Building flexibility into your genealogy trip

building flexibility into a genealogy research tripI just finished with my cemetery research trip to Kentucky and Alabama, where some of my ancestors lived and died. Being the professional organizer that I am, I planned the trip fairly extensively, down to the GPS coordinates of the cemeteries I was planning to visit. I worked up a schedule and made hotel reservations. My intention was to visit four cemeteries in three cities over two and a half days. I needed to end up in Nashville mid-afternoon of the third day for a conference.

On Day One, I realized that my plan was flawed. And I was so glad that I had the flexibility to change it. What I hadn’t done in all my planning was to build time in to look at local genealogy repositories for resources that might not be available to me on the internet. When I discovered that there was a Kentucky Room in a public library in Owensboro, Kentucky, 45 minutes north of where I was, I chose to stay and do research, rather than proceeding to Alabama as I’d originally planned.

That extra time in the Kentucky Room garnered me a death certificate on microfilm for my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth McEuen (that’s her grave marker in the photo), which in turn gave me her parents’ names.

The next day I proceeded to Baileyton, Alabama, where I had no trouble locating the grave markers of my great great grandparents, Laban and Margaret Rasco, and Laban’s parents, Jesse and Martha Rasco. When an internet search revealed a genealogy room at the library of Wayne State University, in Hanceville, Alabama, I decided to stay in northern Alabama and forgo my trip south to Marion Junction, Alabama, to visit another cemetery. I chose library research over cemetery research. This also saved me a few hours of driving in each direction.

I think it was a good decision. At the Wayne State library, the helpful librarians quickly identified Laban Rasco’s death certificate on microfilm and, in addition, they located his Confederate pension application, a 15-page document that I am looking forward to poring over.

I’m so glad I took this trip. Stepping away from the desk can be so beneficial. To stand in front of the graves of my ancestors was so powerful. To see the towns in which they lived helped me see them as humans. And talking with local people who knew my family’s surnames, brought my ancestors to life for me. One of the librarians in Hanceville, it turns out, grew up next to my family’s homestead. Making that connection with her was priceless.

Thanks to a blog reader, I called ahead to the church associated with one of the cemeteries and was connected to a wonderful local historian who went out of his way to help me and even met me at the cemetery. The trip couldn’t have gone better. And I learned a valuable lesson: When on a genealogy trip, keep my schedule loose and flexible so I can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Planning a cemetery research trip

Planning my tour of southern cemeteriesI’m going to an organizers’ conference in Nashville next month and I’ve decided to drive there so I can add on some time for some cemetery research. I’m excited to step away from my desk a bit more!

The branch of my family tree I’m focusing on this quarter is Rasco, my paternal grandmother’s family. They lived in Alabama until about 100 years ago when my great grandparents moved their family to Texas and then to Washington state. My research indicates that some are buried in the Rasco Cemetery in Dallas County, Alabama. Others are buried at the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama.

In addition, my Adams line lived in Kentucky before moving to the Pacific Northwest. So I plan to visit two cemeteries in McLean County, Kentucky, as part of this trip. At least one of the gravestones, whose picture I saw on Find A Grave, is very hard to read. I’m anxious to work the aluminum foil magic on any particularly worn stones and see whether the data on the stone will become legible.

When I think about planning for this trip, I know I want to capitalize on the opportunity. That means that I need to know who I’m looking for. I also need to look for folks who might be their kin, even if I  don’t have good enough sources to have added them to my Reunion software. That way I can photograph gravestones for potential future use. I obviously need to get my directions together–the fact that Find A Grave often gives GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) for cemeteries is tremendous! Even though my time is somewhat limited prior to the trip, I do hope to devote some time to researching these lines so that I can bring as much knowledge to the table as possible. I also want to do a little research on best practices in cemeteries.

I wish I could incorporate some courthouse research on this trip, but I simply don’t have time before or after the conference. So, for now, I’ll settle on cemetery research and plan a future trip for courthouse documents. I’m excited!

If you’ve done cemetery research, do you have any tips for me?

Getting ready for a family reunion

Getting ready for a family reunion

A.J. & Rhoda Brown and their children

I’m very excited to be attending the Brown family reunion, in Nevada, Missouri, at the end of next month. These are descendants of my great grandparents, Arthur John and Rhoda Wheeler Brown. I have my interest in genealogy (and this blog) to thank for my even knowing about the reunion. My grandparents left Missouri for Washington state when my mother was three. So I haven’t had a connection with that part of my family, until my mother’s cousin, Jerry Brown, found my blog and added me to his email list of cousins. Last year I traveled to western Missouri and met some cousins (and my now-departed great aunt) and did some cemetery visits.

As I look toward the reunion, I started thinking about how I might get the most out of it. I know I’ll enjoy meeting these cousins in any case (all the Browns I’ve met so far have been so welcoming), but I think I’ll enjoy it even more if I do a little preparation. I came up with a little list of things to do before going to the reunion:

  • Finish filling in the Brown collateral lines in my Reunion software
  • Spend a little time memorizing the names and relations
  • Go through family pictures I’ve been emailed so I can recognize some people
  • Gather up all the family photos in my possesion that need identification
  • Create a photo album of my little branch of the family to share with others on my iPhone/iPad
  • Come up with a few questions/research holes that my cousins might answer
  • Pack my LiveScribe pen and notebook so I can record the talk cousin Jerry will be giving on the genealogy of our family
  • Spend some research time on the Browns (which happens to be this quarter’s research line)

My husband’s family has periodic reunions and I go to them. His family is less far flung (at least his generation and those preceding were) and he knows many of the people there. This will be the first family reunion of my own family I’ve ever gone to and I look forward to meeting some family members for the first time!

Lessons learned from my research trip

Lessons learned from a research tripI just arrived home from my trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri (about a 3.5 hour drive). I wrote earlier in the week about how I prepared for it.

I had a great time. The library is beautiful and the people who work there so helpful. I met up with my friend and fellow genealogy researcher Lori Krause and we researched together at the library and had dinner together.

There were two things I didn’t bring that I wish I had, most notably my reading glasses. I wear progressive lenses in my glasses, which have a reading area at the bottom. But since I spent some time using microfilm reading machines, I had to tilt my head way back to read. And that got a little uncomfortable. I actually have computer glasses, too. Next time I’ll bring those as well. This was definitely an oversight on my part.

The other item I didn’t have that would have come in handy was Post-It notes for marking pages of books I wanted to copy.

I brought my laptop computer along and was glad I did. I also had my iPad, but I prefer Reunion’s desktop client more than its iPad app, so I stuck to the computer. I was so glad I’d brought a flash drive, which I did at the suggestion of reader Maria Tello. The library’s copy machines will store the image on a flash drive. So I copied pages from a couple of books right on to my flash drive, free of charge. (How cool is that?)  I was also glad I’d brought water and some snacks.

I was really glad for the preparation I’d done, but it wasn’t enough. I actually blew through the spreadsheet I’d prepared of resources I wanted to check quite quickly. And then I was faced with trying to use my time well. When I would feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities, I would focus in on the Brown family, the branch of my family that I’m focusing on this quarter.

Next time I go, I’ll try to perhaps stay a little longer and have shorter research days. After a full day of research yesterday, I was seriously tired. And I want to have a laser focus each day. I think I’ll pick just a few people and really hone in on what I know and don’t know about each of them and see how I can flesh out the information. This trip I tried to look up information on too many people and so I felt scattered.

Was the trip successful? Yes! I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have any Eureka! moments, but I did add eight new sources in Reunion. Having been to the library once will allow me to plan even better for the next trip, as I move my way up the family tree.