Experts aid travelers in search of their heritage
A great many persons travel--and travel extensively--to the places of their family's origin, seeking "roots," knowledge of heritage. But most do so independently, visiting city registry offices, parish churches, and the like, without giving advance notice to these record-keepers, and usually simply showing up--in a village of Poland or Germany, a hamlet in Africa, a city of China.
Because those visits could have been so greatly aided by expert advice and advance arrangements, it is surprising that so few tour operators are involved in the activity of "genealogy travel." The Specialty Travel Index--which you can access by going to specialtytravel.com--lists five tour companies in the genealogy field, each a specialist with a rather narrow focus. Two operate genealogy tours to Norway, one operates such tours to Ireland, one to the State of Virginia, and one to Poland, Russia and the Ukraine.
We know of several others:
For African-American travelers
Spector Travel of Boston, a 15-year-old firm specializing in African travel, offers "Roots and Culture" tours to Senegal, the Gambia, South Africa, Benin and Cote d'Ivoire which include roundtrip airfare, accommodations and breakfast, transfers three half-day guided tours, and a Juffureh and African naming ceremony. In addition to its prearranged packages, Spector Travel can help you plan a personalized itinerary for your own heritage tour to Africa. For more information, call Spector Travel at 617/351-0111; you can find them on the Web at spectortravel.com.
Henderson Travel (phone 301-650-5700 or 800-327-2309, Web: hendersontravel.com), founded in 1957, is the oldest African American-owned travel agency in the U.S. Henderson offers a wide variety of heritage tours to Africa (Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, the Ivory Coast to list a few), and while many are upscale, some are quite reasonably priced. A seven-day history tour of Senegal, with first class hotels, guided tours, most meals, an excursion to a former slave marketplace, and airfare from New York, starts at $2,090 for certain departure dates.
There are several resources for African Americans wishing to learn more about their history in the U.S., and for those simply wishing to travel with other African Americans. The African American Travel Conference (330/337-1116; aatconline.com) has over 1,000 tour operators that are members, many of which are small organizations that specialize solely in heritage travel for African Americans.
For those of Jewish heritage
For Jewish cultural trips to Morocco, Spain, South Africa and Turkey, contact Heritage Tours of New York (212/206-8400 or 800/378-4555, heritagetoursonline.com). Joel Zack, the company's founder, did post-graduate work studying Moroccan synagogues and the Jewish history of that part of the world. His love of the area's architecture and fascination with its Jewish past led him to create a tour company offering individualized tours for cultural "pilgrims" to the region. (Heritage Tours also has experience arranging group travel, such as synagogue excursions.) Religiously observant Jewish travelers can be fully accommodated on every trip, as Kosher meals are offered and Shabbat travel can be avoided if necessary. Call or visit Heritage Tours' Web site for more information.
Jews of Central European heritage look to Routes to Roots, founded by a noted expert in the field, Miriam Weiner, the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy. Miriam and her company offer research and archival services into family histories. Email email@example.com, or go to routestoroots.com for more details.
For those whose ancestors came from the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Weber Travel Worldwide Travel Service, founded in 1956, specializes in small group tours of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Guided by Joe Hartzel, President and founder of Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society, the tours focus on culture as well as cultural history. Along with museum, castle and monastery visits, there are expert lectures on genealogical research, aid for the travelers in charting their own family's history and stopovers in cities and towns, large and small, throughout the region (Prague, Domazlice, Ceske Budejovice, Cesky Kruralov, Karlovy Vary and Telc among others). These 14-day pilgrimages cost $2,839 per person (based on double occupancy) for airfare, airport transfers, lodging, two meals a day, guides and various admission costs. For more information, call Weber Travel at 708/749-1333 or 800/886-7012; you can find the company on the Web at webertravel.com.
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