Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who, Me? Organized?

It appears the intrepid traveling genealogical researcher must be at the peak of perfection, when it comes to organization. After all, considering the resources poured into such a trip, there ought to be some return on investment.

That line of reasoning might lead one to think, “She is going on a genealogical research trip; ergo she is organized.”


Not this genealogical researcher.

So when Wendy asked, in a comment a couple days back, for my secret sauce for staying organized, I couldn’t say anything.

Wendy mentioned,
I am curious how you are organizing your notes for this trip. Notebook? Flashdrive? Excel spread sheet? How will you make sure you're not a half-hour down the road from Tipperary and suddenly remember, Oh—I wanted to look for....

Granted, she has a valid point. After all, who wants to remember what she forgot, just after the gates close and you have to head home?

I’m not the one to answer that question. I’m the one who used to be able to keep everything in my head, so list-making and spreadsheet wizardry are skills I’ve never taken the opportunity to develop. Besides, I never started this blog under the assumption that it is to be written by an expert. You know that. I’m the perpetual guinea pig. And I’m about to demonstrate that, yes, you should make a list. And yes, you should have other ingenious ways to preserve your sanity and never fail to remember everything.

I will say I’ve learned one lesson: to always have a back-up plan. Case in point: I once attended an out-of-town workshop in which I planned to share some data which was accessible on my tablet. While I carry a hotspot for back-up wifi access, I had thought the workshop location would provide Internet access. It didn’t. And though I needed to re-load the hotspot service, the time I had that morning should have been sufficient. It wasn’t: the site was down for half the day—the very hours I had left to try and re-up my service. If I had known, ahead of time, that I’d be faced with those two roadblocks, I would have just printed the material on my desktop before I left home. Sometimes, we just have to make room for “Plan C.”

For our Ireland trip, you can be sure I’ll be bringing printed copies of the pertinent data I want to have at my fingertips. You never know when the old-fashioned way will be the only way you can access what you need.

Sometimes, in the midst of research, it’s possible to find an unexpected fact that leads to the kind of questions that make you wish you had brought along a lot more of your family records. That’s when I like to have my entire database on hand. Face it, though: mine is one of those collections that contains records for upwards of thirteen thousand individuals. I won’t be printing all that out and carrying it around. Being able to tap into my Ancestry account will make the difference there.

Thanks to Far Side’s prodding, I do have lists of what I’m seeking in each county location. But even those I'll treat as a fluid read-out. Some of these journeys, I will be going in blind. I’m not sure what’s available, and what I can find. The lists are more amorphous than some people might prefer to see. That’s where flexibility comes in.

Of course, I’ve rehearsed the lines of these eight Irish individuals countless times, in my mind and out loud in explanations to family, friends and anyone else crazy enough to give me the time to listen. By this point, the quest seems rather straightforward to me. And yet, just as convoluted. Sometimes, I feel confident that I’ll find everything. And then, sometimes, I freak out that I will find nothing.

Perhaps, rather than pose as the expert and answer Wendy’s query myself, it would be better to crowdsource the answer. After all, you are just as likely—take that back; even more likely—to have some good suggestions for how to keep organized in the midst of The Big Research Trip. What do you feel is helpful? What has saved your skin, when you thought the whole trip was a bust? What tricks do you use to keep yourself on the right track?

It’s your turn to write a blog post here. Add your comments, or link back with a post on your own blog. I’m curious to see what has been helpful to you on your research trips, be they grand adventures or more modest excursions.

Above: County Clare native William Mulready's illustration to chapter one of Oliver Goldsmith's Victorian novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, "Choosing the Wedding Gown." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. No long blog-entry like post for me. :)

    I would take a slender 3 ring notebook with some lined paper, print outs of all the places you might go showing their name, address, hours of operation, phone number, prices (if applicable) and perhaps a note of which ancestor(s) you might "see" while there - this includes castle(s), B&Bs, car rental(s), libraries (Dublin and others), churches, any programs you want to attend, your daughter (address and phone number) - some of this is "JIC" Just in case. The print outs will give you a place to scratch down any other "late to come by" info like contact names, recommendations from others you encounter and so forth. In the binder I would include the contact info and schedules of your traveling party too.

    Some small "locator maps" could be in the binder - but I would get/take the absolute best and latest road map(s) one can find and have those.

    1. Thanks, Iggy! Sounds like some excellent pointers from someone who's been there and done that :)

  2. I've never been on a real research trip, but based on my typical visits to the Library of VA just 90 minutes away, I'd want to take extra care to have a plan. When I go to the library, I have a general idea but then I get distracted by the "Oh shiny" resulting in running out of time for my original purpose or totally forgetting it. So I'd have a notebook with pages for each county, with the places I plan to visit along with their hours and contact person, what resources they have and DON'T have, and the ancestors who might have records there. Locator maps are a good idea too -- I remember reading Colleen Pasquale's blog post about trying to find a place for which she had an address; she drove around and around in circles before finally asking someone who pointed her to a building behind a building that she had gone by numerous times. (I think that's how the story went.)

    1. Oh, but Wendy, I wouldn't call that 180 minute round trip event a faux research were researching, weren't you? ;)

      I'm terrible about that Oh, Shiny syndrome as well. And I remember Colleen's post you are referring to. The Irish have alleys for which many GPS systems are not adequately equipped, as my daughter has already found out!

      Another thought that pains me is "Michigan Girl" Diane Gould Hall's experience when she traveled to Scotland and hoped to get in some genealogical research. It was her arrival at the Family History Society center on the day that turned out to be a holiday--yes, it was closed, and that was the only day she had--that just broke my heart. I am definitely obsessing on not missing such details!

      But it's those little, unanticipated discoveries that pop up that I'm ill-prepared for. And how could I be? How could anyone be? Sometimes, when I'm standing vigilant guard over that Ooh Shiny Syndrome, I just have to give myself permission to look up from my schedule and my list and let the adventure just happen.

  3. I echo what has been said so far. I will say however, I do research at the Family History Library which is 30 minutes away and have been known to take everything short of the kitchen sink, "just in case," but certainly don't recommend that for an overseas trip.

    I do think you will need a list of some priorities however to help keep you focused. While it's difficult to know exactly what you might find and granted, you likely will make discoveries that will determine your next step, without some specific priorities it will become all too easy to "chase rabbits" and consequently come home with less than hoped for.

    While I try to allow flexibility to prepare for those unexpected finds, I also try to have some "must do's." That being said, I have to confess I keep procrastinating a particular research trip for just this reason----I need to face that I will never know as much as I want to or be as prepared as I want to be and just do my best and go.

    I think if you have access to your database, a list of a few priorities, repositories with their hours and contacts, all with the understanding that locals will be able to help with places you possibly hadn't considered, you will be in good shape. (fingers crossed!) good luck!

    1. Thanks for your suggestions and observations, Michelle. I know you are a serious researcher.

      I feel we are on the same wavelength, based on some of the thoughts you shared. That thought about what keeps some researchers procrastinating certainly resonates here. I think sometimes it is wisdom that is required, more than do's and don'ts--the wisdom to know when to tighten up and demand organization of ourselves, and the wisdom to know when that would just freak us out. Everyone is different. Anything that would freeze an individual in her tracks would not be productive. It is so much better to make the trip, free ourselves up to not get everything we hoped to find, and at least get some of our goals accomplished.

  4. I haven't been on a research trip to another country yet. I hope you have a splendid and productive time in Ireland! It sounds like so much fun!

    It sounds like great advice has already been shared in the previous comments. I would only add that you make sure and take your camera and a portable scanner for the places that allow those things. I have a Flip-Pal and it's wonderful!

    I want to let you know that your wonderful post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Jana, our Flip-Pal has been a godsend at times! Thanks for the reminder.

      Thank you also for including this post in your weekly Fab Finds. There are certainly some great reads in your selections for this week.


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