3 Reasons to Travel to the Old Country

By Lisa A. Alzo

No matter how convenient it may be these days to research ancestors without leaving home, you probably still dream of visiting your family’s homeland. Heritage travel is a booming industry and can provide you with an opportunity to go beyond the same old research strategies and discover those details you can’t get from online databases, books or microfilmed records.

Here are three reasons you should do onsite research in your ancestral homeland:

  1. Meet up with long-lost cousins. We often start our research by tracing immigrant ancestors, but what about those ancestors who remained in Europe and didn’t make the journey across the ocean? By simply visiting an ancestral town or village, you can run into descendants who still live there and can show you around. And with blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to find and make plans with long-lost cousins, then stay connected with them once you return home.
  2. Walk in ancestors’ footsteps. If you’re yearning to see where your ancestors lived, stand in the church where Great-grandpa was baptized, enjoy traditional cuisine and understand what life was like for your ancestors before they made the journey to America, then practicing immersion genealogy can provide an opportunity like no other. With a trip to your ancestral homeland, you can experience firsthand the customs and traditions of your heritage, as well as discover more details about where and how your ancestors lived, worked and worshiped.
  3. Locate hard-to-get records. Contrary to popular belief, not all genealogical documents are online. The proof of your grandmother’s date of birth or details about the death of her parents could be physically stored in the dusty old church books or in the village’s civil registration office or archives. By visiting such repositories in person, you can get information that might not be easily accessible otherwise. When planning for onsite research, always contact the priest or staff in advance so they can better assist you during your visit and inform you of their availability or any planned closings or scheduling conflicts. And, if you aren’t comfortable with the language, hire a professional researcher who can assist with navigating the policies and procedures and help you communicate with staff or villagers who don’t speak English; look for recommendations from ethnic genealogical societies.

Learn more about heritage travel and get tips and resources for preparing a visit to Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia in The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide.