10 Tips for Preparing A Trip to Find Your Ancestors

Tips To Planning a Trip to Do Genealogy

I have been a few trips with my mother where we went specifically traveled to find some genealogical records of our ancestors. These trips were quite successful because my mother prepared way in advance of what she hoped to accomplish or find.

Before a family history trip to find your ancestry, you must do some genealogical research. This includes interviewing your oldest relatives or friends in person or over the computer or phone, organizing your genealogical records onto an online program, and conducting genealogical research online. Consider also getting a DNA Test.

When you are planning to travel to discover the lives of your ancestors, this trip will be more fruitful, when you have done extra planning and preparations before you embark on your journey.

Interview Your Oldest Living Relatives

Interview your oldest living relative and find out what they know or remember about your ancestors or family. Most of the older members of a family are a wealth of information, They may know or remember things you did not know.

If you have an aunt, uncle or grandparent who has done a lot of genealogy they can prove to be a great asset to help you discover your family and ancestors.

Start with the Oldest Family Member (or Friend)

Start with the oldest family member that you know and interview them. Interview them about their life stories. Find out about their life and discover their memories before it is too late.

if they lived or had parents who lived in the place or country you are planning to visit, find out more information from them for your travels. Share with them about your plans. Ask them if there is anything you should know about the place you are visiting or if there are any places you should not miss. If they have actually lived where you are planning to visit, then you can try to find out about places they may have lived or the schools they had attended.

If you go armed with this information it will make your trip a lot more interesting to go past a school or street and say “you know Grandpa use to live on this street” or “great aunt attended this school.”

Your family, you may have close family friends who are not actually blood-related. Maybe they lived next door or have been close family friends for many years. These close friends can also be a wonderful source of information. Do not rule them out when you are working to compile your family history

Use Technology

When interviewing these older family members or friends do not depend on your own memory to remember everything. Instead, record the call or if you are interviewing them in person see if you have their permission to video record them.

Some may feel put on the spot and others may not mind at all. But the most important thing is that you let them know that you want to record this so that you do not miss anything that is being said.

Use Old Photographs to Trigger Memories

If you are visiting your relatives or friend in person you can bring with you some old photographs and ask them about the photos. If they have a photo book or framed photos around their home you can also ask them about these photos.

Using photos to talk about memories is a much softer and more natural approach than you trying to read off a set of prepared questions. It will also help you to build common ground and talk about past memories.

Use Past Memories

If you are not able to visit your relatives in person then you can talk to them on the phone or computer. Do not wait too long as you are not sure how long they will be around or how long they will have their memory. If you do not have any photos in front of you to talk to them about, you can also use memories to help to trigger some of their memories. This can also be a soft approach to guide the conversation instead of with formal interview questions.

You can ask them things like:

  • Remember when Aunt Lisa did …
  • How did you feel about Uncle Frank returning …
  • My mother once mentioned to me…

Be prepared to have a few thoughts in your head to talk to them about or jot down a few notes of some memories so you do not forget them when you are talking to them.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Off-Topic

You are not conducting a 60 Minutes or the Nightly News program interview. This interview is really not an interview at all but a conversation. So do not be afraid to allow the conversation to go off-topic a bit.

In fact, many times it is during those times when things go off-topic that you may learn something new or hear a new perspective which is completely different from what you knew before. If it is something completely irrelevant then you can disregard it even delete it from your recordings.

Organize Your Genealogy Records Online.

If you have not done this already, then before you travel anywhere to find your ancestry you should organize your genealogical records online. This will mean that you will have your digital copy with you at all times.

Today there are really great free tools that you can use to organize your genealogy. We recommend FamilySearch as it is completely free. All you need to do is sign up for an account.

Though FamilySearch is part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you do not need to be a member of the church to use the FamilySearch program. Anyone can sign up and use it. You can find out more about FamilySearch and sign up for their program by clicking here.

Here the reasons we love FamilySearch, especially for people who are starting out in Genealogical Research:

  • It is Free – FamilySearch is completely free. It will not cost you anything to put your family records down on FamilySearch. If you need help there is free help available both online or at one of the Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can find out more by clicking here, One of the great things about this is these Family History Center’s are literally all around the world. So not only do you get a great program free but you also can get expert advice – all completely free.
  • It is Collaborative – FamilySearch is a collaborative program which means you may find others who are already searching your family tree and you can see their information. This can help to save you a lot of time.
  • Filled with Genealogical Data – FamilySearch has a lot of online genealogical data so you can use their search tools to try to find information.
  • Has some great extras – FamilySearch has areas on their website where you can upload photos, put down memories of your ancestors, put in videos or other interviews, upload sources you have found. Basically anything you need for each family member in one place. This is a great way to keep your records organized especially as you are traveling.

Do Your Online Research

Do your online research before you go on your trip. This just makes common sense as you need to know where you are going and why you are going there in the first place.

Here is what we recommend for online research:

  • FamilySearch – As we have mentioned FamilySearch has a huge database All you must do is sign up.
  • My Heritage – You can also sign up for a free account for 14 days. My Heritage has several levels of accounts from 99 USD per year to about 189 USD per year. Like FamilySearch, you can also keep your data and family history on My Heritage.
  • Ancestry – Another popular site is Ancestry and they have a basic free version or one that costs from 99 USD to 199 USD for 6 months access. And like Family Search and My Heritage you can keep your Family History data on Ancestry. I have Ancestry linked to my FamilySearch account.

You can also check out this blog called 50 Free Genealogy Sites to Search Today by clicking here. They have a list of a lot of free sites where you can find your ancestor’s data and information.

Take A DNA Test

Another way you can try to find your family or close relatives is through DNA testing. A DNA test should help to at least give you a map of where your ancestors are from. This is an example of a DNA Test from Ancestry from my family. You can see we are clearly from the DNA test results is that we are mainly from Central Europe, Scotland, England and the United States.

Ancestry DNA Map
Example of an Ancestry DNA Map to Show What Part of the World My DNA Comes From.

A few things to know about the DNA test results:

  • Results – The results of where your ancestors are from usually seem to be quite accurate. When I look at our DNA results and our genealogy it seems to be quite accurate.
  • Close Relatives – The results from your closest relatives are just suggestions, you need to also check out the data. We have someone who is linked to our DNA as a close direct relative who is not. He is my brother-in-law’s brother (we share no blood or DNA). His brother received a bone marrow transplant from my niece (who I do share blood and DNA with) so his name is shown as a close relative. This is why even with DNA results you need to verify the results with other data.
  • More Numbers More Results – DNA testing depends on how many other relatives have taken a DNA test. If no one has taken the test you may not see many matches, if a lot of people have taken the test you may find a lot of matches. So you need to choose a company that has a significant amount of people who have taken the test. This is also why many genealogists may take several DNA tests to check out their close relative matches on each test.

Here are some DNA kits that you can consider to take:

  • Ancestry.com – Ancestry.com has quite a large database of people who have taken the DNA test. You can find out more about their DNA Test by checking out their website. Many times they will run specials so the tests are not so expensive (59 to 99 USD). Find out more by clicking here.
  • My Heritage – My Heritage also has a DNA test. They also run specials from (59 to 79 USD) You can find out more about their test by clicking here.
  • 23 and Me – 23 and Me not only do the DNA tests for finding your ancestors but they also have some tests that can help predict your health and other issues. Like the other tests, they also offer specials but depending on what test you want to take it can get expensive (99 to 499 USD).
  • CRI Genetics – CRI Genetics is considered to be one of the better DNA tests. Like 23 and Me they also look at things other than ancestors as your health and fitness and other traits. Their cost is about 99 USD and like the other companies, they will run some specials. You can find out more by clicking here.

Research Genealogical and Other Organizations

Finally, before you start on your journey you will want to do a bit of research as to what local organizations, churches or government offices you should visit while you are traveling. Though there are a lot of records available online, there is still a lot that is not online. The truth is some information you may only find through traveling and looking through some local records such as government, local or church records.

Do your research on this before you travel. Contact the organizations, churches or groups and find out if you can even view the records or what you must do to view them. Also, find out the names of local genealogical organizations and other organizations that may be able to help you or have experts on staff that can help. This will help to not only save you time during your journey but will also help ensure your trip is as fruitful and productive as possible.

Traveling to find your ancestors and to discover their lives and stories can add so much to your journey. You will build some great memories of the places you have visited and it will give new meaning to the understanding of the culture of the place you are traveling.

You can also read our blog on Tips To Preparing Your Own Family History Tour by clicking here. This blog also has a lot of information on how to prepare for your upcoming Family History tour.

Related Questions

How Can I Find My Vietnamese Genealogy?

Genealogy or family history has had a long and important role in Vietnamese family life. The Vietnamese have been keeping genealogical records for centuries.

Genealogy has been important to the Vietnamese, as it is an integrated part of Vietnam’s society, culture, family and clan life. The Vietnamese have a long history of keeping records of their families. But even with all these genealogical records, it may be difficult for those doing genealogical research on their Vietnamese lines to find the records they need.

You can read our blog entitled Vietnamese Genealogy, Searching for Your Family History in Vietnam by clicking here.

Is Getting A DNA Test Worth the Cost?

There is a lot of information you can get from your DNA Test. It can show you on a map where your ancestors are from. It will also give you some close matches or potential relatives. So if used correctly a DNA test can give you valuable information or at least confirm to you information about where you may need to look to find your ancestors.

But also DNA testing can reveal some long lost family secrets that were once buried deep. So if you are going to do your DNA testing be prepared that it can show you both good and bad things about your family history.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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