The Field Kit

As any experienced genealogist knows, ogling microfilms and browsing Web pages is just one part of genealogy. Field work is a whole different story. Enjoying some fresh air, talking to locals, twisting ankles while looking for forgotten memorials...it is a pleasantly tangible aspect of a substantially abstract hobby.

Any trip is improved by thoughtful packing. I was taught to pack light by Rick Steves and I've never regretted following this advice. But a genealogy field trip is a mixture of vacation and research. Packing light isn't always appropriate. You increase your chances of success if you bring along the right equipment. Here's a sample kit based on what I took on a recent trip to Poland to research my father's father's family.

A photo of the field kit
  1. A map (so you know where you're going).
  2. A laptop (preferably borrowed from work, like this one). I have installed The GIMP for viewing and diddling images from the digital camera.
  3. Local currency for the place where you're going, or a bank card that is on the major Bankomat / ATM networks -- a traveller's best friend.
  4. Some international currency. Problems with taxi drivers, border guards, reluctant archivists, etc. often melt away the moment you involve a well-respected US president like Andrew Jackson.
  5. Bandannas, for solving problems that Andrew Jackson can't.
  6. A standard film camera (optional).
  7. Electronic doodads. The one shown here is a USB cable that connects the memory stick in the digital camera (which is taking the picture) to the laptop. Not shown are mobile phone recharger, laptop recharger, camera battery recharger, etc. Be prepared to open your luggage a lot at airport X-Ray machines.
  8. Pen and notebook for sketches, scribbles, addresses and whatnot. I find the marble-covered composition books I used in grade school work really well. They're cheap, the rounded corners allow them to slip in and out of a crowded backpack without catching on things and the stiff cover is its own desk so you can write wherever the mood or need strikes.
  9. Most important -- a safe travel amulet. I borrowed this one from my friend Niklas. He got it in Japan where it was blessed by a Buddhist priest. Note that they bless the amulet, not the traveller, so it is a transferrable blessing. That's good thinking. As a practical precaution, it is also waterproof. It worked for me in every respect.
  10. A portable camera tripod (also a good conversation-starter with airport security personnel).
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