Heritage travel isn’t always about white sand, warm water, and sunshine. For those seeking to reconnect with their ancestral roots in faraway places, a heritage vacation is a unique and enriching experience that offers a chance to explore one’s roots and cultural heritage. By visiting the sites where one’s ancestors lived, worked, and thrived, you can connect with distant relatives, learn about the local history and culture, and experience the traditions and customs passed down through generations.
Several benefits of traveling to ancestral birthplaces are:
- Connecting to cultural heritage and family history
- Building a sense of identity
- Reconnecting with family
- Cultural immersion
- Creating lifelong memories
Your Connections to Cultural Heritage and Your Family History
For many of us, cultural heritage is vital for several reasons, including providing individuals with a sense of identity and connecting them to their ancestors, traditions, and cultural roots.
One way to foster this connection is to take a heritage trip or vacation! These types of trips allow you to experience your ancestral homeland’s cultural traditions and customs.
Whether you visit big cities to learn about history, art, and music or travel off-road to more rural locations to locate your ancestral homestead, heritage travel creates a personal connection for you to your ancestors. By traveling in the footsteps of your ancestors, you make a personal link to your family’s past and better appreciate their life journey.
Understanding Your Ancestor’s Place in History
We often think of history in large-scale events, but we tend to overlook how these historical happenings impacted our ancestors’ lives. Learning the historical context in which our ancestors lived helps us understand the events and circumstances that shaped their lives and the community around them.
Do you know the birthplaces of your ancestors? Whether in Wise, Virginia, Cherry Log, Georgia, or Trzcianiec, Galicia (Austria-Hungary), our knowledge of our ancestral locations can help us develop a deeper connection to our heritage and family history.
Researching our ancestors can be a meaningful journey and enrich our lives by creating identity and promoting personal growth. In 1989, I began that journey by interviewing my paternal grandmother. At that time, she lived in Seattle and had come to visit for the holidays. During this family event, I learned she lost her mom when she was a baby. All she could tell us was what she saw recorded on her birth certificate.
This mystery fueled my quest to learn my great-grandmother’s fate and offer my grandmother her story. After almost nine months of research and writing for records from Arkansas, I was able to tell my grandmother her mother’s story. She had died of tuberculosis and was buried in Little Rock, Arkansas, far from her home in Sallisaw, Oklahoma.
This discovery deepened my appreciation for modern medicine and illustrated her place in the long history of countless lives lost to this disease before the invention of antibiotics. Within the next year, I traveled to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Virginia to further expand our family’s history.
Building a Sense of Identity and Reconnecting to Family
Visiting ancestral birthplaces can help us gain a sense of belonging and strengthen our identity in several ways. When we see our ancestor’s birthplaces or places of residence, we allow ourselves to learn local traditions, meet and (re)connect with distant relatives, and reestablish family knowledge that may have been lost to time.
And fair warning, heritage travel may not be for the faint of heart. It can be an emotional yet meaningful experience that provides a sense of belonging and reinforces one’s cultural identity. Preparation for the journey is a critical building block for heritage travel. Family lore might obscure the truth but reconstructing your family’s history through genealogical research arms you with information to place your ancestors in their correct time and place.
Cultural Immersion with Lifelong Memories
Travel–the movement of people between distant geographical locations. We cannot fully immerse ourselves in our cultural history without travel. Our journey to ancestral birthplaces allows us to create lasting memories and forge a bond with one’s heritage and family.
What about you? Do you have an ancestral location beckoning to you?
Over the past thirty years of research, my heritage travel has included trips to Oklahoma to visit with my great-aunt and her family to learn more about my father’s Cherokee ancestry, road trips to southwest Virginia to learn about my paternal grandmother’s ancestry lost when her mother died when she was an infant and traversing across the globe to meet cousins for the first time to visit my maternal great-grandparents Galician village of Trzcianiec located in today’s Podkarpackie voivodeship in southeast Poland.
After missing out on a heritage travel trip in 2020, I will finally travel to Poland for the village reunion “VII Zjazd wsi Trzcianiec i Grąziowa” in September. Currently, I am mapping out my four weeks of travel. My itinerary includes days for research at the Polish State Archives in Przemyśl and Sanok and visiting with family in Poland, Germany, and France.
In preparation, I am studying train routes to lay out my trip calendar and looking into renting a car to access some of the more rural sections of Poland. Another preparation step already in motion has been to contract a local Polish-speaking guide for the reunion weekend. While my Ukrainian language skills are okay for dinner, I need something else for a fast-paced weekend meeting new people and discussing family history. Having a dedicated translator offers me the confidence to capture all of the conversations around me.
And finally, preparing for heritage travel means doing genealogy research. I have been working for years to learn about this branch of my family tree and have visited the ancestral village a couple of times already. I’m thrilled to be meeting new relatives on this coming trip.
Overall, visiting our ancestral lands allows us to create emotional and meaningful memories, connect with our cultural heritage, build relationships, and take part in our cultural heritage, all of which will last a lifetime.
If you’d like help finding out where you could begin your own heritage travel experience, you can schedule a consultation with our professional genealogists here.