Saturday, May 14, 2011

Research Trip

Photo by Ben Gallagher

I'm going on my first research trip!

Well, it's not exactly a research trip but I will be able to sneak in the better part of two days in DeWitt County, Illinois to look for dead people in cemeteries, libraries, historical societies, and who knows where else.

During a road trip next month, we'll stop for a few days in DeWitt County which is where several generations of my family lived.  In fact, Rebecca Waller was married here to William Warren McAboy and gave birth to my great grandmother, Mabel McAboy, in Clinton, Illinois.  I've been able to identify the final resting place for many of the McAboys and Wallers and am anxious to get to the cemeteries to find their graves (the photo volunteers on findagrave in this part of the country haven't been too responsive).  I also think that my 3rd great grandfather, Emery Waller, and maybe his father, Solomon Waller, might be buried here.

I'm looking for suggestions as to what I need to do to plan my trip. 

What preparation should I do before I go?  Who do I need to call before I arrive on their doorstep?  I have purchased the book Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose - just need to actually open it and start reading ;-)

What should I take with me?  How should I organize it?  I'll have my little netbook with me and maybe some hard copies of specific people I want to research but what else?

Do I need a portable scanner?  I've looked at the flip-pal mobile scanner and a wand type scanner from Costco.  What do you have?  What do you like about it or not like about it?  Since my time will be limited and I'm technologically challenged, I'd like something easy to use that will provide me with a clear scan.  Or do I even need this?

How do I "find" my ancestors who might be buried there?  Where do I start?  I've been in touch with the DeWitt County Historical Society but they were unable to find my people.  Do I just show up at the courthouse and start going through records from the time frame they died?  In one case, I don't even know exactly when he died.

I've already done some pre-planning but I'd love any and all advice from the experts out there.  Let's hear it!


  1. If you have a very good digital camera (10x or better), you may not have to have a scanner. Mine is a Nikon Coolpix S8000, and it's marvelous. It does stills and videos; it zooms in very well and with lots of detail. If you have (or get) such a camera, look into getting a small tripod that will allow you to photograph papers and pictures downward -- that is, so the camera is pointing down at the doc or pic, and you can set the tripod so the distance from the camera lens to the doc or pic is perfect!! See what I mean?

    Here's an example of the zoom detail of my camera: Go to the 4th photo in the 1st post here and click on it. Then click on it again to zoom in even farther. You can tell what instrument each kid is playing, even though the little flags were my focus -- I can even see Austen (my grandson) in there AND his clarinet!!

    You could also get stills and videos (better than panoramas in a way) of places you want to attach to different ancestors' records. I upload all my videos to YouTube and then I can get the coding to post either a link to it or to embed the video in something if the site will let you use HTML coding. I know nothing of coding, but I can copy and paste with the best of them!!

    Also, you might contact some churches that have been there for a long while. Some churches' records are better than the govt's!!

    This sounds like FUN!

  2. I've never tried using a camera, but lots of other people do what Marilynn suggests. You might want to try it at home and see how it works with your current camera. If you have an iPhone, there's an app called ScanPro that does the same thing (and even lets you turn the document into a PDF and email it right there!). Lots of options.

    The most important thing is to check with the repositories you plan to visit, so you know the rules. Some ban purses or laptop bags. Some allow only pencils. Some require coins for copies, and others use copier cards (which often require $1 or $5 bills).

    Historical society and library websites often have a page with info for people planning visits, but if they don't, email or call and ask. They're usually happy to have you prepare in advance (and some places have dates that they're closed for cleaning, inventory, staffing issues, remodeling, or any number of other you want to make sure they'll be open when you're coming).

    I always make a list of things I plan to look for, in order of importance, so I have a sort of checklist to keep me on track.

    Dress in layers (in case it's hot or cold), and wear something with lots of pockets (because a lot of them don't allow purses).

    Have fun...I love research trips!

  3. I am a FindaGrave volunteer. I think with the price of gas other volunteers are thinking twice about traveling long distances to locate graves. I know I am. I have also noticed that FindaGrave is sending requests for cemeteries at greater distances than in the past. It is not uncommon to get requests for cemeteries 20 miles away, thus at least a 40 mile trip. I hope that a volunteer responds to your requests soon.

    One advantage to visiting a cemetery yourself is finding relatives you hadn't thought of, especially if your family lived in the area for several generations.

    Suggestions for your trip

    Be sure to bring extra batteries for your camera, and check that your memory card is in the camera before you leave. ( I have left home without it several times.)

    When you cannot copy information, as at a town or city clerk office, you might want to create a form that has spaces for each piece of information you expect to find, and add a space to indicate the source and location of the repository.

    Good luck, happy hunting.