Many genealogists, at some point or another in their research, make the decision to travel to the area where their ancestors lived their lives. For some, this is to gain access to records that are only available in that area. For others, it's an effort to better understand their ancestors. Whatever the reason, if you decide to take a genealogy research trip, preparation is key to having a successful trip.
Tip 1-Research the places you want to visit
These days, most places have information available online. Be sure to check the days and hours places are open. With frequent budget cuts, many libraries and archives have limited hours that they are open. You don't want to arrive ready to research only to find out a particular repository isn't open when you visit.
If information is available on the holdings of a particular place, be sure to research that as well. Make a list of books, record groups, etc that you want to look at. This will help cut down on unnecessary and often fruitless searches.
Take some time to see if the information you seek is available closer to home. Your local Family History Center may have the information on microfilm. If you can get it at home, you free up time on your trip for things that aren't so easily accessible.
Most of us probably don't check the weather before we take off on a trip, but it's a good idea. You don't want to drive a long distance only to find that you can't do cemetery visits because of the rain or a snow storm has closed down all government offices and libraries.
Tip 2-Make an itinerary
By making an itinerary, you have a basic framework for your trip. It also helps reduce the likelihood of getting home and realizing you've missed out on visiting somewhere that was high on your list.
Be sure to schedule some free time in your itinerary. You never know when you might hear about a resource you weren't aware of. Searching records may take longer than you thought it would. By scheduling free time into your itinerary, you have leeway to continue your genealogy research without missing out on something else you had planned.
Tip 3-Gather your supplies
If taking a digital camera, make sure you have your memory card and a way to power it. Depending on how much you plan to use your camera, it might also be a good idea to bring spare batteries or a charger, and possibly another memory card.
Put together a folder with information on the individual(s) you plan to research. This can include pedigree charts, a family group sheet or a research checklist. That way if you need to doublecheck a fact to make sure you have the right person, it's easily at hand.
If you plan to save or copy books or documents you find, come prepared. Pack a mobile scanner, thumb drive and/or change so you have these when you need them. Keep in mind that policies can vary widely between places. While one place may allow you to scan, others may only allow photocopies due to policy and, in some cases, capabilities.
For travel in foreign locales, if you're not familiar with the language, be sure to pack a language dictionary or translation device. It might also be a good idea to visit FamilySearch to print out a genealogical word list. Even if you have a basic understanding of the language, it doesn't hurt to have these in reserve in case you come across a word you're not familiar with or need to say something that wasn't covered in your high school language class.
Tip 4-Talk to the locals
Locals are an invaluable resource in a number of ways. They can offer directions to places not found on modern day maps. They can tell you about local resources you may not have known about. Last, but not least, they may have stories about your ancestors. Just because a story is passed down through someone else's family doesn't mean the story doesn't have clues about yours.
Don't be surprised if you find that one of the locals fits in your family tree at some point. In the years I've been researching my genealogy, I've ran across cousins I didn't even know about. I found one when I sent a lookup request to a volunteer that lived in the area my ancestors did. Another I met while visiting a cemetery where family was buried.
Tip 5-Visit the local historical society, museum or library.
In addition to giving you a better understanding of the area your ancestors lived their lives in, you may be surprised what you find. Some genealogists have found pictures of their ancestors, allowing them to put a face to the name. Others have found items that once belonged to their family.