by Isabel Wu
Back in grad school, a professor of mine talked about how he uncovered a piece of Martin Sheen’s ancestry – all the way back to 1716 – on the popular show Who Do You Think You Are? (which features a mix of traditional research, DNA testing and genealogy travel). He discovered that Sheen’s great-great-great-great grandfather persecuted a “disgraced” local woman who turned out to be one of his great-great-great-great grandmothers.
The show, which combines the mystery of an individual’s personal history and the beauty of historical buildings and landscapes, is a visual and cultural feast for audiences. Like Sheen, many dream of tracing the footsteps of their ancestors by visiting their homelands, hoping to discover a piece of history or an unexpected bit of information about their family tree.
Many tourism companies today operate such ancestral tours, offering genealogy services to help customize an excursion to your ancestor’s home country.
The most popular routes covered by many ancestral tourism companies focus on Europe – however, you can find touring companies that provide trips to almost any location that your ancestors may have lived.
Below we will review some of the best genealogy tour companies and introduce some resources for getting started planning an ancestral journey of your own.
Family History Daily has not personally used any of these companies and cannot guarantee the safety or quality of their services, so please do your own research before deciding which travel option is the best one for you.
Family Heritage Tours to the UK, Ireland, Western Europe
Offering genealogical research tours in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, parts of eastern France, Ireland, and England, the company also organizes personalized tours and recommends local genealogists to research your family history.
Since this company only offers less than 20 tours per year, you have to apply in advance and make a deposit to hold your dates.
This certified genealogy touring company offers a personal guide to researching for your ancestry, including help with genealogy research and a visit to Ireland, so you can “walk in the footsteps of your Irish ancestors.”
The company offers different packages including one-day, two-day, and three-day trips, all of which include a fully bound book of your genealogy research, a tour to your ancestral townland (a geographical division of land used in Ireland), and pick-up/drop-off to and from your hotel for the tour with their in-house genealogist and tour guide. The two-day and three-day trips offer more elaborate services and places to visit.
This touring company was founded by Scottish couple Bob and Brenda Kucharzewski. Brenda is a travel agent and accredited genealogist. They organize personalized trips for groups of 2-10 people to visit castles, battlefields, and other sites in Scotland.
The tours include a review of your genealogy with local genealogists, customized tours with a personal tour guide, pickups and drop-offs from the airport, accommodations, daily transportation, and other fees. Tours start at $2,945 per person for a 6 night, 7-day tour but are also customizable to your needs.
This England-based touring company specializing in ancestral tours to Europe was founded by Sue Hills, a producer and director of Who Do You Think You Are, with the goal of bringing tourists to their ancestral homes much in the same way as the celebrities on the show.
Like the previously mentioned companies, Ancestral Footsteps conducts genealogical research based on the information you provide prior to the trip and then takes you to your ancestor’s homeland for a personalized trip.
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The company offers tour packages ranging from a 2-day trip to week-long tours which start at £8,000 for England, Scotland & Wales.
Ancestry Tours to Eastern Europe
This U.S.-based company focuses on Eastern European genealogy research and family heritage tours. Founded by a family of Polish genealogists, it began with helping people find their roots in Poland and now provides ancestral trips in all of Eastern Europe.
Offering escorted tours in towns and villages within Belarus, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia – you can also request a private tour or join a group of up to 100 people.
The tours will take you to local record holdings for research and you’ll be accompanied by a local genealogist. This genealogy travel company will also search for your living family members and organize a reunion.
This company provides day tours to archives, cemeteries, and other places of genealogical interest in Prague and neighboring areas.
The tour plan includes transportation and a private tour guide – starting at $286 (depending on the size of the group) a local day-trip provides a more affordable option if you are already in Europe.
This travel agency focuses on Jewish guiding and genealogy services in Poland, but it also offers services for general genealogy research in Poland and escorted tours to attractions in Eastern and Central Europe.
This tour emphasizes Holocaust education and is tailored for those who are searching for ancestors who lived in Nazi-occupied Poland. They also offer services such as research, document translations, itinerary consultation, and photo documentation.
Some of the itineraries include exploring the former Krakow Ghetto District, deportation monument on the Square of the Heroes of the Ghetto, and the film sets of movie Schindler’s List.
African genealogy tourism is on the rise with local governments in Africa making an effort in recent years to encourage heritage tourism by establishing museums and opening public resources for tourists – this has made ancestral tours in the country more attainable.
The Roots and Culture Tours offered by this U.S.-based company allows visitors to trace the remnants of the former slave trade routes and gain insight into African culture. The tour covers several West African countries.
During your trip, participants can visit local museums and cultural centers to learn more about their ancestry. The tours include airfare, hotel accommodations, a professional guide, and more.
The company also provides customized heritage trips to the following countries: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Reunion, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.
This well-established travel service, which organizes trips to the African continent and more, was founded in 1955. It organized trips for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his entourage to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace prize when traveling for African-Americans was constrained, and also took the first group of American tourists to Ghana before there were West Africa-bound commercial flights.
The travel agency also offers customized trips. The price for an 8-day “Back to Roots” trip to Senegal and Gambia starts at $2,600-$3,150.
Travel to Discover Your Roots in Asia
This tour company offers genealogy research services and operates trips that will take you all the way to the village of your ancestors.
They conduct genealogy research prior to your trip to China and then plan your itinerary for you to connect you to your clan association or ancestral village. The tours, which include visits to museums and other attractions, provides bilingual tour guides and souvenirs.
This tour company offers the Nikkei Japanese Ancestry Tours that operate trips from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Tours take you to sites in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Hiroshima where you can learn about the history of Japan, Japanese Americans, and discover your ancestors’ own villages.
The price for the Nikkei Tours is around $3,000 for 9 to 10 days per person.
Genealogy Travel in the United States
This is a good place to start if you are looking to organize a trip to record repositories within the U.S. The company provides a week-long trip to places such as Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The trips are led by their in-house genealogists C. Ann Staley and Margo Farriss Brewer. You can choose a standard trip for up to 20 people in a group or the premium trip with 2-6 group members. The company also offers research services outside of the tours.
This is a South Carolina-based company that does customized trips. Its DNA Journeys package includes DNA testing, visits to vital records offices and trips to other places to search for your family history, along with sightseeing to major attractions.
Tours cover domestic travel as well as overseas tours – prices start at $129.
A trip to Ellis Island could be bountiful, here you will find troves of information on immigration. This company gives tours of the Ellis Island Museum, New York harbor, Castle Garden, and Ellis Island. You can also find up-to-date information on genealogical resources, exhibits, and related activities during the tour.
Resources for Planning Your Own Ancestral Tour
Not ready to sign up for a tour just yet? Plan your own trip to the countries of your ancestors! Here are a few resources and non-profit organizations that offer help planning a genealogy trip.
- Cindi’s List is a good place to start. The site provides information regarding touring companies, cruise opportunities, and how to plan your travels to the records offices.
- Road Scholar provides scholarships and grants for educational trips in the U.S.
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society has travel opportunities to locations in the United States, Canada, and the British Isles.
- The Irish Ancestral Research Association offers resources and travel opportunities for members of the organization.
- The Japan National Tourism Organization provides information regarding how you can find your ancestors and plan trips in Japan.
Safe and happy travels!
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Isabel Wu is a former magazine writer and editor with a Masters in history. She wrote her thesis on Chinese immigrants’ sojourns in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution period. She enjoys writing about the bygone times and helping people reconnect with their past through research. English is her working language, but she also conducts research in Chinese, Spanish, and Korean.
Featured Image Credit: Old Mulgrave Castle by Bill Boaden, Wikimedia Commons