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Library Essentials: What Do You Take on a Research Trip?

Library Essentials: What do You Take on a Research Trip?

You’ve probably read my previous posts detailing my summer of library research thus far at the Family History Library and the Clayton Library. This summer I will have researched at genealogy libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries in four different states. That’s a lot of research. There are some mistakes I made along the way and things I forgot. My question for you is: what is a must-have for your library research trip?

Going to the local library is a lot different than heading to a neighboring state to research at a major genealogy library. The preparation is different and the things you need to pack and remember can be different. And that can also depend on what is available at that library. For example, I didn’t make one photocopy at the Family History Library but that’s because I used a flash drive and my cell phone camera. In years past I made enough photocopies to need extra room in my suitcase.

When I take a research trip, what I take depends on:

  • What is available (research and technology wise) at the library
  • What I’m researching
  • How I’m getting to the library and eventually returning home (that impacts how much I need to carry)
  • How many days I’ll be researching
  • How I will get there (driving, walking, public transit)
  • What I’m going to eat.

Yes, eating is important. Straying hydrated and eating somewhat regularly (more so if you have health issues) is important and in the case of my latest trip it was an issue since many nearby restaurants were closed (lesson learned, always have some sort of snack on you at all times).

So what did I take? It was interesting to watch other researchers and compare what they brought versus what I brought. Some rolled around small pieces of luggage with their information. Others had 3-ring binders. In my research bag I had:

  • A laptop and charger
  • My cell phone and charger
  • A flash drive
  • A notebook
  • Pens, pencils, and highlighters
  • Removable sticky notes and tags (for my notebook)
  • A list of what I was researching/Research Log

Research Trip Supplies

I also sent myself emails of information I thought I might need such as research logs, to-do lists, charts and GEDCOMs. I prioritized what was the most important and went from there. I assumed that “stuff” happens and there were certain items I may forget but I could purchase at a local office supply store. If my computer died or my research bag was stolen, I still had those emails I could access on my phone or on a computer at the library.

Every night in my hotel room, I went over what I knew, what I found, and where else I needed to look. Sometimes this differed depending on what new-to-me sources I found or a librarian suggested.

Now how did I prepare? Well, I spent time deciding what family lines I would research. I then went through the library catalogs to find items that were not found elsewhere and not online. I made that my priority to research those things. I also chose multiple projects knowing that sometimes things don’t work out. In one case, a microfiche was lost and so I was unable to use that much-needed resource. Always search the catalog before going to the library.

Now it’s your time. How do you prepare for a library research trip? What do you take with you? Has that changed over time? Please share your experience in the comments below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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In the fourth paragraph you have "Straying hydrated . . . " Does that mean drying out (grin)?

Great article, i do a lot of research in Virginia and there are NO electronics allowed in the Courthouses in Virginia. So my info that I need to look for is taken in in a notebook. Just a heads up for those who are going to Virginia to research. Joyce Ann Young

Gena - One of your items (what can you carry) reminded me of a trip of mine. I had the usual materials with me but I stopped at my grandfather's former home to ask to take pictures of a stone wall. I had an old pictures of my mother and her sister & my uncle's second wife sitting on that wall. The owner, the daughter of the people who bought the hose from my grandfather's estate, said yes so off I went. The owner showed up shortly after to say that she had cleaned the attic two years previously and found several pictures that were of my grandfather and did I want them. Of course I said yes but how was I going to get them home; I had flown from Ohio to Boston MA. I went to a package place to mail them and the cost was over $100. The man running the place said that he had worked in antiques and that several frames were not worth much if anything. Getting rid of the frames reduced the mailing costs considerably and I mailed the pictures home. One of the pictures was a montage of the class of 1904 from Harvard Medical School including my grandfather; what a find.
Sometimes when you travel you get extra stuff to get home somehow but sometimes it is well worth it.

One thing to keep in mind is that you need to get the name and address of any person who goes over and above, such as the person who gave lots of photos to the person who asked permission to view a wall outside the house. This way, you can send a nice personal note or even a small gift to the donor. Now if the person finds any more treasures, they can get in touch with you!
Remember the manners we were taught about asking permission, please and thank you. Most folks are receptive to researchers when the "niceties" are observed.

I did research at the archives in Gothenburg Sweden. I had everything with me -computer, phone and print outs of the different parts of my family tree in a ringed binder.
I found the printouts helpful when I talked with the librarian about the research I was doing. She was able to show me how to prove/disprove my hypothesis of a potential gg-grandfather.
I was not allowed to bring any food or drink in the research room but I was allowed to keep things in a locker for break time.

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