Top tips to make the most of a family history archive visit

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28 July 2021
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Plan your perfect day of research - online or on-site
With the Covid-19 restrictions hopefully drawing to a close, many of the venues and attractions at which we enjoy carrying out family history research are readying to open their doors again. Read on for a guide to archive visits in the post-pandemic world.

A breath of fresh air! While Zoom has been a boon over the past year or so, the enjoyment of visiting archives, libraries, ancestor graveyards, historic attractions – and of course – actual living family members, is something many family historians have sorely missed.

Many of us have individual health concerns and/or those of loved ones to worry about, and, as the pandemic has made us all too well aware, there’s no single solution that fits all of us. 

However, we hope these tips will help you come up with a plan that best suits you, whether that’s researching at home or out and about.

First post-Covid visit to an archive

FT editor Helen Tovey writes: '

Archives staff are going to huge lengths to ensure that records are quarantined and desks are well-spaced to make visits to the repositories as safe as possible, as I found out on my trip in late June to Lincolnshire Archives.

'The records I’d pre-ordered were ready on my allocated table in a sealed box, to which I returned them at the end of the session. Hand sanitising and mask wearing throughout was the order of the day. There were just a few other visitors, all of us well spaced out, and the archives staff were extremely helpful, carefully explaining the process step by step.

It is worth noting that ordering systems, visiting hours and access to the records are all very likely to have changed (and will continue to evolve too). Some of the rules will seem very similar to pre-Covid times too, however, and planning is always good.

Before you visit the archives...

1. Check the website for opening days and times.

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2. You will likely have to prebook items you’d like to view. There is likely to be a maximum number of items that may be booked.

3. Bear in mind that shelves that are usually open-access may not currently be accessible.

4. Review your research notes (while you’re making your trip are there any other items you would like to see too, to make the most of the journey).

For your research visit:

1. As ever, pack paper, pencils, charged devices – and now, a mask too. Some places may require mask-wearing at their discretion.

2. Bring relevant research notes and perhaps a copy of your family tree, so that you can cross-refer to useful details if needed.

3. Set yourself some specific research steps to help keep your research session on track.

4. Remember to take a break if needed (we all know how important our health is nowadays).

5. Enjoy yourself, and be friendly to the hardworking archives staff.

Tips adapted from an in-depth research guide in the September issue of Family Tree magazine. Get your copy here.