As summer winds down, many of us will be hitting the road for one last trip. For some, the family vacation will also include some family history research. Here are some tips to help you make the most of it.
August is prime time for county fairs and local festivals. Why not get out and explore your ancestor’s community and have some family fun in the process? Local events can give you a real flavor of the area—and perhaps some blue-ribbon barbecue, just like grandpa used to make. Plus, mingling with locals may score you some family history points. Long-time residents may know whether there are still family members in the area, where a private family cemetery is, and they may even have stories about your people. Even if there aren’t any festivals going on at the time of your visit, you never know what you’ll learn by striking up a conversation with regulars at a local diner or some other establishment.
Many of us travel to visit family. In some cases, we may have lost contact with relatives still living in the areas where our ancestors once lived. If you’re going to visit an ancestral town, it’s good to have someone in the neighborhood who can guide you to resources. Look through your DNA matches and other people who you’ve communicated with via Ancestry messaging and through message boards and mailing lists. Are they local? Check social media for your family surnames in that area. There are lots of ways to make connections online. Learn more about how you can make social media work for you in this free Ancestry Academy class.
Family history research trips used to be much more cumbersome. Copies of documents, folders, and binders with family trees and pertinent information were lugged on family visits, as well as treks to libraries and archives. Nowadays, with an online tree, your family tree is as close as your smart phone, and so are all the corresponding photographs and documents. The Ancestry mobile app allows you to easily access details needed for research, and can show you and your family what you’ve discovered on the go. You can learn more about the app here.
There are great benefits to having multiple family members take the AncestryDNA test. Siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will have different DNA than yours. Their results will extend your reach in the genetic pool and can be a fun activity to do as a group. If you’re planning on visiting family who are willing to be tested, bring the test along. It’s much easier in person when it comes to walking relatives through the various steps in creating an account, registering a test, taking the test, and if they agree, sharing the test with you as a Collaborator. If they prefer, you could even manage their test depending on the role they assign to you.
If your trip plans include visiting a local library or some other records repository, visit the website and check hours of operation and record availability. Even better, make a phone call before you go. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a facility to find that it is closed for renovation or that records have been moved offsite and are unavailable.
Checking catalogs where available and planning your research wish list ahead of time can help maximize your research time onsite, as well.
If you’re traveling to a city or town that you’re not familiar with, you may want to map out your research visits, so that you’re not wasting valuable time on the road. Plan your visits to churches, cemeteries, libraries, and archives on a route that makes sense.
Find out what places of worship and cemeteries were around when your ancestors lived in the area with historical city or county directories. (For rural areas that may not have a directory, try looking for a directory for the county seat. These sometimes include residents and institutions from the surrounding area.) Also, check with local genealogical and historical societies. They are the experts on research in that area and will know what resources are available and where the records are kept.