Have you ever thought about tracing your family roots? You are not alone. With the increasing popularity of AncestryDNA and 23andMe DNA testing, ancestry travel is on the rise. Whether you choose to explore on your own or with a group, your genealogy may take you a few surprising U.S. states over – or to faraway places across the globe.
Discovering your origins and experiencing family heritage may give you a sense of belonging, help you understand connections to the past and perhaps even change the course of your life. Simply reading the personal stories of people on Ancestry.com will inspire you. It doesn’t matter if you have loads of information or little puzzle pieces of your heritage either. You can experience a meaningful ancestry trip either way and return home feeling fulfilled. Use our 3 tips to get you started.
1. Piece Together What You Know
Write down what you know about your family tree. Talk to your family and fill in the gaps. If you’ve taken tests like the ones mentioned above, add that information to it. Mark regions you think match family members on either side. If you’re adopted, jot down what you know and what you’d like to know. See if you can find out more from your current family, the adoption agency and/or former foster family. If you were adopted overseas, consider making the adoption location part of your travel. Search public genealogy records and research in person and online.
2. Keep an Open Mind
You may find yourself having high hopes for your ancestry travel experience. You may have very specific outcomes that you wish for, but try to keep an open mind. Some ancestry travelers arrive home with fantastic stories of reunions with family they never knew they had, and others simply followed the footsteps of their ancestors and made connections with the past. Just know that either outcome is okay! It’s important to manage your expectations and remember to appreciate what you discover. Value each piece of information and breathe in each memory. You may be surprised by the feeling of connection you experience even if you don’t meet a relative – from the feel of the culture to the sights and smells of food your grandmother used to make.
3. Decide What Kind of Experience You Want
Do you want to take what you know and plan your own ancestry travel path? Are you concerned with a potential language barrier and want to join an organized group? Do you want a guided tour or a heritage cruise experience? You have options.
If you’re heading somewhere overseas, many people choose to join a tour led by an expert genealogist. Certain tours are led by a local genealogist, or work alongside an American genealogist. The benefit is that they take on the work of ancestry records and associated locations to visit. These can take the form of organized tours or customized private trips. AncestryDNA’s EF GoAhead tours, My Ireland Tours and Ancestral Journeys of Scotland can help. Private trips beyond Europe can be researched and arranged with an ancestry ProGenealogist and their guided heritage tours. If you’ve traced your roots to South Africa, consider a Cultural Roots of South Africa group tour. Companies like the Jewish Travel Agency and the MIR Corporation offer customized heritage travel into parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. For 14 more reputable companies and heritage tours, check out Familyhistorydaily.com.
On Your Own – With Help
If language isn’t a concern, you may be able to arrange a hired genealogist and/or plan a trip on your own. You can reach out to the region’s local historical society and even hire out a local who has deep knowledge of your region. The University of Virginia’s genealogical road scholar research program offers a 6 day, expert-led experience for the DIY traveler. Alternatively, you could travel to the courthouse and historical society in Orange Country, Virginia or the Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana to pursue your own research.
While attempting research and planning a heritage trip may seem daunting; you can do it! An increasing number of travel companies are specializing in ancestry travel to help meet the demand. With an open mind and some digging, you may be surprised at the things you’ll discover – about your family, and yourself.
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