Guest Post – Genealogy Tourism by Noreen Maher from Hibernia Roots Genealogy Service
There’s a growing trend for ‘experience’ travel whether it’s sailing around the world, yoga retreats, or painting holidays, and added to that list now is genealogy tourism.
Genealogy Tourism or Roots Tourism is a segment of the tourism industry where tourists have an ancestral connection to their holiday destination and want to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps.
Over 80 million worldwide have Irish roots.
So, what is ‘genealogy’ all about?
Genealogy is defined as ‘that branch of history which involves the determination of family relationships’
‘an account of the descent of a person or family through an ancestral line’
The option for self-guided travel either with car rental or customized chauffeur-driven is becoming more popular with personal itineraries for an ‘off the track’ experience.
Family or clan reunions are also increasing where a venue is booked and activities planned around local amenities enabling families to reconnect from across the world.
The increased interest in family history research is fed by TV shows such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ which make it look easy!
Another factor is the advance of digitisation of records making it possible to trace a link to their ancestor’s home – in some cases to living relatives.
The Irish Diaspora have a longing for their home place and high on their bucket list is a life-long wish to visit their ancestor’s origins.
I live in Ireland and became interested in family research when my mother-in-law died in 2009 and my son was the youngest grandchild. I wanted to collect family information for him but didn’t really know where to find records or sources. I found a course that was designed to prepare you to set up a genealogy business and I got the bug! I had no intention of starting my own business but thought it would be good to know how the professional’s research and have a sideline for when I retired!
I set up my business Hibernia Roots (Hibernia is the Latin word for Ireland) while I still had a full time ‘day job’, in 2012. As well as a Diploma in Family Research I also have a Certificate in Oral History which provided the skilled training I would need if I have to interview family members to gather their stories and recollections for my research.
I love the variety of cases and people I ‘meet’. Most of my clients are online which is understandable but I really love when I get to meet them in person and hear how they were moved by the experience of visiting their ancestor’s home place. I feel humbled when they say they can’t thank me enough.
To give you some examples, two sisters and their cousin planned a visit to Cork where they knew their grandparents had come from but they didn’t know where exactly in Cork. They contacted me before their trip and I located the small village that they needed to visit.
They wanted to see if they could find the family grave so one day they went into the local grocery store to ask for directions. They were pointed to the graveyard beside the church. However, when they went there they realised there were so many graves some indecipherable.
A lady tending her family grave came to their aid but informed them that the family they were looking for were buried in a different graveyard and she offered to show them the way and they followed in their car. They found the grave and were delighted, but it didn’t end there.
The local lady brought them home to her house for tea and scones and phoned the parish secretary who she knew and arranged for them to view the baptism register entry for their grandparents. They couldn’t believe how hospitable the locals were to 3 strangers and they still talk to me about this experience! They still visit and have connected with living relatives in the area.
Another example was of a family whose ancestor had emigrated in the 1850s from Listowel, Co. Kerry. They realised that there might not be much of a record trace left but wanted to at least visit the place. They were a group of 22 and had engaged me a few months before their trip in 2016 so that I had time to research and locate the home place.
I discovered that the original family farm had been passed down the female line and by tracing the land records forward discovered it was still in the family! I contacted the current owner and she was delighted to hear about them and their plans to visit.
The family had also asked me to do a presentation of my findings at a lunch and to accompany them to the farm and local sights. On the day, they attended Mass in the church their ancestors would have attended, visited the Tower Castle nearby and at lunch, to which they had invited their newly discovered relatives, I did a presentation on the family research I had carried out.
We then went to the farm where the owner produced a cake for them to take back to their hotel for tea! The original farmhouse was still standing albeit was now a farm shed, but the family was so in awe of the view their ancestors would have had, and they got to walk the land.
The family still keep in touch and I even get St Patrick’s Day cards drawn by their children!
Last year I was asked to produce a family tree chart and family research which I had bound in a leather book that could be presented at a 50th Wedding celebration which included family from overseas.
Apart from the tourism side, as I mentioned, family reunions are also popular with more and more people reconnecting with relatives living all over the world. Nowadays families move about, mostly for economic reasons, so the connection to the ‘home place’ might be distant but we have a yearning to connect to it.
We Irish take pride in our roots and the number of generations we can trace back to. I have two sisters with young families living in the U.S. I have given them a set of our family documents and a family report that they can keep for their children who may not have as many opportunities to visit in the years to come.
A few months ago my niece in San Francisco had to do a social studies project in high school on her oldest living relatives and of course, they had the documents. She interviewed her 86 year old Grandad on Skype!
These are just some examples of how rewarding it can be to research your Irish family roots and then plan a visit to your homeland. I’d be happy to help you on your journey!
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