on private property. Reader Sharon Howell suggested, “Contact the farmer now, by letter. What if you show up and he’s not there? Go through the fields anyway and hope there are no disgruntled animals? (Think bull, new mothers, etc.) This way you can have a letter in hand to show the nosy neighbor who’s watching the house while the farmer is away, or the deputy who stops you because a strange car is on his uncle’s land.”

Mark of Indianapolis, Ind., reminded me to load up my Handspring Visor with GedStar so I could carry all of my family data in a palm-sized machine. Thanks Mark! I already use GedStar and love it.

Don suggested: “Write out a plan and stick to it, or you may not get everything you want to get done. I ran into this last year when I went from California to Michigan to visit new relatives and old ones, and had a plan in my head of things to do. Well, I find when visiting people, they have things to do, and you end up working around their schedules, which keeps you from doing what you planned. Lost opportunities can kind of gnaw at you later. Good luck with your trip and take plenty of pictures, and not just of tombstones. Don’t forget the areas your ancestors lived in.”

While the cemetery is my primary destination, JumpinBeej reminded me, “Give yourself time to do things, see people and research. People are my first priority as they are not here for long. Talk to them, get their stories. Libraries are always there. Old cemeteries are also second on my list, as so many have old gravestones that are deteriorating with the wind, rain, fallout, acid rain and the elements.”

Linda Huss shared her valuable experience with me&#151and I’d like to pass it along to all our readers:

“I do a road trip every May. I live in Michigan and my ancestors are all from Wisconsin and Minnesota. I have found that the most important thing about the trip is to be flexible, have a good map, and a national Internet connection. The first two years I did this I used local libraries in the towns I was researching to connect to the Internet to get my e-mail and do research, but this can be difficult in really small towns where people sign up for Internet time weeks in advance.

“I have always taken my computer with me, and recently have added an iPaq that also has my files on it. The iPaq is much easier to carry around when you don’t anticipate a large volume of input. Even though you think you know what and whom you are researching, it’s Murphy’s law that someone other than who you planned will play a part. It’s nice to have the files handy, not back at the hotel or the place you are staying.

“I have stayed at both family homes and motels in my travels, and motels are much easier for the research. The relatives you are staying with can be loads of fun and sometimes are sources of new information, but they also can take you away from the time you want to spend doing the research and getting the rest you need to ‘do-it-in-one-trip.’ I try and mix it up: a few days with relatives and a few days in the hotels with data port access.

“In the small towns where my relatives once lived but no longer do, I try and take lots of pictures and read the old newspapers that are available. I also like to try and find a small ‘mom and pop’-type restaurant and just listen to the conversations around me as I regroup.

“These towns may only be the site of the original homestead or a birth or death place, but my ancestors walked on this ‘soil’ and now I am walking on it too.

“Do write or call ahead to the county clerks to reserve your time in their files, and also make sure you have the hours of operation for the libraries and historical museums. One year I went to county historical museum, only to find out that the hours posted on their Web site were no longer valid and they were closed when I got there. Also, if you are getting church records, know in advance their availability. If you are lucky, new avenues of research will become apparent while you are on the road&#151this is where the flexibility comes in.

“This May will be my fifth genealogy ‘Spring Trip’ and at this point I am still planning the itinerary. I really look forward to the time on the road and the connecting with my ‘roots.’ Some would say that all the information I get on these trips could be obtained via letter writing, but it is so much more fun for me to get it in person. Hope you enjoy your trip, and that you find all the information you need.”

Nancy Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of two astronomy books. Her Web site is at E-mail her at

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