Just who do you think you are? That’s a question lots of people are asking — about themselves.
A genealogy craze has led to the popularity of Internet sites like ancestry.com, which now has more than 2 million registered users.
Travel is another great way to feed this fascination with family, and to explore your heritage.
Award-winning tour operator Austin Adventures — Adventure Travel has seen an increase in multi-generational families traveling together, wanting to trace their roots while having a great vacation. “European trips are clearly on the rise. We had several groups this year of twenty or so — Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and a host of grandchildren. Often they just want to visit the country and learn as much as possible in a week about the history and ways of the locals,” says Dan Austin, director of Austin Adventures — Adventure Travel.
Highland Park resident Barbara Field first traveled to Israel in 1972 and has visited several times since, with her three daughters as teenagers and now with her grandchildren. Although she has no ancestors from Israel, the trips have strengthened the bond to her Jewish faith and have given her a deeper understanding of her heritage.
Field’s most recent visit was a multi-generational family trip, celebrating her granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Field says celebrating amidst the sacred sites of Israel left the entire family with treasured memories. The Field family is not alone. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism receives so many requests about celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, it has a special planning page on its website.
I’m just as eager to introduce my children to the land my parents left behind— Germany, the country more Americans claim ancestry from than any other. I still have relatives there who can help us climb our family tree. But what if you don’t? There are plenty of ways to dig deeper into your family’s roots.
Your Roots Are Showing
Ireland’s Tourism Office has a special page on its website dedicated to finding your ancestors. Not surprising, given 70 million Irish are scattered across the globe. Here in the U.S., 12 percent of the population claims Irish ancestry. Germany’s travel website also has a dedicated page for heritage travel.
Many countries also have museums dedicated to genealogy research. The Jewish Diaspora Museum at Tel Aviv University has a detailed database as does the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven, Europe’s largest museum about emigration.
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Hotels are accommodating heritage-hungry guests with in-house genealogy experts. The Lodge at Doonbeg, a luxury seaside resort in County Clare, Ireland, has long been popular with golfers. Now guests can step off the greens and explore their green heritage. Book the “Journey to Your Roots” package, and two on-site genealogy experts will help you learn more about your Irish ancestors.
If you want to trace your Irish roots, next year might be the year to do it. The Gathering 2013 is a massive tourism initiative encouraging anyone with a connection to Ireland to visit. If you have at least one Irish ancestor, the Irish government will give you an official Certificate of Irish Heritage. Check out thegatheringireland.com.
Do Your Research
Doing research before your trip will make your journey more meaningful. Websites like ancestry.com are a great place to start. National and regional tourism offices can also point you in the right direction.
There are also plenty of genealogy centers in our own backyard. The Norwegian-American Genealogical Center is located in Madison, Wisc. Even closer to home, Chicago’s Newberry Library has an extensive genealogy collection. The Swedish American Museum in Andersonville has a Nordic Family Genealogy Center.
If a trip to the land of your spiritual or ancestral home is on your bucket list, there’s never been a better time to embark on this journey of self-discovery. It’s a chance to walk in the footsteps of your forefathers and see for yourself what they left behind.