What to Bring When Working On-Site: Be Prepared Before You Go

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By Amanda Forson, WorldVitalRecords.com

Day 1: Bag- Look for a small messenger bag, backpack, or good-sized tote bag for carting essential supplies. Make sure it is lightweight, preferably water-proof, large enough to carry at least one spiral notebook or a three-ring binder with loose-leaf paper depending upon your preference. If you are into high-tech gadgets, make sure it is large enough to fit your laptop or padded for similar items such as PDA’s.

Day 2: Water Bottle- Make sure that you have a small water-bottle. Something big enough to handle the weather, (especially if you are working in the summer-time outdoors in a cemetery), but small enough to be portable, and if necessary, toss-able. In case you have to take it through a secure site where they do not allow outside water or fluids, you will not want your favorite water-bottle confiscated. The easiest thing to do is to bring along either one bottle of water (Arrowhead, Dasani, Evian, off-brands) and to stow it away in either an interior, insulated area of your bag, or in an outside pocket, depending upon what is allowed at the site. Make sure you bring water. Other fluids are tasty, but water re-hydrates when others may dehydrate.

Day 3: Research notebook - What good is going onsite if you can’t record what you find? This notebook needs to fit conveniently into the bag with room leftover as necessary for copies, water bottle; other items as necessary. Good research notebooks are sturdy, and preferably acid-free if they are not to be transferred to a laptop later. Having paper on hand is a necessary feature, no matter whether using a laptop or not. Laptops are great, but they have logistical problems such as needing power, and not all batteries will last for a lengthy period, depending upon how long one has access to the site.

Day 4: Pencils and pens- These may seem redundant and elementary, but they are both necessary tools. Pencils are great for archival work where nothing else is allowed. Pens are necessary otherwise, and this researcher prefers black as it is easily legible and the color of all official penned items for the US government. Type or style of pen is personal preference. Recommended pens are relatively inexpensive, but also do not skip, smudge, and are made by known manufacturers. A great way of remembering to bring this handy tool with you is to purchase a small key-chain pen. That style of pen can be attached to a key ring, and a researcher will never be without the handy, ever-ready instrument.

Day 5: Copy of abbreviated pedigree/family group sheet – This is not to say that the information contained on the pedigree charts and family group sheets have to be abbreviated, but go with only a few families in mind since more than likely there will not be enough time to work on every ancestor in one’s trees at one sitting. Take those relatives that are most likely to be found on site, and a few collateral lines… enough to jog one’s memory. There is a strong penchant for trying to bring along too much information in fear of not knowing enough at the time. Before going to the site, review the information known about these ancestors including collateral lines (preferably a night or two beforehand) and the material will be fresh in memory when one works with original documents, etc.

Day 6: Any necessary medications, protein bar, small individually wrapped hard candies, carry-pack of tissues, etc. – Many who research family lines have need of medication during the day at some point, or could have other medical conditions needing attention. Don’t forget about these when packing!

Day 7: As always, check WorldVitalRecords.com, but also call ahead to the society, library, archive, etc., and let them know that you are coming and ask about any special needs, requirements, fees, food locations, water, etc. for the site. Calling ahead also helps prepare librarians and archivists to have information more-pertinent to your research on-hand so that your trip will not be wasted if you find out that you need to request information in advance before you may be able to search it.

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