“We all carry inside us, people who came before us.”
– Liam Callanan
Just the way a tree stands tall, but is firmly grounded by its roots, the sky may be the limit for humankind, but our collective histories bound us to the Earth.
History, culture, and heritage aren’t only anthropological subjects. They’re also intertwined with the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the languages we speak, the festivals we celebrate, and the overall lives we lead.
You may not realize it, but that family recipe you love, or the reflex-like habit you have of shedding your footwear before you enter a house, are all passed down to you from your ancestors.
So, it would only make sense for us to experience an urge to trace back our familial steps, and reconnect with our pasts in order to discover more of these connections in our day-to-day lives.
But, it is no easy feat. Mass emigrations, wars, epidemics, and many other such factors have altered, and sometimes even wiped out records of lineages.
So, how do you reconnect with your forefathers? Are the family tree and the occasional anecdotes from your distant relatives all you get?
Well, the travel and tourism industry has an answer for you: ancestry travel.
Don’t furrow your brows just yet. We have everything you need to know about this travel trend and more.
What Is Ancestry Travel?
Ancestry travel, genealogy tourism, or roots tourism as it is also known, is travel where you have an ancestral connection to your destination.
Ancestry travel gained popularity after a sudden rise in demand for home DNA testing kits. Ancestry tests are the most sought-after forms of at-home DNA testing, but there are other options available as well.
Why Did Genealogy Tourism Become Popular?
The prime reason, as we mentioned before, was the rise in DNA home tests and studies. Through these kits, you can collect your DNA samples at home, and then submit them for testing.
Many people discovered that they can trace their ancestry back to different continents, as opposed to their current homes. This can be because of wars or mass emigration. Genealogy tourism is especially popular in communities that have a large worldwide diaspora such as those with Jewish or African heritage.
Organizations of Note
It is only natural that when such a sizable chunk of people across the world seek to trace the steps of their forefathers, their homelands welcome them with much splendor.
Several countries have enthusiastically jumped on the ancestry travel bandwagon in order to provide ancestral tourists with the experience of a lifetime.
Case in point: Birthright Israel and Birthright Armenia.
“Tag Lit” Birthright Israel is a nonprofit organization formed in 1999 that sponsors free ten-day trips to Israel, Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. The term ‘tag lit’ is Hebrew for ‘discovery.’ They aim the program at young adults of Jewish heritage.
Birthright Armenia, or ‘Depi Hayk’, is a nonprofit organization that runs a volunteer internship enhancement program. It offers travel fellowships to Armenian Diaspora youth across the globe. The applicants need only be of Armenian descent and must agree to a nine-week stay.
The African Diaspora, Slave Trade, and Genealogy Tourism
The African Diaspora is one of the largest communities in the Americas. Dispersed mainly because of the Atlantic, Trans-Saharan, and Indian Ocean slave trades, they represent the largest forced migrations in human history.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. It figures that the youth of the aforementioned diaspora would wish to reconnect with their ancestry. Even more so since there is shared generational trauma of apartheid, discrimination, and racism.
Diaspora Africans in the Americas, especially African-Americans, experienced a newfound motivation in ancestry travel after the release of the book Roots: The Saga of an American Family in 1976. Written by Alex Haley, the story is of an African in the 18th century, captured, sold, and transported as a slave to North America. It follows his life, and the lives of his descendants in the U.S. right down to Haley himself.
Another motivator for the African Diaspora to visit their ancestors’ homelands was the Marvel Cinematic Universe Afro-centric blockbuster Black Panther.
Genealogy Tourism in Africa
The African Union met the meteoric rise of interest in roots tourism by people of African descent with ingenuity.
Ghana has been at the forefront of this movement with various programs such as Year of Return, Ghana (2019), Door of Return.
The Door of Return is an emblem of the African Renaissance. It is a pan-African initiative, part of the UN’s ‘International Decade for People of African Descent’ that seeks cooperation between Africa and the diaspora in the 21st century. The name is a reference to the ‘Door of No Return,’ a monument commemorating the transatlantic slave trade.
The ‘Year of Return’ is the Ghanaian government’s initiative to encourage the diaspora to settle in and invest in the continent, particularly Ghana. 2019 was chosen as the year of return because of its symbolism. It commemorated 400 years since the first enslaved Africans touched down in Jamestown, Virginia.
Biggest Names in the Game
The rise in demand for DNA studies went hand-in-hand with the rise in ancestry tourists, and the industry answered in kind with ample supply.
Many companies that provide DNA testing home kits have either partnered up with tourism agencies, or started their own travel programs for genealogy tourists.
The biggest game-changer for both DNA studies and genealogy tourism has been Ancestry, a Utah-based private company. Their website, which is the heart of their business, doesn’t only let you choose DNA kits, but it also has the largest collection of online family history records. Offerings like family trees, FindAGrave, RootsWeb, and AncestryDNA position Ancestry as the top player in the genealogy industry.
Other for-profit organizations of note are My China Roots, Ancestral Attic, EF Go Ahead Tours, and Family Search.
Planning Guide for an Ancestral Tour
Now that you’re familiar with the ropes of ancestry travel, your interest might be piqued. So, how do you go about planning a genealogy tour? Well, here are some important steps.
1. Your DNA Test Is the Best Place to Start
This will be the first step in your genealogy journey. Many tourism agencies that offer genealogy tours have paired up with companies that provide DNA testing services.
For example, EF Go Ahead Tours has partnered up with Ancestry for DNA-driven ancestry tours. You get your DNA tested, and with consultation from a genealogy expert, you set off to the homes of your ancestors.
The one limitation of a DNA test is that it can trace your genes back to a wide geographic location, but cannot pinpoint the exact location where your ancestors hailed from. Regardless, narrowing down a wide area is a good first step.
2. Be Prepared To Pay
As interesting and intense as an ancestral tour is, it is also usually a very expensive affair.
From the planning, taking DNA tests, and getting the help of genealogy experts, right down to the actual travel and lodging, prepare to lighten your wallet. But, it will definitely be worth it.
3. Research Will Be Your Best Friend
An ancestry tour will be one of the most research-intensive forms of travel in which you will ever partake. It can get overwhelming; but fret not, here are some tips:
The first boxes to check in your research journey are the family tree, family heirlooms, and memorabilia that your family has saved and kept. Think old travel documents, photographs, and even jewelry.
The next step would be to connect with distant relatives, especially the ones based abroad. You can also take the help of family heritage libraries. In a lot of European countries, churches also acted as lineage recordkeepers in the past, and can be a good starting point to research your ancestry.
Sites like Ancestry or My China Roots make this task much less daunting, thanks to the plethora of records available online, dating back to hundreds of years ago.
4. Packing Essentials
Travel with copies of photos and memorabilia for any family you might encounter. Grab that family tree as well.
Arm yourself with enough material, digital or otherwise, to record your experiences, findings, and even store souvenirs.
Be sure to get travel insurance before your trip begins, to protect your finances in case of a travel mishap. Your destination could be across the seas on another continent, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Find an insurance plan that suits your travel plans and your pocket. Compare plans on Insubuy, and buy the right one in less than five minutes.
5. Be Prepared To Experience Intense Emotions
Searching family history, your genealogy, and making an ancestral trip can elicit powerful emotions within you.
People have been known to be affected by an ancestral tour to such a degree that they uproot their entire lives to move back to their ancestral homes.
Brace yourself for a flood of emotions that won’t always be pleasant.
We know you must itch to check out your family tree and look up your ancestral history. Hurry along and reconnect with your heritage. Your ancestors are calling.
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