In five short days, a 28 foot trailer is going to be arriving at my house. Inside of that trailer, my husband and are going to place all of our material possessions. My photo albums, family heirlooms, my binder with all of my notes and charts, my personal history, the three years of love letters between me and my husband, my journals—everything. And I won’t see any of them again until that trailer arrives 5-7 days later, 2455 miles away.
We’re moving from the eastern United States to the west, and we have a lot to do. And the challenge to me is one that pulls at my heartstrings, even now. The time when I most want to make and record memories with family is the time I’m least equipped to do so. My tools, materials, and notes have already been packed away.
So what is the best way to do genealogy right before/during a major move like mine? Here are some helpful suggestions from my life experience so far:
You’ll probably visit with family before you leave. Convince them to dig out the photo albums, and take care of any loose-end projects you haven’t finished yet. Guide the conversation. Look for records you may not have seen yet—and never assume you’ve seen everything your relatives have to show you. I wanted to re-scan a particular photo of my great grandmother, and combed through all of my grandmother’s pictures looking for it. I never found it, but I DID find grandma’s collection of funeral cards—many of which I’ve never seen before. Something I never would have thought to ask her about, and I’m so glad I found.
If you have aging relatives, try to sit down and do interviews with them. If you’re moving far away, they may not be living when you visit again. Audio recordings are an excellent way to take in this information. Most cell phones, MP3 players, tablets, and laptops have audio recorders. Papers may get lost or packed away in some unknown location—but your electronics are likely to stay out and about with you. Going digital, even if you don’t like to do so most of the time, is your best bet when you’re in the middle of moving.
OrganizeDon’t risk leaving anything behind. And in a two-researcher house like mine, each spouse should probably pack their own history. The one actively doing the research is the only one who is going to know if that printout from the internet is one of 8 copies floating around somewhere, or the only copy from a now defunct website. So pack your own stuff. Label the boxes the way you want them labelled, and already be planning how you’re going to organize your new office/workspace in your new place. The less steps there are between your old home and your new one, the less chance there will be to lose anything irreplaceable.
Reduce, Improvise, and Give AwayMany of us have fancy, expensive equipment we like to use when we perform our genealogical magic. But much of the better equipment, especially if it’s bulky or fragile, may be among the first things we pack away. Bulky scanners, copiers, cameras & lenses, desktop computers, etc—reduce your dependence on that technology. Use mobile tools and explore applications that will help you digitize. Shoebox from Ancestry.com is a great option, but requires Internet to upload images to your tree. So if grandma doesn’t have “wee-fee” in her condo, you may have to find another way to record history at her place.
Since you’re creating opportunities on the fly, you’ll probably have to improvise when the moment comes. I found myself wanting to do an interview with my great great aunt, and I had no questions prepared. So I had to improvise. I did get some important explanations I needed about some relatives drafted in World War I. But I also ended up getting some interesting accounts of where my family members were during 9/11. I hadn’t planned on it, and it came off beautifully.
We also need to be aware of/take advantage of moving opportunities with our aging relatives. If they are the ones going through the move, perhaps to a smaller home or assisted living, we should volunteer to help. Many times our grandparents and elderly relatives become sentimental with age and try to hold onto their possessions with deep attachment. When that’s no longer possible, never be absent when they’re making the “Should they stay or should they go?” decisions. They aren’t historians, and many times don’t understand the historical value many of their possessions have to you. Being there may keep them from throwing away/selling/donating what we might like to have.
If they do genealogy and have huge loaded filing cabinets, offer to help them organize/reduce their load. Offer to take care of part of the collection for a time, digitize or publish. Help them organize with other family members to take care of smaller, more manageable parts of the collection. Maybe even try to convince them that the time has come to pass along what they have to the next generation, and offer to take up the gauntlet. Help them prepare to donate what can be donated to a relevant historical society, or public library. Contact the society or library to ask about their submission policies, and try to prepare a donation.
This is a rare time to help your family go through their possessions, and possibly acquire things they would otherwise refuse to part with. But be sensitive. If they aren’t ready to give away their possessions and they have something you need, ask if you can borrow it during the move, and then offer to return it by a specific date. A date commits you to getting the task done, and makes it more likely for them to say yes because they can hold you accountable to a time frame.
Plan!Budget your time for packing so you have time to spend with family. Plan your outings with family to be conducive to any genealogy you want to do. You can’t go through photo albums in a restaurant, so speak up if you don’t want to go to a restaurant. If your family knows you’re a genealogy geek, many times they won’t even have to ask you how you’d rather spend the day. They’ll already know your idea of a good time is playing in the cemetery. But in case they don’t, speak up. Keep them informed on what you’re doing and what you’re working on, and many times they’ll try to help. They may even agree to take up a project you can no longer do because you’re leaving.
If you have research trips you still need to do, budget and plan to do them before you leave. If time and money won’t allow it, use the Internet to make it happen. Facebook helped me to do everything I wanted to do in Virginia right from my living room. I contacted the Grayson County Heritage Foundation and got the information I needed on Glenn Doyle and Pearl Bartlett. Pittsylvania County had great finds, which you can read about here and here. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of good people who are just as excited to see you succeed as you are.
Haven’t had a family reunion in a while? Take charge and plan one. Make it for a time when you know you can be there. Get phone numbers, addresses, add the right people on Facebook to make this happen. If you know you can only afford one trip east a year and you can’t decide between research trip and family reunion—see if you can’t plan the family reunion in the “homeland.” Share what you’ve learned about your family with relatives, all in the place where it happened. Get the most bang for your buck in travel expenses, and create memories your family will never forget with some awesome living history.
Get excited!What genealogical resources exist where you live? Have you looked into it yet? I am SO JAZZED that I am over 2,000 miles closer to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City than I was before. I’ve never been there, and now I can plan to go. What was outside of our budget is now comfortably within our grasp to do. I can’t wait to go swimmin’ in microfilm, I’m so excited!
What resources are available through the public library system where you’re going? What does it take to get a library card? Where is the closest state/national archive, and what do they offer? Are you using WorldCat? Update your lists to your new closest libraries, and start planning your new roadtrips to discovery!
Good luck, and happy moving!