I was recently asked how to plan for a trip to a genealogy library. Excellent question! We know that time to research at a remote location is rare and very valuable. So we want to make the most of our “time on the ground.” And with proper preparation, a highly productive trip is well within reach.
Here are my suggestions for pre-trip planning with the library I know best – Midwest Genealogy Center – in mind. But the strategies are easily transferable to any other repository, i.e. Allen County, Clayton, Family History Library, New England Historical and Genealogical Society, etc.
The best advice I’ve heard is from the late Marsha Hoffman-Rising, who said to focus on a geographic community as a matter of good research policy, but it works perfectly well for on site research, too. Scope in on one family cluster and their time in “X” city/county/state. Then research that family and all of their collateral families (in-laws, step-family members, 2nd and 3rd marriages, siblings, siblings’ in-laws, guardianships, adoptions, etc.). Stay in that one geographic area until you feel like you’ve consumed everything you can. You’ll get the most thorough, comprehensive view of the family/family cluster possible, with the least opportunity for leaving rocks unturned, and the best opportunity for overcoming brick walls.
To that end, when you get to a library – or better yet, before you leave home, zero in on all the records they have for that area by using the online card catalog. (Here’s a link to the Midwest Genealogy Center’s online catalog. LINK With MGC, you will first want to select “genealogy material” in the box to the left of the search field.)
Type in the name of the location, i.e. “Jackson County Missouri.” Don’t worry about capitalization and punctuation in the search field, but do spell out each word. I don’t think you’ll get the best results with “Jackson Co. Mo.” And the catalog will return all of the books the library has for that area. In the case of MGC it includes some microfiche, identified with the ID # beginning “UMI.” If you get an overwhelming number of records in your search, i.e.872, then modify the search to include a record group, i.e. “Jackson County Missouri Cemetery Records,” or “Jackson County Missouri Tax Records.”
On the MGC catalog you can check or select the records you’re most interested in and either save to a temporary list then print, or have them emailed or texted to you. Voila! A clear action item list for the minute you hit the doors.
Further, that same list can be your working research history list. The last thing you want to do is spend valuable time and money on a genealogy research trip only to come home without the certainty of knowing what resources you checked, which ones had positive finds (the good stuff you’re looking for) and which ones were negative finds (came up empty).
If I’m striking out on a road trip to a library or archives away from home I ALWAYS check out their website first. I look for hours, holidays, parking, how do you pay for copies, can I scan or get digital images, and what’s allowed and not allowed into the research area.
Additionally,here’s my recommended packing list for MGC.
- Bring a flash drive. You can scan any books for free. Print copies are 10 cents for b/w, 25 cents for color. (They have a brand new overhead scanner, too!)
- Bring a sweater if you chill easily. The A/C can sometimes be on “overdrive.”
- Bring a quarter. You can stash any purses, laptops, or extra books in a locker. The lockers take a quarter to get the key, but return it when the key is returned.
- Bring change or single dollar bills for the copier and the microfilm/fiche printers.
- Bring your ID. You will need it if you want to purchase a library card (assuming you live outside of the greater KC Metro area), or would like a web access card to access library databases while on site.
- You can bring in beverages IF THEY HAVE A SCREW TOP.
- Pack a lunch in a “chill bag” or little cooler. You can eat in the Patron Lounge, but don’t bring library books into this area for fear they will be attacked by a rebel can of pop.
- MGC has tons of blank family group sheets, pedigree charts, individual summary sheets, and census transcription forms available should you need any. No need to pack bunches.
Always, always, always, on your first visit to a new library or archive ask the staff for a tour. Better to spend 20-30 minutes getting the overall lay of the land than the whole visit frustrated that you can’t find the resources you need.
So, start planning your research trip, or as I like to call it a “genealogy vacation,” today. With a little effort before you leave home, you will have a wonderful and productive experience.