Journey Through Time: A 2024 Guide to Ancestral Travel

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Journey Through Time: A 2024 Guide to Ancestral Travel

Ancestral Travel - heritage travel - genealogical travel - Hour Glass by Jordan Benton

Photo by Jordan Benton

Ever wonder about the secrets in your family tree? Ancestral Travel offers the unique opportunity to uncover these mysteries by journeying into the heart of your heritage. You are the product of prior generations of your family, a genealogical wonder. 

No, we can’t put our hands on the stones of Craigh Na Dun, listen for the buzzing, and travel back to meet our ancestors, like Brianna did in the iconic TV series, Outlander. 

Ancestral travel is a version of time travel, though. It’s about connecting with your roots on a profound level and discovering a piece of yourself in the process. This adds a new dimension to your travels; seeing the world through ancestral eyes.

Why settle for ordinary travel when you can embark on a journey that weaves your past with your present? Ancestral travel allows you to experience history firsthand. The locations that impacted your grandparents or great-grandparents’ lives await you.

Each trip brings you closer to understanding your own story.

Ready to explore how you can plan your own heritage trip? Let’s dive in!

Exploring Your Roots: Heritage Travel vs Genealogical Travel

Diving into ancestral travel can be an enriching journey, and it typically unfolds in two intriguing ways: heritage travel and genealogical travel.

Heritage travel immerses you in the cultures that shaped your ancestors – whether it’s the rolling Scottish Highlands or the bustling markets of Morocco, echoing your DNA results from, 23andMe, or another DNA testing site. 

It’s about soaking in the culture that runs through your veins – maybe dancing to traditional music, tasting authentic dishes, or simply breathing in the air of your forebearers’ land.

On the other hand, ancestral or genealogical travel is deeply personal, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of your direct ancestors.  

If you’ve ever flipped through your family’s old records or listened to stories about where your grandparents or great-grandparents lived and loved, this is your chance to make the pilgrimage through your own history, strolling the boardwalks in their shadows.

Let’s dive in and take that voyage back to your origins!

Setting Your Goals: Mapping Out Your Ancestral Adventure

Ancestral Travel - heritage travel - genealogical travel - Map to Donner Lake

Whether you have classified yourself as adventuring on a heritage trip or an ancestral trip, your next step is to map out your goals.

What do you hope to discover about your Family History? Regardless of which journey you are embarking upon, defining your objectives will guide your exploration.

Getting Started

How much family information do you have? and are invaluable tools for researching your family trees. 

For a heritage adventure, there are several DNA testing companies. The most commonly used are or 23AndMe. This will uncover cultural roots for a fun adventure experiencing your heritage.

Meanwhile, a personal genealogical journey begins with building your family tree. The easiest to navigate is A few simple known facts can reward you with a deluge of hints for data records, but to see the actual images, you will need to consider becoming a member. Validate the hints with your known data, as they can sometimes be misleading.

Census records are a wealth of information. In the USA,  the records are publicly available for free on their website, from 1790 to 1950 to protect your security. You can see these through and is a great resource and is available for free. It’s great for cross-checking data found on, and viewing the images if they are not available on Also, if any of your relatives have started researching on FamilySearch, their research will show up, providing you with more clues. Again, double-check for authenticity.

Let the treasure hunt begin!

Planning Your Journey

Is your destination local or international? Are you road-tripping or flying? Are you traveling solo, with a partner or friend, with children, or are you a senior traveler or traveling with a senior? Each of these categories creates its own set of planning necessities.

Our focus is on the genealogical aspects of the adventure. Adding to the excitement of ancestral travel is learning more about the places your ancestors lived. Most towns have museums which will broaden your views of your ancestors’ lives.

Our town even has a genealogical society tucked under the main museum. It’s a wealth of information if you are on a quest for in-depth local research. 

On one of my recent cross-country trips, I stopped in Salt Lake City and visited the Family Search Library. It was founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah, now Family Search. If you are into genealogy, this is a must-visit.

The library covers five floors, 2 basement floors, and three above-ground floors. It was founded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their resources are at your disposal, free of charge. The staff are welcoming and extremely helpful. Check the website for details.

Preparing Logistically and Essentially: Ready, Set, Go!

Ancestral travel - heritage travel - genealogical travel - passport

Let’s get you all set for this unforgettable journey back in time. 

First things first – have you secured your passport? This little booklet is your golden ticket to the world, so make sure it’s up-to-date and ready to go. Processing times can vary, so don’t leave it for the last minute. You may also need a special visa, depending on your destination.

Furthermore, different places have different health and safety guidelines, so it’s wise to stay informed and prepared.  Do you need vaccinations? 

Additionally, don’t forget appropriate travel insurance, especially for seniors. It’s not just for peace of mind; it’s essential for any unexpected medical needs or changes in plans. It covers not only trip cancellation but medical and evacuation needs as well.

Immersing Yourself: Making History Come Alive

Now, embark on your ancestral travel journey with confidence and preparation. Before you set off, gather your family stories, family trees, and any other notes about your history. These are your compass, guiding you through the footsteps of your ancestors.

When you arrive at a place steeped in history, consider hiring a guide or joining a local tour. The hop-on hop-off busses available in many tourist cities are definitely worth it. These all-day tickets encourage exploration as the sites and tour beckon you.

Additionally, seek out local genealogical or historical societies or museums. They often hold invaluable records and detailed histories of towns and families. Armed with your research data, these visits can enrich your journey with tangible links to your past.

Remember, never take your original notes, photos, or documents. Always take copies!

Connecting with Your Past: Embrace the Journey

Ancestral travel - heritage travel - genealogical travel - Donner Lake

Donner Lake, Truckee, California, home of my second great-grandfather.


Ancestral travel can be exhilarating. Explore the culture, cuisine, and history you encounter along the way. In small towns, chat with locals; they might share invaluable insights or even tales of your ancestors. The journey is the most important aspect. 

Take our trip to Donner Lake in Truckee, California. Our second great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland as a wee child. By the mid-1800s he was running a renowned hotel on Donner Lake. 

Our grandmother’s memoirs were the catalyst for this excursion. Armed with that information, combined with data from the local historical society, we were able to determine the approximate location of his hotel, despite it burning to the ground long ago. 

Standing by the same lake where he once lived, waking up to the sunrise over the lake, brought us closer to our heritage than we ever imagined. It’s surreal moments like these that make ancestral travel unforgettable – an adventure filled with surprises and a deep sense of belonging.

Harnessing Tools of the Trade: Modern Insights into History

We take for granted many of our life’s amenities. Part of ancestral travel is to feel the accomplishments of your predecessors in the context of their times. Take the time to research the local history online, before you get there for a more meaningful trip.

Your go-to resources for genealogical research are and Another excellent website is Find My Past. These platforms offer extensive databases that can help trace your family’s roots and map out your travel destinations. FamilySearch is free as well as many state-sponsored archives. There are many websites and databases that are fee-based or require a membership.

Once you have mapped where you are going, search online for your “[destination town] local history” to uncover a wealth of potential sources and insight into the world of your ancestors.

Planning to visit cemeteries to find your ancestors? The find-a-grave website is a fantastic tool. Oftentimes, it provides pictures of headstones and plot locations at the cemetery. Be aware, that biographical information can be added by anybody, so treat it as a lead for your own research. 

By leveraging these tools and resources, you can uncover the rich history of your family and walk in the shadows of those who came before you.

Bringing Your Findings to Life: Unpacking Your Journey


Ancestral Travel - Ellis Island with Rubbing

Ellis Island with the rubbing from my grandfather’s memorial brick inside.


Now that you’ve returned through the proverbial stones laden with photos, data, emotions, and perhaps new relatives for your contact list, what’s the next step in your ancestral travel adventure?

The options are limitless. Are your family members curious about their roots? Did you uncover information during your research that might be interesting to others in your local community that might capture broader interests?

Never underestimate the fascination of others in your newfound historical research. 

For instance, my mother embarked on her ancestral journey to trace her father’s family, long before today’s digital tools existed.

Her decade-long odyssey, had her crisscrossing the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast, visiting relatives and gathering stories, photos, and data. She even crossed The Pond to Ireland to revisit her relatives.

Her father emigrated from Ireland in 1921, arriving to the welcome of Lady Liberty on the 4th of July, 1921, and disembarked through Ellis Island.

The outcome of her sleuthing culminated in an enormous binder of treasures, stories, data, personal historical letters, and photos from numerous branches of the family tree. Family members are still clamoring for copies!

Embrace Your Ancestral Journey Today

Ancestral Travel - House in Coole, Ireland

This photo of the house my grandfather grew up in was taken on one of her ancestral journeys. Built in 1864 in Coole, Ireland, for my second great-grandparents. At that time, there was a tax on the number and size of windows and doors, so they were small.


The thrill of stepping into your ancestor’s world can be mesmerizing. From the excitement of meeting new relatives to touching historical landmarks; each enriches your story, and can be shared across the generations. In 1971, I traveled to the above house with my family and grandfather and met my Irish cousins. 

Anticipate moments of joy and introspection while you trace the footsteps of your predecessors, forging a deeper understanding of your roots.

Embrace your voyage of self-discovery. Celebrate the resilience and achievements that define your heritage. 

Step through the figurative stones of Craigh Na Dun! See the lives of your ancestors.

Take that first step now – plan your ancestral journey and unlock your personal history vault. Your journey awaits – seize the opportunity with your past and enrich your future.