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.


  1. Jim Bertram says:

    A couple other things that may seem obvious, but put a list of items that you may want to have with you. On our first trip, my wife (then fiance) and I put together a list of items that may come in handy, especially if you plan on visiting more than just the history center. Things like a binder with the people and information you are looking for on each of them. Mechanical pencils (most libraries don’t allow pens), roll of quarters and maybe $20 in small bills (for copies/printers), spare batteries (for camera, digital recorder, etc) and SD memory cards/USB drives. Also, if you have a Flip-Pal (I love mine), bring it.

    There is nothing worse than driving a few hours and find out that an item you intended to bring, is still at home. If you are planning to visit family that you may not have seen in a long time (or are meeting for the first time, bring some old photos of people that are in common. It helps to spark conversations.

    • Jim, thank you so much for that great advice! I’m sure I’ll be creating a list prior to leaving and I’ll consult this comment. I really appreciate it.

      • I would love to see the list of what you plan to take with you. As I write this, I am packing for a trip to Salt Lake City, it is a trip I make fairly regularly, but still, it the excitement of being able to walk to the library is always there. I always take a fresh new Jump drive. I guess it’s my version of those sharp new pencils on the first day of school.

        • I’ll write a blog post with my list before I take the trip, Maria. I’d love to see your list, if you feel like sharing it here in the comments. Have a wonderful trip to Salt Lake!

          • Maria Tello says:

            My list…my Asus T100 with Office, 3 flash drives (1 new drive, the other 2 loaded w Family Group sheets and research logs). iPad with Genisus Scan installed. Neat Scanner, just in case. The Asus tablet/laptop is a godsend. I was so tired of dragging a heavy laptop, I made a recent technology change and purchased it and a 23 inch HP all-in-one. I also am bringing a long a samsung tablet, a small one that is has a data plan. The most important thing I am bringing is a plan. I have a list of documents and books that I want to peruse, I went to the FHL catalog…so now I am armed. I am fortunate to have a 2nd home in the area, I have not planned as well in the past. Good luck on your trip!

  2. Hey cousin – I’ve found the folks in the National Archives (8 in the USA) to be extremely kind, courteous and helpful to “newbies.” I still consider myself one cause when I began our mutual family trip I knew nothing and saved nothing, sources nothing and just was busy being excited. 2 decades later, I’m a bit more savvy, but still value the folks who actually know what they’re doing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and go at the times when they’re the least apt to be busy. AND keep me posted please.

  3. Maria, thank you so much for sharing your list! You definitely sound prepared. I love that you know exactly what documents you want to make sure you see. I’m sure that planning will pay off!

    If you have time and inclination, please let me know how the trip went when you get back!

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