May 6, 2022
Spring has finally arrived. After two plus years of doing all research online, many genealogists’ thoughts are turning to in-person research trips. Deeds and wills and legal case files are calling to us from archives and courthouses across the land.
Before we answer the siren call of a research trip, it’s important to remember one thing. The most important part of any research trip occurs before any airline tickets or hotels are booked.
As exciting as it is to rush into planning the logistics of a trip, we need to remember that figuring out what we want to research is the first step of any successful research trip. That means it’s back to the computer to look at websites for repositories. Many archives and libraries have recently upgraded their online offerings. Documents that used to require an in-person visit are now available online. Spending precious onsite time on already-available research is simply a waste of time.
Since it’s likely been several years since your last in-person visit to a library or courthouse, it’s important to review what you already have. Review your records for any holes in your research that a visit to a particular repository could help fill.
Determine exactly which repository is the best place to spend your time. If a courthouse is the only source for certain probates, then you’ll likely want to schedule a visit.
If, however, that courthouse’s probate files are listed among the holdings of the state archives, it may be better to access them there. State archives usually hold a variety of records and may be a better use of your limited research time than a local courthouse.
Next, prioritize your plan of action for the visit. Figure out what is a must have and what would be nice to check, if time permits. I’ve never known someone to say that they had too much time to spend at a library or archive. Everyone always laments how quickly the time went and how much more they would have liked to accomplish.
No matter how you prioritize your research, be sure to have more research goals than you think you’ll ever accomplish. If it’s teeming rain the day you plan to visit a local cemetery, you’ll be glad if you have several research projects that can be accomplished at the local library. A warm, dry library table is a great alternative to sloshing through a downpour.
When it comes to prioritizing what you’ll be doing during your trip, don’t forget that serendipity can sometimes lead you in directions you never expected to go. If you’re at a local library and the librarian mentions that there is an historical cabin nearby that once belonged to a member of your family, it may be worth changing your plans to visit it. The elderly woman who owns it may turn out to be just the person who knows the story of the disappearance of that long-lost great uncle.
If you plan what and where you want to research before you ever leave home, your trip is apt to result in answers to at least some of your questions. And, you’ll avoid a lot of frustration!