Of Learning and Checklists

The last six weeks or so have been full of family history learning for me.

August was Family History Month in Australia and a one-day seminar at the LDS Family History Centre at Forest Glen on 1 August was the start of lots of geneafun. For me, the stand-out speaker was Brenda Wheeler. As always the hospitality from the LDS community was excellent.

We had the second gathering of our McCorkindale cousins at Caloundra mid-August and once again all enjoyed themselves immensely. The icing on the cake was discovering new McCorkindale cousins in the UK and Australia…an tempting them to come to another gathering in 2020! As you might imagine this all kicked off a focus on our McCorkindale family who originated in Loch Awe in Argyll.

I was delighted to be able to attend the DNA Down Under session in Brisbane on 14 August and followed up with the three day intensive in Sydney from 29-31 August. Both sessions I attended were superb both in content and organisation so a huge thank you goes to Unlock the Past for this innovative program. Blaine Bettinger suggested we get a DNA Buddy to keep our feet on the ground and challenge our assumptions: straight away my genimate, TravelGenee, and I pointed at each other. I guess we’ve already been doing some of that with our coffee chat-fests. Don’t you just love it when virtual friends become real-life friends? I feel so grateful that I’ve made great friends from family history.

Since I’ve returned from Sydney I’ve been applying some of what I’ve learned, reviewing my notes and reading the 2nd edition of Blaine Bettinger’s “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” which sold like hot cakes at the venues. Not only is Blaine an excellent speaker on matters relating to genetic genealogy, he is truly an all-round nice person. Sometimes it’s hard not to gush and be a genealogy rockstar groupie.

Between the two DNA events I enjoyed another gathering of the Brisbane Blarney Group at a pub in Brisbane hosted by genimate Crissouli. The focus is on those with Irish heritage and it’s always fun and more so as you get to know each other.

While in Sydney I scheduled some research time at the NSW State Archives at Kingswood where I did some McCorkindale research and got great assistance from the archivists with some tricky problems. More on that another time.

The last ten days have been real-life family history, spending time with the living family in Darwin and getting in lots of grandchild cuddles.

Yesterday I was privileged to be on a panel with Janice Cooper, Bob McAllister and Doug Moss at the Fridays @ QFHS seminar. Our topic was “Researching, Organising and Filing your Family History”. This was the second session on this topic in 2019. The main advantage of having a panel format for this topic as the variety of responses and strategies hopefully strike a chord with the attendees….no one way will suit everyone and as I said “my way may not be your way”. I also recommended The Organised Genealogist Facebook group as a great opportunity to discover a wide variety of strategies. As always I learned something too, and picked up clues and tips of my own, especially from Janice’s One Place Study strategies.

PD60004885_000-RootsTech19-1200x1200_LondonThe seminar also provoked me to finally do something I’ve been planning for some time: a checklist of research for family history – yours or mine. No doubt I’ve forgotten or just omitted some sources/strategies so feel free to let me know what you think should be added. I’ve included the file on this blog here.

So what’s next for me? RootsTech London, along with some of my long-standing Genimates, and the chance to meet and make new ones….and of course the learning…the schedule is jam-packed with great speakers and presentations so choosing which to attend will be a challenge. I am slightly miffed that London is taking second place in the planning and preparation to the Salt Lake conference which is still months away as it would be helpful to have the RootsTech updated for London…however that’s a small matter. I’m so grateful to Carolina Girl Genealogy and RootsTech London for the free pass I won which reimbursed my early registration. I’m really looking forward to meeting Cheri in person! In the meantime I’ve got lots of homework to prepare for a week’s research time in Scotland before RootsTech. Focus will be the name of the game!

What was I thinking – I published without adding photos. My apologies!



Genea-journeying – my tips

A friend asked on Facebook about the best strategy for doing genealogy journeys to the

P1070724 edit_edited-1

The sixpenny gatehouse for Ardkinglas estate where my James McCorkindale/McCorquodale lived.

United Kingdom – one trip or more? My response was definitely more than one to allow for learning and evaluating what one finds. It’s also made me think in greater depth about what I’ve learned over multiple trips to pursue my family history – as well as general travel. What worked, what maybe didn’t etc. Thanks to my friend Sharon who provoked this thought process.

What credentials do I have to speak on this topic? Well, I was a late starter to travel only commencing in my 20s but I’ve made up for it since. I’ve done multiple research trips, solo or with my other half. I’ve visited archives, libraries, places and cemeteries across the relevant states of Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania), Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany (Bavaria).

So here are my tips, for what they’re worth. They will change with time because, as we know, nothing stays constant in the digital modern world.

Flights etc

When you live Down Under, unless you’re travelling within Oz, your first step is flights. Unlike our ancestors we no longer have to spend months at sea, though I have often reflected that perhaps our tolerance for long-distance travel was formed by their endurance on emigration.

We only ever fly economy. As much as turning left instead of right appeals once on board, I think of what else we can do with the dollars, or points, and reconcile myself to a tedious 24+ hours on the journey with minimal sleep (if I’m lucky). And at nearly 6 feet tall and with the airlines’ decreasing seat pitch, it’s certainly tedious, but like childbirth it’s soon enough forgotten. If you arrive in the early hours of daylight, keep going, get out in the sun and do something – I’ve found this the best way to combat jetlag.

Backrow farmhouse Sim home 2

My Sim family’s residence for a great many years, Backrow (aka Backraw) farmhouse, Bothkennar, Stirlingshire.

Compared to the flight costs, the expense on the ground is what adds up: the accommodation, hire car, meals, admissions etc. It’s the exchange rate that makes the difference – we’ve indulged when it’s been in our favour, and been “cheap Charlies” when it hasn’t.  At least we’ve balanced cheap accommodation on some nights with more comfortable accommodation on others. I don’t really subscribe to the theory that hotels are only a place to lay your head….for me it’s part of the experience. Travelodges and the like are fine when you’re in transit, being just off the motorways, but other times I want to stay in something like an oast house in Kent.

Take certified copies of your passport, certificates, insurance documents, and spare passport photos in case of theft.

A postcard of Das Goldene Fass mid-20thC. Kindly provided to me by Georg Veh, local historian.

Das Goldene Fass before its demolition for a bank in the 1960s. Image kindly provided by Georg Veh.


Apart from my thoughts above, one thing I consider is where is best to stay when I’m doing research in places that are less travelled. I’ve learned that it’s wise to stay at least one night in the area so you can avail yourself of local knowledge and maybe engender some curiosity about you – which might lead to more family information. Sadly, my ancestors’ inn in Dorfprozelten has been demolished so we had to stay in another one that dates from a similar time.

If you’ve made connections with cousins who still live nearby it gives you a chance to have a meal or a drink.

Leith shore and Melvins

Shore, Leith © Pauleen Cass 2010

When to go?

We have traditionally travelled off season – between October (the earliest) and May (the latest). This reduces cost and the impact of other tourists, but has to be balanced against weather, and whether the places you want to visit are accessible, or the research centres are closed for the season.

Internal travel at destination

On our first trips overseas we used train travel, but ever since we’ve used hire cars to get around, and frankly I don’t see how else you could do it, unless your ancestors came from one of the great urban areas like London or Glasgow. I have membership with various hire car companies which makes it both cheaper and easier when travelling. It also minimises the hassle if you have a family emergency at home and need to change your travel plans.

If you’re in a city, explore what local transport cards area available for bus, train or ferry. Apply before you leave home if possible.


Courtown Harbour. Photo P Cass 2016.

Research Homework

Now to the tough stuff. You absolutely MUST do your homework before you leave. Don’t head off overseas (or anywhere really) thinking that information will magically appear once you’re on the ground. Once it would have been a case of using fiche or microfilm but now we have the digitised resources online, some original images, some derivative or indexes.  Pretty much all libraries and archives have their catalogues online as well as their opening hours, guides, and other relevant information.


The church at Sandon in Hertfordshire where my Kent ancestors worshipped and held parish roles. P Cass 2010.

In particular, check:

  • Do you need a photo image? I didn’t when I went to the Scottish Record Office years ago and wasted time finding a photo shop to take a passport image. Now I always travel with spares (good “insurance” too if your documents are stolen).
  • What hours are they open and what days? Do they have lunch breaks? We got caught in Argyll because the archives took a lunch break….but I did find a nice pair of earrings as well as getting some food 😉
  • They’re not closing for public holidays etc etc.
  • Maybe there’s a genealogy conference you can tie into your visit – we were lucky when visiting Glasgow that there was a publicity event happening for genealogy and local history.
  • Lots of my genimates are signing up for RootsTech London or The Genealogy Show but I’ve decided against (so far!). I’ve been to London before and done some research so it’s not highest on my list right now though I’d love to reconnect with my genimates who are going. I look at the content of what’s on offer and what else has been on my travel bucket list before I make my decision. You can see my conference Pros and Cons

The house where Mr Cassmob’s ancestors lived before emigrating to Australia. Photo P Cass 2010

Archives and Reference Libraries

I don’t know about you, but I always find it takes me time to settle into an archive or reference library. Yes, they have guides online these days, and useful tips and hints, which must be added to the pre-trip preparation. However, being on the ground still makes a difference.

Pre-trip I go through the catalogues and decide what I want to look at. Usually I will print off the references I want to follow up. Yes, I also save them as a running document, but I personally find it helpful to have the printed information as well. Once I’m finished there, the pre-trip paperwork goes in the bin. But not my discoveries of course! Make sure you save them online as you go so there’s no risk of loss.


Peter looks at his family’s graves at Moorgate near Retford, Nottinghamshire. Photo P Cass 2006.


  • Do you need to pre-book your research table? This can be especially relevant if it’s peak season.
  • Do you need to order in documents/records which are held off-site? Omitting this can play havoc with your plans.
  • How are you going to get to the repository? How often is public transport? Do you have the application completed for a reader’s ticket? Is there an “admission” fee? Check their website. It’s so much easier now with information online.
  • You can bet your bottom dollar that the most relevant piece of information will be found in the last five minutes or just as the collections are being closed for the day. Sigh.
  • Balance your prepared list with serendipity. I didn’t expect to be so enthralled by the Kirk Session records in Edinburgh but they really are a gold mine.
  • Use online records even if they cost you money. Personally, now it’s possible, I much prefer to spend my money on ScotlandsPeople at home where I can compare my other information and evaluate what I’ve found. This means when I’m on site I can focus on records that are only available offline.
  • Don’t forget the local archives – on my next Scottish trip I need to spend time at the Edinburgh City Archives. If only there was more time.

Choose a supportive, independent travel partner

I’d be lost without Mr Cassmob who invariably finds the very grave I want, no matter how we quadrant the cemetery. He’s also independent and is happy toddling off to a museum while I bury my nose in an archive. You can meet up for lunch, or spend the morning in a gallery and the afternoon each doing your own thing. He’s also good at looking like he cares what I’ve found that day, or pondering my plan for the next. <smile>

On the other hand, you do need to spend some time together since that’s part of why you’ve done this trip. Hmmm, was it a good choice to visit the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on a gorgeously sunny day? That or a rare photo of Leith in the sunshine? The jury’s still out on that one.

On the other hand, he drove me from one sign to the other at North Shields while I looked like a drowned rat taking photos at each.

Decide which one of you is the better navigator or driver? Work to your skills…makes for a more harmonious trip <smile>.


Serendipity – without an introduction from the local priest I’d never have met Paddy Q who introduced me to my O’Brien ancestors’ land. Photo P Cass 2006.


Allow for a buffer in your schedule. This is definitely something I’ve learned over time and genea-journeys. Serendipity comes from the most bizarre sources – a friendly cat, or a helpful priest. Both have given me information I’d never have found elsewhere. It makes you feel like you’re in your own version of Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA). A chance enquiry of a bloke mowing his lawn led us to great information about Mr Cassmob’s Retford ancestors, and a delightful experience after the Sunday church service. You get such great personal memories and engaging conversations when serendipity enters your travel agenda.

Buffer days in your itinerary also help -either to give you down time or in case serendipity creates a great opportunity.


The view down the main street of Dorfprozelten, Bavaria where my Happ and Kunkel ancestors had lived. The bank is on the site of the inn shown above, Das Goldene Fass.

Other practicalities

I may touch on these in another post but in the meantime you can visit these prior posts here, here, here and here. Things to consider are: phones in remote places (yes, there still are some), wifi, what documents/records to take, how to take them etc.

My key tips:

  • Buy topographical maps of your families’ areas. They are a potential goldmine! See if you can buy them online before you leave, or search them out at a good bookshop or large newsagent. Taking mine is a priority for me.
  • Keep your most important documents online at Evernote, or Dropbox or Google Drive or whatever. You’ll have them wherever you are – so long as you have wifi and most accommodation now provides that at least. With an Evernote professional subscription you can also choose to make some documents available offline eg travel papers, insurance, family history. I haven’t caught up with what’s happening with Evernote but I’ll be bitterly disappointed if this facility ceases to exist.
  • Skype (or Facetime): get yourself set up before you leave so you can ring home cheaply. Skype lets you set up a phone number local to home so people can ring you without great expense. I also add some credit so I can ring via Skype if I need to.
  • Download apps relevant to the area you’re visiting.
  • Look up the location and hours of family history societies for your family’s area. Remember they may have indexed information that’s not readily available elsewhere.
  • Talk to those who’ve been to your family places before, if possible. Get their advice and tips.

Whatever you do, enjoy the trip, seeing your families’ places, and experiencing the country or region where they lived.

Do you have comments or tips to add?

Do check out David’s wise words in the comments about thinking why you’re going and what you want to achieve. Thanks David.