Genealogy: Travel checklist for your genealogy trip

Genealogy: Travel checklist for your genealogy trip By Barry J. Ewell

It would be nice to simply walk into a library and find what you want and you are done.   Experience has taught me that I am to expect the unexpected.  The list may seem exhaustive but it is designed to help review your own needs and choose those items you desire to take to make the research trip as effective as possible.

Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating then having traveled a long distance and not have what you need to complete the research. I remember once having a camera battery go dead and there was no store in town that carried the battery I needed.   Due to travel schedules, it would be two years later before I could complete that particular research project.

The following list is based on the experience of many researchers.  Not all items will apply to you, but I hope you find it useful as you plan your next research trip.

Digital Camera with Built-in Flash

  1. Digital Camera
    1. I recommend at least a 4 mega pixel camera.  Note:  In libraries, archives, and town halls, ask permission to take photos.  My experience is that you will receive permission 80% of the time.
  2. Two extra sets of rechargeable batteries.
  3. At least 512 M of removable storage.
    1. I carry a total of 3 gig of storage with me. About 3,000 photos JPG format.
    2.  I have had disks that were full which I forgot clean off or have failed.
  4. Electric charger for rechargeable batteries.
  5. Transfer cord that links from camera to computer.
  6. Car plug extension for chargers (try to get one with 1 or more plug outlets).
    1. I plug into a 12 Volt outlet (in older vehicles cigarette lighter).
  7. Camera stand.
  8. Carrying case.
  9. Camera manual.
  10. Tripod.
  11. Copy stand (cookie sheet with markings) and an extra strip of magnets to perform indoor shooting will provide consistent results.

Laptop with DVD/CD Burner

  1. Laptop or computer
    1. Not a necessity, but a good idea for those who own or can borrow one.
    2. Be sure to take external power adapter, spare batteries, and extension cord.
    3. Remember that foreign countries (Mexico, Canada) may have different voltages than in the U.S. If you go to Europe, you will need to buy a special adapter or you will not be able to use the computer.
  2. Considering taking an external hard-drive to transfer large amounts of data.
  3. Take time to build electronic folders on your computer for transfer of your data before you leave on the trip. (Electronic folders refer to the place I will transfer data to during the trip from your camera, scanner, etc.)
    1. I have developed a number of folders depending upon what I am doing.  I have named folders by surname, date of being out on the road, city I am doing research in, and so forth.
  4. Make sure the software loaded includes:
    1. Choice of family history software and needed family files.
    2. Word processing software.
    3. Digital camera utility software needed to transfer images from.
  5. Carrying case.
  6. Backup disks of favorite software in case you need to reinstall software while on road.

Cell Phone with Key Call Numbers Stored into Database/Memory

  1. Rechargeable cord.
  2. Ear phone cord.
  3. Extra phone cord.
  4. Extension cord from phone to computer if you use your phone to connect to internet in emergency cases.

Scanner/Camera Support Software

  1. Scanner support software.
  2. Photo/image editing software.
  3. Internet software to connect to email, etc.
  4. DVD/CD burning software.
  5. Carrying case.

Note:  Do not take a scanner when traveling via airplane.    The scanner will get banged up in transit.  If you need a scanner on a trip when you are taking a plane, consider buying a low-end model once you get there for under $100.00 and leaving it behind as a gift when you come home.

Audio Micro Cassette Recorder to Record Thoughts or Interview Persons

  1.  5 to 10 hours of blank tapes.
  2. You can record entries too long to type or that cannot be copied.

Research Folder
Develop a folder that has all the necessary information you need at your finger-tips pertaining to your trip.  For example:

  1. 1.Goalsandobjectives for trip.
    1. Acquisition goals.
    2. Travel plan and approximate times for each phase of research.
  2. Appointment calendar.
  3. City, county, state maps.
  4. Key contacts, address, phone numbers.
  5. “Map quest” maps of destination.
  6. Internet printouts that include address, phone numbers of library, historical societies, city offices, etc. that you will be visiting.
  7. Printouts from catalogs of key documents you seek to view/film.
  8. Internet printout of things to see.
  9. Packing list so you can recheck what you brought and not leave anything behind.


  1. Electrical cord.
  2. Cord for transferring images from scanner to computer.
  3. Note:  When researching in courthouses and libraries we usually keep the computer and scanning equipment stowed safely in the car in a large insulated lock box and only bring them in if needed.

Necessary Clothes

  1.  Extra pair of old shoes for muddy, cow occupied fields.
  2. Long pants to protect legs from tall grass, briars, climbing fences.
  3. Extra clothing for when you get wet or soiled.
  4. Hat to protect from the sun.
  5. Sun glasses when you are outdoors.
  6. 6Bug repellent.

Emergency Food for When You Can’t Leave the Research Work

  1. Energy Bar
  2. Water.
  3. $15 -$20 for meals.
    1. Money for lunch! Time stands still for the engrossed researcher, but the brain still needs food to sustain the substantial amounts of energy required by intensive research.

Larger Padded Carrying Case

  1. To secure equipment that doesn’t require protection.

Hard-shelled Suitcase

  1. To protect camera and other digital equipment in their own bags.

Mapping Program
Example: Hardware in combination with its Street Atlas USA mapping software to take advantage of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Especially when you’re going to multiple places over several days that may be hard to find.  Rent or have GPS system installed in the vehicle such as Neverlost.

This is extremely helpful when finding cemeteries as well as other locations of genealogical interest.

Research Resources

  1. 1. Pedigree charts for the families you are researching.
    1. COPIES (originals stay at home).
    2.  Blank charts for new information.
  2. Family Group Sheets for the families you are researching
    1. COPIES (originals stay at home).
    2. Blank charts for new information.
  3. Census forms, blank preprinted (available for 1790-1930).
  4. ID, photo ID.
  5. Library and archives, etc. information.
    1. Location.
    2. Hours and days open.
    3. Special staff or departments to see.
    4. Charts of Dewey Decimal/Library of Congress subject classifications so you can readily locate your subject.
  6. Maps.
    1. Town, county, state, or regional as needed.
  7. Research log.
  8. Soundex codes for surnames you are checking in the census.
  9. Surname list.
    1. Alphabetical list of all names you are searching in the area.

Library Research Helps

  1. 1. Envelopes ofvaryingsizesin which to put materials as you receive them throughout the day/trip so you don’t misplace/mislabel key information.   For example:
    1. #10 (Business size) letter envelops for
      1. Removable camera storage
      2. Cassettes
      3. Letters/notes you may need to write when persons are not home
    2. Catalog envelops 9.5” X 12” for
      1. Documents
      2. Photos
      3. Artifacts
  2. File folders, empty, for information found on each surname.
    1. I prefer expanding file folders; they are enclosed on all three sides making a little more difficult for papers to fall out.
  3. Note pads (8.5” X 11”) with lined paper.
    1. I like the note pads to be predrilled 3-hole punched.  It makes it a little easier to put them in a 3-ring binder for safe keeping during the trip and at home.
    2. If you don’t like the pre-drilled paper, consider carrying a small paper punch of desired size.  Punches come in 1-hole, 2-hole, or 3 hole punches.
  4. Post-It-Notes.
  5. 5 Pencils with erasers or 2 mechanical pencils with extra lead.
    1. Consider a couple of colored pencils for highlighting for different types of notes.
    2. Consider also taking a small hand-held pencil sharpener.
  6. 3 pens.
    1. Consider a couple of colored pens for writing down different types of notes.
    2. Note some archives/libraries will not allow you to use pens.  Make sure you have pencils available.
  7. Erasers, Art gum.
  8. Money for parking meters and copy machines.
    1. Assorted change (dimes and quarters).
    2. One-dollar bills.
    3. If extensive copying is anticipated, get rolls of dimes or quarters from the bank before you go to the library or archives.  Consider using a digital camera capturing the images of books and documents.
    4. Also consider carrying a money pouch.  Divide the cash you are carrying and put into different places so if luggage is lost or stolen, you are not left with nothing.
  9. Several sheets of colored paper (yellow, pink).
    1. Helps when reading faint writing on microfilm reader screens.
  10. Ruler.
    1. 6″ or 12,” depending on your preference.
    2. Clear or colored plastic.
    3. Some people may prefer a miniature tape measure.
  11. Flashlight in case the records are under the stairs or in the attic.
  12. Calculator.
    1. Total up costs, distances, ages, etc.
  13. Magnifying glass.
  14. Special gloves to handle fragile documents.

Cemetery Research Helps
Many of the items above will also be useful in cemeteries, with the following additions:

  1. Clothing, proper
    1. Hat to shade from sun
    2. Sturdy shoes (flip-flops and sandals are not a good choice)
    3. Socks and long pants, with long-sleeved shirt (protection against sun and ticks)
  2. First aid kit
    1. Include an allergy kit, if you are allergic to bee stings, etc.
    2. Depending on the area, you may want to include a snakebite kit.
  3. Gloves, gardening, in case you have to clear a gravestone by pulling grass.
  4. Insect repellant.
  5. Mirror (to shine light at headstones, to make inscriptions more legible).
  6. Plastic garbage bags, to kneel on if you have to pull grass from around a headstone.
  7. Rice papers and crayons, to make rubbings of inscriptions. Be sure to get permission from the person or organization responsible for the cemetery prior to undertaking rubbings.
  8. Shovel, small, portable auto shovel, in case your car gets stuck.
  9. Sunscreen.
  10. Sunglasses.
  11. Trowel for clearing away grass around cemetery markers.
  12. Umbrella in case of rain or to shade from sun.
  13. Sponge and small container for water.
    1.  Inscriptions can be easier to see when dampened with sponge.
  14. Chalkcan be handy to outline some of the lettering.
    1. Chalk easily washes away without damaging the headstone.


  1. Canvas bag to carry research tools listed.
  2. Notebook,loose- leaf.
    1. I like the D-ring binders.  Papers lay flatter and are less likely to unnecessarily bend when I close the binder.
  3. Postage stamps.
    1. To mail any letters/notes that might need to be written on the spot.
  4. Electrical bar strip with at least 4 outlets.
  5. Camera cleaning kit.
  6. Extra DVDs (large storage media) for data storage when external hard drive is not available.
  7. Quart and Gallon size ziplock bags (keep equipment dry).
  8. See through mesh cases to hold cords and misc.
  9. 3X5 cards or flip pad for writing/notes in the field.
  10. Handy backpack, or fanny pack with multiple pockets to store and keep your hands free.
  11. Stapler and staple-pulling device (tiger jaws).
    1. Miniature staplers are available.
  12. Scissors (Small).
    1. Handy for trimming photocopies.
  13. Protractor.
    1. Useful in plotting property descriptions from old deeds.
  14. Glue stick.
  15. Kleenex, small hand-size pack.
  16. Handy-wipes, small pouch.
  17. Medications.
    1. If you are on medication, be sure to take some along. There is nothing worse than getting sick in a strange place.
  18. Band-aids.
    1. For small paper cuts.

Extra Notes

  1. Note:  Check all equipment upon arrival if you are staying long term.
  2. Charge all equipment before you leave.
  3. Clean removable storage disks.