Preparing for a Research Trip: Research Plans

There are a variety of ways you can construct a research plan and log. Often these are taught and discussed as two separate items. However, these can be one document that is keyword searchable if you use a computer program. Popular computer programs for creating research plans and logs are: spreadsheets (Excel or Numbers), word processors using tables (Word or Pages), and note-taking software such as Evernote, One Note, or Scrivener. Of course, this is a personal preference and you may be most comfortable with paper and pencil.

Why is a research plan/log important? 

  • To be efficient with your limited time in a repository, cemetery, or with family members.
  • To keep track of what you’ve researched so you don’t unnecessarily duplicate your work.
  • To keep any notes about your search results organized.
  • To gather citation information.

Months or years later, you can search these plans/logs for more research clues or to be sure you don’t examine the same source twice, or to know if you need to go back and search for new information (perhaps you’ve discovered a new surname since the last time you looked at a particular book or film).

Consider including the following items in your research plan/log:

  • Date
  • Repository
  • Title of item
  • Call number or film number
  • Names/Info searches
  • Search results
  • Other comments

A research plan and log should allow you to see what you’ve done, let you see where you should or shouldn’t search in the future, and is best if it is keyword searchable such as in a computerized system.

Sample research plan/log

While you are at the repository:

  • Take the time to organize your research findings.
  • If you have time/energy in the evenings, go through your papers/files and be sure they are organized.
  • Process your work as soon as possible. Enter in your database, research log, or other system.

If you wait too long to process your work, and you forget what you were doing, it’s almost as if you never went in the first place. Be sure you record and process what you find.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

Preparing for a Research Trip: Repository Visits

I, for one, cannot wait to get back to researching in various repositories. Seeking out elusive ancestors and learning about history firsthand is so much fun. Here are some tips for taking trips to repositories.

Repository Visit Tips

Before you go to a repository, check the website for maps, location, hours, closures, and parking information. Also, check the rules for what you can bring and/or do while you’re there, and then bring the appropriate items:

  • Can you use your own notebooks or will you be given archive-assigned loose paper?
  • Can you bring in your bags, backpacks, or briefcases or will you be assigned a locker? 
  • Can you use pens or is it pencils only?
  • Is photography allowed?
  • Can you use laptops, tablets?
  • Do you need to request items from storage ahead of time?

Check the online catalog and plan what you want to see specifically. Create a list of call numbers, manuscript names, folder numbers, and/or microfilm numbers. Be sure to ask questions of the archivist or librarian. They often know a lot of information that you might not have been expecting.

What’s in the bag?

  • Don’t forget plugs, chargers, cords, batteries, etc.
  • Change or bills for copies if needed
  • Is there a snack room available? Bring water, snacks, and/or lunch.
  • Flash drives, thumb drives
  • Office supplies: sticky notes, paper clips, folders, sheet protectors, large envelopes
Research room at the Hancock County, Ohio courthouse

Preparing for a Research Trip: Cemetery Tour

Almost every genealogist I know loves visiting a cemetery. I’m known to visit cemeteries even if I don’t have any ancestors buried there. Planning for a cemetery trip can be very important.

Tips for Planning the Cemetery Tour

  • Use maps to plan your tour. I use Google Maps: My Maps. If you have several cemeteries to visit in one area, use Google Maps to create a route for efficiency.
  • Get cemetery hours and sexton or office information ahead of time, if possible.
  • Don’t forget to plan for bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, travel time, and time to get lost.
  • Have a back-up plan if the weather gets bad. If you are doing this in conjunction with a  family visit, try to have a flexible schedule.
Front gate photo, Wellsville Cemetery, Missouri

Cemetery Tour Tips

  • When taking digital photos, take a photo of the front gate sign at the beginning AND the end of the session. This will ensure you attribute the correct cemetery to the correct tombstone.
  • Pay attention to who is buried around your ancestors. Often families bought plots together.
  • If there is a local person around, a sexton, groundskeeper, or office staff, be sure to talk to them. They most likely know something more or have supporting documents.
  • Take good, detailed notes and process your data as soon as possible.

What’s in the bag?

Be sure to pack the following:

  • Camera, reflector
  • Memory Cards
  • Battery back-up (USB), car chargers
  • SOFT brushes
  • Water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray
  • Wear appropriate clothes & shoes (think about weeds, burrs, snakes, bugs, etc)

You never know what kind of obstacles or critters you might encounter in the cemetery. Here are a few that I’ve encountered over the years.

Weeds up past the bumper in South Dakota!
Made a turtle friend in New Hampshire.
Found some deer in Connecticut.
Found ducks in Ohio.
A wild hog warning in Texas.

Preparing for a Research Trip: Family Interviews

As we get together with family, especially over the holidays, this is the perfect time to conduct family interviews. If you have done much research on your family history, you likely have some questions that some older members of your family might be able to answer. What’s more, there might be some great stories you never knew. Getting your family to share stories over the dinner table is so much fun. Be sure to bring a recording device of some kind!

You might also plan to visit more distant family members that you’ve discovered through your research. You may have connected with new DNA cousins and have planned to meet up and share information. These tips will help you prepare:

Tips for Planning the Family Interview:

  • To help jog memories bring: a pedigree chart, family group sheets, any old photos you have on that family line. Having these things in front of you helps bring up memories and stories.
  • Determine the venue for your interview such as a family gathering or a one-on-one setting.
  • Think about who’s invited: if you don’t want too many distractions you might limit the number of people during the interview.
  • How many family members will you visit? Plan with maps if you are unfamiliar with the area and make a schedule.
  • Send a thank-you note when you get home.
A family visit with my grandmother and her family friends. Questions were asked. Stories were shared.

What’s in the bag?

Be sure to bring the following:

  • Recording device, phone app, digital recorder, or notepad & pens/pencils
  • Camera – to photograph photos, documents, and other family artifacts
  • Questions – What do you want to know? Make a list of questions to ask ahead of time, but be sure to be flexible. Also, ask open-ended questions to get more information.
  • DNA kits – you never know when you’ll find someone whose DNA will help with a research project
  • Extras – extension cords, batteries, tripod, plugs, chargers, etc.
  • A small gift or something genealogical to share

Resources for Interviews:

Preparing for a Research Trip: Types of Trips

These last 2 years have been very strange for most of us. I typically traveled several times per year for speaking, institute attendance, or research purposes. As we look toward the future and to a time when traveling safely might resume, let’s explore the ways to prepare for research trips.

There are several types of research trips to prepare for. Each one has similarities and differences. In this blog series we will examine ways to prepare for these:

  • Family Visits to conduct interviews, gather photos & documents or obtain DNA samples
  • Cemetery Tour to visit cemeteries in ancestral or far flung locations
  • Repository Visits to conduct research in libraries, archives, and courthouses
  • “One-Stop” Library such as the Family History Library, Allen County Public Library, or Mid-Continent Public Library
Researching at the Family History Library

With any of these trips you’ll need to consider:

  • Travel such as air, train, bus, or car
  • Hotel, or staying with friends or family
  • Food, groceries, or restaurants
  • and other logistics unique to the area.

Over the next few weeks, we will examine each type of trip including what to bring and how to prepare ahead of time.

Upcoming Events

I just wanted to pause before I start my blog series to let you know of some upcoming speaking events that will be finishing out the year for me.

Clayton Library Friends – Webinar

I will be presenting “Making Molehills out of Mountains: Getting Organized” on Friday October 29 at 2pm CentralClick here for more information.

Genealogical Forum of Oregon Fall Seminar

On Saturday October 30, starting at 9am Pacific I will be presenting on 3 topics:

  • It’s in the Bag: Preparing for a Research Trip
  • How’d You Find That?!? Tips for Locating Obscure or Hidden Records
  • Using Google’s MyMaps as a Research, Analysis & Trip Planning Tool

Click here for more information.

Bay Area Genealogical Society (Texas)

On Friday, November 19, at 7pm Central, I will be presenting “Using Church Records to Find Ancestral Origins.” Click here for more information.

Orange County California Genealogical Society

On Saturday, December 4th at 10am Pacific, I will be presenting two lectures:

  • How’d You Find That?!? Tips for Locating Obscure or Hidden Records
  • Who Lived Next Door? Using the FAN Club

Click here for more information.

I hope you’ll join me at one or more! Happy fall!

Research in the Equality State: Online Resources

Every state is going to have a similar list of resources available online, so you can take what I share here and search for something similar in another state your are researching in. Most states will have a state archive and/or library. There may be a statewide digitizing project. You might find several universities that have archival collections. (In the case of Wyoming, there is only one, the University of Wyoming in Laramie.) There may be specialized museums around the state that have archival and research collections. And when I say “online,” I mean they have a web presence which may only be a catalog and you might need to contact them for copies or to find a research proxy.

These are some of the important collections of online resources in Wyoming:

  • Wyoming State Archives, located in Cheyenne, their online collection contains some county records, newspapers, maps, photos, and so much more.
  • American Heritage Center, located at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, their online collection consists of research guides and catalogs of their manuscript and rare book collection.
  • Wyoming State Historical Society‘s website is full of historical facts about the state including an encyclopedia, oral histories, field trip information, a blog, special topics, and more.
  • State or county-level genealogical societies are generally available. Wyoming does not have a state society, but there are several local societies such as the Cheyenne Genealogical & Historical Society.
  • Local public libraries often have a local history section, such as the Albany County Public Library in Laramie.

There are a lot of ho-to and link websites that we use everyday and are useful for finding Wyoming information such as:

This is the end of my series on Wyoming, for now. I did a webinar for Legacy Family Tree Webinars (subscription required to watch) on this topic back in 2019. So if you’d like to hear more details, you might head over there and give it a watch (this is an affiliate link).

Next week we will start something new. “See” you then!

Research in the Equality State: Online Card Catalogs

If you haven’t used the card catalog feature on a few of the main genealogical sites we all might use every day, let me take this moment in Wyoming research to demonstrate it. Main of the big genealogy sites have this feature but I have found that over the years, not many know about it or use it. I’ll show both Ancestry and FamilySearch’s card catalogs today, but be on the lookout for a similar feature on other sites.

At Ancestry, you can find the Card Catalog under the Search Tab:

Ancestry’s Card Catalog

Once your in the card catalog, you can filter your results by using the options on the left. For this example, I have filtered by “USA” and “Wyoming:

You can further filter by the county, record category etc. This will help you see more quickly databases, record sets, and sources that Ancestry has for Wyoming specifically.

Similarly, at FamilySearch, you can also search the “Catalog.” From the home screen, it can be found under the Search tab:

FamilySearch’s Catalog

From this screen, you will see options to search by Place, Surnames, Titles, Author, Subject, and Keywords. Most of the time, I find I use the Place search.

FamilySearch’s Catalog

You can start your search broadly by typing in “Wyoming”:

FamilySearch’s Catalog

From there you can see all of the options that are at the state level, or you can click on “Places within United States, Wyoming” and see a list of counties:

FamilySearch’s Catalog – Wyoming
FamilySearch’s Catalog – Wyoming Counties List

Once you’ve picked a county, you can see what records they have for Albany County land records:

FamilySearch – Albany County Land Records in the Catalog

From there, it is almost like the “old days” of scrolling through microfilm, except you are at home. (Of course, there are some digitized films that must be looked at while at a Family History Center or Affiliate library due to contract restrictions.)

FamilySearch Catalog Entry for Deeds
FamilySearch Deed Index for Albany County

So, if I want to look up any deeds for Susan Baily, I can start “scrolling” or clicking and find the B entries in this index and then find the deed.

Using the card catalog allows me to be more thorough and intentional with my research. If you are just using the global search function from the front page of any of these large genealogical sites, you are probably missing a lot of records. Give the card catalog a look.

Research in the Equality State: Published Sources

Wyoming has a fair number of books published about it that are genealogically useful and historically interesting. Like other states, you will find county and regional histories. Your main repositories for published sources about Wyoming are:

When examining county histories, don’t just look at the biographical sketches. Also examine the topical sections for important background.

Table of contents for A Sketch of the History of Wyoming by Isaac A. Chapman

You can also find published books at Ancestry. In the card catalog, use ‘Wyoming’ as the title and then use the filters on the left.

Using these filters, you can find a digital copy of History of Natrona County, Wyoming.

Examine these resources for books about the history and people of the county you are researching.

Next, we will examine some map collections for Wyoming.

Research in the Equality State: Newspapers

Newspapers are one of my absolute favorite sources when it comes to genealogy. Nothing gives you a better spotlight into a community and or a person’s life quite like a newspaper does. Wyoming had a fair number of newspapers throughout the state over time, and there are a number of excellent resources for finding them.

Of course you are going to want to examine some of the usual sites, such as Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive, and GenealogyBank. It is just good practice to see what newspaper coverage those sites have for the area you are researching. Also, check with Chronicling America from the Library of Congress, which currently has five digitized newspapers available for Wyoming:

Chronicling America catalog of digitized newspapers for Wyoming.

However, the best resource for digitized newspapers from Wyoming is the Wyoming Digital Newspapers Collection. This website is provided by the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming State Archives and contains newspapers back to 1849 and over 1.1 million pages of digitized content. We are going to conduct a search for our female homesteader Susan Baily:

We found 72 items for the phrase Susan Baily.

Our search for Susan Baily, without any other filters, returned 72 hits. As you can see, you can filter your search by exact phrase, date, county, city, and title. The first result is an article about a dance that was held in Centennial, Wyoming.

From the Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection.

Digging a little further, we find an article about Susan’s sister, Philena Baily marring Willie Conners.

From the Laramie Republican, 16 March 1910

The state newspaper site is fantastic, and full of wonderful Wyoming newspapers. Have fun exploring!