52 Ancestors – #28 – Planning a Heritage Travel Trip

Still trying to catch up from our European river cruise! The topic for Week 28 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge was TRAVEL! How perfect is that? Of course, I couldn’t blog about our trip in real time due to poor internet connectivity. I did post every day to my Facebook account (Deborah Samuel Holman) so check there if you’d like to read about each day of our trip. Because many of you do follow me on Facebook, I’m not going to repeat myself here!
If you aren’t aware of why we took this trip, please read my post from June 2:  A Heritage Trip – Amsterdam to Austria.
I thought it might be helpful to share some of what I learned about taking a research trip for this week’s post. While the itinerary for this cruise was pretty well set by our cruise line, Grand Circle Travel, I was able to fit in some time for family research.

Tip #1: Have a plan! In her article for the magazine Tracing Your Ancestors: Heritage Travel, Christine Woodcock suggests making a chart or spreadsheet with four columns to help you get organized:

Partial view of list
on my phone.

I didn’t do that, but I did make a list of questions I wanted answers to and the places I wanted to visit. I used the NOTES app on my phone for that so it would handy even if I was offline.

I wasn’t planning to do any hands-on research in any of the locations we were visiting, but if you do, Christine suggests doing an online search ahead of time to see what repositories might have the information you’re searching for. Also check what is required for you to visit (schedule, ID requirements, materials allowed/needed) as well checking the online catalog to see what is available onsite or what may need to be ordered ahead of time.

Make an itinerary. You can make a chart or a spreadsheet for this too. Be flexible though. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything on your list completed. Most of what I wanted to do on our trip was located in Vienna. I made two appointments ahead of time, working around the on-shore activities planned by the cruise line. Sadly, we didn’t get to many of the places on my list. The main reason was that I was feeling pretty run down by the time we got to Vienna – the 15th day of our trip. Keep your energy level in mind when you plan your itinerary!! Guess I’ll have to go back to Vienna!!!
Tip #2: Get advice! Ask for suggestions about the area you are planning to visit. A few weeks before our trip I posted a message on a genealogy group (the Austria-Czech special interest group on JewishGen.org) describing when I would be visiting and what I was looking for. I received so many great replies!

People shared tips on the best ways to travel around the city, good places to eat,, as well as doing some research on their own which they sent to me! One person even sent me a picture of a lamp she owned that originally been sold in my great-grandfather’s shop in Indonesia in the late 1890s!!

Tip #3: Hire a local genealogist. I was reluctant to do that but boy, am I glad I did! There is no way we would have found our ancestors’ graves on our own, even with a map. It would have been simply too overwhelming. Local genealogists also know the protocol. I would have not have known how to enter the cemetery, where to park, etc.) I also made an appointment with a researcher who was very knowledgeable about documents held by various archives in Vienna. Most important to me though, was actually meeting the people who will be able to help me with future research. It is so much easier (for me anyway) to describe what I am looking for during a face-to-face conversation rather than only by email. How did I know who to hire? Responders to my post (see tip #2) recommended several people.

My sister Jeanne and me at the gravesite of our
great-grandfather Herman Spiegel.
Photo by Barbara Kintaert.

Tip #4: Immerse yourself in the area. Go to museums, walk the streets of your ancestors, eat where “the locals” eat. You’ll get a better feel and greater understanding of your ancestors’ lives through those experiences.

Tip #5: Journal your trip. This includes taking photographs! One of the things that sets Grand Circle Travel apart from other tour companies is their focus on educating travelers about the culture of the places they are visiting. At each port, we learned about the history of the area.

At each port visit, we were given a map of the area.

I used the reverse side of each map to take notes
on the info shared by our program guides.
If I ran out of room I continued on the NOTES app of my phone.

During each tour our program guide shared so much valuable information about the places we were visiting. Develop a system of recording information that works for you. I used a combination of Facebook, Evernote, the Notes app on my phone, and good old paper and pen to record all I was hearing. It’s tough to absorb all that information! If I take another trip like this again, I really think one of those “pens” that are actually recording devices would be really helpful!

Jotting down what you did each day helps. Our trip was 20 days long. It would have been nearly impossible to sort all that out later if I hadn’t taken a few minutes each day to write down what we did. Today’s phones make things so much easier – pictures are automatically dated and often labeled by location (if you have that enabled) so It’s quite easy later to match up your daily narratives with the pictures.

Over the last few years, we have taken some great trips such as Alaska and Iceland. After each trip, I created a photo book, with journaling included so we would have a permanent memory of our experiences. Journaling about your trip on a daily basis makes the book-making process much easier!

These coffe table books are wonderful mementos of our trips!!

Taking a trip? Here are some resources you might want to review:

Also, the newly formed Virtual Ge
nealogical Association
hosted a webinar by Christine Woodcock. There were several great handouts included. The video will be available through December. It’s for members only, but membership only costs $20 and there are new webinars available each month. Not a bad deal, in my opinion!!


One thought on “52 Ancestors – #28 – Planning a Heritage Travel Trip

  1. A wonderful \”how I did it\” with great tips for anyone and everyone planning this kind of trip. Something I would have hesitated to do is to hire a local genealogist–but your experience shows why it would be very worthwhile. Thanks for sharing.


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