As a genealogist, I often research for clients who want to visit London and England to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. I have been asked to photograph ancestors’ former homes and the churches where they were baptised or married. Clients travel to the UK from all over the world so that they can lay flowers on their ancestors’ graves, and to glimpse some of the buildings and sights that their forebears would have seen in everyday life. Ancestral tourism is an area that is growing alongside the popularity of traditional family history.
In this guest post, Tammy Eledge (Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists) of Coadb.com writes about her experiences of ancestral tourism.
Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors may be a very important motivation for taking a trip abroad to England or Scotland, and while they’re visiting some of your ancestral locations? The basic definition of ancestral travel is that in which people who are interested in their genealogical roots would visit sites that mark a turning point in their ancestors’ lives.
A good place to start is your family tree and looking and seeing what places and locations show up, if you don’t have a family tree yet a great place to start your research is checking sites like coadb.com and family search where they have genealogies for tons of surnames. Within those genealogies, there are place names mentioned for those families names. If you are looking for research that is geared more toward your own specific family line, then performing genealogy research yourself or hiring a researcher are the first steps in finding specific places you should visit. Be aware when trying to find your ancestral towns, castles, parishes etc. is that they may have changed names or disappeared.
One way to check this is to contact local historical societies and government facilities in that area and see what is at that location in the present day. Some examples of places that may show up in your family history that are no longer standing in their former grandness are Dawley Court which was demolished in 1929, Eaton Hall that was demolished in 1963, and Woburn Abbey that was demolished to half of what it was. Just a couple of places that have been preserved for future generations are Calke Abbey, Tyntesfield and Dumfries House. Today’s society has now recognized these properties are worthy of retention and preservation.
The most common destinations for ancestral travel include Scotland, Italy, Ireland, Germany and Eastern Europe. By 1853, about half of the emigrating Scots chose to come to the United States, and the other half chose Canada and Australia. Most of these Scots came from the area that is known as the Highlands (or Scotland’s Northern Islands). When visiting these islands you should visit places that would have been associated with the clans and septs that are associated with your surname. One of the most common surnames that can be found in this area is MacDonald. This family dominated the Hebridge between the 13th and 15th centuries from their island of Islay, they were also the Clan that held the title of Lord of the Isles. Other locations that the MacDonalds were known to live include Skye, Ardamurchan and Glencoe – where an infamous massacre occured that killed many MacDonalds that was led by the Campbells Clan. More history on this family, their history and their Coat of Arms can be found at (https://coadb.com/surnames/macdonald-arms.html.
Some of the other most popular ancestral locations to visit in England are the House of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Stratford (Shakespeare’s former home and birthplace), the Lake District, and Stonehenge. Maybe you want to stand on the line of England and Scotland where the Lowlands are and see where groups such as the Border Reivers lived in the 15th and 16th century, or explore the Highlands?
All of these places can give you a sense of self and a feeling of knowing where you came from. After all, ancestral travel and ancestral research helps us know where we came from so that our families may grow within that knowledge.