Research Trip Preparations

With my research trip to Chicago coming up later this year, I have a lot of preparatory work to do before I ever set foot in the Windy City.

I prefer to work on one family line or geographic location at a time, not only to help me keep things straight in my head, but also to keep my research focused and streamlined. With my deep ties in Chicago on both sides of the family, I am currently exploring both my paternal and maternal lines during their time in the city, beginning in the 1880′s and continuing on up through the 1950′s. A tall order, to be sure.

Everything starts, however, with my research agenda. Is there a particular ancestor I want to focus on? Is there something specific I’m looking for? What do I hope to find? What things have I looked at already? What gaps do I have in my ancestor’s timeline? How I answer those questions will lead me to particular print resources or online tools as I progress in my research – probate, land, naturalization, church records, directories, etc.

My next step is to explore, from home, online web sites and databases, keeping in mind my answers to those research agenda questions above. FamilySearch, Ancestry, Fold3, and Mocavo are just a few of the sites I explore and constantly revisit to see if any new content has been posted that addresses my research needs. Of particular interest to me is the recent addition at FamilySearch of Archdiocese of Chicago records for dozens of area Catholic parishes.

Despite the wealth of information available online, I still have a number of unanswered questions, which brings me to my next – and favorite – step in my research trip preparations: the library. In addition to my daily access to the Library of Michigan‘s collections (on my lunch hour!), I am fortunate to be a short 2-hour drive from the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In anticipation of my next ACPL visit, I will spend hours poring through the online catalog, looking for and identifying titles of interest, and then adding their title, author, and call number to an Excel spreadsheet. One of ACPL‘s many strengths is their unparallelled collection of local society journals and newsletters from across the United States, indexed in PERSI. Depending on the family line I’m researching, I often compile an expansive list of journal citations to explore.

As a librarian myself, I encourage patrons to come to the library “armed and dangerous,” ready to attack their research immediately upon arrival. Equipped with their priorities, exact titles, call numbers, and the like, researchers can then quickly find and pull their titles of interest. The key is to spend as little time getting organized once onsite, instead maximizing the limited research time at the library, archives, or clerk’s office. Those researchers that arrive at the library unprepared and without a clear sense of what they’re looking for will likely have a more uneven experience than those that come equipped with a clear agenda and research priorities.

I will arrive at the library with my research agenda and Excel spreadsheet, sorted by call number, and get to work. With my next visit to ACPL coming up in just a few days, I look forward to finding new information and genealogical leads, and in the process better preparing me for my visit to Chicago later this year.

With my new iPhone (my old phone used two cans and a string), I’m playing around with having my research available right on my phone. My research agenda and title list will be right at my fingertips, although I haven’t pulled the trigger on an actual family tree app yet. I suppose that’s something I can write about in a future blog article, so stay tuned!