Genealogy: Strategy for field research #1—Keep a travel journal during your trip

Genealogy: Strategy for field research #1—Keep a travel journal during your tripBy Barry J. Ewell

Each day of your trip is full of research, excursions, meeting new people, taking pictures, reflecting upon your family, and unexpected happenings. Take time at the end or beginning of each day to write in your travel journal. Upon your return home, you will find that your journal will be one of the most important assets you have in furthering research and documenting the value of your trip. After just a week on the road, one day blends into the next.

I tend to write events in my travel journal in a chronological format (what happened first, second, third). For example, after I entered a library I will write details about the following aspects of my experience there:

  • Who I spoke with and their role in the library, address, email, phone number, and so on.
  • All discussions (no matter whom it was with) and information exchanged.
  • The records I looked at and why.
  • What I found and decisions I made during my search.
  • All new information, carefully documenting all associated information.
  • Thoughts and questions that cross my mind during the research.

I make comments about the places I visited and why they were of interest to me. I discuss what I learned. I also include brochures I may have picked up and any other information that will help me tell the story.

I find myself reviewing what I wrote several times during the trip as I ponder options and make decisions about what direction to take the research and planning my free time. The parts of my journal that are most interesting are how often I happen to meet the right person who is able to open doors to help find the place I am searching for, or the person who knows about my family name and history and will take me to the gravesite of an ancestor, or the person who knows the person who now lives in the ancestor’s home, or is the person who knows where to find the record I seek.