Heritage Travel – In Search of Ancestral Roots
In our continuing series of Guest Bloggers who are introducing subjects of interest to the Genealogy Community, we welcome Kathy Wurth of Family Tree Tours who gives tips for planning a Heritage Travel trip.
Almost every U.S. citizen either originally came from somewhere else or their forefathers did, and for those of European origin, many countries across the Atlantic make a special effort to welcome Americans in search of their ancestral roots.
For those of us tracing our family history, finding that hometown place usually results in a funny dance or a loud whoop of joy. Genealogical research is a journey of discovery that leads you to explore the lives and times of ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago–and perhaps thousands of miles away–in circumstances which are all but unimaginable today.
Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors will not only bring the past to life, it will also make your homecoming the most exciting and memorable experience of your life.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau most Americans claim German heritage. To take advantage of this fact, Germany has dedicated a brand new website for Heritage Travel to Germany in 2008. The website is www.germanoriginality.org. This site has helpful information on researching your German ancestors and planning a Heritage trip to Deutschland. (When on the site click on Travel tab and under Routes to your Roots you will also find my trip to the Southwest of Germany Sept. 2008). If you do travel to Germany in the near future, I urge you to visit one of the many "Freilichtmuseums". These are open air living history museums which give you a walk into the past to see how your ancestors really lived. Different regions of Germany have put together examples of actual homes and farms and trade shops and re-assembled them together on museum grounds. This is very enlightening on where and how your ancestor lived. Also, when in Germany, plan a stop at one of the newly opened Emigrant Museums in either Bremerhaven or Hamburg. This is a great glimpse into what the journey from the homeland was like. Remember to also attend as many local festivals as possible. A lot of villages still hold seasonal festivals that have been celebrated for centuries, what better way to learn the culture and experience like a local.
As mentioned before many of the European countries are welcoming the "family researcher" and a call or visit to the National Tourist Board may help you with your plans. If you prefer to travel independently these boards or a travel agent can help set up transportation and accommodations but you may be on your own to find the archives and libraries. There are a few companies that are set up to help with ancestral research or will take small groups on a research trip. The best way to find these is to Google "Heritage Travel".
If you plan to visit your ancestral homeland to research, the old adage of "Be Prepared" is essential. Another golden rule is to do only what you can’t do at home. You don’t want to spend all your time in an archive instead of visiting with relatives or walking through the village. Take full advantage of local libraries, genealogy societies and the extensive microfilm holdings of the Mormon LDS Library before you go–plan to look for what you know you can’t find here.
Once you have determined you are ready to make the trip, plan well in advance. Decide what churches, houses, farms and towns you would like to visit and start getting maps to locate where they are, as well as information on opening hours and transportation to them. A letter written to the local town hall or Historical Society, will usually result in someone directing you to a resource that will help you find the records you are looking for, or, in some cases, the family you are searching for.
Many archives in Europe require an appointment or may have limited opening hours, so make sure to have these facts before you go. Your genealogical trip abroad or even at home can be quite an experience. It is up to you to make the best of it by preparing well. Whether you want to research or just soak up the culture of your ancestral homeland, there is no more rewarding experience than Heritage Travel.