What’s In Your (Virtual) Wallet?

I made a pledge to myself regarding my upcoming research-vacation trip to central New York.  NO OVERBOOKING!   Yeah.  Right.  It just seems to happen to me.  Every time.  For the past four years I have scheduled a trip to Ithaca, New York,  the city of my birth and the nexus of my New York state family history.  I firmly set goals for myself and structure my research so it is fruitful AND enjoyable.  I mean who doesn’t love it when you come away with some valuable piece of information that one cannot access without a physical visit to a library or archival site.  Or learning from a local historian who is a walking encyclopedia.  God Bless ’em.  And how about that amazing out-of-body experience of walking down the streets of your ancestors?

In this economy it is a special thing to be able to indulge in such an adventure.  We are all squeezing the proverbial penny…some of us with the intensity of our Scots blood.  All of us looking for free sources.  There are so many wonderful ones.   All of us stepping up and helping one another in the wonderful virtual community called social media…sharing on a level that would send genealogists of the past into an old fashioned swoon.  And all of us wishing…hoping…planning to find the money and time to make that research trip.

I almost…ALMOST…didn’t make any trip this year.  Spent the past year or two struggling to recover from debilitating pain due to nerve damage combined with the double nasty that we all are dealing with…a lousy economy that has us all holding our breath.  After a lot of tests…expensive ones…and bad ‘guesses’… one course of cortisone shots and like magic, the suffering ended.  I wish we could do the same for our politics and our economic condition.

Counted my coins…and with a “life is short” lecture to myself, I am planning TWO 2013 trips.   I started out simply at first…the basics.  Over a long weekend in June I am in Auburn, New York visiting friends from my youth and researching at the Cayuga County Museum of History and Art .  I miss my own history and reminiscing with school chums is just the ticket.  Besides…I am not getting any younger.  Working with museums has become a fun and intriguing sidebar to genealogical research.   The “things’ on display have taken on a whole new meaning…a serious human connection.  It is probably why I prefer the term “family historian” to genealogist.  It just has more weight it seems.

Over the summer I am back to the Ithaca area and gathering with historian friends I made last year.  Lunch lakeside..al fresco…with talk of history and writing.  A couple of pioneer cemeteries and a visit to the office of a small village town clerk and the Tompkins County History Center in Ithaca and the Cornell Library.   Evenings spent on the deck of my rental cottage…writing and having a glass of wine from one the local wineries along Cayuga Lake.  Some time with my kids and grandchildren sharing my day’s find and their discoveries..skipping stones on the lake and watching minnows swim around your legs.  Not bad.

I feel virtuous…darn near saintly with my restraint.   The research plan and itinerary for the Auburn trip is organized and the proper materials and tools are all set.  Appointments have been made and any fees noted and money has been set aside with a cushion for the ‘just in case’.  I found some places only accepted cash so I know when and where to bring enough.  My iPhone…my indispensable tool and sidekick works wonders in the field.  I GPS pioneer burials as iPhonewell as video and still photo record them.  The voice recorder comes in so handy.  The Facebook app allows me to pin where I am at.   My kids like to make sure their mother isn’t loafing off at Simeon’s  in Ithaca quaffing their most excellent Bloody Mary.   Since the iPhone serves multiple purposes, it has surely lightened the load of my backpack.   I still carry a notebook and pen.  Can’t break old habits.

Knowing me and the fact that life always throws some juicy plum in one’s path…I will find some impromptu diversions that MUST be done while I am there.

It happens every time.  It’s what keeps me going back.  That and the breathtaking beauty of the gorges…the deep blue of Cayuga Lake…the rise and fall of the glacier formed hills.  The wonderful people who have the same central New York twang that has never left me.  The whispers of my ancestors who call me home.

Author’s Note:  Every field researcher has their ‘kit’.   Their favorite method, materials and tools.  I started out with a trunkful of stuff to cover every contingency.  I still keep the cemetery research kit well stocked with what is needed for trekking and prepping…but the tripod is gone and the bulky camera equipment.  The snake stick-actually a hiking stick- is still there.  I call ahead on my cell phone…confirming appointments.  I input GPS coordinates to locate my meeting places and research sites…record voice memos…post on Twitter and Facebook…and Pinterest.   It’s all a virtual productive life in the field.  But…check my passenger seat for the dog-earred and worn notebook with the cheap pen clipped to the spiral…there you will find my most inner thoughts and fanciful doodles.  I wonder if it is a generational thing…or just plain human.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

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