My research trip preparation

Preparing for a genealogy research tripI leave today for my research trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. It’s about 3.5 hours from my home in St. Louis. I am really excited!

When I initially decided to take this trip, I felt a little anxious. I didn’t know what I would research and I knew that without a plan, I’d feel overwhelmed and incompetent the minute I walked in the door. Then I’d berate myself for not making the best use of my research time. And I’d wonder whether I could have done more.

So you know what I did to counteract that? I actually created a plan! I spent a good amount of time this weekend going through the holdings of the library online and checking my family tree to see what documents I needed. It was loads of fun to discover what I need when I have the potential to get the actual information.

Is started with a simple Pages document (Pages is the Mac’s version of Word) where I just kept a running list of what I might find and where. Then yesterday I created a Numbers document (you guessed it, Numbers is the Mac equivalent of Excel), sorted by family branch, of the info I need and where I might find it.

Because of other obligations today, I won’t get to Independence until late afternoon. The library is open until 9. My plan is to check into my hotel, grab something to eat, then go to the library to get the lay of the land and plan my day tomorrow. I’ll have a full day there tomorrow and will be able to go back to research in the morning and early afternoon on Wednesday.

I’m meeting my friend and fellow researcher, Lori Krause, whom I met at RootsTech (thanks to this blog) for some research and dinner tomorrow. Life is good!

Next week, I’ll post the list of items I brought and let you know whether I used them and what items I wished I’d brought.

Taking my research on the road

The Midwest Genealogy CenterUntil now, most of my genealogy research has been conducted at my desk, using online sources. I did have the pleasure of visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in February for a couple of hours.  But for the most part, I search away on the various databases I have access to.

Yesterday I received a notice from the National Genealogical Society about a research trip to Washington, D.C., that they’re planning. A group of 25 people will spend a week together in Washington, D.C. and visit the National Archives, the Daughters of the American Revolution library and the Library of Congress. Professional genealogists will be taking the trip with them. It sounds a bit like heaven! But it does come with a price tag: some $1500 before airfare.

I’m tempted. And I know I’d better act fast if I want to go, because it will sell out. But for that kind of investment, I’d better be sure to know what I’m looking for. So that got me thinking about how I might organize such a trip and whether I’d be better off venturing out closer to home at first and saving my NGS research-trip dollars for later. (NGS also offers trips to Salt Lake City and elsewhere.)

I’m lucky in that I live in the state where many of my ancestors lived, some as far back as the mid-19th century. I live on the opposite side of Missouri from those folks, but I still have resources available to me within a day’s drive. As I contemplated the Washington, D.C. trip, I thought maybe I’d be better starting out with a research trip to the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center (pictured above), in Independence, Missouri, a mere 3.5-hour drive from my home in St. Louis. I wouldn’t have a professional genealogist to guide me, but it would be a more economical alternative, one that feels very much in reach.

Of course, I’d still need to organize myself to make the most of the trip. I know that when I walked into the Family History Library I felt overwhelmed and, while I did come prepared with a question I was trying to answer, if it weren’t for the help of a staff genealogist, I wouldn’t have known where to turn.

So here’s what I decided to do to make such a trip a success.

  • First and foremost, I’m going to set a date for the trip. That will ensure it will happen and help me get started in my preparations.
  • I’m going to do research to understand the library’s holdings.
  • After I know what the library offers, I’m going to go through my family tree software to see which relatives are pertinent
  • Once I’ve narrowed it down to individuals, I’m going to make sure I know what info I have about each of them and where the blanks are.
  • I’ll analyze the info see what questions I have so that I can have clear goals for this trip.
  • I’ll reach out to my western Missouri cousins to see if I can pay them a visit

This feels really good to me. This morning, when I started contemplating this, I started to feel overwhelmed and my head started spinning a little. But breaking it down into these clear steps, so that I can make the most of my time at the library feels really good.

I do know there are local resources I haven’t yet exhausted. The central library of the St. Louis Public Library has a renowned genealogy department. There’s the library of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. And, of course, there’s the St. Louis Family History Center. But I’m keen for an overnight visit, which I think will really enable me to focus on my research, rather than being distracted by daily life. I anticipate that after I’ve made this type of research trip I’ll be in a better position to use local resources.

City directories: a great resource, used carefully

City directories can provide clues--and sometimes red herringsThis quarter, I’m exploring the Adams family–those ancestors from my paternal grandfather’s line. I’ve been fortunate recently to find my great grandparents heavily represented in city directories in the 1910s and 1920s. I’ve also found my grandparents and even my parents in city directories via Ancestry.com.

An individual’s entry in a city directory can provide some great information (depending on the year), including:

  • Address
  • Spouse
  • Occupation
  • Value of personal property

Tracking an ancestor’s address from year to year can be really revealing.

I was thrilled to see in the 1912 Chehalis County Directory paragraphs about each of the towns in the county. About Quiniault (now spelled Quinault), which is the town that my grandfather and his parents were living in that year, I learned this:

Population: 125. A village on Lake Quiniault, settled in 1890, 150 miles west of Seattle, 60 by rail and mail route, northwest of Montessano, the county seat. 40 north of Hoquiam, the banking point, 28 northwest of Moclips, the shipping point. Mail stage tri-weekly to Hoquiam ($4.00), to Humptulips ($2.00). A.V. Higley, postmaster.

That paints a picture of a very remote place, doesn’t it? Quinault is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The occupation of my great grandfather, Elmer, was listed as farmer. I can’t really imagine what life was like there in that small town, so far from everything, with four small children.

One thing I’ve come to realize about city directories, however, is that offer a snapshot that may look very different than reality. For example, I know from my grandfather’s letter to my grandmother that his parents did not live together in Olympia.  You would not know it from the Olympia city directory, where both Elmer and Hattie are listed at one address year after year. Similarly, my parents are listed in the Spokane city directory in 1954. I know that in fact they were stationed in London at the time. (My father was in the Army.) So as much as I love finding an entry in a city directory for one of my people, I’m learning to not take the information as gospel.

My new Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad

sp_fam_hist_orgI’ve become a fan of Springpad, a personal organizer app for the web and mobile devices. I use it to manage tasks and keep track of things like books I want to read and have read, movies, and wines. So far, I’m just scratching the surface of its functionality, but I really am loving it. I wrote on my Peace of Mind Organizing blog about how much I’m loving their Task Notebook.

To me, Springpad feels like Evernote meets Pinterest. I find it intuitive, easy to use, and visually appealing.

I am thrilled to announce that I’ve partnered with Springpad to create a digital notebook that’s customized to help you organize your family history. Called the Family History Organizer, it has these features:

  • A simple to-do list to keep track of and plan next steps, including a quick +Add button for adding tasks and checklists
  • A research tracker, complete with template form, so you can log information and research progress quickly and easily
  • An easy “database” for uploading photos and files scanned to your computer or from your phone
  • Bonus: A resources section filled with my tips and helpful tools

I created the research tracker because I have a hard time sticking with a proper research log. The research tracker is light version of a research log, but I think the information it captures will be helpful. Just copy and paste the template headings into a new Note within the Research Tracker tab at the conclusion of each research session and you’ll have an easy, accessible record of that session.

I’ll update the resources section of the Family History Organizer when I come across great resources (or when I want to share a particularly useful blog post).

I hope you’ll check out this custom notebook. If you’re interested in information and tools about organizing in general (not just genealogy), I also have a notebook called The Habit Maker. This is all part of Springpad’s Operation Organization campaign in which they’ve partnered with a small group of organizing experts to create a dozen or so of these notebooks.

If you try out the Family History Organizer, please let me know if you have any questions or feedback!