Tuesday, June 5, 2007

2007 Spain Research Trip


As I graded my students papers and final exam the last week in April I couldn't hold back my excitement for the first part of May. I had been planning my research trip for a while, but it was now the only thing on my mind, and did I need the break. I had researched in Spain in 2004, but this trip was my first solo trip. I had put in many hours of preparation and study; now the hour was at hand. The butterflies in my stomach were a combination of nerves and excitement. I desperately wanted the trip to be successful. To make my augment my experience I packed Don Quixote, and as I drove through various parts of Castile and Leon I could have sworn I saw the brilliant knight on his magnificent horse (since I was alone Sancho Panza couldn't be found).

My permanent smile and extra hop in my step must have been obvious to all that I greeted in the streets on my way to the archive. For me, a true genealogist, researching in archives is an experience unparalleled like any other. There is the unspoken reverence by the brave few that use them, the overzealous archivists wanting to make your experience unique, old parish books; books that for hundreds of years captured the baptisms, marriages, and deaths of the farmer, shoe cobbler, tailor, and other common, everyday people. Books full of ancestors waiting, hoping to be found; the dust covered, tattered and weathered pages maintain the faded ink that is the only living proof of long past ancestors.

Lessons Learned

1. Oh thank heaven for centralized records - Normally records more than 100 years old have been centralized in to diocesan archives. I passed through several towns where their parish church looked like this one, I'm sure glad these parish records aren't in this parish's archive. You should use the Catholic Church guide found at: http://punsola.club.fr/index.htm?menu=dioceses to learn what records exist for your ancestor's parish and where they have been centralized.

2. Archival Etiquette - Thank goodness I learned about archival etiquette in school. There are a lot of dos and donts, but I'll just touch on a couple. First, dress appropriately...never show up at an archive unshowered, unshaven, 'undressed.' Undressed means no shorts, sandals, or stupid looking clothes. Make sure you are either in a shirt and tie, or in a nice shirt and a pair of pants. Know the archive rules before you unknowingly break them. For example:
do not take digital photos unless you have asked the archivist for permission. Pencils are often mandatory, make sure you pack a couple of pencils, and leave your pens home or in your hotel room.

3. Preparation - Make sure you know what records you want to search and for which ancestors. You should have sound reasoning why you want to search certain records, and you should always ask the archivist if he knows of other records that might facilitate your research. Make sure you know where the archive is located, the days and hours the archive is open, and always make sure you are not planning your research trip on a local holiday.

4. Phone Cards - I found myself scrambling trying to find a phone card or enough change to call another archive. I desperately needed a phone card, but the only store that sold phone cards closed (for some unknown reason). Luckily I had some extra change and everything worked out.

5. Don't be Afraid to Ask Questions - If you have made a several thousand mile trip to research and you have a question, just ask it. This doesn't only refer to research, but to traveling in general...just ask, I promise you if you do you won't be sorry. If you are planning a research trip and you have some questions, let me know I'd be more than happy to help!

6. I look German - From archivists to local drunks I was always asked if I was German...I guess I look German? I didn't think my Spanish was that bad...


There are plenty more lessons learned, like if you are there make sure you visit the ancestral towns. As much as I love researching visiting the uninhabitated towns, or
small villages that are still populated is by far the most rewarding. Deceased ancestors come alive as you walk where they walked.

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