Vol. 2, # 12
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Planning Genealogy Trips
No matter where you’re going, whether it be the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, a more local destination within the state or to another state or even out of the country to search for original records, time spent wisely to prepare for traveling and researching are a good idea to make the most valuable use of your time and travel efforts. If you’ve already familiarized yourself with the available resources, hours of operation for courthouses, libraries, and archives, and have already become familiar ahead of time with the area, it will save you from wasting unnecessary time and avoiding frustration.
Why spend wasted hours doing things that should have been done at home before leaving out for a destination. Time is better utilized locating and writing down information before leaving that will be the most useful. This creates a greater advantage with the actual amount of time spent visiting a library, cemetery, archives or any other research location.
Such things as contacting relatives, reviewing resources and creating a research plan before setting out are important considerations that should be incorporated into a plan of action for researching. Determine names, places and dates that are already known and then determine what pieces of information are missing and needed to look for next in research.
When possible, prepare a list of microfilm and/or book numbers from online catalogs so as to be able to start working immediately upon arrival and spending the valuable time searching for those missing pieces of information. Obtain a current map ahead of time of the area to be visited. Mark locations on the map to visit and don't forget there are a multitude of resources such as mortuaries, church rectories, hospitals, archives, churches, county and local libraries, university libraries, university special collections, courthouses, historical societies, social organizations, township offices (which may contain cemetery records not available in courthouses), and health departments. Any and all of these are important and useful places to locate those pieces of information that can ‘flesh out’ the stories of our ancestor’s lives.
There are location-specific pieces of information that need to be known to help in planning trips. Things like the hours of operation, lunch times, special days or holiday closings, accessibility, and usability. Are digital cameras able to be used for making images? Is there a copy machine? How much do copies cost? Will they allow you to scan books with a personal scanner? Are all records available to peruse, or only some records? Are laptops, digital camera, or other personal equipment able to be used in the research room? Are there any events happening that would prevent visitors from looking for records? Do you need a library card to have access to onsite databases? Do you need a library card to access Special Collections? Are the research rooms well-lit?
An excellent idea is to prepare an agenda based on opening times for each research facility. Say the hospital archives opens at 7am, the mortuary opens at 8am, and the courthouse opens at 9am, then the hospital would be the first visit on the list. Facilities open until early or late evening would be left for further down the list as there are more hours available to utilize their research areas. A site with shortened or 2 and 3 days open, should be listed high on the priorities list. Try to obtain information before actually arriving at a location as to what records are available and for what years.
Look for those records that can’t be handled through the mail. Find out if there are online indexes for databases that might state whether a particular record or records are available. A good example is the online Marriage Index of Madison County, AL brides and grooms in the Probate Office’s Madison County Records Center on 3rd floor of the Main Library.
If using a laptop, have paper copies of names and dates to search for in case use of a laptop for some reason isn’t workable. For tape and digital recorders, plug into wall outlets. Battery life may not last long enough to cover all of the necessary recording that may need to be done. With digital camera images, it’s wise to transfer, copy and/or e-mail the images to yourself. Check the images to make sure they are clear. Just in case, write out brief handwritten copies of essential information. For instance, page and volume number for not only a citation record but also to retrieve the information again later if needed.
Carrying only what you absolutely need and leaving behind unnecessary items will make traveling much easier and time efficient. Remember not to take original copies of records. Leave at home expensive or irreplaceable items that are not going to be of use while researching. Lightening the ‘mental load’ by minimizing your need to worry will allow a less stressful experience. Carry a cell phone and find out beforehand about possible roaming charges.
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Fact: Mental clarity is essential before setting out to search for records. This will allow you to better focus on your objectives. Strive to be well rested.
Tip: Consider arriving a day early to rest up from traveling time and take a tour of the city to figure out your plan of action. Arriving on a Saturday evening allows for a restful day to plan and gather your thoughts before beginning research on Monday. It also allows you to start your research well-rested and prepared on Monday. Maybe visit the church an ancestor attended on Sunday and stroll through cemeteries. Check phone books for possible relatives. Study the roads, railroads and local rivers to become familiar with possible means of travel to and from the area. The extra time may be one of the greatest investments of a trip.
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The Huntsville Genealogical Computing Society’s March meeting will feature Howard Blood with his presentation of ‘25 ways to use the Huntsville Library Heritage Room’. The meeting is Mar 17, 2008 at 7 PM in the Main Library Auditorium.
The Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society ‘s next meeting will be March 27th at 7 PM. The location is the Latter Day Saints Church (LDS) at 1804 Sparkman Drive. Wayne and Vicky Hay from the Family History Center in Salt Lake City will be speaking on the topic of records preservation in the Family History Library.
Two great meetings with great topics!!
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See You In The Heritage Room!
Computer Genealogy Librarian
Huntsville-Madison County Public Library
915 Monroe Street
Huntsville, AL 35801