The day trip or long haul journey to trace your past is locked in. Before you pack your bags and create a schedule of the repositories, cemeteries and former family homes you want to visit …prepare for the less obvious! You might still have a great time, but return home without any family history progress made, or worse lose it!!! Always better to have the ideas in our mind BEFORE we go than have the “of course!” moment after the event….
I have done short and long haul travelling to retrace my ancestor’s steps, research and see something of where they lived. Even if the main part of your trip is for a holiday you want your research to be as productive as possible. Here are some of the tips that worked best for me.
- Look it Up. Use Google Earth in advance. It can help you determine what if any parking is nearby, best routes to the destination etc. or if the home you want to view is even still standing – the site may now be a new duplex! There may be places close by that you see on the map that have come up on your radar while researching that can add to your to do list.
- Get In Touch. Contact the venue by phone or email to establish everything you need to know in advance to avoid disappointment by not having what you need. Although there may be a website with some of this information, from personal experience there is often more to know. Many places only allow pencils, (do not assume they will lend some or a sharpener to you!) no taking photos (you have to pay for copies) and may even require you to book in advance particular books or archived boxes of family history information.
- Location, location, location. If you are staying overnight (or several nights) book somewhere walking distance to where you will be mainly doing your research to avoid fares or lengthy walks. Save a fancy resort for the trip when you will actually enjoy it, and choose on the basis of what is practical. Some hotels have no desk and poor reading light for you to review your notes; see what’s available that will cater to your needs. Trying to do this in a noisy lounge can be frustrating.
- Be Focused. Your strategy for each venue should begin with what is unique to the venue that you can’t find elsewhere or to corroborate what you may have found elsewhere.
- Ask Around. Browse family history groups / forums focused on a particular region or town and you may find some very useful information about the nuances that will make your time there more productive. Better still, speak to locals after you arrive and you may even discover that your families may have been linked in some way.
- Dress For The Occasion and Take Accessories. (Not A Short Pencil Skirt And Stilettos) While some venues will not have a dress code, be practical. One cemetery I visited had been very badly maintained – long grass and shrubs were so overgrown around whole sections of headstones, it was a battle to get in, and then push overgrowth away to read headstones. I really could have down with gardening gloves! While chances are your experiences won’t be as extreme, you may be wise to wear flat shoes suitable for walking over uneven ground and take sundries such as sunscreen mosquito repellent as the climate would imply. Many churches will require women to dress modestly, perhaps even covering their shoulders, and men to wear long pants. If you check out the requirements you won’t be turned away.
- Flexibility And Timing. While it is important to be organized just as when you’re at home following a research process, don’t forget to be flexible enough so that if something shows potential to be explored further you can. Allowing yourself enough time is crucial especially when you may not be able to return for a very long time!
- Use Your Technology. Bookmarking your research tools and then having them handy on your smart phone will save you time and stress when travelling. Using a storage app like Dropbox or the Cloud for as much of your key information and templates as possible will mean you can readily cross reference with information you already have via a smart-phone or tablet.
- Beware of Too Much Brevity. Sounds obvious, but it’s often forgotten – make sure your notes are full and clear as possible so that when you look over them later you don’t wonder what on earth your shorthand was meant to say.
- It may rain. Heavily! Ruining your notes, wrecking your tablet and smart phone, cause all your writing to run into an illegible mess. Heading out, you may have a cloudless sky but within a few hours there may be downpour. Umbrellas are handy but can easily blow out leaving you every bit as drenched before you can catch a taxi. Take several plastic bags big enough to wrap around your precious cargo several times, and repeat for whatever goes into your suitcase. Sitting on a tarmac while a plane is being loaded is long enough for water to seep in and spoil your fun. Or your shampoo bottle to leak all through your notes.