Some people prefer to limit their family research to searches of online genealogy databases, while others become so inspired by their discoveries that they begin making plans to visit their ancestral homeland.
While birth certificates and marriage licenses begin to tell a story, one of the best ways to truly understand your ancestry is to visit the places where your relatives experienced their lives. These types of ancestral pilgrimages allow researchers to become immersed in an cultural experience they won’t soon forget.
Traveler Alberto Ramano, who has made several trips to Italy in search of his roots, said, “It’s not about the destination — it’s about self discovery. When I stepped inside the small chapel where my great, great grandmother prayed I felt her by my side. It was a spiritual awaking of sorts.”
Ramano said the key to getting the most out of your trip abroad is pre-trip planning. “I was so enthused, I wanted to see it all,” he said. “But, I had been given some excellent advice. Don’t over-pack your schedule, or you will feel rushed, hopping from one place to another. You’ll miss out on what will bring the most meaning from your trip, simple things like sitting on a park bench to just observe your surroundings.”
Here are some other tips for planning an unforgettable ancestral trip.
Establish your goals. Here are a few examples. Participate in a festival. Tour an art museum. Visit historically significant places. Enjoy authentic cuisine. Try out my new language skills. Visit some of the streets where my family would have walked.
Determine the length of your trip. On average, if traveling to Europe for example, it would be realistic to visit three major cities during a 10-day trip. No point creating a long list of destinations if it is logistically impossible to get to all of them in the time you have available.
Put together a list of genealogy-focused activities. If it still exists, stop outside the home of where your relatives once lived. Walk the local cemetery to find their burials. Visit the church where your family members were baptized. If a family member died in the war, visit a battlefield. Walk down the streets they may have traveled. If you have a relationship with an extended family member, arrange to meet at a coffeehouse.
Consider visiting out-of-the-way places as an alternative to popular destination sites. Your list might include a mining camp, abandoned factory, museum, park, shop offering handmade arts, lake, a boat ride, or a brewery.
Do your homework. Review your family research and jot down a list of key family names, dates, and places where they lived or worked. Identify the cemetery where your relatives are buried, then check Find A Grave for any GPS information that can shorten your search time and perhaps direct you to their plot locations. Review travel books, maps, transportation options and schedules, and unique accommodations.
Don’t stress about it, enjoy yourself. Yes, you need to do some planning when making an ancestral journey. But, don’t pre-schedule every moment of your time. No trip goes completely as planned, and that’s okay. Take advantage of downtime or unplanned events by looking around, instead of toward the next destination. Enjoy the landscape, architecture, people, sounds, and natural environment.