How to Plan a Successful Genealogy Road Trip

Before you fill up the tank and hit the road, take some time to prepare for your genealogy road trip. Here are some things you can do ahead of time as well as a checklist of things to take with you that will help you have a successful and enjoyable trip.

How to plan a successful genealogy road trip


What to Do Before You Start Your Genealogy Road Trip

1. Form a Research Plan
A research plan is more than a to-do list. It's deciding what your goal is, reviewing what you already have, and making a basic plan of attack. (Not sure how to make a research plan? Check out this post.)

2. Make a To Do List
After you have your research plan, now you can get specific about what you want to look at and where you'll look for it. If you're going to more than one place, make a separate list for each (one for the library, one for the probate court, etc.) Also, before you go, look at what you can online so you can save your on-site research time for those things that are only available in person. (If visiting a library is on your road trip itinerary, here are 6 ways you can make that library visit better.) 

3. Schedule Your Trip
Plan out when you want to be where. Be logical — you don't want to plan a cemetery visit for 11:00pm (unless you want the neighbors calling the police on you). Double-check the hours of all of the libraries, archives, and courthouse offices that you plan to visit. TIP: offices in small courthouses sometimes close for lunch; plan accordingly.

4. Print Out or Take Screenshots of Maps
This is especially important if you're going somewhere that might not have great cell service, like an out-of-the-way cemetery. Print the directions or take screenshots on your phone. That way you have the directions even if you don't have a signal. 

What to Take With You

1. Chargers and power cords

2. Copies of family photos to give to cousins you're planning on meeting

3. Change for copiers

4. Notepad

5. Pens and pencils (or at least pencils; some facilities don't allow pens)

6. Cemetery kit (small whisk broom, clippers, etc.)

7. Laptop lock 

8. Printouts of your to-do lists

9. Your spirit of adventure and sense of humor

Your Turn!

What's your "must do" or "must take" item for a genealogy road trip?

How to plan a genealogy road trip
Posted: June 7, 2018.

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  • A smile and a good attitude. They work wonders with harried and short-handed office staff as well as desk clerks.

  • Thank you cards for helpers along the way, sunscreen, hat, emergency kit, and the laptop to go with the lock. Most important…athletic sneakers and athletic sandals.

  • I do like to take thank-you gifts, especially for relatives who let me stay with them. Small tokens for especially helpful librarians and such. Flash drives are good to have.

  • I would suggest a plan if you should become ill on the road. I was traveling to NGS from the east coast and had a medical emergency. I have driven cross country and to Canada on several occasions and never thought about this. Home safe and sound, but more prepared for the next trip.

  • Take a portable scanner so you can scan those pictures and letters at your relatives home.

  • A spray bottle of water–will make the letters on headstones stand out without damaging the stone.

  • If visiting a small town, talk to the library/courthouse staff about your family surname. Sometimes they know the family. I happened to mention my search to a library staff member and he sent me to a local museum that had photos and books about my family.

  • Call the research facility. Some have a few very odd rules and you won’t get past the front door if You’re not prepared.

  • I take a walking stick/cane with me. I’ve been to a very old cemetery with high weeds and grass and my leg went down in a hole. I thought I was a goner. LOL Anyway, I take a stick to poke ahead or to steady myself.

  • Download a decent scanner app onto your phone if you don’t have a portable scanner. Some places won’t allow scanning (or photocopying) on documents or books that can’t be laid flat. A phone scanner app is more flexible – and some aren’t too bad at scanning microfiche reader screens too.

    • What a great suggestion! I never even knew such an app existed. I just downloaded and tested a couple of them and kept the one I liked better. Thank you!

  • Check a local map for your relevant surnames before you go. I have found roads with my surnames in two different places, though sadly, one was after I returned home.

  • I pack an entire genealogy road trip bag & leave it packed. It has flash drives, flip pal scanner, scanner wand for larger books. My big thing is business cards with email address & surnames I am researching on back of business card. Sometimes I get a very helpful archivist/librarian that will help with a bit of follow up research & have received a few emails with another book or place to search. Even had one that helped do an overlay from a historical to a current road map that saved me a lot of time! 🙂

  • ALWAYS call ahead for hours of places you want to do research. I have only had one day to do research, twice, only to find the library closed that day. I also, once called ahead, was told the hours, and when I got there was told the “genealogy” department was not open that day! Very disappointing when you are hundreds of miles away from home.
    I also bring a lot of sticky notes. They are invaluable for marking pages to copy, notes on copies, etc.

    • Please do not put sticky notes on book pages or documents. The adhesive leaves a permanent residue that damages materials. I am a retired archivist/genealogy librarian and was taught in preservation classes this is a HUGE no-no.

  • If you’re going to be tromping around in country graveyards, spray your shoes/socks/hats/clothes ahead of time with Permethrin, which you can get a Walmart, and let it dry completely before putting it on. It will kill ticks on contact. Also, Deet spray for exposed skin and a tick remover tool or good tweezers. Don’t use matches or alcohol to make the tick pull its head out; pull straight up, slowly. And then apply some alcohol or skin sanitizer.

    Avoid tall grass as much as you can. There’s no point getting Lyme Disease or another of the many co-infections that ticks carry.

    If it’s overgrown, there may be snakes, so keep some boots in the trunk for safety’s sake.

  • Can you please elaborate on the laptop lock to which you and a couple of people referred ?
    Thank you so much for this and all the other hints & tips added in the comments.