Research Strategies for the Genealogist: Making the Most of a Genealogical Trip to the Archives

Very few genealogists these days are lucky enough to live in the same area as all their forebears so will regularly have to travel, often for miles, to get to records offices and archives in the quest for genealogical information. So what’s the best way to make the most of that visit? There are two strategies to consider: The “hit and run” approach and the more measured “knowledge management” method.

The Knowledge Management Genealogy Research Strategy

Jennifer Jensen in her excellent article Prepare for Genealogy Library Research Trip gives tips, hints and all round expert advice on how to plan ahead before making a trip to an archive or records office. This, essentially, is the knowledge management strategy. The family historian sits down before the visit and researches what resources in that research centre to call up in order to answer particular questions.

The purpose of the visit then is to manage the knowledge or information being sought by focussing on answering those planned genealogical questions around particular ancestors. Jennifer also writes about keeping the rest of your ancestors in mind in case one of them pops up during the planned research. This is all brilliant advice but could, on occasion, be a bit too focussed.

Sometimes, a trip to a particular resource library or archive office is time limited or it is so far away that the researcher may not be able to visit it again for, possibly, years. In this sort of situation, the other research method to consider is the “hit and run” strategy.

The Hit and Run Genealogy Research Strategy

Things to take on a hit and run family history research visit are essentially the same as those listed by Jennifer in her article. The only additional item to take is a list of all the surnames that have cropped up so far in the family tree. The most important things, as well as that list of names, are lots of change for the photocopier and a digital camera.


The hit and run strategy is based around collecting as much information relating to the surnames on the list from as many documents as possible by photocopying and photographing, or by jotting things down on a piece of paper. Information is grabbed without consideration to its relevance whilst at the library or archive. It can then be assimilated and organised in slow time later at home.

If another surname crops up (e.g. when looking at marriage records) then add that to the list but don’t backtrack by searching for that new name in records already looked at. Look at everything possible in the time available but don’t analyse it then – that’s wasting precious data grabbing time.

Benefits of the Hit and Run Research Strategy

The same method can be applied when visiting graveyards in the area ancestors lived. Instead of noting down details from headstones, simply snap away with a camera at any and every headstone that has a surname from the list etched on it. This has the benefit of saving time and also avoids any transcription mistakes. The detail can be analysed later.

A reference or headstone grabbed this way to a John Doe born, say, 1867, in the same area as Grandma Jane Doe, born 1920, may remain unconnected for a while. Eventually though, it might be discovered, through other research that, actually, John was Great Uncle to Jane. The benefit is that if that snippet hadn’t been noted down in the hit and run, another trip could be necessary to find it.