Exploring Our European Heritage

A mother and her child look over the river at an enormous castle.

In Europe, we enjoy medieval reenactments and hometown celebrations across our landscape. Music, dance, and delicious smells of centuries-old European culture can be enjoyed at every turn. This month, let's make time to discover Europe.

RootsTech is excited to share European culture and heritage with you in the form of classes and videos. Set some time aside to learn about the people, culture, food, and traditions of all our countries.

European Heritage Videos

Watch as the dancers share the steps and movements of traditional Polish dance.
Learn how vital records were used to follow a family from Europe to North America in the 1800s.
Learn techniques to narrow down what part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire your ancestors may have come from.
Explore resources and information available about both the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
Learn where to look for a variety of information about your European ancestors.
Discover your German ancestry using basic information, records, archives, and online tools.
Uncover resources and learn techniques to discover your Scottish ancestors.
Connect with your UK ancestors by accessing free or low-cost records and reports containing rich information.
Background and how to use the Italian National Archive website in conducting online Italian genealogy research from anywhere in the world

What Countries Make up the Continent of Europe?

Europe has a long and diverse history. According to the World Atlas, Europe today is made up of 44 countries:

    • Austria
    • Belgium 
    • France
    • Germany
    • Liechtenstein
    • Luxembourg
    • Monaco
    • Netherlands 
    • Switzerland
    •  Belarus
    •  Bulgaria
    •  Czechia
    •  Hungary
    •  Poland
    •  Republic of Moldova
    • Romania
    •  Russian Federation
    •  Slovakia
    •  Ukraine
    • Denmark
    •  Estonia
    •  Finland
    •  Iceland
    •  Ireland
    •  Latvia
    •  Lithuania
    •  Norway
    •  Sweden
    •  United Kingdom
    • Albania
    • Andorra
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Croatia
    • Greece
    • Italy
    • Malta
    • Montenegro
    • North Macedonia
    • Portugal
    • San Marino
    • Serbia
    • Slovenia
    • Spain
    • Vatican City

    Colorful map of Europe and its countries.

    Each of these countries has its own unique culture, heritage, history, and traditions. European natives and tourists enjoy beautiful shorelines, grassy hills, tall snowy mountains, and long stretches of plains.

    Europeans Around the World

    Over the centuries, wars, famine, and persecution have moved millions of Europeans from their native homelands to the shores and interiors of North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Some were searching for refuge, and others were in search of a better life.

    In the U.S., there were 3 significant waves of European immigrants. The first wave was mostly from the British Isles and happened during the 1820s. The second wave largely consisted of Irish and German Catholics who immigrated during the 1840s and 1850s. Lastly, the third wave brought over 20 million European immigrants between 1880 and 1914. There was a decline in immigration during WWI and the Great Depression in the U.S., but immigration increased again after WWII.

    Early Irish immigrants disembarking a ship.
    http://www.searchfamily.org/, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    Though first settled mostly by the French and British, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrated to Canada between 1846 and 1849 due to the potato famines of Ireland. Eastern Europeans, particularly Ukrainians, moved into Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s in very large numbers seeking land. The United States had strict immigration laws in the 1880s. For this reason, it was often easier to immigrate to Canada where there were fewer restrictions. Europeans from Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Greece were just a few of the peoples who flooded into Canada in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries.

    Most of Latin America was colonized by the Spaniards. The Portuguese and French also had large settlements in South America. Between 1879 and 1930, an estimated 13 million European immigrants left to Latin America. About 2 million Italian immigrants moved to Argentina between 1870 and 1960. Today, nearly two-thirds of the population of Argentina report Italian family roots.

    Sea traders from Portugal came to the shores of South Africa in the 15th century. Europeans from many countries explored and settled along the coasts and interior of Africa. The Dutch had a significant role in South Africa. They ruled Cape Town from the 1650s to 1795, bringing with them an influx of European settlers with the promise of farm land. European immigration increased significantly when diamonds and gold were discovered in the latter half of the 1800s.

    Merchants led the way for European immigration into Asia, particularly the East Indies. In 1600, the East India Company was established. In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was formed. Both trading companies moved their people into India and South Asia. Trade and political power influenced the number of European immigrants to this area. Thousands and thousands of Europeans moved to India during the 1800s. One report claims nearly 170,000 Europeans were living in India in 1901.

    Emigrants from eastern Europe on the deck of a boat.
    Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    European Culture

    Europe is a diverse land with a variety of languages, religions, and traditions. Here are a few fun facts about culture in Europe:

    1. There are over 200 languages spoken in Europe.

    2. Many European countries have their own distinctive traditional clothing.

    3. Fifty percent of the world's chocolate is sold and eaten in Europe.

    4. Europe has the most vineyards and is the top producer of grapes.

    5. Tomatoes arrived in Europe in the 16th century and are now one of the most common vegetables in the world.

    European Food

    A dish of escargot on a table.

    Each country of Europe has a specialty food they are best known for. These are some unique favorites from different countries that you might want to try:

    · Pierogi (Poland): Traditional Polish dumplings that vary in fillings to create tasty snacks, first courses, or desserts.

    · Goulash (Hungary): Traditional Hungarian stew with meats and onions.

    · Haggis (Scotland): National Scottish dish of pudding that is a combination of an animal's (typically sheep) heavily seasoned liver, heart, and lungs.

    · Waffles (Belgium): Thin waffles that are typically made from a brioche dough.

    · Tiramisu (Italy): Layered dessert comprising sponge cakes, mascarpone, espresso, and cocoa powder.

    · Gyros (Greece): Sliced meat and vegetables tucked inside a pita bread.

    · Escargot (France): Snails cooked with butter and seasonings such as garlic, thyme, and parsley.

    · Fish and chips (England): Fried fish served with a side of large, fried, sliced potatoes.

    Are your roots in Europe? Learn more about the country of their origin, unique cultures, and special traditions as you search them out. Then, let your newfound knowledge inspire you to share your ancestral heritage with your extended family.

    What is RootsTech?

    RootsTech is a place to learn, be inspired, and make connections through family history. Hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by other leading genealogy organizations, we have hundreds of expert classes, tips and tricks videos, and inspiring stories that can help you experience family history like never before. Visit our on-demand learning library or make plans to join us for our next virtual or in-person conference event.

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