Planning Research Trips As You Go

Next week I’m giving a presentation about research trips at the library as a part of our annual community read month themed around The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of my favorite tips in the presentation is how I prepare throughout my research so I’m ready to take advantage of any travel opportunity to do research.

I often find that when I’m doing research I come across references to new sources and after tracking them down across the internet I find them hiding an archive or library hundreds of miles away. Now, I could probably send off a reference request and have copies sent to me but it’s not always that easy. I might not know exactly what I’m looking for, or the source is extensive, or the source might lead to chasing down new leads at the same repository. Plus, I just like doing the research myself.

Unfortunately, my vacation time and budget do not allow me to jet off to every repository that holds an interesting book, but if I do ever happen to be passing through town I don’t want to miss my chance to do research!

researchtripsfoldersTo keep track of my research wishlist I keep a special folder called “Research Trips” on my computer with my other genealogy files. Within the folder there are subfolders for states and countries. In these subfolders I keep references to materials I want to research that are held in these states and information about repositories I want to visit. When an opportunity for a research trip in a particular place comes up, my first stop is that folder.

The references could be in the form of downloading a page from a catalog or finding aid, a screenshot from a website, or a Microsoft Word document with a citation. Generally, I aim to have a title, creator, date, publisher, and call number or other identifier.

As I gather multiple sources at a single repository, I might split them off into their own subfolder. For example, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne has its own folder within Indiana because I find so many things that I want to look at there and I visit a few times a year.


If you have a notes system you use regularly, such as Evernote or OneNote, you might prefer to set up similar hierarchy in that program to keep track of your potential research trips.

researchtripsfolders4This system came in handy for a recent trip to the Ohio State Archives. I realized a few days ahead of time that I had a free weekend and the weather was nice, so it would be easy to make a last minute weekend trip. I didn’t have a lot of time to plan, but that was okay because I already had a list of references in the folder. I had downloaded PDFs of the catalog pages for some business records and a death certificate I wanted to look at. It only took me a few minutes to collect those references into a comprehensive to-do list. Since my plans were so well organized, I knew I would have time to grab a record for my colleague when I finished my research. The trip went smoothly because I had done the preparation when the records came up in the course of my research instead of waiting for a trip to come up to start planning!

Do you have any tips to share about taking research trips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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