Thursday, October 18, 2012

Planning a Genealogy Research Trip

That's Mom and I, reading family letters
written over 100 years ago between Boston and Hawaii
at the Hawaii State Archives

I recently took a trip to Hawaii, combining a family vacation with a bit of genealogy research.  It was a great way to get the extended family, my Mom and my daughter, to learn about a branch of the family that we used to think of as a family myth.  Seeing the historic homes, meeting the cousins and experiencing the culture was a great vacation.  I also did a bit of research while I was there.  It took a lot of planning ahead, and these strategies can be used for a genealogy trip anywhere, not just Hawaii 

Planning ahead…

1. Make a list of specific things you want to research.  Not just, “find vital records” but “find birth for cousin X” or “where did great uncle Y die?”  Write up a research plan, but be flexible.
2. Call ahead to repositories and archives to find out the schedule, fees, hours, and any special days they might be closed.  There are lots of local holidays you might not be aware of, or the clerk might take a vacation.  Ask specific questions about the very day and time you want to visit.   Remember the time difference when calling archives in Hawaii, you have to call at 6PM to reach someone at noon in Honolulu (six hour time difference!).
3. If you have a Flip Pal or other scanner, ask if it is allowed in any archive or library you want to visit (not allowed in the Hawaii State Archives).  If not, you can leave it off your packing list.  Packing light is a necessity nowadays with 50 lb weight limits on luggage!
4. Bring your digital camera, lots of memory cards, chargers, etc. Ask if it is allowed inside libraries (yes for Hawaii State Archives!), but you’ll need it anyways to photograph your trip, villages, homesteads, cousins, etc.
5. Contact any distant cousins, genealogists, genealogy clubs, historical societies, etc. in the area for meetups and suggestions for research ideas.  Plan time to make lunch and dinner plans with these people as a “Thank you”.   In Hawaii we presented them with leis, too, and gifts of New Hampshire maple syrup and other local products from home.
6. Research ahead of time the customs and etiquette for visiting cemeteries.  In Hawaii we brought leis for family graves.  Call churches ahead of time, they are open on very limited hours, even on Sundays. Bring water for exploring cemeteries, they are hot and dusty in the Honolulu area.
7. Be prepared to visit more than one island.  Plan your research carefully so you can complete everything on one island before you move on to the next.  This is an extra expense to add to your travel budget, and needs planning.
8.  You probably need half the paperwork and half the clothes you originally planned to bring.  I did a two week trip with one folder of paperwork, but brought home three times as much paper.   Reconsider bringing your laptop.  Are you going to spend vacation time entering data, or will you do it when you arrive home?  Will a smart phone suffice?   (Bloggers have different needs!)

While you are there…

1. Be flexible about changing your plans to squeeze in those “once in a lifetime” opportunities for meetups and photo opportunities. 
2. If you are traveling with family, make sure you make time for fun and relaxation.  For each cemetery or library visit, match it up with your spouse’s choice of activity.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they would rather go to the beach or shopping while you do a genealogy activity alone.
3. Buy any books you think are valuable and not available at home.  Ship them home by mail since books are heavy and your baggage allowance is only 50 lbs (less at some international locations). 
4. If you take a lot of notes or pick up paper such as brochures, printouts, postcards, folders and other items, consider shipping them home, too.  All that paper adds up to extra weight.  Those new “If it fits, It ships” boxes from the USPS are great for this, and a bargain for shipping from Hawaii.
5. Hang out with the locals.  The neighborhood pub, church on Sunday, read the local paper, eat the local food.  Chat up the staff at restaurants, post offices and on tours.  You just might meet a distant cousin!

Watch out for….

1.  Climate issues.  Hawaii was very different from New Hampshire.  We brought lots of zip loc baggies for packing, silicon desiccant packs for cameras, a sweater for the archive building (locals were wearing parkas!) We went through lots of sunscreen at cemeteries.  Bring wide brim hats!  Dehydration and sunburns can ruin your trip.
2. Language issues.  Yes, we needed a Hawaiian/English dictionary.  Should have bought it ahead of time.  Ask about translation services at archives, too (available at the Hawaii State Archives).
3.  Bring a GPS if you are renting a car.  Hawaiian street and village names are especially confusing and difficult to read, pronounce and spell.  Double check everything with maps and guide books.
4. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t find what you came to research.  The entire trip and the exposure to the culture and surroundings will enrich your research. 
5. Watch out for issues with connectivity with WiFi or hotel internet.  Don’t be disappointed if you can’t connect at all, and be prepared to not get online.  Call ahead to see if your phone plan will work at your destination, or buy a throwaway phone upon arrival if you absolutely need to have a mobile phone.
6. Money issues.  Hawaii is much, much more expensive than the mainland.  Gas prices are exorbitant compared to gas at home, and all that eating out can blow your budget.  Ask bellhops, tour guides, librarians and locals for inexpensive ideas for lunch, groceries, and other purchases.
7. Time differences.  If you call, text or email home to New Hampshire, remember that 6PM in Honolulu is midnight at home!  Some businesses that deal with the mainland open and close early because of this time difference, so plan ahead.

After you get home…

1. As soon as possible download and then backup your digital photos and scans.
2. Write thank you email and letters, don’t forget to mail them, too!
3. Enter your new information and source citations into your genealogy data bases, make printouts of trees to see if there are new connections you need to follow up on as soon as possible while the trip and research are still fresh in your mind

Important genealogy places to visit in Hawaii:

Hawai’i State Archives
Kekāuluohi  Building
‘Iolani Palace Grounds
364 S. King Street
Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96813
Fax: (808) 586-0330
Business Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed Saturday, Sunday, and State Holidays
Metered parking near Iolani Palace
Genealogy research Guide for the Hawaii State Archives:

Bishop Museum  (check for hours)
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
Phone: (808) 847-3511
Free Parking
NOTE- the library and archives are closed due to budget concerns!

Hawai’i State Library
The only state library system in the USA, with 50 branches on six island
Main Library 249 South King Street, Honolulu, HI, 96813  (808) 586-3500

University of Hawai’I at Manoa Library

Hawaiian Historical Society at Honolulu
Library is located at 560 Kawaiahao Street, Honolulu, HI  96813
Phone (808) 537 – 6271
(collections include newspapers, newsclipping files, manuscripts, photographs, etc)

Some important websites to check:

Honolulu County Genealogical Society

Native Hawaiian Genealogy Society

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo 


  1. This is an excellent list and I think you covered everything. Must admit I probably over-prepare for a trip like this, but it's so exciting to actually visit a distant place for research purposes!

  2. Excellent suggestions - for any genealogy researcher going anywhere, I suspect! Now I just have to find that missing ancestor from Hawai'i - none so far :)

  3. thanks for sharing.

  4. Excellent tips! I have to do the opposite and travel to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Canada from Hawaii. I have yet to find any New England ancestors.