Posted in Research tips

Your Own Genealogy Roadshow: Tips for Hitting the Trail

road trip

Genealogy newbies might think, “Everything’s online, isn’t it?”  (By the way, don’t ever say that out loud.  It’s kinda like saying you have traced your pedigree back to Adam.  You don’t want other genealogists rolling their eyes behind your back.)

Of course you will want to give online resources your best shot – digital collections are plentiful and and growing by the day – but the time will come when you actually have to walk into a library or archive in search of an ancestor’s records.  Before you hit the trail, some careful planning is advisable. It will save you time and money, and increase your likelihood of success.


I have posted the handout from my “Planning Your Research Trip” class in Class Handouts on the menu bar, and also include it in this post.  Through the years I have made many research trips, and share with you some of what experience has taught me.

These days, the first thing people want to know is, “How can I use my tablet or smartphone?”  My most recent trips to Salt Lake City, Utah, Europe, and central Texas I managed to go completely paperless using an iPad and a laptop, a digital camera, and a smartphone. Here are some of the apps I used:

  • Notekeeping apps such as Evernote or OneNote allow you to plan your research, record results, and add photos.  Add images from library online catalogs to make your “to do” list.
  • Mobile versions of genealogy software provide instant access to pedigree charts and family group records
  • Google Maps or other GPS tool help you plan your travels and can be used to identify cemeteries, churches, libraries. Use latitude and longitude features.
  • Scanner apps for your tablet or smartphone, like CamScanner or Scan Pro, optimize photos of documents
  • PDF editors, like PDF Expert, allow you to “mark up” the scans you make, adding source citations and highlights
  • Voice recognition apps like Dragon are used for producing a transcript of research notes or interviews with relatives
  • Travel apps like Tripit can be used to store all reservations, create maps, and make a daily agenda of activities
  • iBooks or other eReaders can store genealogy reference books and periodicals
  • Use your device’s calendar and reminder apps to keep you on task
  • Use your device’s contact app to store repository and relatives’ contact information
  • It can be fun to keep a blog on your trip, to record your activities and post pictures.  Wordpress and Blogger are popular

As you plan, keep these questions in mind:

What is your goal?

  • Primary sources
  • Photos of the area, understand the locality
  • Visit relatives

When is a good time to go?

  • Tie-in with a conference
  • Family celebration
  • Local Festival
  • Special season

What should I do ahead of time?

  • Research
    • Family History Library microfilm
    • Digital databases ( digital records, state archives, cemeteries,,, links)
    • Archive catalogs, online and printed
  • Plan what you will look at when you get there
    • Focus on things that are not available online or on microfilm, such as manuscript collections, local newspapers, clipping files, cemeteries, buildings, church records, artifacts
    • Make a prioritized To-Do list. Some genealogy software makes this easy.
    • List archives, libraries, museums, visitor centers, landmarks, cemeteries, churches, attractions.  Print out days and hours of operation (usually limited), directions, and phone numbers. Note when they are closed for holidays.
    • Look in archive/library catalogs and make a priority to do list of sources
    • Call local archivist/librarian to and ask what is available onsite and open to the public. They may be willing to pull some items and have them ready for you.
  • Find out about the local genealogy and historical societies and contact them
    • Online – try different search terms
    • Genealogist’s Address Book
    • Handybook
  • Prepare a binder with reservations, directions (to hotels, libraries, towns, cemeteries, etc.), map printouts, phone numbers, archive hours of operation, etc.  Compile it chronologically, label pages with date and day of the week.

Where should I stay?  It’s up to you, but try to get as close as possible to your ancestral home.  Consider staying in a bed and breakfast—

  • The innkeeper can be a source for maps, names of knowledgeable local people, local history, stories
  • You will get a new perspective of your ancestor’s life
  • It’s a great breakfast, and one less meal to eat out
  • Often have off-season specials

What should I bring? Adapt these suggestions to your needs.  If you plan on going entirely digital you can leave some of this home, but have a back-up plan in case of power outage or an archive that does not allow electronic devices.   Most will allow a laptop, but you may not be allowed to bring in a tablet or camera.

  • Research forms and printouts
    • Filled-in family group records, pedigree charts (staple inside front of folders)
    • Research logs/To Do lists (paper clip inside back of folders)
    • Locality list printouts from your genealogy software.
    • Blank FGR’s and pedigree charts
    • Blank research logs
    • Blank extraction forms
  • Office supplies
    • Paper clips
    • Small stapler/staples
    • Staple remover
    • Archival pens
    • Spiral Notebook (keep track of photos, transcribe headstones, misc.)
    • Mechanical pencils (some archives do not allow pens)
  • Computer and supplies
    • Laptop, tablet, or smartphone for taking pictures, recording interviews, and GPS
    • Flash drive
    • AC adapter and charger
    • Car charger with USB slot
    • Laptop Lock
    • Microphone for your laptop if it does not have one built in
    • Optional, but fun: portable scanner
  • Digital camera
    • Extra batteries and charger
    • Memory cards
    • Cable for downloading to computer, or card reader
  • Money
    • Copies
    • Fees at archives
    • Parking meters
    • Local books
    • NOTE: have a way to carry your money, identification, and valuables with you
  • Perhaps…
    • Umbrella
    • Headstone etching supplies
    • GPS
    • Copies of records to share with relatives
  • Maps – foldout
    • Highways and region
    • Historical
    • Topographical
    • City streets

Any other advice?

  • Charge all your devices each night, and also as you are driving, especially if using a tablet or phone as a GPS.
  • Show genuine interest and appreciation for the area when you talk to locals. Ask them to tell you what they know, rather than telling them what you know.
  • Offer to pay for services by town clerks, make donations at local museums and archives.  Take time to enjoy the area, and don’t spend every minute in an archive.  Don’t be afraid to drive around and explore.
  • Learn as much as you can about the local history while you are there from those who are willing to share.
  • Be a gracious visitor.


I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

2 thoughts on “Your Own Genealogy Roadshow: Tips for Hitting the Trail

  1. These are great tips. I am still relatively new to genealogy, and I am grateful for all the advice I can get.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s