Have you ever gone on a research trip for your family history? Next week I am going on my first trip. I am so excited. I knew my children wouldn’t be so my dad has been nice enough to care for them and the dog while my husband and I head to Bedford County, Pennsylvania (about 4 hours from our home) so I can do a cemetery search and hopefully find original land and probate records from my relatives who passed away over a hundred years ago.
Having never gone on a trip like this before, I am sure there are lots of mistakes that I am making, so I decided to watch a very informative webinar by Family Tree Webinars that was given by Nicka Smith entitled “Get Set, GO! Planning and Executing a Successful Research Trip”. I was amazed at how many things I hadn’t really thought of doing, so that’s when I started getting my ducks in a row.
I then turned to the book I purchased about a month ago, “Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher” by Drew Smith (after listening to the Genealogy Guys Podcast I realized how knowledgeable he is, AND he sat next to me at the Meet and Greet at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in early May). In his book, Drew has an entire chapter dedicated to getting organized for a research trip.
Both Nicka and Drew have various details in common: stay focused on what you are going there to research, have a plan, call ahead – make sure the places you are going to research are open the day that you are planning on going, AND find out if what you want to research is on site for you to look through, space can be limited for historical documents and it’s entirely possible that the land records from 1873 are off-property but if you call a few days in advance, they could have them waiting there for you when you plan on being there.
“Focus” was the word. Bright, shiny objects are always a threat when you are researching but can especially happen when you are on a research trip. This is where apps like Evernote or OneNote can come in handy – note your find, mark down the book you found your information in and either come back to it if you found everything you were looking for – or look for it on another trip.
I know I am presently still figuring out all that I need to look at. I have so many empty holes for specific people at various points in my tree that I am a bit overwhelmed at what exactly I am going to be looking for. Besides visiting the Bedford County Courthouse (which is my second visit) it has been highly recommended to me to visit the Bedford County Historical Society. I have a feeling that I may end up finding a bunch of information at the Historical Society, but I am not 100% certain what all they have (I keep getting snippets of information in my Facebook Group that they have a lot. The Historical Society also acts as the Genealogical Society as well).
Questions to Ask
- What hours are they open (you can’t always go by what their website states)?
- Am I able to take photos of what I find with my phone?
- If I can’t, how much does it cost to make copies?
- Is everything I may want to research available, or are there items I need to request in advance?
You want to be as prepared as you can possibly be for your trip, as you don’t want to have driven a long way and be disappointed.
Another tip that I read in a Genealogy Gems blog by Lisa Louise Cooke is to be patient. Things may not go as smoothly as you envisioned in your head (things seldom do) but if you keep a good mindset and roll with the punches, it will allow you to have a wonderful trip.
Below is a very simplistic page I created (reminiscent of one in the webinar by Nicka Smith) as a way to keep me focused on my cemetery search that is going to take place on Monday. I’ve listed the cemeteries, who is buried there, and then I can come up with a few others who I am not sure where they are buried (for example, my great-great-grandmother Susan Jane Foster is buried at South Fork Cemetery, but I’m uncertain if her husband is buried there too. He died before death certificates were mandatory (in 1899) so I don’t have a slip of paper telling me where he is buried (yet – can you say that’s part of why I’m visiting the Bedford County Historical Society) but I’m hoping that maybe I will find him buried with her (or possibly with his children as Susan Jane didn’t pass until 1943). The purpose is to keep myself focused and I think this will do the job (like the little checkboxes?). The blank space to the right is for notes.
Most of those I have listed are direct line relatives. I’m sure if I see others I’ll photograph them. Those with an asterisk have special importance to me, so they are the exception to the direct line rule (I have essentially 3 days, I’m trying to acquire as much as I can but distant aunts, uncles, and cousins can wait).
I’ll update you on my progress next week. My husband thought I’d be able to visit everything in just a few days. I have relatives from Bedford, Fulton, Somerset, Cambria and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania, unless I am the world’s fastest and most efficient researcher, I don’t see conquering 4 counties in 2 days, not with both sides on my paternal side of my family to seek information on.
Do you have any tips or suggestions – I feel like in all I’ve read and watched I’m missing something critical to share with you. I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit “send”. I’d love to hear about anyone’s experience on their own visits to their families homeland. I am super excited to see mine and I’m meeting with a distant cousin and will get copies of photos of family members I’ve not seen.
Wish me luck!