Genealogy Travel Tips (Part 1): Research Before You Go

I’ve been reminiscing a trip my husband and I took to Ireland in 2019 and deciding where we might go on our next genealogy travel adventure. In the meantime, I want to share some things I learned from our Ireland Genealogy Trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re crossing an ocean or a county line, these suggestions can help make your trip successful. This will be a four part series.

Visiting where your ancestors lived can be a rich and rewarding experience. Whether you are going to visit sites or research at a repository, you will need to do some work before you make your travel arrangements.

Set Goals

What is it you want to do, learn, or accomplish? What research can be done before you go?

For our Ireland trip, one of the main things I wanted to do was research at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). I also wanted to be in the places my ancestors had been and do some sight seeing.

Do Exhaustive Research

For your trip to be successful, you will want to do as much research as you can before you go. Find all the documents and information you can using research databases, genealogical societies in the places your ancestors lived, other historical websites, and so on.

While researching my Quaker ancestors in County Cork, Ireland, I found a genealogy site for the town of Bandon where they lived. The site has many transcriptions of historical documents which, with the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, helped me identify where my ancestor’s house stood.

To Do List

Once you have set your goals and do your research, make To Do lists for each place you will visit and prioritize those items.

I thrive on planning and organization, it helps set my mind at ease. Even if you don’t thrive on these things, you will want a To Do list to help you remember all the things you want accomplish while you’re travelling.

Searching PRONI’s online catalogue at home, I created a long list of documents that I wanted to view. I then arranged the items from greatest to least interest so if we ran out of time, I would have at least gotten to the most important items.

For the places we visited, I created a table with action items for each place and, because we were looking for several different family lines, I included what ancestor was associated with that place.

Reach Out

Once you have identified places you want to visit, reach out and ask questions. You will also want to identify operating hours if the place isn’t privately owned.

I found on the PRONI website that we would need to register before accessing the records. Part of the registration process could be done remotely, speeding up the process once we got there.

Visiting with the current resident of my ancestor’s home.

I also reached out to churches and the owners of private houses my ancestors lived in to ask about visiting. Some of the contact information was readily available online, but when it wasn’t, as was the case for a couple of the houses we visited, I mailed letters ahead of time. In the letter I introduced myself, told them when I would be in the area, asked if it was alright to visit, and gave them my mailing and email addresses. I also acquired small gifts with a connection to my hometown to give to each homeowner for letting us come visit.

Next week: Planning your trip.

You can read about our adventures in my Ireland Genealogy Trip series.