Thursday, 5 April 2018

5 Steps to Plan Your (Overseas) Genealogy Research Trip

A fair few years ago, I was at the National Archives (London) and spied a fellow Canadian in the bookshop. We had a wee chat about the weather and the genealogy resources on offer and I eagerly asked: 'Did you enjoy your visit to Kew? Did you find what you were looking for?'
With great disgust, she said 'It was a wasted trip and I didn't find anything'.

©ErinSpinney with Thanks!
To not find anything at Kew was shocking, as there is everything at Kew. But in a way I was not surprised as it turns out that she did not prepare before she came to England. From the little that we shared, she had done all her research online and did not pursue any print resources or search in any family history society libraries in her own province. Big Mistake!

Not realizing that fabulous resources exist in an archive close to home is a newbie genealogists badge of honour. Although archives and libraries often shout from the rooftops about their resources, someone who is using only Ancestry or Google to do their research may not realize that to advance to the next step is to pursue records close to home.

Genealogy Research Trip Produced Amazing Find Lisa Louise Cooke writes about her experience on a research trip as a newbie genealogist. Humourous!

One of the biggest hurdles anyone faces when deciding on a research trip to the UK or crossing the pond in the other direction is the expense. Many find the cost exorbitant and perhaps if this is your only trip of a lifetime, so you really do need to ensure you get your money's worth. 
Read on for a few tips to make your trip a success.

1. Do as much research as you can at home first.  How many times have you spent money to make a special visit to an archive or library (even in your country) to look at a specific document or collection and think, I've seen that before! Let's face it, you want to get the best value for the money you've spent on air travel and accommodation. Nowadays many genealogists start their research online and then when they are ready to head for the archive they don't know where to start. Try these suggestions:
How to Plan Your Next Genealogy Trip
It can't be repeated enough: Consult records in your local archive, 
library or family history centre First.
How to Get Organized

2. Check archive, library, family history society websites for their open hours and other particulars.  What are the unique collections that these places hold?  Check their websites, catalogues and help guides thoroughly and even send an email to double check that they have what you want to research. Check the hours. Holidays in the UK do not coincide with holidays in the US or Canada. What identification do you need to bring to register? Don't be disappointed!

Have reasonable expectations. Undoubtedly there will be a few disappointments, but mark them down and perhaps hire someone to do further in-depth research for you later. Unless you can stay in the UK for a month or two, your visit will only allow you to delve into the records briefly. How much time you plan for each archive is really important. A couple of hours will allow you to zoom through your orders and take pictures only. All day at one place is better, but most times 2 days per archive is ideal.
Another tip: research how long it takes to travel between archives, I promise, you will be surprised.

For example, if you're going to spend the morning at the National Archives, getting to the British Library could take an hour or an hour and a half. Plan extra time for even longer sojourns outside of central London, such as Greenwich or the local Boroughs.   Transport for London -buses and Tube travel in London.

3. Costs of travel and accommodation.
Let's face it, it's expensive to travel to Europe even if it's specifically for a quick genealogy trip. Take advantage of the cheap seats and the 'non-peak' times to travel. Summer is the most expensive and although the archives are somewhat quiet as everyone is on holiday, consider January or February. The transportation systems are quite amazing even though it's still kind of winter so it's not difficult to get around.   Most winters (other than the recent 'Beast from the East' in February and March 2018!) are snow free especially in London.  Budget airlines are just that - no frills, however Air Transat prices are easy on the budget.   National Rail (U.K.)  Bus system for across the U.K.- National Express

Accommodation: If you're not a fussy traveler, consider staying in hostels which are numerous in the UK and Europe. Many nowadays offer single rooms with en-suites. Note: many budget hotels call themselves hostels. Not the same in my opinion. Budget Hostels    A step above hostels are university accommodation some of which will only have  availability outside of university term times. I have stayed in both types in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Milan, Zurich and even St. Petersburg! Do you really need to spend extra $$ or ££ when you're spending all of your time in the archives (or at tourist sites) and only sleeping there?

4. Prepare, Prepare and Prepare some more
Each of the sites below require pre-registration and the 
correct identification to get a 'reader's ticket'. 

Register: I'd also like to mention that most places in the UK require two separate pieces of identification for registration. One with an address and one with a signature. Most USA and Canadian passports don't have addresses, but your driving license does.

National Archives UK  - (Kew) - Planning a Visit to the National Archives - holds a lot of records pertaining to all of the UK, and all types. Military, Poorhouse, Church Records, Passenger lists, Business Records, Maps, etc.  Please don't forget that there is a Library at the National Archives. Covers a lot of subjects and county specific material. For example, tucked away in the back I found an entire series of the Scottish Record Society journals.

The National Army Museum Library or the Imperial War Museum Collections are considered specialist archives and they have fabulous libraries. Check their collection policy document - where there is one. It will describe the kinds of material they collect to support their specialist subject area.   
British Library - Your expectations that this is the UK's biggest public library is correct. However, on my first visit I was surprised by the structure of access. When you register for a 'reader's ticket' they will ask if you have ordered anything or know what it is that you want to look at. Their collections (books) are not on the shelves, many are in the 'stores' which then need to be brought to the reading room by staff. The exception is the Newspaper room and the East India collection (in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room), although again not all the resources are on the shelves. Important: you can't enter a reading room unless you have a ticket (card) as there are security checks at the door. (Tip: the BL has loads of Canadian research material!)

London Metropolitan Archives/Guildhall Library - these collections are both provided by the City of London - lots and lots of documents pertaining to London ancestry. Thoroughly check their holdings. Their catalogue is a bit tedious, but the 'stuff' is amazing! Make sure you check Ancestry for LMA collections before coming, as on one of my visits they plunked me down in front of a computer when I wanted to look at microfilm. Geez! A fee for taking pictures.
Guildhall Library is particularly strong in directories (Kelly's Directories) for London, practically every year, with very few gaps although most are on microfilm in order to protect the condition of the originals (there are also some of these directories at the National Archives).
London Metropolitan Archives they also have a library collection
Guildhall Library Catalogue

Society of Genealogists - registration applies here too, they have a day charge though if you don't want to sign up as a member for one year. Lots of county material; genealogy tracts (printed family histories); newspaper clippings; great collection of monumental inscriptions for most all the counties in the UK; in-house databases: SOGNET; free access to The Genealogist; Find My Past; British History Online and lots of others! A fee for taking pictures.  If you don't have time to go to the county archives, start here!

5. Heritage Tourism
A buzz word in the genealogy world these days is Heritage Tourism which is offered in a variety of guises: a combination of genealogy and sightseeing or visits to archives. Check out the one that's best for you. Here are some blog articles that will give even more points for planning a trip. 
The ones marked with a  are my top picks.

Christine Woodcock leads genealogy tours to Scotland from Canada and the U.S. with time spent in the archives and one-to-one help as well. @genealogytours

Before You Cross the Pond: Five Places to Find Your Ancestors in America  Germans to America

 Genealogists Packing List for Your Genealogy Research Trip  - also provides a great little guide to plan a Genealogy Research Trip's article : a checklist for your genealogy vacation - particularly U.S. focussed, but great tips

 Tracing Your Ancestors - Heritage Travel : Tips, Tricks and Strategies  this is a magazine published by those who publish Internet Genealogy. Co-authored by Christine Woodcock and Liza Alzo.

In September I have volunteered to escort a group of enthusiastic genealogists (they call themselves the 'London Trippers') from the Alberta Genealogical Society during their visit to London archives. Watch this space for a report!

A few last words - How are you going to transport / carry your research? Paper is heavy! I have seen various styles of note books - one I liked was a card index on a ring, but that's old school :)  Some archives do not allow portable scanners like the FlipPal -check what they do allow. Please don't take original documents or photos with you!

Some tips from fellow genealogists on AncestryHour : 'Check cost of copies of documents & photography - take cash' - also for lockers  ;;A personal success story: Briefly list your surname interests in visitor books in local churches, archives and provide an email address  ;;know the reference numbers you want to order   ;;prepare a shopping list to focus research in local archives  ;;some of the collections you will want to order are held at out-stores and require an advance request sometimes of a week or more!.

The story of the lady's disappointment - I think she was from Toronto - does not end here. I continued the conversation and suggested she get in touch with the Ontario Genealogical Society, the Ontario Archives and various other repositories in Ontario.
Hopefully if I was able to point her in the right direction perhaps I'll see her again at Kew!

UK to Canada Genealogy Index Page
Finding Canadian Ancestors Series

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