Sunday, August 05, 2007

Is A Research Trip Worthwhile?

I'm back tonight at GeneaBlogie headquarters in Carmichael, California, after a trip of nearly three weeks to Missouri. A good deal of the time was taken by travel itself, since we opted to take Amtrak. We spent time in St Louis and Kansas City.

As I've mentioned in some of the posts while on the trip, I'll have in the coming days some "Lessons Learned" and some tips about how to make the best use of a research trip.

This was the third research trip I've made in the last three years. In 2005, I went to Georgia and in Upson County, met the competent and delightful Penny Cliff. Last year, it was off to Salt Lake City and the Family History Library. And this year, to the Midwest.

Despite the generally pleasant time I've had on these trips, an important question to ask is, "Are research trips worthwhile?" Clearly, travel is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. More resources are being made available on the Internet and from local Family History Centers. E-mail contact between researchers, archives, and agencies is simple and convenient. So why spend time, money, and maybe part of one's sanity to travel for genealogical research?

There are some resources that are only available where they are. For example, on this trip, I visited the Kansas City Public Library and read the manuscript that contains the journal of my ancestor Dan Carpenter. That manuscript just is not available any place else except in the KCMO library's special collections--and they don't lend it out. In St Louis, I went through the entire archives of the St Louis Post-Dispatch and the St Louis Globe-Democrat. I've found only limited archived material from these two newspapers on the Internet.

Then, in Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, I was able to talk to the local priest who had a wealth of information that I otherwise would not have come across. And, we had the serendipitous meeting with Margaret Kimball Brown, Ph.D., one of the leading experts on French colonization in North America.

In Kansas City and St Louis, I walked several cemeteries and came across surprises in both cities. In both cities, I had access to photographs and documents in the possession of individuals who sometimes didn't realize what they had, or if they did, they weren't about to part with it. (Thanks to suggestions made by Becky at kinexxions, and Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, I had my CanoScan LiDE 70 portable scanner with me!).

I was able to speak with people with first hand knowledge of events and individuals. (Yes, this might be done by telephone, letter, or e-mail, but in an upcoming post on research tips, I'll talk about the advantages [and pitfalls] of in-person interviews).

I could take photographs from the vantages that I wanted and explore buildings and houses as thoroughly as I wanted.

I made new acquaintances and renewed old relationships.

And I had fun!

So, is a research trip worthwhile? In the end, that's a question that each must answer for him- or herself. For me, a well-planned trip indeed can be well worth the investment. In several upcoming posts, I'll write about how to make your trip worthwhile.


Moultrie Creek said...

Glad you're back home again. I enjoyed your reports from the road and look forward to new family stories based on your research.

Practical Archivist said...

Craig, so glad the portable scanner came in handy. When I think about how difficult and expensive it used to be to make copies of antique photos, I almost have to pinch myself I feel so lucky. Especially when a scanner like the LiDe is less than $100 brand new!

Craig Manson said...

The sales guy tried to sell me on a more expensive, more cumbersome model. But this one is just right. Thanks for the tip, Sally. (And thanks to Becky, who also described her experience with this model).