Header Photo: Grandpa Petrulli goes for a swim off the coast of Puglia, Italy during the Petrulli family’s multigenerational trip with European Focus Private Tours. Photo Credit: Taylor Searing, European Focus Private Tours guest
Families explore their roots through ancestry travel
Family vacations with multiple generations is a high priority for today’s parents and grandparents. In fact, multigenerational travel has been named the top travel trend by Virtuoso every year since 2016. Since families are often living farther apart than ever, these trips provide opportunities for generations to come together to bond and make lifelong memories through shared experiences.
The boom in multigenerational travel is converging with another rising trend: interest in genealogy and the massive growth in affordable DNA testing. Technology has made tracing the family tree easier than ever before. According to MIT Technology Review, more than 26 million people had taken a home-based DNA test by 2019. This is helping to fuel the growth of genealogy vacations – transformational journeys to reconnect with family roots. Television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and the PBS series Finding Your Roots are contributing to the rise in ancestry travel as well. According to a 2019 study conducted on behalf of Airbnb, more than half of Americans surveyed have traveled to at least one country of their heritage. The substantial growth of this sector has led Luxury Travel Magazine to name ancestry travel as one of their top travel trends for 2020.
Heritage travel isn’t valuable just for adults, however. A study conducted by Emory University found that kids who knew more about their family’s history had higher self-esteem and could better manage stress. As grandparents seek out meaningful travel options to share with their children and grandchildren, it’s natural that ancestry travel would be high on their list. Through these enriching journeys of discovery, generations can bond while sharing meaningful experiences and connecting with their family’s past.
Travel planners are seeing increasing demand for multigenerational heritage journeys. Although international vacations to ancestral homelands typically come to mind when thinking about genealogy travel, domestic trips can be fruitful as well. These can include outings to New York City’s Tenement Museum and visits to Ellis Island to view family heritage documents and passenger records of ships carrying ancestors to a new life in the United States. Other stateside trips might include specialized heritage museums, civil rights and African American heritage trails and heading back to places where older family members grew up to see what shaped their lives.
City vacations can incorporate time for family members to do ancestry research, too. Trips to Washington, D.C. can combine the capital’s many attractions with a visit to the Library of Congress which contains over 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories. Genealogy centers and libraries around the country can be helpful, too. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates the world’s largest genealogy library in Salt Lake City as well as Family History Centers located throughout the United States and abroad.
A significant number of online resources are also available for genealogy research. In addition to well-known Ancestry.com, additional sites include FamilySearch.org, Archives.gov, JewishGen.org, CyndisList.com and USGenWeb.org. Popular countries for heritage travel have spotted this trend and provide ancestry materials on their websites, such as Ireland, Scotland and Germany.
Travel Companies Offer Transformational Heritage Trips
While demand for ancestry travel has exploded with technology advancements and the ease of genealogy research, some companies have been helping families take these types of journeys for many years. James Derheim, founder of European Focus Private Tours, has led more than 320 private custom-designed family history tours in Europe over the last three decades. Derheim says his company “is seeing more demand for multigenerational heritage tours as boomers are now retiring with the money, time and good health to travel with their families and make memories.” European Focus Private Tours conducts a considerable amount of planning and scouting in advance, using its wealth of experience to create highly customized itineraries that allow multigenerational families to explore their ancestral roots and enjoy a trip of a lifetime together. Germany is a top destination, along with Italy and others.
With strong local African ties, Spector Travel of Boston has been planning family ancestry and culture tours to the continent since 1989. The majority of the company’s trips are multigenerational group heritage journeys and in the last few years, requests for its multigenerational Roots and Culture Tours to Senegal, Ghana, Gambia, Benin and Sierra Leone have increased. Spector Travel offers both scheduled departures as well as customized private ancestry and heritage trips designed to deliver unique travel experiences to match the interests of all family members.
EF Go Ahead Tours and Ancestry announced a collaborative partnership in the fall of 2017, linking Ancestry’s DNA technology and AncestryProGenealogist resources with EF Go Ahead Tours’ international tours and travel planning expertise. “We have seen a trend of multigenerational travel on our tours in general, as well as many families choosing to customize our heritage tour portfolio,” said Heidi Durflinger, president of EF Go Ahead Tours. Groups of more than six people can customize any of Go Ahead’s tours, including their heritage trips, to explore their family’s story.
The growing desire for meaning in travel fits well with genealogy tourism, allowing generations to bond and connect with their personal history. Tour operator Classic Journeys is seeing strong growth in multi-generational heritage and ancestry travel among their clientele. “Not only is a multi-generational trip a more powerful and memorable way to bring everyone closer than an annual Thanksgiving dinner, but it allows for grandparents to proudly pass on their heritage, for parents to provide impactful, educational experiences for their children, and for kids to experience the world through a unique lens,” said Edward Piegza, president and founder of Classic Journeys.
With about 32 million Americans claiming Irish heritage according to the U.S. Census, it’s not surprising Ireland is a top destination for multi-generational heritage trips. Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland has seen a surge in multi-generational travel and interest in tracing Irish roots and genealogy. “Unearthing Irish heritage is a common desire across our audience and last year we welcomed increasing numbers of multi-generational families to explore Ireland,” said Rob Rankin, Vagabond’s managing director. As a result, the company has created a dedicated ancestry Facebook page for current and future guests. Brendan Vacations is also seeing growing interest in multi-generational heritage trips to Scotland and Ireland and offers customized services to help families to connect with their original clan.
My China Roots guides multi-generational families on trips to their ancestral villages in China, and has seen interest double in the last few years. The company’s goal is to help the Chinese diaspora connect with their personal identities and cultural roots through life-changing immersive experiences that bring their family stories to life. My China Roots also conducts ancestral research on their clients’ behalf, since many may only have a vague idea of their exact ancestral village.
Enjoying traditional foods and sharing meals together is often an important part of family cultural heritage trips. Poland Culinary Vacations has taken a number of multigenerational families on its small group tours over the years. Grandparents have noted how much all generations enjoyed their cooking and cultural experiences in Poland, making the trip one of their best family vacations together.
Cruise lines are also offering opportunities for multigenerational family groups to connect with their roots. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s unique Jewish Heritage Program is featured on a collection of itineraries on Europe’s Rhine River. On these sailings, which are popular with families, travelers can explore the centuries-old Jewish legacy in Central Europe with visits to museums, memorials, synagogues, and World War II sites. These Uniworld voyages of discovery showcase the story of the Jewish people, bringing multigenerational families closer as they share their heritage and culture.
Identity quests take place on the high seas as well. About 20 percent of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island sailed on a Cunard Line ship, strongly interweaving Cunard’s history with the U.S. immigration movement in the early 1900s. Multigenerational families may wish to repeat their ancestors’ experiences by sailing on a transatlantic voyage or taking part in Cunard’s Journey of Genealogy aboard the Queen Mary 2 this year. Offered in collaboration with Ancestry, this special cruise commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage features genealogy-themed programming and experts on board.
Demand for multigenerational heritage travel will continue to increase as families seek out more meaningful vacation options with opportunities for personal connections and transformational experiences. These may include trips across the country or around the globe. Group travel planners can play a key role, helping generations journey together to connect with the places of their ancestors and find memorable pieces of their past.
By Nancy Schretter