Monday, December 8, 2014
I’m not an expert on genealogy trips, but the fact that I went twice to Moldova to search for my roots - once with my father and sister and the latter with my one-year daughter and wife, and both times with camera gear – makes me feel like if I share some of my experiences and give some basic tips your own trip may be smoother (I hope so!). Basically some do’s and don’ts that may help you in case you’re thinking about going to Eastern Europe to look for your ancestors. This is like a detective job, so you better be organized!
This is a 2-chapter post: before the trip and during/after the trip.
BEFORE THE TRIP – be as much prepared as possible. You invested a lot of time and energy on this and you don’t want to miss anything!
Tip #1: Research within your reach.
Do all the research you can before even buying plane tickets. This means talk to your family, get data, search online (ancestry.com, jewishgen, yad vashem, google, etc.), read books (it’s always useful to learn some history to understand the context of immigration and uncover hidden clues), investigate old pictures, go to museums (if available in your town) and talk to other people who have done what you want to do. Write all the information down and try to draft a plan of attack: places you need to go, people you need to talk, how long you may need to stay in the city/cities, etc. Make a list of important questions and family/town names to locals so when the time comes you don’t stutter or forget stuff.
Tip#2: Research out of your reach.
There are lots of information not located online or reachable from where you are. That is why you are traveling. But before you catch a plane, it is worth it to contact some professionals and people in the country where you will be visiting. That can include a professional researcher that can look into doCuments in the local archives, community centers that can give you some practical information, a guide/translator that will work with you before and during your trip. Do this in advance, in some places people take a lot of time to answer e-mails.
Tip #3: Plan your trip.
Collect all the information you found. Now add some more variables into your travel. These include:
- When to go: take into account the weather and try to avoid holidays (I was once stuck in Germany because I missed the plane to Moldova on Easter and everything else was already booked, besides the fact that airports in Europe were kind of a mess). Be generous on the itinerary as well; try not to have many layovers, especially if you’re taking film equipment or your kids with you.
- Things to learn: don't be a stranger, it won’t hurt learning a few sentences on the local language (take a phrase book) and more than that, the culture of the country you are traveling to. By doing this, you make the locals your allies – and you will need them! Besides that, at this point you have a natural curiosity for the place where your ancestors came from, and will want to be as close as possible to its characteristics. And be aware you will be in a different time zone (and sometimes a complete different reality!).
- Hotel: get as much information as possible before you make your choice. Take into account localization, price, comfort, etc. I booked a 3 star hotel in Moldova, not even considering it wouldn’t have an elevator. When we got there, the 3 star hotel was more like a 2 star – and no elevators. I was worried because my father had just undergone heart surgery and would have to go up and down stairs; we were on the 3rd floor. But all went well.
Tip #4: Build a realistic schedule of your trip. Leave room/time for the unforeseen events that will most likely happen.
Tip #5: What to take.
Think about all the things you will need. Some items:
- Power adaptors
- Usage of cell phone (will yours work there? Will it be expensive? Is it worth buying an international cell phone or a local SIM card?)
- Medications (try not to rely on medication you’re not used to): the ones you normally take, plus painkillers, some Tylenol, cold and cough medicine, band aid, Imodium, etc.
- Travel insurance, including health insurance
- Copies of passport and other key documents
- How to use money? Take some cash with you, see if ATMs are common, see if most places accept credit card, etc. Warn your bank you will be using your cards overseas.
- Take some presents to the people you have previously made contact and showed interest in working with you. These will be greatly appreciated. In some cultures, they will be waiting for these. But more than that, it’s just a nice thing to do. These little gifts can be as simple as chocolates, hand crèmes or peculiar things from your hometown.
- Take some snacks; think about your dietary necessities. In Moldova it was hard to find diet coke, for example. I also took some energy drinks in case we got stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours without coffee.
- Make sure you will have internet access, at least in the hotel.
- Photo camera/video camera/microphones (if you are recording interviews or making a film)
- Make large prints of historical family photos to show to locals – you never know if somebody will recognize your relatives, and if someone will, they will probably be old enough not to see very well.
- Take your own toiletries, plus sunscreen and chapstick.
- If you will be in an old cemetery, take a cloth to clean the gravestone as it will probably be very dirty.
- A leatherman (https://www.leatherman.com/) can be extremely useful.
- Think about the worst things it could happen in your trip and prepare to avoid them. This will surely make things run smoother.
Next: during and after the trip