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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: The Traveling Genealogist
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 05, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

With the many recent conferences and other research trips I have found myself taking, I have truly entered the realm of the road warrior genealogist. And with that baptism has come some lessons on making the most of these trips.

I share those now in the hopes that as you too enter the inner circle of traveling genealogists that you will have a much easier time of it. Even if you don't attend conferences, I suspect that you may find yourself traveling to libraries or the counties where your ancestors lived.

Traveling genealogists need to be prepared in all things.

Prepare Before You Go

If you are getting ready to take a research trip, begin that trip by preparing while you are still at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people do not realize all the ways you can prepare before you take a trip.

The Internet can prove very useful with this preparation. If you are going to be at a library, see if their catalog is online. If it is, then do some of your research ahead of time. This is especially useful when working in a library with closed stacks, like the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. If you search their catalog before you go, you will already have some books you wish to order right when you get to the library. Write down the call numbers, the titles and the author. Then when you get to library, after you have found your table, you can quickly fill out the call slips, adding your table number and have those ordered in within the first few minutes of your arrival.

If you are going to visit a county where your ancestors lived, you can use the Internet to search for available repositories. A good place to start is the USGenWeb site for the county or town you are visiting. Most states are on the county level, but for some you will find further subdivisions to the town level. Through these sites you can learn about genealogical and historical societies. You can also learn their hours of operation. You might even pick up some hints on working with the clerks in the county courthouse.

Prepare on the Road

If you will be staying in a hotel and plan to use a modem, be sure to play it safe. Never plug your modem line directly into the wall of the hotel. It is possible that they may have a system that is incompatible with modems and will wreak havoc. Most hotels now have data ports on the phones where you can safely plug in the modem line.

Just as you used the Internet to prepare before you left, you can use it also to prepare each night for the research of the next day. Use those same library and county tools. Your searches will tend to be more focused as your thoughts will be on the research for the next day.

It is also a good idea to think about getting a Web-based e-mail account. This allows you to stay in touch with people while on the road. Such accounts can be set up at and at

Roll with the Punches

Technology has this nasty habit of knowing when we are at our most vulnerable. And for most of us this is when we are traveling. After all, we are not in our home environment. Usually we can't just hop in our car and go to the local discount store when we realize we are in need of something. I will confess though to having had to purchase at least four printer cables over the last ten years' worth of travels. I did finally solve that problem by purchasing a portable printer that works off a PCMCIA card, which is always in my computer bag.

There will be times when you get somewhere and you cannot get connected. It could be that the phone system can't handle the modem. It could be that the node refuses to answer. It could be that your computer picks that exact day to go south (of course, you needn't worry, as you have all your data backed up at home). Regardless of what happens, just assume that if you are traveling, and going to use a computer, that something may go wrong.

If it hasn't, then you may want to consider uploading your great finds to an online storage site like Murl where you will have a backup of your hard work that can be retrieved should something go wrong on the way home. That is another time that technology tends to get the better of us, when we think it will be smooth sailing.

In Conclusion

Modern technology affords us many freedoms that we didn't have in the past. Through notebook computers we can take our entire family history with us — not possible if we had to drag along all our file folders. But with these new technological treats come a few tricks we would prefer not to endure.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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