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Heritage Travel

Expert Tips for Your Next Genealogy Research Trip

Find expert tips for getting the most out of your genealogy research trip. Where to go, what to take and how to save money!

I am a planner. I love to make lists.

Research lists. Repositories to visit lists. Records to research lists. What to take on a research trip lists. Places to travel lists. Grocery lists. You get the picture.

In the spirit of list making, I’m sharing expert tips with you for your next genealogy trip.

You might just be interested in a strictly research trip to find your ancestors to add to your family tree. These are often to state and local archives and pertinent repositories. Some researchers are more interested in heritage travel to see an ancestral home or area where your ancestors lived.

I’ve got tips for that, too!

What Type Of Genealogy Trip Will You Take?

Let’s take a look at how to plan your own ancestry travel!

The Purely Genealogy Research Trip

When I first started taking research trips, friends and family assumed I was headed to Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It’s a natural assumption. It’s THE place to research one’s ancestry for beginners all the way up to  professional genealogists.

Most of my personal research trips are to county courthouses and state archives, but the tips below are applicable for any type of genealogy research trip you plan on taking.

So, how about you? Will you be taking a purely genealogy research trip? Will it be local and close by or will you need to travel a distance? Do you plan on researching in one or more locations?

Most of us have taken a research trip or plan to do so in the future. It could be a day trip to the archives or a multi-day trip.

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Once you decide on the destination for your next genealogy research trip:

  1. Research the days and hours when the repository is open. Make note of special holidays or local events that are happening to avoid the crowded times. When the repositories are crowded, you will have longer wait times for records and assistance.
  2. Determine where you will need to park and the cost of parking ahead of time! Consider if a long walk is required from your car to the archives.
  3. Determine your options for meals. Save valuable time by deciding where you plan to eat for lunch/dinner ahead of time. After all, even genealogy researchers need to eat and refuel.
  4. Pack snacks and water! You will not be allowed to take food and drink into repositories, but keeping a snack in the cooler in your car or a bottle of water in repository lockers (if available) helps! A quick water break really helps clear the mind and gets you back to research. [That’s 2 tips on food, so obviously, I ‘m hungry.]
  5. Know the repository’s policy on what you are allowed to take in or not take in to the records room. Do NOT overlook this step. Start your research day off with ease.
  6. Take pencils with you. Many repositories do not allow pens in the record room. (See #5.)
  7. Find out ahead of time if digital photographs and/or portable scanners are allowed. The rules vary greatly from one repository to the next, so make sure you know. If digital copies are not allowed, plan accordingly for the cost of copies.
  8. Create your research plan ahead of time! Do not attempt to research without one. You risk missing important clues and document without a plan. It’s a bit like going to the grocery store with a list – you NEVER remember everything! [Learn more about genealogy research plans!]
hands on laptop

Here’s a peek at my packing list for on-site repository research:

  • My favorite Travel Scarf! It has a hidden zippered pocket where I keep things like my ID and money. It even holds my cell phone. It’s perfect whether I’m in the archives or a cemetery. No purse needed. Seriously, being hands free when researching is a must!
  • A Water Bottle! We need to stay hydrated! I personally like the narrow opening.
  • A roll of Quarters for the microfilm machine.
  • A Legal pad for notes. I also use the Google Keep notes app on my cell phone.
  • My cell phone! It holds all the apps I need to keep my research moving forward. Learn more about my favorite apps for genealogy research. Here’s the one I use.
  • The Research Plan! I keep my plan on Google Drive AND make it accessible off-line. I can access it from either my phone or ipad and everything syncs up. 
  • Pencils. I’m partial to mechanical ones.

I may alter these items a bit depending on the repository I am going to, but really, I travel and research light. Keeping up with a lot of stuff slows my research down.

If my on-site research happens to be to a cemetery, I add:

  • Bug spray. Mosquitos love me!
  • My personal safety alarm (see below). Rural family cemeteries are some of the most interesting, but let’s stay safe!
  • Garden Gloves. Sometimes you might need to pull weeds back from a gravestone.

Learn more about cemetery research in Your Guide To Cemetery Research – Are You Missing Important Genealogical Clues?

The Family Heritage Trip or Ancestry Trip

Planning a trip back to an ancestor’s homeland or even just a place he or she frequented is on many family historians’ bucket list. It’s on mine!

Heritage travel can be a short day trip if you live in the area or a long multi-day or multi-week trip. Regardless of the length, I do believe genealogy and family history can and should be a multisensory experience.

My bucket list heritage travel destination? London, England! I plan to walk in the footsteps of Barnaby Talbot, coffee-man on Ivy Lane. Apparently, there is a reason I like coffee so much!

Once you decide on your destination….

  1. Determine the best time of year to visit. You want to avoid holidays when things could be closed down. Is there a cultural festival or holiday you want to attend?
  2. Get a local perspective! Book a tour (or 2) to learn more about the area where your ancestor(s) lived. Let your tour guide know ahead of time of any particular interests or places you want to see. Tours by Locals is a fabulous place to find excellent local tour guides.
  3. Plan to do some genealogy research while you are there? Reach out to local researchers to learn about which repositories you should visit. Also, make your research appointments before leaving home to make sure you will have access.
  4. Enjoy the local cuisine! Eat where the locals eat to get a taste of the more traditional foods your ancestors may have eaten. Perhaps take a cooking class to learn the style of cooking and new flavors.
  5. Spend time taking in the scenery! Enjoy the same views your ancestor(s) would have enjoyed. For me, I’ll be enjoying the view of St Paul’s cathedral in London. Barnaby’s coffee house was on a lane behind the church. [One of his children is buried there, too.]
  6. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Let’s be practical after all!
Women in white hat and red dress holding a map in a European old town.

Here’s a peek inside my heritage travel packing list for the road:

  • The usual clothes, toiletries, etc.
  • My laptop and ipad plus all the charging cords!
  • Plug adapters if going abroad.
  • TravelWifi. Perfect for taking wifi on the road with you! Bonus – It fits inside my travel scarf .
  • My Favorite Waypoints Travel Scarf! Yes, it’s goes with me everywhere.
  • The Kosin Safe Sound Personal Alarm. Most of us prefer to travel with someone, but sometimes we are on our own. I make sure I have a personal alarm on me when I travel alone, explore those old cemeteries or run alone (It’s my other passion).
  • I currently use a standard backpack, but am eyeing this anti-theft backpack. I’m planning ahead!
  • My favorite water bottle from above.
  • A journal. I like to journal during my travels and especially when I’m visiting family history sites. Since hand surgery a few years ago, I tend to journal in long form on my laptop. But…on my next trip, I’ll be using this small travel journal by Waypoints. (It fits in the travel scarf, too!)
Small travel journal with hand coloring on map and writing about the day of travel.
Waypoint Goods Travel Journal

That’s it! Just like when I head to a genealogy repository or archives, I travel light when on the road, too.

Explore More Post About Genealogy Travel

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  • Kathy Ruse

    Great tips! You forgot to mention how a scarf can keep one cozy in the archives and repositories–they’re often so chilly. In fact, I first assumed that’s why you were suggesting one (the hidden pocket is just a bonus!).

    • LisaL

      You are so right! I sometimes call this my “cemetery scarf”, because I always have it own when I’m researching. 🙂 I have a lighter spring version, too!

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