I’ve written quite a bit on preparing for a research trip to Ireland, but much of the information also applies no matter where you are researching. Do you have a family reunion to attend, or perhaps a wedding that might take you near the home of one of your ancestors? Summer is also the time for Institutes and Conferences.
In 2015 our youngest daughter was married in Nebraska which required us to drive from Connecticut which, happened to take us through Pennsylvania…one of the only places where I had ancestors prior to 1900. It took some negotiating with my husband (who is not into dead people) but I was able to manage a day and a half in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. When these opportunities come up are you ready?
The basics of preparing for a research trip don’t change much whether it’s the next state or an overseas trip except for the Passport. If you’re planning a trip this summer, hopefully you’ve already gotten (or renewed) your passport. Remember it needs to be good for six months after you return.
The location of your trip may suggest a specific family, but even if all of your family is from the same area, try to focus. Here are my recommendation...if you're preparing for a research trip, go back to the basics.
Select a family - you won't get all your research done on everyone in one trip. Then select a specific individual(s).
Once you've selected a family or individual, create a research plan. Remember, there is a difference between researching and surfing! What is the research question you are trying to answer. (If you need a refresher, read this blog.) You can find a blank copy of the Research Plan here.
Read everything in your files about that family or person. Perhaps you already have the answer to your research question and didn't realize it. You're a better researcher today than a few years ago. I discovered a copy of a letter in my files that someone had sent me in the 1990s that gave me the names of my 2x great grandfather's siblings. I had records on many of them but until I re-read that letter, I didn't know how they fit together.
Create a timeline. Just the basics...date, location, event type, comments. You want to be able to scan the timeline for missing years or to determine where someone was at a specific time. Everything we do in genealogy is based on time and place. Do you have all the census records for the time the person was living? What about vital and religious records? Land and probate? Make sure you have a complete profile of the individual.
Research the available records for the time and place where your ancestor lived. If you haven't identified the place of origin for an immigrant ancestor, then your research should focus on the localities where they lived in the US (Canada or wherever they settled...check your timeline). I find many researchers miss this step. If you're traveling to do research do make sure you know what records are available at the locality. In the US, use the RedBook especially if you're not familiar with the records where your ancestor lived. Don't forget to check the County boundaries to make sure you're looking at the correct place for the time. Records typically stay in the jurisdiction where they were created and depending on the time, borders may have changed. Fayette County, Pennsylvania was created in 1783 out of Westmoreland County. Land records prior to 1784 would be located in Westmoreland. Westmoreland was created in 1773 and records prior to that date would be in Bedford County. You need to know this. The Red Book can be accessed online. Another resource would be State (or Country) Outlines at the FamilySearch Wiki.
Using all the information you have, write a report on the individual. Your genealogy software can be a big help here if it will create a report from your database. I typically run a Register Report from my software and then edit it making notes on missing information.
Create your to do list for the localities you will be visiting.
Do all your online research before you travel. You don't want to spend your valuable time in a repository looking at records you could have reviewed from home. Focus on records that are only available at the locality.
Have a backup plan. If you don't find records for your primary family, you'll want to have something else to work on.
Contact the Archivist or Librarian at the facilities you will be researching. Let them know when you will be there and give them a general idea of the names or information you are seeking. On my visit to Fayette County, the Librarian for the Pennsylvania Room was on vacation, but she left out a folder of information which included an article on the Shaw family. Unfortunately, it was cut from a newspaper with no citation given and I haven't been able to find it in any of the newspaper databases.
Use Social Media to post or ask questions about your family. Just about every locality (State, County, Country) has a Facebook Page. Did you know that Katherine Willson created a list of Genealogy Sites on Facebook (not including personal pages) and as of 2021 had 16,700+ links. This site is transitioning to CyndisList and is currently under construction. There are categories for localities, ethnicities, types of records, surnames and many others. Have a question about a locality you can’t find? Post on a local Facebook site and you’re likely to get a quick answer. You might even meet a cousin! People who use these sites typically have ancestors who came from the area, and there are usually individuals who still live in the area. The locality you’re looking for may have been amalgamated into another town.