[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of geneabloggers.com brings you up-to-date with the latest trends in heritage travel and how to trace the footsteps of your ancestors.]
Growing up in upstate New York, I never really appreciated all the historic and cultural sites that were right in my backyard. And it wasn’t until years later, thanks to my genealogy research, that I understood how my ancestors played a part in local, state and national history.
It’s been said that, “you can’t go back again.” I’d like to think that applies to the actions we take in life rather than going back to visit where our ancestors lived and worked. In the travel industry there has been an increased focus on trips involving family history and visiting important historic and cultural sites. For me, travel and genealogy go together and not just in terms of research trips. Once I’ve done my research, I want to get as close as possible to the same experiences of my ancestors.
What Is Heritage Travel?
Simply put, heritage travel involves an excursion to a place or places key to your roots, to your family history. It could involve a week in the homeland of your ancestor or a day trip to a national historic battlefield where your 3rd great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. It is up to you, the traveler, to decide the elements of each trip, the sites to be visited and the activities that will produce memories for a lifetime.
Some families even incorporate heritage and culture travel into a yearly family fun trip to the seashore or the mountains. Take a day excursion to examine a cemetery or visit a local historical society. You don’t always need to dedicate the entire trip to family history, sometimes a day or two will work.
Some heritage travel ideas for your next trip:
- The “old country” where your ancestors lived before arriving in America.
- Recreations of colonial communities such as Jamestown, Virginia or Plymouth, Massachusetts depicting every-day life for a specific time period.
- Historical societies and libraries related to your family lineage.
- Heritage trails dedicated to a specific ethnic or religious group.
- National historic sites including battlefields and monuments near where your ancestors lived.
- Historic homes such as Washington’s Mount Vernon or Jefferson’s Monticello to understand how people lived during those times.
Heritage Travel Tips
Even though summer is already upon us, it is never too late to take a heritage trip. Planning is the key. Here are some ideas as you make plans for this year or beyond:
- Make planning your trip a family activity. Get all of the family members involved, even those who aren’t making the trip. Older relatives have valuable information on what to see or where their parents and grandparents lived. Make sure to also provide a mix of activities to please children, as well as adults.
- Call ahead—don’t rely on website info. This is especially true when visiting government-run historic sites or archives and repositories. With recent budget cutbacks and staff furloughs, make sure the attraction you want to see is open and available on the specific date and time during your trip.
- Don’t bring original documents—scan and digitize them! There’s nothing worse than bringing your grandmother’s diary to consult on the trip and then leaving it on a bus or at a hotel. Scan the items you need for your trip, using your Flip-Pal mobile scanner, and leave the original item at home for safekeeping.
- Take advantage of heritage tourism bureaus. Many local and state tourism boards have set up special genealogy sections on their websites. Some have even mapped out trails and tours. A good example is the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department website.
- Use a specialized travel agency. If you are traveling to a foreign country, especially where you don’t speak the language or understand the customs, use an agency to plan your trip. See Mir Corporation – Journeys at the Crossroads of Europe & Asia for example.
- Create a heritage travel kit. The Connecticut State Library has an excellent list of items to include for genealogy at its website (see below in Resources). And don’t forget to include your Flip-Pal mobile scanner!
- Use social media to report and check in. Not only can you keep other family members updated on the progress of your trip, but many social media platforms also offer a way to print your “stream” once you get home. Consider posts to a blog and then using a site like Blurb to produce a book about your trip.
Set Out On Ancestor Adventures
Once you’ve planned your first heritage trip—whether it is a day excursion or an extended tour overseas—you’ll look for new sites to visit and new ways to understand the lives of those who came before you.