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.