Heritage Travel

Tips On Traveling To Learn About Your Family.

Photo by Carrie Nieman Culpepper

Researching and visiting where your family came from can be a trip of a lifetime.

I learned a few lessons the hard way during my trip. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you plan your own trip.

  •  Start at home by looking through old scrapbooks, letters, address books, bibles, etc. I was lucky to have plenty of stories to start, as well as birthdays and emigration dates. Ask your known relatives for their memories—and count yourself lucky if you find a cousin who has already done the legwork.
Photo courtesy of Carrie Nieman Culpepper

Carrie at Hand Land

Discover more about researching your heritage in Carrie Nieman Culpepper’s story “You Can Go Home Again.”

  •  DNA tests can help you clarify your broad ancestry, which is helpful if you aren’t sure where to begin. Wirecutter (a research website owned by the New York Times Company) recently named AncestryDNA as the best for exploring your ethnic origins; 23andMe is “also great,” and FamilyTreeDNA offers “the most comprehensive suite of testing options.” 
  •  Websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org can fill in many of the gaps and sometimes connect you with relatives who have already registered. 
  •  Check the records. Archives.gov has U.S. military records, naturalization records, and land records. Find similar sites worldwide by typing “GenWeb +country name” (for example, GenWeb +Norway) into a search engine.
  •  Find an expert in your destination city: Search for “accredited geneologists +country name” or consult the Association of Professional Geneologists (APGen.org). To smooth the way on the ground, APG also lists genealogists who specialize in heritage travel and tours.
  •  Give yourself time. Not realizing I’d have to piece together our destination by chatting with locals, I didn’t schedule enough time for on-the-ground research. Build in time to find and meet people, follow clues, and genuinely explore your ancestors’ country.
  •  Be prepared. Depending on your destination, you may meet people who speak a different language or use unfamiliar vocabulary. Plan your questions in advance, keep a pen and paper handy, and consider using a recorder to capture details. A paper map of the area might be useful, too, to be sure you’re not caught without cell service during your explorations.
  •  Be thoughtful about reaching out to local residents. While the people I met on my trip were warm and welcoming, remember that not everyone will want to help your quest. The same goes for potential family members: They may not share your interest in connecting, whether online or in person. In that case, just enjoy exploring the area and adding your own memories to the family history. 
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