Tips from the Pros: Build a Research Trip Tool Kit, from George G. Morgan

Prepare yourself for research trips and visits by building a take-along tool kit. Pretend you are headed off to school because, after all, this is just another academic research trip!

Include a small stapler and staples, zipper-lock sandwich bags containing different size paper clips and rubber bands, several sharpened pencils, an eraser, small notepads whose pages you can clip to others or stick-on notes, a lined pad or notebook with pages for copious notes and transcriptions, and a zipper-lock sandwich bags with a variety of coins and dollar bills for copy machines and microfilm printers. Libraries and archives may have CD-Read/Write machines that allow you to save images and other data to CD. Therefore, take along a writable CD that allows you to write to it and a thin CD case to protect it.

Share some of the items in your toolkit in the comments section of this post.

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24 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Build a Research Trip Tool Kit, from George G. Morgan

  1. Great article but you forgot white chalk for the old tombstones and chalk will rinse off with rain water.

  2. Thanks for the ideas! Also, how ’bout a “thumb” drive – a USB drive – in case the library lets you save files on one. And “business” cards to give to staff or other researchers you might meet that you might want to stay in communication with.

  3. While visiting the Family History Library in SLC recently, I took stickey notes with my initials on them. When I took a microfilm from a cabinet, I placed one of my stickey notes on it. It saved me time when returning the films to the cabinets. I just had to look for the stickey note on the drawer!

  4. There are staple less staplers that do not get involved with the right number of staples to carry. I like a wide variety of stick em notes to put on differnt things I copy. Some copies require lots of comments to myself and other very small ones. On common coins I usually take rolls of the coins rather than take all of them together. Some coin purses have slots that sort differnt coin sizes in plastic also. The more organized the better and quicker the research can be done.

  5. Re: pencils. The best pencils for almost any purpose are Papermate Sharpwriter #2.
    Inexpensive, they are available at the supermarket in packets of about 10 and last for a long time. The Sharpwriters are a plastic mechanical pencil with a great eraser. Never need sharpening. The lead is perfect for either drawing or writing, it doesn’t break easily and it gives you either a sharp or soft image.

  6. Don’t forget your digital camera! If you are in an archives, remember to ask if use of the camera is permitted.

  7. Jill’s comment about using a thumb or jump drive is excellent and right on the mark. If the library has an electronic scanner, it will most likely have a USB port. Jump drives are inexpensive – a 2 gb jump drive is less than $20 and are a very fast and efficient way to carry images.

  8. Not just one, but several CD-Rs for saving records; thumb drives are faster when USB port available. Yellow-tinted transparent sheet for viewing microfilm records, fits over the white projected image. Tracing paper– good for comparing various handwriting samples.

    Shields & diffuse reflectors for photographing gravestones; a stepstool for a different viewpoint, or for holding the shield.
    Grass clippers & trowels for clearing around stones. Knee pads & umbrella (not just rain, but also a light shield); a jug for water to clean gravestone.

  9. Hi, I just read the article on making a kit to take with you and thought it was wonderful! I already have a kit to take with my which consists of the following:
    A broom – to sweet away any debris
    A dust pan with a long handle – to “easily” collect the trash
    A spray bottle with “WATER” – to clean the headstone (as long as the cemetery allows it)
    Some paper towels – to wipe the headstone after spraying
    A trash bag – to put any trash in
    A notebook that has both graph paper (to make a drawing of the location of the grave)
    A fold up stool or small chair

    I don’t know about any of you,but when I go to the cemetery, I go to spend at the least 1.5 hours and I want to make it as easy as possible.

  10. When visiting research centers, I always carry an 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheet of brilliant green or yellow paper to lay on microfilm reader screens to enhance contrast, especially when film is of poor quality. It may sound strange but this trick really makes a difference.

  11. Actually, I have THREE kits. One for cemetery, one for “research” and one for interviews. That way you can put all the things in it that you need for any of the tasks.

  12. Good suggestions. I also include a red pen. Sometimes those photo copies are hard to read and putting a red arrow by the name helps. I also use a mechanical pencil and include lead refills.

    I use a clear plastic cosmetic bag (purse size).

  13. A gift I will treasure, came from my husband, who got tired of seeing me trying lug my “tools” every time I went on my family gather trips. A zippered leather 3-ringbinder, that he stocked with everything he thought I would need. Now, all I do is add what info I need to research with no fuss of looking for things I might need. Good tip about the digital camera.


  15. I carry hard candy with me. Easy to suck on while doing hours of research. Then I throw the wrapper in my briefcase.

  16. Don’t forget to take extra batteries for the digital camera. They always “give out” in the middle of something important.

  17. Do your homework first: Find the online catalog for the library you plan to visit. Write a bibliographic citation on a white 3×5 for each book, article, film etc that you plan to consult. Punch a hole in the bottom corner of each card. Group the cards together according to family, location, subject etc and then arranage them in order of importance within each group so if your time runs out you will have investigated the most important sources first.

    On a colored 3×5 write the name of the family or subject. Fasten the cards together by family name or subject using a single “notebook” style ring from your office supply. You’ll probably have several groups; use different colors for cover cards. These groups of “ringed” cards can then be fastened to the rings in your research notebook. On the card write what you found or did: i.e.”nothing usable”, pages photocopied, etc. The white card could then be taken off the ring and stapled to any notes or photcopies and later filed in a card file to quickly identify all the books you have already used. Handy information to consult before your next research trip.

    Your research notebook should be easily identifiable in case you “lose” it. If the cover permits, insert a bright colored piece of paper with your last name written in BIG letters. A local address where you are staying plus a home address label will get your notebook back to you.

  18. WOW what wonderful ideas……..I have used some of them without thinking about it at the time as a tool kit. I will have to think about what I have used and share with you all but I think you all have them covered! ;-p
    Hugs, Michal in TX

  19. I use the little containers that 35mm film comes in, for quarters. Snap on lid is easy, and it will fit in pockets, backpacks, and those little zip close “purses”.

  20. Great comments! Print the resources I will use from the library or FHC onto address or shipping labels and stick them on 3×5 cards or print several for each resource and stick them on the back of print or photocopies for easy reference. No typing necessary as you can “copy and paste” the info.

    A mini-voice recorder or your cell phone can be used to make quick notes as well, especially if you are taking photographs. Simply dictate the location, content of the photo, etc. to match up which photos came from which cemetery. I also take a photo of the building, cemetery sign, etc. before
    I take any photos at that location to break up when shooting began/ended at each location.

    FYI – a 35mm film canister holds $6 of quarters.

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