Last May, President Obama visited his maternal great-great-great-grandfather’s native Ireland. “My name is Barack Obama of the Moneygall Obamas,” he told a cheering crowd, “and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.” He is also said to have downed his pint of Guinness in four expert gulps.
Most clients cannot take Air Force One when traveling to trace their roots—there’s no commission to be earned on that ride, anyway—but they can have as rewarding an experience when exploring their ancestors’ lands and cultures.
“Because in Europe the countries have always kept such good records, we see far more genealogy tours [in that region] than in other parts of the world,” says Eimear Duggan, Kensington Tours’ director of sales for Europe. One of Kensington’s clients was a family who followed in the footsteps of their ancestors as they fled the former Soviet Union, stopping in each country, city and village that their predecessors went through. A large number of Jewish Americans, adds Duggan, travel with them to Germany, Poland, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Prague, Yugoslavia, Romania, Slovakia and more to see where their families lived prior to World War II.
“Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of a trip to their ancestral homeland when they don’t speak the language or have never been there before. Taking a private guided tour is the best way for them to make the most of their vacation. Additionally, when the purpose of one’s holiday is their heritage, they want to ensure that nothing goes wrong,” Duggan confirms. “Being a private guided tour company, Kensington receives a fair number of enquiries from travelers looking to delve into their roots and explore the countries their parents and ancestors came from. Because each tour is custom, it is easy for us to coordinate visits to cemeteries, government record buildings, castles, etc.”
While Kensington Tours does not do the genealogy research for travelers, it does assist with the private guided aspect that works so well with heritage tours. Many travelers have spent time tracing their lineage prior to traveling, explains Duggan, so if they’re looking into their Scottish roots, Kensington Tours can coordinate a visit to the Scottish Genealogy Society as part of the company’s 7-Day Tour of Scotland, which visits Edinburgh, Tobermory, Appin, Inverness and Aberdeen. Besides getting advice from experts, clients can also peruse original Old Parish Registers available in microfilm from every parish in the country, with indexes to baptisms and marriages. They can also visit the Bookshop, which has publications from every Scottish family history society and other publishers, plus centuries of census information and Scottish family history journals and obtain a world subscription to ancestry.com.
The 7-Day Tour of Scotland combines a good portion of heritage exploration with appreciation of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and historical attractions, all while staying at charming hotels. The Hotel du Vin & Bistro in Edinburgh, for instance, is both adorable and ideally situated near various must-stops, including the National Museum of Scotland. In Inverness, clients stay at the award-winning Glenmoriston House Hotel, on the banks of the River Ness. Best of all, throughout their journey they enjoy the company and assistance of a private driver-guide well versed in everything Scotland. The tour starts at roughly $5,245 pp dbl, depending on the optional activities clients might want to sign up for, and $3,995 pp when four people are traveling.
digging in When it comes to ancestral tours of this type, it makes sense to go with a tour operator or company that will be able to focus on each client’s particular needs and family interests. The fact that this type of travel is often an emotional one is also a strong incentive for arranging a private experience. It’s also smart for clients to start their research before their trip so they have more than enough time during their trip to experience not just their specific family angle, but also the culture and age-old attractions that their ancestors did. Nowadays, there are increasingly accurate tools that can help, such as the Irish Ancestral Research Association or German National Tourist Office’s German Originality website.