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Shirley G. Hodges
Things To Do Before Your Research Trip
Published: 24 February 2012
By Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

As a response to messages that I received after my recent article on Planning a Research Trip I decided that I would do an article about some of the items we should review before going.

The goal of our trip, of course, is to find information that make our ancestors come alive for future generations. We don't want them to be just a name written down on a form and filed away. We learn to love and appreciate our ancestors when we discover information about their personalities and personal traits.

Before starting on our trip we need to think about the things that we might already have in our possession that would be rich in information about our ancestors. Get out your Grubbies and put on your thinking cap and discover what you might have tucked away in the attic, or in cardboard boxes stuffed under the bed.

Here are some of the things you might look for:
  • Diaries and journals. If you have any of these in your possession you will discover many of the intimate details about your ancestor's life. They should really be read carefully for important facts and clues.

  • Fraternal Records. You may discover that your ancestor belonged to the Knights of Columbus, the Moose, the Elks or a Masonic Lodge. You might find some great information on those old certificates and forms.

  • Letters and post cards. You will often find accountings of interesting experiences and unknown stories. Also if you have the envelop you can find the names, addresses and postmarks which can be valuable clues.

  • Military records. You can learn what military engagements your ancestor may have participated in. Often you will find medical and personal information in these records.

  • Newspaper clippings. Lots of personal information can be found in the newspapers. In addition to the obituaries, wedding announcements and other items be sure that you are reading the gossip columns. You can really learn some interesting and unusual facts about your ancestors in those.

  • Occupational records. You might find pension records and employment histories. You might also find evidence of awards and information that will help you in compiling your ancestor's history.

  • Photographs. If you have pictures that you can not identify make copies of them and take with you. If you meet up with a relative you might discover that they have a copy of the same picture and their copy has been identified.

  • School records. You may find information about graduation, attendance and special interests.
Once you have found these records and blown off the dust you might feel like you are stepping into the past.

After you have evaluated all of the items you have found take time to organize what you know. Make a time line for your ancestor so that you can see where the gaps are in the information that you have.

Now you can decide what you want to accomplish on your trip. Sometimes we have to return to an area more than once to accomplish everything that we would like to.

When you return home do not just store your new found information in your head or shove it in a box and put it in the closet. Preserve it for the future.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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