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11 August 2011

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!

     I have written previously about the importance of preparing well for a research trip. I wanted to update my advice after being contacted by two researchers who were totally unprepared for their upcoming trips to Ireland. Much of the advice is applicable to any destination.   
     Many family historians waste valuable time and effort on research trips, especially trips to Ireland, by not educating themselves beforehand about the genealogical resources at their destination. If you go to Dublin thinking you will find all the records you need at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) or "the archives," you are bound to be disappointed. I've known frustrated researchers who spent valuable vacation time in Dublin researching records that they could have obtained online or at a local Mormon Family History Center near their home. Others have wasted a day walking from one Dublin facility to another, searching for the correct repository. The following checklist will help you plan any research trip wisely, whether you are visiting a historical society in Pennsylvania or the NLI in Dublin..
RESEARCH TRIP CHECKLIST
1. Review your notes and family records. Pinpoint what information you need (birth date for great grandfather Harry? Marriage date for Ann and John Row in Carlow?). Don't simply carry a family chart with you, hoping that a librarian or archivist will help you pinpoint what records you need. Some facilities have ample workers and volunteers to help patrons, others are understaffed. Always be prepared to do your own digging.
2. Determine what sources might contain that information. Church records? Civil vital records? Census? Freeholder's List? Valuation map?
3. Determine where these sources are kept for the location you need. For instance, if you need baptism records for the parish of Clough, determine if they are available online, at a resource near your home such as a Family History Center, in a Dublin repository, in a County Kilkenny library, or at the local parish church. Know before you go!
4. Determine if those records are available for the time frame you need. For Irish records, James G. Ryan's Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History is a great help in this regard. Most repositories have online catalogs of their holdings--knowing before you go has never been easier!
5. Research the location, hours, and visitor requirements of the repository you plan to visit before you make your travel plans. When I worked at a local historical society, I was amazed at the number of researchers who had traveled a great distance, only to arrive on a date or at a time the society was closed. I also encountered several visitors who brought cameras or copying equipment despite the society's restrictive policies. A quick phone call or a check of the web site saves disappointment (and arguments and tears in public).
6. Know exactly what facility or repository you need.  Don't assume that every record you need is at the "library."  Don't assume that there is some vast "archive" in Dublin. Know theproper names for the facility you need and will visit. There are "archives" and "Archives." I know several researchers who lost valuable time visiting the National Archives in Dublin when they really needed to be at General Register Office (GRO).
Preparation is the KEY to a successful research trip!