HERITAGE TRAVEL: Walking in the Footsteps of our Ancestors

By Lisa Vogele, Genealogist & Travel Consultant @ Travel Your Tree

Heritage Travel is a top travel trend for 2020 according to Conde Nast Traveler, Forbes, and Lonely Planet. What makes this so popular? My theory is with DNA testing kits becoming readily available in recent years, people are discovering roots they knew they had (and some that they didn’t) and venturing even deeper. The television series Who do you Think you Are? (NBC/TLC) and Finding your Roots (PBS) brought heritage travel into our homes. Maybe you found something in a family attic that piqued your curiosity or inherited a box of memorabilia. If you’ve been there and done that when it comes to travel, walking in ancestors’ footsteps can be a new way to explore history and culture at home and abroad.

How to Begin

Beginning your journey into your family history is easier than ever before. If you are interested in travelling to where your ancestors are from, start with what you know from family members and organize it into a pedigree chart (a quick search on pedigree chart online will give a simple format to use). Websites such as Ancestry.com, have made it easier to begin on your genealogical research but keep in mind that easy doesn’t always mean correct. You should view any family trees others have posted online with a healthy dose of suspicion and check the sources of the information.

Where to Research & Resources

Online is a great place to begin furthering your knowledge. Many of the online database providers can be expensive. Libraries have several databases searchable for free when accessed while sitting in their facilities. The Ellis Island website is a great place to find passenger records of your immigrant ancestors and doesn’t charge a fee for research (www.ellisisland.org). Genealogy, lineage (such as the Daughters of the American Revolution or DAR), and local history societies have their own libraries, databases and researchers available for hire if you can’t get to the area where your ancestor lived.

The website www.familysearch.com (Family Search) is hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and its databases are available at no charge right from the comfort of home. Some of the records are only accessible when accessing from one of the LDS research/library facilities because of a security agreement with the original record holder. The Family Search website also has training videos to help you get started and to further your knowledge of different records such as military, immigration, or vital records (birth, marriage & death) from another Country.

Tips & Common Pitfalls to Avoid

  1. Take notes about what you found and where you found it
  2. Stay organized (avoid re-work)
  3. Use original records and find the facts
  4. Family stories are sometimes just stories or a version of the truth – look for records to support the “story”
  5. When you need help breaking through a brick wall, hire a professional genealogist for assistance

Travel Ideas & Tips

There is a multitude of possibilities for exploring your roots. Whether you have relatives on the Mayflower and want to visit Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts or from a remote area of another country, there are resources to help you achieve your goals. In some cases, you may not be able to pinpoint an exact town, county or region but don’t let that stop you! Seeing the area your ancestors came from will be rewarding. Hiring local guides and/or genealogists to learn about the history of ancestral village or perform research side by side at the local town hall can foster deep connection and gratitude. Many of our ancestors worked hard to come to this country and left behind relatives they would likely never see again. Heritage travel is an opportunity to honor their journey with one of your own.

Travel Your Tree Heritage Travel Tips

Download our FREE Heritage Travel Tips Guide from our Resources page here!

Lisa Vogele is a professional genealogist & travel consultant at Travel Your Tree. Travel Your Tree provides genealogy research services, custom vacation planning, private and guided tours. Lisa is also the author of Food & Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals and is currently working on her second travel guide featuring festivals of Spain. She can be reached at lisa@travelyourtree.com or 970-703-4132.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress