Genealogy on the Move: Genealogy road trips are a marvelous, fun way to conduct research. Nothing can replace the intimacy of seeing a family homestead, former residence, or grave site in person.
Road trips can also be remarkably productive. Although the Internet is a tremendous resource for genealogical research and thousands of documents get added daily, it is amazing how much stuff is still not online. New discoveries are just waiting at local historical societies, cemeteries, and county records offices for someone to come along. Family members who travel together on such trips also have the opportunity to get reacquainted and reminisce about childhood memories and relive old times. Honestly, these trips are a blast!
A couple of tips before you go on your journey.
#1 – Get organized! Set a specific agenda about where you are going and what you are planning to research and collect. Build a binder for each member of the party with relevant records, timelines, and maps, along with a copy of the agenda and a family tree. You will spend more time preparing for the trip than being on the trip.
Last month, for example, three family members (Mom, Susie, David) and I completed another road trip to northern Minnesota. My mother’s parents, Helen Vermilyea and Bert Bonn, both came from northern Minnesota – one from the central-east and one from the west side of the state. On Helen’s side, they came from Itasca County, in the Grand Rapids area about 80 miles northwest of Duluth. On Bert’s side, they came from Marshall County which is situated in the Red River Valley on the border to North Dakota. Cass Lake, Minnesota is where the family lines come together because that’s where Bert and Helen first met at Sah-Kah-Tay Lodge, probably in 1925, where Bert’s band was playing that summer. (Caveat: Bert Bonn’s father, Bernt O. Bonn, actually settled in western Minnesota, but his parents and 3 siblings settled in northern Minnesota.)
In 2014, the four of us visited Itasca and Cass counties to research my second great-grandfather (2GG) Fred A. King. This year we went to the Red River Valley to research our Norwegian heritage. The first two days were devoted to our Bonn/Bohn/Bøn heritage, while the third day was essentially a side trip over to Cass County to pick up Fred A. King’s probate file on the drive home.
Our Research Agenda
- Day 1
- Stephen Cemetery, Stephen, Minnesota to find grave of 2GG Ole Larsen Bohn
- Donnelly Township, Marshall County to visit homestead issued to Christ O. Bonn
- Fork Township, Marshall County to visit family farm right on Red River
- Warren, Minnesota to conduct research at Marshall County Historical Society
- Warren, Minnesota to conduct research at Marshall County Courthouse
- Day 2
- Crookston, Minnesota to conduct research at Polk County Historical Society
- Crookston, Minnesota to conduct research at Polk County Courthouse
- Crookston, Minnesota to visit residence of Paul & Laura (Bohn) Berg
- Day 3
- Walker, Minnesota to conduct research at Cass County Historical Society
- Walker, Minnesota to conduct research at Cass County Courthouse
#2 – Call ahead! Identify the locations you will be visiting. These can be historical societies, county courthouses, cemeteries, old residences, libraries, etc. Then call them, identify yourself,and tell them the purpose of your visit. Give them the date and time you plan to visit and explain how they can help. Be specific about what you are seeking about your ancestor. Generally, vital records will be found at local government records offices, such as the courthouse. Land records and plat books may be found at either the local courthouse or historical society. Calling ahead is far more efficient than just showing up randomly. Some local records offices will often keep a document ready for you to pick up at the front counter, saving tons of time.
#3 – Always visit the local historical society! They are a great resource because of the wide variety of information they have, including newspaper clippings, oral histories, obituaries, family stories, photographs, etc. Many of them keep folders of information on specific families. Historical societies are also great because of the research staff working there. These are people who have been studying the local area and collecting information for years, if not decades. Just talking to these folk can reveal new tidbits of information and uncover new leads. Be sure to give a donation if you can. Historical societies typically operate on shoe-string budgets, especially in rural areas.
Here’s a shout-out to the historical society staff members who helped us on our recent trip: Sherlyn Meiers, Marshall County Historical Society; Carol Solheim, Polk County Historical Society; and Linda Gilsrud, Cass County Historical Society. Thanks, ladies!