Geneological Vacations

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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 info@rtrfoundation.org, 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.

For Americans with Irish roots

As you might guess, Irish Cultural Connections specializes in roots tours to the Emerald Isle. With the proper background information (which you must supply), it promises to connect you with the parishes, towns, churches, tombstones, and homesteads of your ancestors in the counties of Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, and Meath. It will arrange accommodations at affordable prices and airport pickups can be included if booked in advance. Costs are approximately $150 per day land-only, though prices vary a bit depending on your itinerary. Call 011-353-47-86363, e-mail plunkettmckenna@eircom.net, or go to irishculturalconnections.com.

We were pleased to discover that the famed Elderhostel now offers several programs in Salt Lake City devoted to ancestral research in Ireland and the British Isles. For those of you unacquainted with it, Elderhostel is the premier educational travel company for adults 55 and older, with over 25 years of experience. In recent years, the tours lasted six nights, at $850. This price includes airfare, accommodation, transfers, all meals, and academic instruction. Elderhostel also provides an introduction to research skills, source info, interpreting collected data, practical archival work and genealogical research. For more information call Elderhostel at 877/426-8056 or visit them on the Web at elderhostel.org.

For travelers of Scandinavian descent

Finally, Bridge To Sweden is on hand to help those attempting to trace Scandinavian roots. The owners, a Swedish-American couple, attempt to make the process simple for their customers by doing much of the background research themselves. You provide them with the name of your ancestor and the parish from which they came and they organize tours which combine a standard touristic approach to Sweden with individually significant spots (eg. "that farm, where your family lived and the old stone church where your grandparents married"). Prices start at $3,200 for a shared room. Contact Bridge to Sweden, phone 607/786-0857, e-mail mlbratt@bridgetosweden.com for more details. Find information on the Web at bridgetosweden.com.

A general geneological resource

If you're not interested in touring with a tour company there are also various resources for ambitious travelers to conduct their own personal genealogy tour. Travel Genie, for instance has provided detailed maps for travel and genealogy since 1985. If you are looking for an ancestral location but can't find it on a map, Travel Genie carries detailed sectional maps for Britain, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland and Sweden. Go to travgenie.com for more details. Also every one interested in genealogy must visit genhomepage.com. This site provides an abundance of links on such topics as how to do genealogical research, genealogy links all over the world, religious genealogy resources, genealogy societies and software. Conducting genealogical research beforehand will allow you to plan fruitful trips to areas of personal genealogical significance.

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