Let where you’re from inspire where you’ll go

Creating a travel quest around ancestry tourism

By Jennifer Mitchell

Unless you’ve spent the last few years living in the Arctic — and with No Small Blog's adventurous readers, that’s possible — you’re likely familiar with the ancestry and genealogy craze prompted by companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe and further fueled by their users sharing results on social media. This obsession with discovering your past has led to an emerging trend in the travel industry — ancestry tourism. And because we are all about tying travel to lifelong plans, we couldn’t think of a better topic for this week’s post.

What is ancestry tourism?

Much like the family trees and DNA kits you’re familiar with, ancestry tourism is a means of discovering your roots and connecting with your ancestors to get a better understanding of your story. In a way, it’s a form of time travel. Often used in tandem with a DNA kit or growing family tree, ancestry tourism — or genealogy tourism — takes things one meaningful step further. While ancestry tourism can take many forms, the idea is that you’re traveling somewhere specific to get a deeper understanding of where you came from and form a stronger connection with your history.

With each trip, you’re closer to finding out who you are. Your first trip may be to a cemetery, library, or genealogical or historical society to gather information about your recent past. Later, you may find yourself in a foreign country standing in front of your great-great-great-grandmother’s house. Or you may prioritize research and immersion into the traditions, language, food and culture from your ancestors’ world.

Ancestry travel quest woman relaxing in homeland

Why is ancestry tourism important?

The motivations for participating in ancestry tourism are often deeply personal. Whether you’re trying to confirm stories, feel a connection to the past or are simply trying to find out where you are from, you’re likely to have a profound journey and find a deeper sense of purpose. You’ll also feel more connected to people in other parts of the world and in other time periods. With these new connections, a person will hopefully have a deeper appreciation and respect for other cultures and ways of life. Knowing your journey helps you to understand others’.

Aside from the emotional benefits of ancestry tourism, you might find distant relatives in other parts of the world who you never knew existed. Your family will grow, and you may find those new relatives remain in your life for years to come.

How to turn ancestry tourism into a travel quest

In a previous blog post “What is a travel quest and why should you have one?”, we suggested that a quest should be focused on personal development, it should have a deadline, it requires sacrifice and it’s something you work towards over an extended period of time, crossing off small milestones as you go. So how do you take ancestry tourism and turn it into a quest? It’s definitely something that is worked on over an extended period of time and results in personal development. As for the milestones to check off, there are a few ways to tackle that.

If you’ve already used a tool like 23andMe and are in the process of narrowing down the specific regions where your ancestors are from, craft a quest to visit every location your ancestors have lived in throughout time. You may need to start traveling before you have 100 percent of the necessary information, and you may never pinpoint the exact locations of your ancient ancestors, but it’s a start! 

For those who are overwhelmed by the prospect of researching and visiting potentially dozens of different locations around the world, choose one location or period of time and make the in-depth research a part of your quest. Do everything you can to find living relatives in that region, find the specifics of where your ancestors lived and worked, and what motivated them to move on from there. Once you have the information, travel to that location and explore. Walk the path your ancestors did and get a better sense of who they were.

Make discovery part of the travel itself. Set milestones you’d like to accomplish each year. Perhaps it’s completing one tier of your family tree or getting detailed information on one family. Then use travel to do further exploring. As we said earlier, traveling to a genealogy center or historical society where your ancestors once lived to gather information can be considered part of an ancestry travel quest.

Tools that can inform your ancestry travel journey

Oftentimes ancestry-related trip starts with building out a family tree using a site like Ancestry.com or by participating in DNA testing with the help of an organization like 23andMe. In addition to those two popular tools, MyHeritage offers both services, so that you’re able to link the two pieces of information together. Family Tree DNA also offers DNA testing that shows either your paternal or maternal lines, or the regions of the world where your family likely came from.

When it comes to tying in travel, here are a few organizations that can help you turn your trip into a reality.

  • Ancestry.com partnered with Go Ahead Tours to create specific ancestry tours where you’ll complete a DNA test before traveling with a professional genealogist to your homeland.
  • If you’re looking for help planning, but aren’t interested in bringing a genealogist on vacation, The Travel Store also offers customized ancestry travel packages for destinations around the world.
  • The Holladay House in Virginia is a B&B with a focus on genealogy. During your stay, you’ll get access to the Library of Virginia, and advice from a professionally trained Virginia historian and genealogist.
  • Cunard, a British-American cruise line has also teamed up with Ancestry.com to create a one-time, seven-night cruise from Southhampton, England to New York, during which genealogy experts will lead workshops and work with passengers to help investigate their family’s history. The cruise, A Journey of Genealogy, will set sail in November of 2018.
  • There are also a number of tours that take place in a given country that can be customized to meet your needs. For instance, Brendan Vacations in Ireland and Scotland can help dig deeper into your family tree and arrange an informative trip. Cultural Roots of South Africa offers a 12-day group tour focused on ancestry and Jewish Travel Agency creates highly customized heritage itineraries.

While ancestry travel might not be for everyone — it’s a lot of work — it can be incredibly fulfilling for those who decide to give it a try. The rewards of finding a deeper connection to your past are enormous and the potential for expanding your family is great. It is also an opportunity to bond with your close family members as you explore your history together.

For more inspiration from ancestry travelers who have had fulfilling experiences, check out the stories on 23andMe’s travel page. If you’re thinking of giving ancestry travel a try, share your story with us on social media using the hashtag #NoSmallPlan. And if you’re enjoying building out your family tree, regardless of whether you tie it into travel, consider making a map of where your family is from and turning it into a t-shirt or bag with No Small Plan’s World Map feature.

Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast. 

Map and share your travel quest on a personalized No Small Plan t-shirt

Map your travel quest on a personalized No Small Plan t-shirt

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