Family History Research Trips for the Determined Genealogist
Working on hard research often requires research trips to the local area where the family resided. We are often tempted to plan a family vacation to the area where we want to do research in the local records that are not microfilmed or available online. Family History vacations are wonderful if you are looking at the scenery, visiting a cemetery or two and taking pictures. But if you are a determined genealogist working on a hard research project take my advice and make your research trip alone or with another genealogist.
After spending 6 hours in a local courthouse in Colorado, I was just getting started when it was time for the courthouse to close for the day. I couldn’t wait to come back the next day. Chris, my husband, had assisted in getting the books down and putting them back and was a great sport. When we left the courthouse we headed to the library where they had the whole newspaper collection since the first issue. Chris was ready to go fishing, go to dinner, or anything but look at another book or be in the library while I was in heaven reading, copying, and asking questions of the reference librarian. I found the newspaper obituaries and they listed the Church where the services took place. When the library closed I could tell he was getting antsy so I determined to order some books via InterLibrary Loan once we got home. Still we had to go by their old home, the newly discovered church and the cemetery to take pictures.
When we drove up to the address of the old home, it was fantastic, who ever lived in it had restored it to a pristine beauty. I told Chris I was going to ask permission to take a picture. As you can imagine he was not impressed. There was a huge dog on the front porch and every time I would attempt to open the gate he barked and came towards me. So, I asked Chris to do it. Oh, no, he would not do it either. Again, I attempted to open the gate and a lady came out to the porch and held the dog back. As I asked permission to take a picture of her home, she said, “Oh my, you better come it.” I smiled and we went in. This was not what Chris really wanted to do but he was kind enough to follow us in. When we got inside she told us the history of the home, and she also mentioned she was a board member of the local historical society. WOW!! That was fantastic. We quickly swapped stories, and left. We whipped by the church and took a picture, as we approached the cemetery the sun was just about to set and Chris was starving! The sandwiches and goodies I had packed were long gone and so was his interest in research.
We took a picture of the cemetery and I made note that I’d come back some day.
We went to dinner and met up with some of Chris’ friends who lived in the area. The next day we did whatever Chris wanted to do and then it was time to leave the area and begin our drive back towards home. I put on my best smile and endured the languishing feeling that the books, the historical society collections, and so much more that I had discovered were to be untapped for the rest of the trip. I can’t explain the longing that I have to be immersed in the records. To learn what it was like to live when my ancestors lived, what was the town like, who were their neighbors, did they keep a diary that might mention my family? And, so many more questions that need answering to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. I can not explain it, only those who feel the same passion understand it.
If you have that passion I encourage you to plan your research trip without any idea of a family vacation involved. Family will say, sure we can do some research, we can visit the cemetery, you can go to the library while we are swimming or fishing, but when you get there it all changes.
Hard research takes determination and uninterrupted concentration on the task at hand. Trying to mix vacation and research is counterproductive at best and extremely frustrating when you know the records you seek are available and you don’t have time to get into them.
Take a family vacation and enjoy it. Take a research trip and work hard to access every single record source available in the time you have. You will never have enough time to look at everything available anyway. Be sure to ask lots of questions before you go, make your wish list ahead of time. Call repositories and get the hours they are open and if they have special local holidays that will affect your ability to access the records. Be prepared for the unexpected and plan on finding out about additional records that you did not know existed before you get there.
There is nothing like a research trip with another genealogist who is willing to assist you with your project. When I go on a research trip with another genealogist we assist each other with the work and get so much more done.
Keep your boots on the ground, your research within the compass of the trip, and have fun in the records!
Holly T. Hansen