Saturday, November 29, 2014

The (Family) Business Trip

William Conner house, built 1823.  Fishers, Hamilton County, Indiana
     After returning from ten days pursuing my 1820’s ancestors in Indiana, I reviewed the many pieces of information I collected. All of the various elements needed to be analyzed, and organized into the appropriate digital folders on my computer. New research objectives were set.
During this process, I realized how much more successful any kind of research can be, especially when leaving the house, if techniques from the world of business are applied. This is true whether the goal is a trip to the local courthouse or cemetery, or when traveling across the country to a major repository.
     Thinking of myself as working for my own small company, I first do as much groundwork as possible, to thoroughly prepare myself for success before I leave home. In the world of genealogy, the first step is looking at what I already have, and what information I need in order to make progress. Next, I study the jurisdictions for the kinds of records I hope to access, where the records are currently held, and the days and hours the repositories are open. I make contact with individuals via email or phone call, introduce myself and explain my needs. Often this leads to suggestions for other stops to make on my itinerary, or they offer to pull specific materials prior to my arrival.
     I spend as much time learning about finding aids, and studying the online catalog, as possible. I prioritize and collect the information most likely to be helpful to me. This is similar to being up to date on my products, checking out the competition, and learning about potential customers, before a business trip. I follow up with phone calls right before leaving home, to learn about unexpected closures, or whether any key personnel will be unavailable. Hopefully I can make adjustments to my itinerary as necessary.
     By now, I've probably started to make the actual travel arrangements. Not having a huge “expense account,” I work to maximize my time, while getting good value for my money. This may mean spending a little bit more on a hotel room close to an archive, and not having to drive and pay for parking every morning. Or, it may mean staying in a room with a refrigerator and a microwave, and consuming meals from groceries I can buy nearby.
     Successful time management can contribute greatly to achieving goals in business. For me, that means planning out the day, so that I arrive first at the place with the earliest opening time, and move on to the place that closes the latest in the day. I also allow time before it gets dark to drive around taking photographs at various locations where my ancestors lived, or at cemeteries. I spend part of the evening going over new data, and planning a list of priorities for the next day, or at the next stop. Stepping away from the topic of genealogy can also be beneficial. Carving out time to go swimming, or taking a walk outside, makes me feel relaxed and refreshed, and better able to get a good night’s sleep. This helps my ability to focus when the day starts all over again.
     To keep my itinerary running as smoothly as possible, I try to make allowances for the everyday tasks, that when ignored, can lead to problems. Before driving off in a rental car, I check how things like the windshield wipers, headlights, and access to the gas cap operate. This will make for much safer driving. Figuring out mileage distances before leaving home is a must, for arriving at businesses while they're still open! And, keeping an eye on the fuel gauge in an unfamiliar car is critical, especially while visiting an out-of-the-way cemetery, or the location of a rural property.
     While I may not be selling an actual product, or arriving for a job interview, I still need to make a good first impression. Walking into a county courthouse, archive, or library, I want to look well-groomed and presentable.  Being comfortable and practical shouldn't slide over into looking sloppy.
     The person on the other side of the desk should be treated as a colleague, who has the expertise to help me. Or, perhaps that person could direct me to someone who can. I need to be aware that my attitude and timing could make the difference in engaging “my colleagues” in helping me achieve my research goals. Arriving at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, or Monday morning at 8:15, and demanding everything in their records about the Smith family sometime during the 1800s, “Because they're public property and I have a right to know,” probably won't get me very far.
     When I return from the trip, I take time to thank the people who have been of help to me along my travels. I might make a donation to a local society or museum, whose personnel were generous with their time and knowledge, or write a complimentary email to an employee's supervisor. This is similar to maintaining a useful business contact list. It isn't uncommon to realize that I might need help in the future, and I want to have a good connection with these individuals.
     Applying as many of the elements as I need to from this list, I am in a better position to make a success of “the family business,” or in this case, the business of family.