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What's in Your Genealogy Research Bag?

What's in Your Genealogy Research Bag?

As I write this I’m finishing up my research trip to the Allen County Public Library (ACPL). Last year I wrote about the Genealogy Center at ACPL and everything it has to offer researchers. This year I returned to continue my research.

For some of the researchers here, this is the first time they have used a library for genealogy research. I imagine that can be intimidating. A new researcher has to consider what their research question is, what they want to find, and what to bring. When I research away from home, I have a bag that has, what are for me, “research essentials.”

What’s In My Research Bag?


Everyone is different, that’s a given. So it makes sense that some research “essentials” will be the same for most genealogists and others are more personal preferences. One thing to consider about your research bag is weight. What I take is influenced by what I can comfortably carry, especially if I have to walk a few blocks to the library. You may have some mobility issues that make a roller bag a better option.

What are My Research Essentials?


For me they include:

Office-type Supplies

  • Computer
  • Cell phone
  • Flash drive
  • Blank notebook (or two)
  • Pens, pencils, highlighters
  • Post-it notes or post-it tabs

Personal Needs

  • Water
  • Snack (remember you can’t eat in the library)
  • Cough drop
  • Aspirin
  • Eye-drops
  • Face mask (some libraries or repositories may require it)

What you want to pack may differ. To me, these are all essentials. Notice I didn’t discuss your genealogy research materials like charts or reports. It’s easier if you have your research in a software program on your computer or an online tree so that you can refer to it. A mobile app with an online tree makes it easier to take your research wherever you go. 

You need to think not just about research but also about what you need to be comfortable. And speaking of comfort, I always bring a sweater with me because it’s not uncommon for the library to be a little colder than you want. And nothing makes a research trip more miserable than being cold. 

So once you consider what to take, make sure that you also consider what NOT to take. My suggestions include:

  • Any drink that is not water
  • Your original documents/records
  • Valuables
  • Anything you absolutely don’t need

Once again, that list will be different for you and your research needs.

Ready to Research?

Researching away from home requires being prepared. Part of that preparation is your research question and plan but you also need to prepare for your time in the library. Start putting together a research bag now so that you’re ready to research when given the opportunity.


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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None of the libraries that I have visited allow the use of pens - much too permanently damaging to books or docs. OK to have one with you for personal use, but please don't take it into the library.

I have a lock for my laptop and have a cable lock I can secure my laptop to the table. I can also secure my bag with the cable. You don't want to leave anything valuable unsecured while you're in the stacks.

You may need a photo ID to enter some archive areas. Change for copies or a credit card may be needed, too.

Post-its are also not allowed in most libraries I've been to. They leave residue. I have cut-up strips of plain paper with me to use as markers.

Also remember to take the charging cords for the laptop and cell phone. Check if the library has lockers and whether you need to take small change (e.g., quarters) to use in them. ALWAYS research the library ahead of time!

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