One of the most enjoyable aspects of doing family history is visiting the places where your ancestors lived. With so much available on the internet now, some may feel like they can get away with being an “armchair genealogist” and that “everything is online.” Not only is this not true–there are lots of things that haven’t been filmed or scanned yet–but you can’t scan the experience of being in the church where your ancestors were married, or sit in the chair by the hearth where they cooked. Field trips can be accomplished as a destination vacation, planning your holidays around an ancestral location, or perhaps you live close enough where you can make a day-visit or short detour in conjunction with another planned trip. Either way, you are not only learning more about your ancestral roots, but also making memories for your current family!
If you are making a trip to a repository for a record search, there are several things to remember:
- Be sure of the days/hours of operation. You’d hate to arrive on a Monday only to find they are closed that day.
- Be aware of the rules. Some places don’t allow pens, only pencils or no backpacks allowed.
- Be prepared to have change for copy machines, or take photos on your smartphone.
- Check to see if you need to request records ahead of time. Some items may be kept off-site, or in “stacks” that need to be brought to you by staff.
- Do pre-research, learning all you can about the lines you want to investigate before you go. Bring pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc., so you can keep names and families straight and know what to look for.
- DO NOT take original documents! Take photocopies of what you want to refer to, but leave your originals at home.
- Have a backup plan for research in the event you don’t find what you think should be there on one family. A brick wall can leave you with time and nothing to do. Bring several possible problems to work on.
This gravestone rubbing is one that I made in the summer of 1989 when my dad and I drove from Massachusetts to Vermont on an ancestor hunt. We knew the cemetery was on the “Old Niles Farm,” which, of course, no longer exists, but undaunted, we headed out to the small rural community of Halifax, Vermont. After a few false starts, and asking directions along the way, we parked the car alongside a promising-looking field in the general vicinity of our destination. It was summer–hot and muggy–and as we caught sight of the cemetery, the mosquitoes caught us. Swarms of them! We reversed our steps, drove back into the village and bought mosquito repellent, then tried again.
The cemetery consisted of about a dozen stones, in varying degrees of decay, fallen over and forgotten among the weeds, but sheltered under the trees.
This rubbing, made that day, is of Sarah (Frink) Niles, my 5th great-grandmother: “Late Consort of David Niles, who died in the revolutionary service, at White Plains in 1776.”
As important to me as this find was, more important was the occasion to experience it with my dad. He was gone from us six short years later, and I cherish the memory of that adventure with him.
Gail, what a wealth of information you are sharing. That you are making this a living history for yourself and family is so much more meaningful, I’m sure, than only searching records. The cemetaries of the New England states are often hidden treasures of family history. Glad those pesky mosquitos didn’t deter you (perhaps they were researching ancestors too!).
Living in New England and having my roots there does make the search somewhat easier than most I must admit.
We have been to Missouri twice. Last year I managed to go to the town where my grandma grew up but didn’t find the time to do the cemetery. Now that I’m working on the other side of the family, I have discovered that they were in the same area. My field trip this year is back to Missouri to find the headstones of both families. I am dropping my grandson off with his dad, avoiding my brother and his family, and taking my other son with me as I tramp graveyards. I love field trips so thanks for the tips. I hadn’t given them much thought but yes, I’m the person who would go there to find it closed.
LOL Gail – I just posted your blog address and an intro on Ann’s (Wordstock16) website to suggest you two meet, and was coming here to give you her info. LOL she’s already here. I’m so happy you two have connected because you share a passion, excellent writing skills and … well … you share ME!!
It’s cool that the blogging world is so immense yet like-minded folks can still find each other! Thanks for thinking of me!
Do you hear that music cueing “It’s a small world after all…”
You’re welcome. Hope your trip is a huge success.
Glad you and your father were able to make that trip together. There are some things you just can’t find online. Or experience.
The experience took precedence over the find!
That rubbing is amazing! What a special thing to have shared with your father. My step mum was very into family history and we visited a lot of graveyards and other places with her to take pictures of gravestones and try to find information on both her family and my Dad’s. We were so excited when we found the gravestone of one of our ancestors, Hezekiah Potts. As far as we know we don’t have any famous ancestors, but my step-mums family is vaguely related to Ann Boleyn!
~Tizzy @ Creative Therapy
If we go back far enough, I think most of us are related to royalty, but that’s cool that you found a connect to the Bolyns! I know that feeling of euphoria and excitement when you make a discovery. Happy hunting!
That’s a really great list of tips! How many people actually carry coins these days? What a great memory to share with your father. Love your stories.
The Road We’ve Shared
Thanks! It’s actually ALL about creating and then preserving memories!
I tried doing genealogical research with some success. But my Dad was born in British Honduras (now Belize), and getting info was tough. I had luck contacting a church down there, but official sources were nonexistent.
Sounds like you exercised some creativity in working around the difficulties. Church records can be even better than the government docs. What about school records?
Isn’t it funny how the women’s headstones were actually all about the man? You should see the marker where Daniel Boone is buried in Frankfort, Kentucky. Three sides of it show him in all kinds of heroic activities; the side devoted to his wife shows her milking a cow 🙂 Glad you got to experience finding your great x5 grandmother’s grave with your father.
That’s really funny. I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right. What the heck is a “consort” anyway?? sounds a bit disreputable…:)
The headstone rubbing is a work of art in itself.
I agree that the field trips are experiences in themselves.
Thanks for visiting me. I tied to follow your name link but nothing was there…Are you a blogger?
I blog through Blogger rather than WordPress http://ayfamilyhistory.blogspot.com
Ah! that’s better! Thanks for the link. I’m on my way over now!