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
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 map (so you know where you're going).
- A laptop (preferably borrowed from work, like this one). I have installed
The GIMP for viewing and diddling images from
the digital camera.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bandannas, for solving problems that Andrew Jackson can't.
- A standard film camera (optional).
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- A portable camera tripod (also a good conversation-starter with airport
indispensable Leatherman Supertool. (Don't
even think about taking this one in carryon luggage.)
- A microphone and Minidisc recorder if you're into field recordings.
- Pencil and paper for making gravestone rubbings.
- A plastic bag for protecting all of this expensive junk when you're in the
middle of a cemetery and it starts pouring rain.
- An open mind and some imagination (not available for purchase).
- Generous cousins who speak the local language and will drive and follow you anywhere.