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Friday, March 11, 2011

Preparation, Preparation and More Preparation!!!

In my lecture:  How to Prepare for a Successful Genealogical Research Trip, I talk about how to prepare in advance for a genealogical research trip.  Here are a few tips I have learned:

1.  Prepare a trip itinerary and make it as detailed as you like. 

Example:
  • Day 1, April 3, 2013, Sunday - Fly to Connecticut, pick up rental car, visit _______, check in hotel (Name of hotel/motel/B&B, phone number (just in case).
    • Lots of places are closed on Sunday so you can use that day to go to cemeteries or visit a museum/library (if open) or drive from one location to another, tour a town and visit ancestral sites.  Or take time out and rest.
  • Day 2, April 4, 2013, Monday - Visit town hall seek vital records at - name the town hall and put the hours it is open. Not all town halls are open M-F and some close at 4 pm.
Etc. Etc. Know the archives, genealogical society, libraries, town halls and their hours and days open.  Not all locations are open the same and a small town may have limited hours.  So check the website or give them a call.

When you prepare to visit an ancestral location you usually don't have a lot of time. You might have a few days, a week or maybe two to three weeks and that means you have to be ready and know exactly what you want to accomplish.  Have it written down on your itinerary the days events usually in the order you plan to accomplish them.

The more detailed your trip itinerary is the better especially if the genealogical trip is very complicated.  

The question is: do you wish to take time on your trip fumbling for hotel information or have it handy to use if you need it? You might have to rewrite or retype it into your itinerary but then it is right there for you to use if you get lost or stuck.  What about that archive you want to visit?  Do you know the hours it is open and what you will be researching there?  Get that on your itinerary!

2. Use Word or some sort of Word Processor so you can make easy and multiple revisions as you build your trip plans.  Believe me what I start with at the beginning of planning my trip is very different by the time I leave for the trip.  So you want to be able to revise it continually.  Do you revisit it on the trip...YES...do you fix the itinerary to reflect the actual trip - NO.  I journal my trips or blog them so I don't need to do that.  The journal or blog tells the real story.  The trip itinerary has cross outs and notes added to the printed version.

3.  Route plan:  Along with creating this trip itinerary you need to plan the locations that you are going to and figure out the time and distance it will take you to get from one target location to another. 
  • It is probably best not to be on the road longer then 2 hours at a time between towns unless absolutely necessary.  So figure out how to cut the mileage down and be efficient in your trip by making a route plan.  Also not good to drive at night unless you are comfortable with that.  It can be difficult to see road signs at dusk or later and if it rains that can make it even harder.
  • You might have several screens open on your desk top so you can move back and forth to do some calculating from the information you find on the Internet and then add it to the itinerary by retyping or cutting an pasting (the html can cause format problems so you might have to edit it later).
  • I use Microsoft's Streets & Trips  because it has a daily agenda planner and tells me how far away my next stop will be and whether it is doable.  Various forms of the maps can be printed out like route maps by day and also detailed maps of a town.  Spend time locating the cemeteries, archives, gen societies, libraries, town halls, museums and lodging you plan to visit and add a pushpin if you can't find it on Streets and Trips.  Knowing where something is is well worth the time spent at home. 
  • Also don't forget to confirm with others at the location about where some location is or how the highways are and if there is anything you need to be aware of like construction delays, flooding etc.
4.  Maps:  In addition try using Google Earth and Google Maps to get more detail or a different perspective as well.  The satellite images help give you a visual idea of what an area is like and the type of highway you will be traveling on.  Using Google Earth helped me find a cemetery that was very important in my research and was not on Streets & Trips.  Don't forget you can even go to the DOT website of a state and get images of the highways in the more populated areas.  http://www1.eot.state.ma.us/ 

Note:  Not all maps - Google Earth, Google Maps, Streets & Trips and MapQuest, Yahoo will have everything on them so you do have to study several maps.  Get a good street map at the airport or visitor center.  GPS can lead you astray so you still need good maps to help you navigate.  Get one from AAA or contact the tourism website in advance to have a free map sent to you. 

5.  Try using Google Images to get a feel for an area you have yet to visit. Put into the Google Images search engine the name of a city and see what comes up.  Even online video's might be have something to offer.

6.  Tourism Websites:  Check out the tourism websites to get a feel and learn about an area.  A lot of them break up a state into regions and then list the various points of interest.  Some tourism websites are very well designed and helpful others are not.  So you do need to consider looking at state tourism websites, county and then city tourism websites.  The City government websites usually have a link "Visitors" that takes you to the local tourism website for more information.  This link will take you to the Massachusetts website:  http://www.massvacation.com/  Connecticut's tourism website is at this link:  http://www.ctvisit.com/

7.  Reservations with airlines:  Once the itinerary is in a doable form then make your reservations with the airlines.  There are mileage points clubs with most airlines and you can get their credit card and build miles by buying everything on the card which you pay off each month so you don't get hit with the high interest.  Once you build up your mileage points you can book free airfare round trips.  Join an airline newsletter for deals.

8.  Lodging reservations:  You could pull up to a hotel as you drive along on your trip.  If you have a family member along or a genealogy buddy they can make a choice.  In my opinion, it is a little dangerous especially if you are in an area that has few lodging facilities.  This is what became a problem in Massachusetts in the smaller town areas.  Making lodging reservations in advance will give you peace of mind.
  • Try the points clubs for various hotel chains.  They can help with the big hotels.  If you are like me and go to very small towns you may not be able to use them.  
  • B&B's are not necessarily more expensive than a hotel.  They also serve a great breakfast which is very important to have when you are traveling.  It is also fun to chat with the proprietors who know and live in the area.  This trip I am in Massachusetts so why not stay in a lovely old house that you don't have to take care of but can enjoy the creaking floors and old antique furnishings.  
  • Safety is another issue.  Is the hotel in a safe area of town?  Last time I was in Hartford I booked into a hotel in the northern part of the city and it was not a good thing. It was in a good location to the convention center but definitely a bad choice otherwise. So do a little investigating and reading the reviews of a motel/hotel before you book it.  I actually saw someone upload pictures of a motel toilet and it was not good.   
9.  Make the car rental reservation ahead of time and they usually give a weekly rate.  Try Priceline, Expedia and the others.  See what comes up.
  • If you are flying into a small airport you might want to find the airport website and check out the "transportation" or "ground transport" section to find out what rental car agencies are at that location.  You might be limited in choice and it is good to know before you start looking at car rental deals. I have tried Avis, Hertz and Budget and have good success with them.  This time it will be Thrifty and we will see?
10.  If you are attending a genealogical conference figure out your registration in advance or as soon as they open it:  The New England Regional Genealogical Conference is to be held in Springfield this year. 

  • The most important part is booking the conference hotel as soon as possible for a conference otherwise you might loose out.  November might seem like a long time till April but you don't want to miss out on rooms. Salt Lake City hotels filled up quickly for the National Genealogical Society conference there in April 2010 and you might end up in a hotel too far away.  Paying the higher cost may be worth it.  You could try an a genealogy roommate at one of the major conferences.  Email them and see. You need all the energy you can muster for a genealogical conference. For some reason they put them in places that require a lot of walking....?????
11.  Research Goals:  The most important part is the research and what each archive, repository, genealogical or historical society has to offer you in solving your research goals. What do you want to accomplish?  What ancestor do you want learn more about?
  • This part takes a bit of time to figure out and I use the Internet and other sources to do that.  Not all archives have great websites and you might have to email them or call them.  It took one archive two weeks to return my email.  So start a good month or more in advance of your trip.
  • Keep track of your URLs in your Favorites so you can go back and visit often. Get to know that archives website and study it thoroughly. 
  • I usually try for a book that specializes in an area.  This time I am using George Schweitzer's "Massachusetts Genealogical Research."  This edition is old - 1990 - but it does have at least a structure to follow. 
  • Check the Family History Library catalog for that location to see what they have.  This way you can decide if you could order a film rather than spend too much time in a repository that was already documented.  There is of course the experience of a place and original records may be needed?  It depends on your research goals.
These tips are not all I talk about in my lecture but they are a start.  The important thing is that this is a very creative way to build a trip that will suit you and it will help you to plan it well. 

So, I have been planning and preparing in the last few weeks because....April 3rd, 2011 is only 3 weeks away and I have a more planning to do. AUGH!!!!

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