Friday, January 10, 2020

Updating Your Genealogy Go Bag

It's been a while since I last took to the road to do some serious research at a genealogical repository. Since I'll be heading to class next week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, it occurred to me that this might be a good time to re-familiarize myself with rules and expectations at my library of choice for the week, to prepare myself for any curve balls that might be thrown in my direction. After all, if hotel elevators can hold me hostage from my intended destination in sunny California, anything is possible, once I venture out into the winter wonderlands of the rest of the country.

That's why I thought this might be a good time to update my genealogy go-bag. You know what a go-bag is: packed and ready for any moment's notice, it contains all the necessities for you to survive on for a set number of days; twenty-four and seventy-two hour kits seem to have grabbed the preferred positions for preparedness. The term originated with the military, where the concept was once known as a "bug-out bag," but usage evolved when the idea was adopted by law enforcement and emergency-response professionals. Now, it's not only residents in the path of fires, earthquakes, or tsunamis who get their go bags ready; people like expectant mothers or organ transplant candidates talk about their go bags, too.

If you really think about it, the very same concept can be used in many different applications. Anyone who wants to have a bag packed with specialized supplies or equipment—the type of stuff we'd rarely otherwise use—is, in essence, keeping a go bag at the ready. For my genealogy research trips, I've always had a go bag of sorts. Over the years, it generally held stuff like pedigree printouts, note pads, extra pens and pencils, and coins for photocopy machines.

But over those same years, research life has changed. While my Flip-Pal might have had a berth in my bag in prior years, it seldom goes on trips with me anymore; the camera in my phone or iPad does just as well for capturing the information on a document or a page from a book. Same goes for even the most rudimentary supplies. Coins for parking or copy machines are now sometimes displaced by credit card readers on parking meters or printing services. I can save details from library catalogs directly to my phone or laptop, bypassing the need for notebooks—or even pens or pencils, in some cases.

The key is to assure ourselves of what, in each library, never changes, and re-orient ourselves to what specific details have been upgraded. That's why I find it helpful to review what otherwise might be considered as the beginner's basics: I go back and look up the rules, maps, details, and contact info for the facilities where I've planned upcoming research trips. One serious remodeling project can turn everything I remembered about the place on its head.  

If you are a consistent researcher, you know the rules of the research road. Those rules, while seeming like standards, are always changing. Some archives expect visitors to give them the white-glove treatment, but others do not. Some want every possession but the pencil they provide you locked up until you leave the premises, while others kindly grant concessions. Some allow you to snap your own pictures or take your own scans, while others insist on doing the honors—for a hefty fee.

It's been a while since I spent any serious time at a genealogical library—in fact, not since attending the FGS Conference in Fort Wayne a couple years ago. Though I've been to several Salt Lake Institutes, I don't always avail myself of the city's giant genealogical resource: the Family History Library. It's about time to update myself on the current scene at the library.

Thus, I'm keeping the Family History Library's rules handy, as well as a map of the floor on which I'll be spending most of my time (pursuing Virginia, of course). I can access those pages from my phone, making quick double-checks easy.

On that same phone—or iPad, or laptop—I can also keep a running list of all the reference material I want to view, materials I've already earmarked from the Family History Library catalog. From that same electronic portal, I can refer back to my trees on Ancestry, MyHeritage or FindMyPast, in case I can't remember a detail, or want to see if any new discovery aligns with my previous understanding of the family situation.

It is a continuous evolution of how we have done research, this migration from the analog pen-to-paper approach to these digital tools. It certainly impacts which components of my go bag keep their valued position, and which ones give way to newer tools. Of course, each of us may have different versions of our can't-live-without research accoutrements. But I think each of us has found our own list to be changing, over our years of genealogical pursuit.

Yet, there are some components which will keep their corner of the go bag layout, no matter what. Two pairs of reading glasses in firm cases—always remembering the pair which got mangled in a research mishap years ago—will be one standard. And I suspect while my desperation snack of peanut M&Ms may give way to a more carb-responsible replacement, I'll always keep an emergency stash of work-through-lunch staples for when I'm hot on the microfilmed trail of that elusive great-great-grandmother's mother-in-law. Or whichever female ancestor whose maiden name has stumped me. 


  1. My bag now includes a ergonomic pillow to sit on due to my sciatica! Nothing worse than arriving without a necessary item. I always stock up on thumb drives, too.

    1. Good points, Miss Merry! And how individualized each person's go-bag packing list can be. I'm sure others include must-haves just as unique as your ergonomic pillow.


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