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Genealogy Trip Safety

When we’re getting ready to go on a genealogy excursion, be it a conference or simply a cemetery visit, we know a lot of what we need to do to prepare: do a research log, check out our destination’s website, figure out where to park, etc. But how often do we prepare with our own safety in mind?

This is a story of my quick trip to the Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT this past week, where I not only gleaned some information on my ancestors, but learned (fortunately not the hard way) how important safety was. I had dropped off my daughter for college orientation in Rhode Island and decided that, since I was all the way across Connecticut, I would pop in on an ancestral cemetery either in Rhode Island or eastern Connecticut. For some reason, I felt that Durham should be the place to go, so off I went.

When I got to the town, I saw many branches and trees down in people’s yards; the primary sound in town was chainsaws. You see, there had been pretty bad storms two days before. In my part of the state, all we got was rain, but in Durham and some of the surrounding towns, they were hit with a number of microbursts. However, the main road (where the cemetery was) was clear and it was an absolutely beautiful day: upper 70s, low humidity, perfect for scoping out the cemetery.

Old Durham Cemetery, from the bottom of the hill on a bright sunny day.  Author's collection.

Old Durham Cemetery, from the bottom of the hill on a bright sunny day. Author’s collection.

I parked on Old Cemetery Road, which was nice and shady for my car, and proceeded to the cemetery, which was on a somewhat steep hill. No worries there: I knew how to tread carefully on hills from previous hikes. I was grateful that although there were a number of trees down around the perimeter of the cemetery, very few stones were damaged, though some had very close calls. As I continued my search, I thought to myself that I should have brought sunscreen; I burn easily. Well, I wouldn’t stay too long, since it was nearly lunch time. What I didn’t count on was the heat; I felt myself getting overheated and I hadn’t brought any water, so I took a few breaks to sit in the shade (this actually helped me find my people, though!).

Downed tree from the microbursts.  Author's collection.

Downed tree from the microbursts. Author’s collection.

Finally when I was done, I knew I absolutely had to get water and something to eat, so I started to drive around to find a restaurant. I ended up at a small market with a deli, so I was able to down a bottle of water and eat a pretty good sandwich as I listened to the locals talk about power outages and storm clean-up. At this point, I knew I was done, so I punched in my address on Google Maps. As I turned down the first street, I came up to a road block; arborists were taking down trees, of course! I knew I couldn’t use my GPS and I couldn’t find a map that I thought was in my car, so I just went back the way I came.

This excursion taught me some valuable lessons, though. Some of the things I should have done:

  • no matter where I’m going, always bring a spare bottle of water
  • make sure the car has a paper road map; the GPS doesn’t always know when a road is closed
  • if I’m going to be outdoors on a sunny day, be sure to bring sunscreen
  • check local-specific news, even if it’s only by Twitter; what I didn’t know was that the town had discouraged any visitors until they got the roads cleaned up!

And, not to beat myself up, here are some things I did right:

  • parked in the shade, off the road so my car would be cool and safe
  • had my cell phone with me (I even have a first aid app from the Red Cross)
  • looked carefully at the lay of the land: the stability of the surrounding branches and even poison ivy!
  • walked really carefully on that hill. Some of the ground was kind of “mushy”.
  • sat and rested at times, and quit when I knew I had enough
  • retraced my steps as I drove out of town

On a related note, Denise May Levenick gave a talk at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this year called “Be Prepared with a Genealogy Disaster Plan”. She not only talked about keeping your work safe, but actually started out how to keep yourself safe where ever you go. The video is view-able free until July 5, and you need to register first here.

I think in the future I will be more prepared for even the smallest genea-trip. What about you? How do you stay safe during your trips? Please share your own pointers in the comments. After all, if you don’t protect you, who will?

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