I recently had to go out of town due to two deaths in the family. Since the area I was traveling to was where one branch of my family had lived since the early 1800s, I decided to make time for some genealogy research while I was there. I learned a few things along the way.
GPS Navigation Systems
Since my dad was a long haul trucker for over 30 years, I always ask him for directions before I travel anywhere. As added security, I also borrowed a GPS navigation system from another family member. In theory, it was a good idea. However, the GPS and my dad didn't agree on the directions so I spent a good chunk of the 7 hour trip hearing the GPS tell me I needed to turn around to get back on the track it had decided I should go. I also ran into problems with the system not recognizing some of the small country roads I needed to go down.
Things learned: If you already have directions and are just using the GPS as a backup, it pays to figure out how to program your pre-planned route in. Also, if traveling in remote areas where the system may not know the roads and they don't show up on an atlas, it's a good idea to ask a local for directions.
Before I left for my trip, I made a list of the cemeteries I planned to visit and the headstones I wanted to photograph. I also looked up directions and/or addresses. For some, this was a surprisingly easy task. For others, mainly older lesser known cemeteries, I ran into problems. From experience, I can tell you that driving randomly around a town in the hopes that you will locate a sign pointing to the cemetery is a frustrating experience.
I also learned that some cemeteries had more relatives in them than I knew. In fact, at the first cemetery I visited, I bumped into a second cousin twice removed I didn't even known I had.
Things learned: For lesser known cemeteries, you will save gas and frustration if you stop in town and ask directions. It also pays to talk to other people in the cemetery if they're visiting graves of people in your family tree. Last, but not least, if your research trip is a good distance away and you may not be visiting again soon, consider photographing other headstones with the same surname or others buried around family members, even if they're not familiar. You may find out later that they are related.
I was lucky enough to get to spend my grandfather's last few days with him. During that time, he talked about some of the things we had did together through the years, many of which I had forgotten about until he brought them up.
Things learned: Memory is a tricky thing. If you have some good memories of loved ones, take some time to write them down before they're lost forever.
My grandfather was an avid picture taker, especially if family was around. If you asked, he could tell you who everyone was, even in older pictures, including how they attached to the family tree. Unfortunately, very few of his pictures were labeled so now that he's gone, we don't know who some of the people are.
Things learned: Label your pictures. At a bare minimum, write down the name of the persons or places in the picture. If you have converted all your pictures to digital, add a Word file to the folder or disc listing what or who each picture is of. You can also right click on the photograph and open properties to include this information in the comments box on the summary tab.
While visiting the town where my great great grandparents had lived, I saw a sign for the library so decided on the spur of the moment to stop in and try to get more information on them. The library did have a small genealogy room. I didn't have a lot of time so I tried to look at as much as I could while I was there. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything before I had to leave.
Things learned: Local libraries should be researched prior to a genealogy trip and time allotted to visit them. These days, most libraries have an online catalog. If I had looked into what was available before I visited the library, I could have focused my search and had a better chance of finding the information I was looking for.