Ancestry Tourism

The New York Times has an online article that will interest many genealogists: A Personal Sort of Time Travel: Ancestry Tourism by Amy Zipkin.

America is a nation of immigrants, and as many people age they grow interested in tracing their family heritage and group traditions back to their origins. Zipkin’s article describes the experiences of several genealogists who visited the home towns of ancestors, whether in the US or in “the old country.”

Travelers usually combine such trips with other forms of sightseeing, but along the way they may gain a greater appreciation of the obstacles their ancestors faced and a deeper sense of who they are and where they come from.

In 2012, Global Industry Analysts, a market research company in San Jose, Calif., estimated the global market for genealogical products and services at $2.3 billion in 2014, rising to $4.3 billion by 2018.

You can read more in A Personal Sort of Time Travel: Ancestry Tourism by Amy Zipkin at

Where will you spend your next vacation?



Combining travel for sightseeing with genealogical research is extremely rewarding. Last summer we visited Paris and other parts of France. At the Bas-Rhin Archives in Strasbourg, we discovered valuable family history documents that aren’t available online. We not only visited the tiny village where my ancestors came from 300 years ago, but actually found their house. This year, we followed the same route our ancestors took through France, Germany and The Netherlands, and saw many of the same sights they did, on their journey to America. We’re a firm believer in the benefits of “ancestry tourism.”


If you are going to travel to find your ancestral haunts in the Old Country it pays to do your homework first particularly in England. Anglican Churches here (apart from those in in tourist spots) are kept locked and you can’t guarantee to get hold of the key at short notice.

In addition Archives and Record Offices have had to cut their hours and there is nothing worse than turning up on the day you’ve planned to find them closed or full or that they can’t produce documents for you that day. Bad enough when you have only travelled 50 miles! Contact them ahead of time.

And many towns and villages have local history societies who offer such things as guided walks so do get in contact with them beforehand to see what they can offer. It may not be specific to your family but will give you background.

Bear in mind that although early colonial records for towns in New England seem to us Brits to be extensive there are not many record sources for 16th century ancestors here in England. Towns do not keep archives listing their early inhabitants – in fact until relatively recently they were more interested in Roman inhabitants and remains than more recent ones. So don’t come with too high an expectation.

Many genealogists now offer ancestral tourism services but we do need time to prepare – it is no use contacting them on 24 Dec to say you need to find their ancestor’s grave in a municipal cemetery on 26 Dec. The cemetery offices were closed of course and we like to spend the holidays with our families too! (This has happened to me.)

But with a little preparation you too can have your very own WDYTYA experience – don’t forget the video!


My wife and I just returned from a week of vacation that we called our “Pennsylvania Heritage Tour”. We were able to go to the exact spots for 3 of our families original home sites. One of those still owned by one of the family with the original family name! We visited churches still in existence that our ancestors helped found. We stayed in a bed & breakfast for the entire time that was built in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s and a 3rd cousin (with some “removes”) of my wife’s lived in for many years during the turn of the 20th century. Needless to say we had a FANTASTIC time. I will say that I spent HOURS of prep time researching and getting my notes in order to make our time as productive as possible – overlaying Google Maps to old county atlases worked amazingly well. Since the groundwork and research was fairly complete we were able to spend most of our time visiting places and people rather than in research centers gathering notes – which we did some of that as well. However, now Somerset, Westmoreland, Cambria and Jefferson Counties are real places for us, not just text on the location lines of a database. For us it turned out to be a perfect choice for how we spent our week’s vacation.

My one hint is not only to find out where to go, but find out days and times that locations are open. Make a list of museums, research centers, attractions, etc in each county/city you want to visit with all that information. Then just before we left we laid that info all out and it totally directed our path of adventure. Showing up in Jefferson County on a Monday would have been pretty much a waste of time, since 3 places we wanted to go were not open until later in the week.


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