Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

Family historians sometimes manage to visit the land of their ancestors. Yet booking an overseas genealogy “vacation” can get complicated.
Where to begin? Consider your goals. Maybe you simply wish to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps and absorb the local culture. Maybe you want to do actual research and plan to arrive with knowledge of where to look for specific records.
Review the research you have completed to date. Could a trip to the Old Country answer a lingering question or help you move beyond a brick wall? Online resources might suggest where to look. A short-term subscription to www.arkivdigital.com might help you locate Swedish church records, or the free site www.ddd.dda.dk/dddform_uk.asp might point you to useful Danish census records.
Consider what contacts you may have in the Old Country through U.S. relatives or acquaintances? Distant relatives you found through Ancestry or DNA testing? Tell them your plans. The more you share, the more likely you will find new information.
As you clarify your goals, your itinerary will begin to take shape. Towns with the most potential to answer your questions will light up like beacons on a map. Plan morning and afternoon sessions in the places of most interest. Print out your itinerary and take it with you to keep you on track. Include the addresses and open days and times for the places you plan to visit. Be aware of national holidays occurring during your trip.
Set realistic time frames and avoid tight schedules. Allow serendipity to reveal new data, contacts and ancestor stories. Consider taking an organized genealogy tour or hiring a local guide or researcher to help make the best use of the time available.
Pack carefully and bring:
A GPS unit
A camera or smartphone to photograph places, people and records
A laptop or tablet
A binder with pockets for the records and brochures you will collect
A summary of your research, with ancestors’ names and vital records information
A phrase book if you are visiting a non-English speaking country, adding common genealogy terms like “ancestor,” “cemetery” or “marriage record”
Leave room in your luggage for books and other new treasures. Leave room in your itinerary for unexpected opportunities. Finally, be brave: Tell people you meet what you are seeking; you may be surprised at what you find.

Doris Green is the author of “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and a new edition of “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels in and Around the Badger State.” Both are available from http://henschelhausbooks.com. Reach Doris via https://dorisgreenbooks.com.