We all come from somewhere and the lands that our ancestors called home are hardwired into our genes. Do you ever wonder what life was like for your distant relatives? How they lived, ate and worked has shaped and influenced who you are today. Shows like Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are have sparked a global interest in DNA testing, and with easier and cheaper access to test kits, it's not surprising that the number of people wanting to trace their family roots in person is trending off the charts.
Heritage travel is the new rage, and, according to Lonely Planet, a top travel trend for 2019. Read on to find out how you can connect to your homeland and discover the territory of your ancient past.
Discovering Your Roots
To start your journey of discovery you first have to answer this question: “Where is my family from?” The homeland of your ancestors is encoded in your DNA and there is no shortage of easy testing services that can analyze your DNA and give you detailed ancestry reports of your ethnicity and where your family likely came from.
The two most popular services are AncestryDNA ($99) and 23andMe ($199). They both received the highest marks in a recent PC Magazine review of DNA testing services and offer comparable ancestry matching tools like maps showing where your ancestors lived, along with information about those particular countries and regions. In fact, a recent poll showed that four out of five Americans said they were interested in learning about their roots, and thanks to efforts of teams of genealogists and web-based companies like Ancestry.com, you now have access to an extensive collection of digitized records that can retrace immigration journeys to help you pinpoint the origins of your family tree. Armed with this vital data, you are now all set to rediscover your homeland and reconnect with long-lost relatives through heritage travel.
It may seem that knowing where your family came from is the end of the story, but it’s really just the beginning.
Travel based on your DNA is popularly known as heritage travel or heritage tourism and brings together the excitement, relaxation and connection of a vacation with the added bonus of a history lesson. So, why not let your family tree inspire your next trip? It’s a chance to experience the places, memorials, artifacts and local people that make up the story of your ancestors. You can retrace the difficult journey of your family from its beginnings to the present day and discover the roots of your cultural identity. This type of cultural immersion will bring your family’s past to life in ways you could have never imagined.
DNA testing and heritage mapping is far from flawless, and for many people it's difficult pinpointing exact cities or stories. But even just visiting the country of your ancestry can help you make connections you didn't know were possible.
Maybe it's tasting a local dish with authentic ingredients. Maybe it's exploring a museum detailing the history of the region. Maybe it's just walking the streets your ancestors walked, imagining their lives. Even if you don’t have the specific origins of your family roots, you can still feel a connection with your past like never before.
Go the Extra Mile
If you are not content with just scratching the surface of your roots, there are even more resources out there that can fulfill your deep desire to make that personal connection with your past. In response to this travel trend, several companies have begun offering Ancestry tours for travelers looking to connect with their heritage. Classic Journeys is a company that does just that. They handcraft each itinerary to bring you in close, personal contact with an area’s people and culture. You will have access to full-time local guides who know the lay of the land and the people who make up the fabric of the traditions, cultures and history of the region. You will also gain a fascinating insight into events that prompted people to leave that region and settle in distant lands and have the chance to reconnect with those who stayed. Who knows, you may even eat a local dish that is just like the one that your grandmother used to serve or hear a local relate a story that your uncle used to tell at every family gathering.
Do Some Personal Research
Once you’re on the ground, you will also be able to dig further for clues to your past. Visit local archives or churches to search for original documents that may reveal a direct connection. Wander the local cemetery and search for familiar names. You never know what you may discover when you connect the history and culture of the past with the present and finally piece together the puzzle of your cultural identity.