Planning Research Trips


There is nothing that can replace being there in the library or archive and doing the research yourself. This way you can be sure that nothing has been overlooked and that all variations of the surname have been thoroughly checked. Prepare a research log at home before you leave to save valuable time during your trip. This can be done by visiting the library or archive websites to see what they have in their catalogs. You may want to “copy and paste” (a function of your word processing program) all the bibliographic information about a book (title, author, publisher, date of publication), and even the call number into your research log, arranged by call number for each facility. It is a good idea to note on the research log what it is you hope to find. Then after you view the item, you can write down which pages you looked at and the results of your search. You want to keep track of everything you look at, even if the results were negative. This will save you from searching again and again the same books because you had no record of searching them before.

Here are some suggestions for planning a research trip.

·        Do some Internet research to find out what interesting sites are in the area. Contact the Chamber of Commerce. Get a good road map of the area. A compass or GPS may come in handy. 

·        Make sure the facility you wish to visit is open that day. Contact people in advance so they'll be expecting you. They may need time before you arrive to bring up documents from storage rooms. 

·        Keep in mind that facility staff may not be interested in genealogy, and do not consider it part of their job description.

·        Dress appropriately, look professional.

·        Put together a notebook with your reference materials and plenty of pens, pencils, paper, and other supplies.

·        Offer to pay for copies. Follow the rules of the facility. At a public facility, turn off your cell phone.

·        Be polite and patient. Be friendly and outgoing--make yourself the high point of their day.

·        Flatter the clerks in a sincere way. Ask the opinions of librarians--they know their collections the best.

·        Make a donation if visiting a non-profit organization. You may want to bring a small gift for a helpful clerk. Send thank-you notes.

·        If visiting relatives take extra copies of family group sheets, etc. to share. Take a camera. Call or write to ask whether it is convenient for you to come, specifying a date and time.  Strangers may feel more comfortable if you meet them in a neutral place, for example, in a restaurant, a library, or your hotel lobby.

·        Ask for referrals to other people or institutions that may help. 

·        Some Internet searching will help you find a convenient hotel in the area.

Help Me! I plan to visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Can you prepare a research log for me of what I should see regarding my surname and where my family lived?

Help Me!  We are going to Washington, D.C. What libraries and archives should we visit for genealogical research?

Help Me!,  Plan a trip to Europe to visit my ancestral birthplace.