Heritage tourism is traveling to understand the cultures and places of the past—including those of your ancestors. Here’s how to make heritage tourism the ultimate vacation!
One of the best ways to understand history—including your family history—is to go to a place where you can relive it. This kind of travel is called heritage tourism, or “traveling to experience the places, artifacts,and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes visitation to cultural, historic, and natural resources.”1
Though many places offer heritage tours that you can pay for and join, you can also create a personalized heritage tour—and save some money—with just a little research and preparation. Here are some tips for enjoying heritage tourism that is customized to your personal history and heritage.
Tips for Creating Your Own Heritage Tour
Try finding the exact location of your ancestor’s home or property.
Heritage tourism is all about finding the right places to explore and "tour." Look for street addresses in census records, civil or draft registrations, vital records, correspondence, old family address books, and newspaper articles.
Identify other places of interest associated with your ancestor’s life.
Study records about your family to find the names of workplaces, churches, schools, cemeteries, or other landmarks. Locating and visiting these places, if they still exist, may build your sense of connection to your ancestors.
Visiting an ancestral grave can be an especially poignant experience. You may be able to find the location of your ancestors’ graves using this Find a Grave Index.
Look for maps from your ancestors’ time period.
Compare these maps with Google Earth. See what has changed and what has not. Try to pinpoint the modern locations of sites that are key to your family’s history. Borders may have changed; so may have the names of streets and towns and even house numbers.
Make a list of traditional, authentic recipes you want to try.
Heritage tourism is more than exploring a place—it's exploring the culture! And what better way to do that than to trying the cuisine? Research what food was available to your ancestors at the time they lived there. For example, what local food was grown? What animals were raised? What spices did locals use? Look up traditional recipes of the country and region, and be sure to try them during your visit.
Read up on the history of the region.
Before you travel, research the culture and history of your ancestral homeland, keeping in mind that this history is part of your history. Heritage tourism can begin long before you visit the place as you study the history and culture of the region. Make a list of historic sites and museums to visit so that you have a better idea of what your ancestors’ may have experienced.
Watch for industrial museums, mining or logging camps,restored homes or villages, decommissioned military posts, or religious landmarks. Don’t ignore the exhibits of small historical societies near your ancestral home. These may have displays or artifacts especially relevant to your family’s story. Some museums and historic sites even offer living history or interactive experiences that more fully immerse you in the past.
Consider contacting a local history expert or someone associated with an ancestral place.
You may be able to schedule a tour or conversation with someone while you are there. That person may even be able to connect you with relatives who still live in the area.
Can’t make a personal visit? Try taking a virtual tour of your ancestor’s neighborhood or village.
Yes, heritage tourism can happen at home! If visiting your ancestral homeland isn’t possible, you can also try to find an immigrant community or cultural heritage society near you with the same ethnic roots. You may be able to visit ethnic neighborhoods, churches, restaurants, festivals, or clubs where that heritage still thrives. You can even go on these pre-created virtual tours!
You don’t need to travel to your ancestors’ homeland to connect with your heritage and learn more about your family history. Right at home, you can discover your family story through searching records, starting a family tree, and exploring and preserving important family memories.
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