Heritage Tourism: Using Travel to Discover Your Family Roots

If you find yourself with more time than usual lately, why not learn about your family history? There are plenty of resources to help you get started, and once you have the answers, start planning a vacation to discover your family roots. Heritage tourism is on the rise, as people increasingly want to learn about their ancestors. Here’s how to plan your own ancestry family trip using a genealogy DNA test, family records, and more.

How to Plan Travel Based on Your Ancestry-Kids Are A Trip

What is heritage tourism?

Heritage tourism is traveling to a destination to learn about its cultural heritage. This could be learning through historical resources such as records and personal stories, and cultural resources such as architecture and landscapes. Families are turning to this type of genealogy travel to learn about their past and feel more connected to their heritage.

Why should you take a genealogy DNA test?

Taking a genealogy DNA test is a personal choice. I’ve done both the Ancestry.com test and 23andme, and both provided me with similar, but different results. I think Ancestry provides a larger genetic data base with a US focus, and historical genealogy records to go along with it.

On the other hand, 23andme narrows down the genetic focus using DNA insights to provide common health traits found in users and their ancestors. It also tends to have more international users.

Both tests are extremely easy to use. All you have to do is submit a saliva sample in a tube (they will mail this to you) and send it back to their facility in the provided package. I had results in 4-6 weeks. Taking one of these tests will help set the course for your genealogy research.

Where to start your Heritage Tourism journey

1. Learn about your family tree

When I married my husband 22 years ago, I became fascinated with learning about our family trees. Back then, there were very few options for genetic research: go to the library and comb through endless records, use FamilySearch.org (the LDS genealogy website), and Ancestry.com

Thankfully, today we can find most of the genealogy records we need on-line. Before you begin, have conversations with parents and relatives to get names, birthdates, and any information they might have. Create a family tree on paper with everything you discover. This is going to make your ancestry travel journey much easier.

Family tree-Kids Are A Trip

If you take a genealogy DNA test, it’s a good starting point for connecting with others who have the same relatives. Both Ancestry.com and 23andme will show you others with similar DNA and the likelihood you are related. By connecting with these people, you might find more of your family story that you didn’t know existed.

2. Start your ancestry research 

Genealogy websites are a great starting point for researching your ancestors, but don’t forget to ask questions of your family members.

A couple of years ago, I took an ancestry travel adventure to Puerto Rico with my father and son, and asked my dad a lot of questions in advance. What did he remember about his childhood in Puerto Rico? Did he remember where he lived? Did he know anyone who still lives there? All of this information filled in the pieces of our ancestry in Puerto Rico.

Ask around for family photos and/or Bible, as those can be quite helpful. See if there are relatives who might have already completed some genealogy research, or maybe there are family letters or hidden boxes in someone’s attic. Anything you find might be helpful in planning your ancestry trip.

Family Reunion Puerto Rico-Kids Are A Trip
Our ancestry trip to Puerto Rico

Using the information you find, head to Ancestry.com or simply search the internet to find more details. Look for census records, as well as birth and death records, as these usually have addresses. Make a note of these locations to help plan your heritage trip.

3. Enlist the help of a professional genealogist

If you run into any road blocks, consider hiring a professional genealogist. These people are usually destination specific, there are quite a few who work on Ireland ancestors and other UK destinations. Don’t know how to find the perfect genealogist for your needs? Start here.

4. Reach out to distant relatives

Genealogy websites provide a lot of information, even the names of distant relatives. Many sites have a way to contact them. Why not send an email or set up a phone call? These relatives might have new information to help in planning your heritage trip.

Through the years we have stayed connected with our relatives in Puerto Rico. We have traveled to the island multiple times and even visited some of the family homes and places my father remembers from his childhood. It is always fun to see the similar character and physical traits our relatives share that have been passed from generation to generation.

Relative sailing on Ship Albert Ballin from Hamburg
I was given this photo by one of my distant relatives. The white-haired gentleman seated in the front row is my great great grandfather.

5. Plan your heritage tourism trip

Once you’ve gathered all of your research, start making a plan about the places you want to see and things you want to do. This might involve visiting the ancestral home or churches, seeing the local graveyard, or just strolling the streets they probably walked. Consider booking an ancestry tour with a local historian who might provide you with additional family insight.

I recommend you allow time to simply “be” in the destination. An ancestral journey can be emotionally overwhelming and that’s ok. Find time to sit and reflect, fight the urge to be on the go the entire time. Heritage tourism is about finding your roots at your own pace, and know that the journey might not be a straight line.

6. Record your heritage travel experience

My job as a writer is to write everything down, and I encourage you to do the same on your ancestral journey. Whether you prefer to journal, make videos, or take photos, it’s important to document it all. There will be family members who want to know what you discovered or possibly future generations who want to know their family history.

Woman journaling

7. Family history research never ends

I look at ancestry research as one giant puzzle. Once you start to learn something about one person, it seems to immediately venture off in another direction. There will be countless cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to document (and possibly connect with if they are part of your story).

Find a way to track your findings (I like the family tree feature on Ancestry,) so it is available to you (and others) whenever you want to research your family tree.

8. Love your ancestral story

Heritage tourism is a journey into oneself. It is how you develop a deeper understanding of who you are and where you come from. Take this time to discover your path, your roots, and embrace your family heritage.