Shortly after I began work at NEHGS about ten years ago, we went into all-hands-on-deck mode. The occasion was the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, which was in Boston that year and bringing many visitors to the building. A newbie, I was assigned the non-genealogical task of welcoming people at the door. The first person arrived, pulling a wheelie bag behind her. “Hello!” I said. “May I store your bag?” Everyone froze. A hushed silence fell. Finally someone clued me in: “Penny. That’s her research!” Oh.
Now I have a wheelie bag of my own. Actually, mine is not wheeled but has a wide shoulder strap. Now that I am semi-retired, I have had time to refine the list of items I carry in the bag for a day of research. Beyond my laptop and power cord, they include the following:
- Pencil with eraser. Ideally, this will be a no. 2 pencil, and a mechanical one, as I am fussy about pencil sharpness. Not only do most libraries prefer for you to use pencils rather than pens, but pencil writing is easy to erase if I make a mistake.
- Thumb drive, for sharing files or downloading a document or image from another source.
- Even though I take notes on my laptop, the physical act of writing with a pencil often helps me remember things. I prefer a spiral-bound notebook and paper with perforated pages so that I can remove pages and put them in a relevant file folder. I also like notebooks with pockets, where I can keep relevant loose pages that come my way.
- Small note pad, for keeping a running to-do list separate from my research notebook. Sheets from this pad also serve as temporary bookmarks.
- Post-It notes of various sizes, for flagging pages within my own research files.
- File folders. I bring (limited) files of work in process, but also a blank folder for new topics undertaken or people discovered.
- Blank family group sheets and multigenerational charts.
- Cell phone and/or scanner. Often I use my phone to take a photo of a page or pages during research. I do own a portable scanner, a Flip-Pal, which I sometimes pack if I want to scan images.
In addition, I’ve developed other habits for research days:
- Wear layers. If the library is overly air conditioned, I wear a sweater. If it’s too hot, I remove the sweater.
- Wear dark clothing. I am known to wear the food I am eating and also the ink or pencil I am writing with. Dark clothing hides stray pencil marks.
- Bring small bills and change to pay for photocopies, as necessary—or to raid the snack machine!
As I write this, I’m thinking of the last time I took my bag to NEHGS.
It was kind of heavy.
Maybe I need one with wheels.