What to Bring When You Hit the Road for Genealogy

By Diane Haddad

This time of year marks the start of genealogy road trip trip season, whether it’s to a conference—the National Genealogical Society annual conference is in Richmond, Va., May 7-10—or to a library.

As you plan this year’s genealogy travels, here are things I’ve found useful to bring (or not bring) when attending conferences and going to libraries over the years:

  • Extra layer. No telling whether a conference classroom or library will be sweltering or over-air-conditioned, so bring a sweater.
  • Early-bird mindset. If you want to sit somewhere in particular for a class, arrive early to secure your spot. For some speakers, such as Elizabeth Shown Mills or Tom Jones, it’s a good idea to arrive early if you want to sit at all.
  • Extra bag. “I wish I had another bag” is a common comment by genealogists who pick up freebies and make purchases from Family Tree Magazine at conferences. Carry an extra tote bag around with you for purchases, handouts, syllabi, etc.
  • Small comforts. Other things you might wish you had include hand sanitizer, tissues, a bottle of water (concessions can be pricey), address labels (for entering prizes at a conference), Dramamine (to help with microfilm reader motion sickness), your headache remedy of choice, gum (for a conference; it’s usually a no-no in libraries), and more-comfortable shoes.
  • Drink and a snack. I rarely want to stop my research to go get lunch, and sometimes there’s no place to get lunch even if I want a break. You can leave water and a granola bar in the car for consumption outside, if there’s no snack room.
  • Only what’s allowed. Visit a repository website ahead of time for info on what you can bring inside, whether you can use a cell phone or digital camera to photograph records, and how you’ll make copies (such as on a photocopier or scanner). Also double-check hours, any special closures, and whether materials are pulled from storage at particular times.

  • As little as possible. It doesn’t always work, but I try to carry around only the “stuff” I really need at the library, so I’ll have less to keep an eye on and can minimize fumbling around. Usually I have:
    • my phone to access my tree, attached records and research log (I download any important documents to my phone in case I can’t get a signal at my destination).
    • a little purse with my phone, a flash drive for digital copies, bills and change for copiers or copy cards
    • a pen or pencil and a notebook with my prioritized list of materials I need to find, with pertinent notes about the people I’m looking for
    • depending where I’m going, maybe a tablet in a computer bag, but I do tend to be more of a paper-and-pen note taker
  • Knowledge from the locals. If you’re going to a repository, cemetery or conference that’s new to you, ask local genealogists what you should know before you go. You might get inside info on the best place to park and eat lunch, staying safe, or a librarian who’s especially knowledgeable in your research area. If you don’t know anyone to ask, a genealogy pal might be able to put you in contact with a helpful person, or you could friend the local genealogical society on Facebook.
  • Back-up plans. Plan where you’ll park, and where you’ll park if you can’t find a spot there.