Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Planning Your Next Research Trip

Planning successful research trip has always, and should always be, a top priority for any genealogist. With the rising cost of fuel, those unplanned trips can cost you a significant amount in lost revenue! Your ability to plan well can become one of your most significant skills. Below we list tips to make your next research trip a successful one.

First, you must realize that research is an ever-going cycle of planning, collecting, organizing, analyzing, reporting and then planning yet again. Each research trip will build upon the past work accomplished and sets the stage for work yet to be performed.

1: Focus on the problem you wish to solve.
You need to be answer the following questions:
* "Who is the person I'm researching?"
* "What do I already know about the person?"
* "What research can I perform in advance?"
You need to ask these questions before planning your trip. if you can't any of them, then you
aren't ready for the trip. When you CAN answer them all, you will be a dream patron to
librarians and archivists everywhere!

NOTE: I never go with only one problem or one person to research! This way if what I am
looking for is not available, I can always revert to another problem or person and the trip
will not have been a waste!

2: Plan where you will go to perform your research. Ask yourself if you really need to travel
to perform the research. You might be able to borrow microfilm through an interlibrary
loan, or a book the same way. You might be able to access the files or texts or index online!

3: Plan what to take carefully. I try to be minimalistic, but it seems I am forever carrying a
briefcase full of what I think I need! Bring only the files that relate to the case[s] you are
researching. If you can carry it in your laptop, so much the better! [Caution: if you are
relying on your genealogy program, make sure you have listed sources, as well as their
Make sure you know the institutions rules or special conditions/requirements for access to
the records you wish to view. Make sure you have a picture ID, pencils, erasers, a loose-leaf
binder with notepaper, blank labels [put on the back of photo copies with the sources
Since almost no institution allows food or drink, you may want to consider carrying a tin of
mints, or a roll of lifesavers [due to the low humidity level, you may become very dry and
thirsty [this will help! and if you get a tickle, it's a great way to keep from coughing!]

4: Bring forms to assist you. Use a research log. [These can be found for free to download at

5: Once you arrive at the facility, take a few minutes to orient yourself to the area: where the
restrooms are located; coffee shop, copiers, film readers, computers, etc.

6: Once you have finished your research, organize your materials: research logs, forms, copies,
and any other materials you have garnered. Chronology tables can be helpful in organizing
your materials, it may prevent such silly misinformation as say a mother's death date
preceding the birth of her only child! [Yep! One of my pet peeves in online and printed data!]

7: Always analyze the material you gathered from your trip.

8: Write a research report summarizing your trip. This step is often overlooked, but it is important for your own research, not just for your client!


You are now ready to plan your next trip! And the cycle starts over once more.

For further information you can check out the following:

"Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians", edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Pub. Co., 2007)

"Managing a Genealogical Project" by William Dollarhide (Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001)

"Getting the Most Mileage from Genealogical Research Trips" by James W. Warren and Paula Stuart Warren (Warren Research & Publishing, 1998)

Hope you're having a productive and fruitful week!

Until tomorrow,
The Mountain Genealogist

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