There are a lot of names for it: ancestry travel, genealogy trip, family heritage travel. I’ve always been fascinated with family trees and the idea of discovering one’s heritage. But as a Korean adoptee, I didn’t think it was an option for me. I was born in Seoul and at five months old, I was adopted and moved to the U.S. I know very little about my birth parents and until recently, never had much interest in finding them.
Last year, my husband and I traveled to Seoul, South Korea. It was my first time back since I was adopted. It was a big trip, and it meant a lot to return to the city where I was born, even though I didn’t know much about my past. If you’re considering an ancestry trip, just know that you don’t have to have a detailed genealogical history. With as much (or as little) information as you have, you can still take a very fulfilling and meaningful trip to reconnect with your roots.
Here are 6 tips to keep in mind as you plan your ancestry trip.
Use What You Know
You may have a family tree you can reference, or you can use what resources you have to start documenting your family tree. Ask your relatives if they have information you can use. If you’re willing to put in the man hours, you can research public records to find out even more. Or, another option is to take a DNA test to find out your origins and discover where your ancestors came from. My husband and I got the Ancestry.com DNA Test as a Christmas present to ourselves a few years ago. Even though we thought we knew more about my husband’s family than my own, his DNA results had more surprises than mine!
You Don’t Always Have to Do Intense Research
Like I said, use what you know, but that doesn’t have to be much if you don’t have a lot to start with. For me, all I knew was the name of the adoption agency. I contacted them before my trip, set up a time to visit the agency and the babies’ home where I lived before I was adopted. I was also able to arrange a meeting with my foster mom who I lived with prior to moving to the US. I didn’t have any luck getting in touch with my birth parents, but this was as much as I could do and that was enough for me.
Manage Your Expectations
It’s not always a fairy tale. I’m sure you’ve heard some fantastic stories about people finding long lost relatives and being reunited. I’ll admit, I wondered if something like that might happen for me. But just know, it’s probably not going to be like the incredible stories you see on TV… and that’s absolutely OK! As hard as it sounds, try to keep your expectations in check. You may find the information you were hoping to find, or you may end up with even more questions than when you started.
Appreciate What You Do Find
Learn to see the value in each piece of information you uncover, even if it’s just the little things. You may be surprised! On a trip to Prague, my husband kept stumbling upon Czech food that tasted exactly like what his grandma used to make when he was a child. His grandmother had emigrated from Czechoslovakia and then settled in the US and started a family. We didn’t necessarily go there with the intention of connecting to his family history, but we did anyway. Every small detail that brought back childhood memories for my husband made our trip that much more memorable for both of us!
You Don’t Always Have to Go Far
A lot of the time, we think of ancestry travel and assume that means traveling overseas. Don’t overlook the family history that’s right in your own backyard! My dad ended up finding family members much later in life that he had never met before, and they were only a couple states over! Only an 8-hour drive away was an entire family he never knew he had.
Know That It’s an Ongoing Process
The journey doesn’t end after your trip is over. That’s the great thing about ancestry travel. You’ll learn about yourself and your family history along the way, but you can also use this knowledge as a stepping stone to find out even more after you return home. And that DNA testing I mentioned earlier? Even after you get your results, you’ll still have the potential to find a connection as more people continue to take the test and the database expands. You may find that your first genealogy trip won’t be your last!
The important thing to take away from this is that ancestry travel can mean so many different things to different people. Whether you’re tracking down cousins you’ve never met or whether you’re looking to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors in their home country, you can make your trip whatever you want it to be!
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