Planning a Genealogy Research Trip

Planning a Genealogy Research Trip

Planning a genealogy research trip is very important, especially if you are considering travelling some distance. 

Although you can conduct genealogical research online, you will probably have to visit a Record Office at some stage to consult documents that are not yet available online, of which there are many, partly because they are under-funded so do not have the resources to make that possible.

You may also wish to visit the area your ancestors came from to stand where they stood and imagine what life was like for them.


Heading Overseas 

If you wish to travel overseas to conduct research, it is vitally important to ensure that your documents such as a passport and a visa are valid.  Depending on the place you are visiting, you may also have to ensure that all your vaccinations are up to date.


Budgeting for the Trip

It is important to remember that heading on a trip like this will not be cheap.  Many costs will have to be taken into consideration such as the airfare, your accommodation, food and travel insurance.


Book in Advance

If you can be flexible with the dates of your arrival and departure, you may be able to take advantage of cheaper flights.  If you travel during the summer, it may be more expensive than travelling in autumn/winter because of peak season.  

If you plan on doing some sightseeing as well as conducting genealogical research, you also have to factor into your budget the cost of admission to these attractions, any car parking charges, and the cost of any souvenirs you may wish to acquire as mementos of the trip. 

Most Record Offices make charges for the cost of photocopying, taking photographs and using a laptop, so these are all charges you will have to factor into your budget.  Many Record Offices list their charges on their websites.

Another important factor to consider is the cost of travelling, especially if you are planning to visit many different areas. 

You should also look into how you wish to travel around the area - if you wish to hire a car, you should also look into how much this costs, and also factor in the cost of petrol.

If you do not wish to hire a car, travelling by bus can take a lot longer than travelling by train, but is usually the cheaper option.

If you have limited time for your trip, and/or have a limited budget, these are things you have to take into consideration.  

If you are travelling in a place you do not know, it will also be prudent to research how you are going to travel from one place to the next, and discover where you can stay in these areas.


Packing for the Trip

It is imperative that you allow yourself plenty of time to pack so that you can obtain all the essential items for the trip, such as medication.  I know of someone who traveled without his medication, and had to make a unscheduled stop to acquire the medication he needed.

When you are packing for the trip, you should also take into consideration that airlines will charge you more for excess baggage so you may decide that you want to scan your documents into your computer so that you do not have to take big lever arch files with you. 

This is where taking a tablet such as an iPad can be a good option because they take up a lot less room in your luggage whilst allowing you to take all your research with you.  

Believe me, lever arch files can take up a LOT of room in your luggage!!  I once packed for a trip to Edinburgh to research my ancestry and it amazed me how much room just one lever arch file took up in my case!!  After struggling when I went to Edinburgh, I have now transferred all my documents to my iPad, and find it much easier to transport my research using this method.  You are of course welcome to use a binder if you wish!!

Another item that you may wish to take with you is a notepad to write down all your research, and sources you consulted.  Citing your sources is vitally important when researching genealogy. 

To discover more about why citing your sources is so important, and to download my genealogy research log, please read my article: family history charts: easy to use, free to download

These charts also include downloadable family history worksheets, family group sheets, census templates, parish register charts and pedigree charts.  Taking a stock of them with you is a good idea because it is unlikely that the record office will have these items.

It is also prudent to take pencils with you because Record Offices do not allow you to use pens whilst looking at original documents as the pen may damage them.  Along with the pencils, you should also take a pencil sharpener - you will be doing a lot of writing whilst conducting your research!!

You may also wish to take a small scanner with you so you can scan any photographs you find during your research trip, especially if you are travelling to visit relatives. 

If you are planning to scan photographs in a record office, however, you should always ask the permission of the staff before scanning any documents as some are fragile and can be easily damaged.

Another important factor to take into consideration when packing is to leave plenty of room in your case, because you are bound to buy many items during your trip such as souvenirs and gifts for family and friends!!


Your Genealogical Research

Conduct As Much Research as Possible Prior to Your Trip

You should conduct as much research into your ancestors as possible before you leave for your research trip.  Any trip is bound to be disappointing if you have not done enough research beforehand, especially if you are heading overseas.  

A surname you think is relatively uncommon could be very common in the place your ancestors originated from, so it is imperative that you know you are researching the correct line.  


Be Realistic About Your Research Aims

You should always be realistic about the amount of research you can conduct in the time you have available.  Researching genealogy can take a lot longer than you think, especially if you are planning to transcribe a will, or peruse many documents.  The last thing you want is to come away from the trip thinking that you had not completed the research you wanted to. 

The good thing about genealogy is that if you complete the research you had already written down before you set off, it is always possible to conduct more research if you wish based on the information you have uncovered. 


Look Through Your Research

You should always consult the research you have already conducted before heading off on the trip, so that you can easily see what information you are missing about your ancestors and know just what you want to research in the Record Office or other institution.  

If, for example, you wish to find proof of an ancestor's marriage, you will know to look in the marriage record in the Record Office once you arrive there.


Create a Research Plan

After you have decided what research you wish to undertake, it is prudent to create a genealogy research plan before you leave.  This will prevent you from going down the rabbit hole and not conducting the research you want to.


Research the Places You Wish to Visit

Once you have created your research plan, and know the record offices and/or libraries you wish to visit, it is vital to conduct research into them because you do not want to find when you arrive that you should have booked in advance or that the records you wanted to consult are not available.

Another very important step to take is to consult the Office's website to discover the opening times for the Record Office.  Not all record offices are open every day, for example, and some are closed for lunch.  It is very important to take all of that into consideration. 

It is best to ring the Office ahead of your visit to ensure that the opening times on the website are up-to-date.  If you wish to consult larger documents such as maps, you may have to book a table in advance.

You may not be allowed to take many items into the Office, and space is usually very limited, so you may want to consider if you want to take a big bag with you because most record offices only allow you to take in a laptop and a pencil into the search room, and will not have the room to store large bags.

Many record offices have online catalogues that you are able to peruse online so you can see exactly what the record office has before visiting.  

It is also possible to order documents in advance so that you do not waste valuable research time in the Office itself.

For more information about how to make the most of a trip to a Record Office, such as what identification you need to take with you and records held at a record office, please read my article: what to expect when you visit a record office

If you know where your ancestors were buried, you may also like to visit the cemetery to see their gravestones.  


Take Chargers With You

You should always take chargers with you for all of your electronic equipment.  Whenever I visit a Record Office, I find that I use many different devices during my visit.

These devices include a smartphone for taking photographs, and a laptop computer with all my research notes and my family tree (I use Family Tree Maker).  You may also decide to take a tablet with you.


Sort Out the Documents and Notes You Want to Take With You

You can, of course, take any documents and research notes with you on your trip, but it may be a better idea to ensure that everything you wish to look at is stored electronically so that you can access them more easily and do not have to take as many papers with you on the trip, especially if the trip involves heading overseas.

If you wish to take physical documents and research notes with you, these can easily be stored either in a lever arch file or in a folder for easy access.  Whenever I go on a research trip, I usually take physical documents with me in a lever arch file as well as the stored records on my laptop.

The most important thing to remember is to ensure that you have all your notes and documents with you.  The last thing you want is to arrive at the Office and find that you have left important documents at home, or find that you have inadvertently brought the wrong family file to the Record Office.  

One of the best ways of storing your documents is to use My History's A3 Hold-All, which can store any documents up to size A3.  It can hold 50-80 pockets, and even has a plastic carry handle. 

This is a great way of storing your documents so that you know where they are, and do not have to worry about special documents being lost.  It comes in three different colours: red, black and dark blue, and its dimensions are 20 x 12.5 x 2 inches (510 x 320 x 54 mm).  It is also a great way of passing your research onto someone else.

You can also purchase pockets from My History that have been specially designed to hold size A4 certificates.  They are made from inert (acid-free) polypropylene that does not harm the documents.  You can buy 10, 25, 50 or 100 pockets.

One of the best things about the advance in technology is that you no longer have to take massive lever arch files full of research to the record office with you because everything can be stored on your computer. 

I have transferred all of my paper notes to my computer, filing them under the specific family they relate to so I can find them easily at the Record Office.  

It was a very time consuming process, but I have managed to condense approximately 10 lever arch files to 5, so it was definitely worth it!!

You can also store all your documents on Microsoft OneDrive or Apple Cloud so that you know you always have access to your documents wherever you are in the world.  

If you wish to take documents with you, it is always best to take photocopies rather than the original documents - you will not want to leave those precious documents in a record office or other facility!!


Enjoy the Experience

Although you will want to conduct as much research as possible, and see as much as you can, you must remember that you are not likely to be able to do everything.  You may have to make a choice as to whether you want to conduct more research or take a trip to the place your ancestors came from.  

The most important thing is to enjoy the experience from the planning stage to taking the trip, with the planning stage helping to give you something to look forward to whilst COVID-19 restrictions remain in place - have fun!!


  1. Family Tree Resources
  2. Starting Family History Research
  3. Genealogy Research Trip