6 Steps to Choosing a Family History Vacation | The Armchair Genealogist
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6 Steps to Choosing a Family History Vacation

The summer is upon us and my thoughts turn to family history travels. How about you? Do you have one or
two ancestral homelands on your bucket list? How do you decide which one to choose?

Traveling to an ancestral homeland can be an incredible journey with wonderful rewards both in finding documents and spiritually. I try to take one or two family history trips a year outside of my one day jaunts to archives. For me, one of this year’s big family history trips will be a tour of Quebec.  I am 12th generation French Canadian; however, our family has been in Ontario for the last three generations. My sister and I will be taking our parents on a tour of Quebec.  I’ve mapped out the towns and paths of our French Canadian ancestors back to 1650. We will be walking in our ancestor’s footsteps, absorbing the culture, visiting one or two churches and cemeteries along the way and perhaps even an original homestead.  This trip is now on the schedule for September so watch for more as we get closer, my plan is to blog the journey and I’ll share with you how are plans are shaping up as we move closer.

However, in the meantime how do you go about choosing which ancestral homeland should be next up in your family history travels? Most of us have a limited travel budget and limited time to travel so it always becomes a bit of a conundrum on which ancestral town to choose for your next trip.

When you plan a family history trip, you want to get the best bang for your dollars. You want to have something to show for your time and effort in documents, history and social history. This can’t happen without some planning and making sure your family history vacation will meet your expectations. Randomly choosing an ancestral town offers no guarantees, a little homework is in order. Here’s six steps to consider before taking the plunge and choosing your next family history vacation.

  1. Identify your bucket list of the ancestral hometowns you wish to visit. We all have that list, but not every stop is created equal. It’s important to devise a short list and then do some research to narrow your choices further.
  2. Start with some research to help identify which hometown would give you the most bang for your buck. What archives are available? What is available in those archives? Don’t arrive at an archive to learn the documents are held in another location thousands of miles away, or they just don’t exist because they were destroyed in a fire or never existed because they out of the date range when the area began keeping such documents. A little online legwork, even a phone call or email can help you get a good grasp in advance. You also want to choose a hometown that will also offer plenty of sightseeing and social history to round out your experience. Once you’ve identified the hometowns that have research and culture to offer it’s time to weigh out your choices.
  3.  Should you hire a professional genealogist and designate your travel dollars somewhere else? Would it be cheaper to hire a genealogist rather than spend thousands of dollars on a trip? Sometimes. Weigh out this option. If the large cost of a trip is prohibitive or you feel there are not enough records to justify the cost of a trip consider obtaining these documents are best by hiring a professional genealogist. At a fraction of the price, you can have your documents and save your money for another bucket list ancestral hometown.
  4. How much can you realistically fit into your schedule? Is the ground you want to cover greater than the time or funds you have available? Sometimes a trip can be overwhelming, many archives, and a lot of sightseeing. It’s best to prioritize a trip into ‘must see” and “must do” lists. Then create a to-do list if you have extra time. If you over schedule yourself you’ll crash and burn, spinning your wheels because you’ve taken on more than you can process both mentally and physically. Plan a schedule and a pace that will allow you to be present in the moment making the most of each minute of the day. Often when we take a big trip we realize it might be our only opportunity and we over extend ourselves and in the end we are so overwhelmed, we end up accomplishing little or not being present in the moment. You don’t want to spend your entire time inside an archive, choose a destination that provides a nice combination of research and tourist options that allows you a pace to appreciate where you are and be present in the moment. 
  5.  Do you bring the family? It depends. I’ve done it both ways. I have a hard time researching when I know family is off doing something else and I might be missing on some great family time or they may be waiting for me and I feel rushed. I always weigh out how much research time vs. tourist time I will have before making the decision to bring the family. If I think I can balance it with the family, I will bring them assuming they want to come. However, if it’s shaping up to be a heavy research trip, I tend to go without family of course with the promise we have a family vacation on the agenda later. 
  6.  If there are no records to be found, why should you visit? Sometimes you’ve exhausted the archives, perhaps you found everything currently available on your ancestor but that can’t stop you from simply walking in their footsteps, absorbing the culture and learning the history of the area. For me equally important as the documents I may find is absorbing the space and atmosphere where my ancestors once lived. As long as you’re comfortable with this option, you can have an equally rewarding and fulfilling research trip and never find one document with your ancestors name on it. 

Before you spend a dime, do your homework and choose the family history vacation that has the ability to meet your research needs and vacation expectations.