Prompted by TV shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and the new PBS series “Genealogy Roadshow” (a spinoff of the Irish hit), a growing number of people are traveling to far-flung lands with their family tree in tow, hoping to discover where, and whom, they came from, says a recent New York Times article.
While these shows bring “heritage travel” into your living room, quick access to information, offered by genealogical websites such as FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com, is encouraging many to research their family tree, then travel to wherever the branches may lead. Containing databases of historical records, census lists, immigration directories and military histories, these sites provide a wealth of digitized information to help jump-start such journeys.
Locating your relatives as well as your ancestors
Long-lost relatives are also getting together via social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, reports The Times article. For example, in preparation for their trip to Cyprus, one family used Facebook to network and make introductions to long-lost Greek family members. The result? A warm family welcome once they arrived.
Tourism offices and even governments have caught on to the burgeoning interest in heritage-seeking travel. Ireland is now organizing gatherings (thegatheringireland.com) for those with Irish backgrounds, and Scotland is planning a Year of Homecoming in 2014 (visitscotland.com), inviting people with Scottish roots to explore and celebrate their ancestry.
People setting out to find their roots are often motivated by a desire for personal connection, Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, told The Times. In conjunction with Hagers Journeys, Smolenyak researches and creates ancestry adventures. “We’ve become this mobile churning society and there’s a hunger for this belonging,” she said. “Whether I go to the Ukraine or Slovakia, I get treated like family because of my name.”
Before setting off to find your kin, gather as much information as possible
“Start with what you know, and that’s you,” Diana McCain, head of the research center at the Connecticut Historical Society, stated in the article. She suggested cataloging all the dates you can—birth, marriage, death—for you, your parents and your close relatives. Scour your attic for newspaper clippings, obituaries and diplomas. Glean as much information as possible from living relatives, asking them for old family stories and information about any distant relatives who may still live in your family’s native country.
If you’re searching for your roots within the United States, you’ll need to find the records of births, marriages, deaths and property transfers, as well as other official documents. Depending on the state and time period, these may be found through the county, town or state government or a combination of them. “Each state has unique resources,” Ms. McCain said, “and while there’s a tremendous amount of information online, there are vast collections of records that are available only on microfilm or in their original paper form in a government office.” These documents can be the key to information about and the location of ancestors.
If your travels take you to a non-English-speaking country, says The Times, consider enlisting the help of a local bilingual guide who can do some groundwork before your arrival. Travel agents and tour operators can help you find someone for hire. The Association of Professional Genealogists is another way to find researchers who can help you.
Even if there are no direct family members to meet, travelers seeking connections to their past can still deeply benefit from strolling by former family homes and visiting local places of worship, cemeteries and living history museums.
So start digging…who knows what family treasures are waiting for you to uncover.