How to do a genealogy trip

How to do a genealogy trip

With travel being more accessible than ever combined with knowledge of our DNA through sources like Ancestry, genealogy travel might become the next thing! We recently traveled to Italy and did some genealogy investigation on my husband’s family. It was hands-down one of the highlights of our trip! I thought I would give some tips on how to do a genealogy trip.

This topic is so interesting to me! I would love to do more of this in the future. But there were things we (or others) did in advance that really helped this part of our trip feel successful and even emotional.

We learned a lot through this process. So if you’re looking for some tips, read on!

You can read more about our Italy trip here.

Tips on how to do a genealogy trip

Build your family tree

For a successful genealogy trip, my opinion is that you will get more out of it if you are knowledgeable about your family tree. Has one of your parents or relatives built your family tree? Could you connect to their family tree? Or maybe you need to build something from scratch?

You could do this through Ancestry, Family Search, or on paper.

A little about these two in case you’re unfamiliar:

Ancestry is a great tool for building your family tree. It’s also a great tool to examine your DNA and link you to other relatives who have had their DNA analyzed. You can connect to a family member’s tree and you can read about the history of your ancestors migration.

More so, they are constantly updating the DNA site with more nuanced information.

I highly recommend Ancestry for building your family tree and linking to family members!

Family Search is similar. Some people may be a little hesitant to use Family Search, but I can honestly say we’ve only had a positive experience. AND there is soooo much on Family Search. The amazing thing is that you have access to records from all over the world (They’ve been scanned in). This can include birth records, death, marriage, and census records. You might actually see the signature of one of your distant relatives!

I recommend using Family Search to find actual records and digging in deeper to your family history.

No matter the platform you would like to use, I highly recommend building a family tree before going on your genealogy trip.

Research in advance

Related is to research in advance. This is more than your family tree. But do some research about your family and the place they come from.

Did/do they belong to a particular cultural group that has gone under the radar? Did they live in an area that went through war and thus homes were destroyed? You could look into the cultural group of that area. Or see if that country has resources to assist you in your genealogy research.

The internet has everything on there these days. You might be surprised at what you find out about your family.

And the more you know when you go — the more fruitful and enjoyable your trip will be. At least that was our experience. We are grateful to Nate’s mom for knowing everything in advance! It gave us a great head-start. With that said we also did a lot of our own research in preparation.

Plan a trip well in advance to give yourself more time to prepare

Because of the research that you might want to do, I would plan your trip well in advance. Perhaps you should give yourself a year.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to research, have a grasp of your family tree, and to anticipate all the things you want to discover about your family.

Reach out to a relative (however distant) who lives there — if possible

If you have this luxury — take advantage of it! This is a great resource, plus you might make a new best friend.

If you notice a distant relative through your research that might live there don’t be shy.

You might be surprised at how beautiful this part of your genealogy trip could be.

Learn some of the language

One of the benefits of planning your trip well in advance is that you can learn (or practice) some of the language before you go. You might not become fluent by doing Duolingo for a year. But it might help ground you in the language, the phrases, and the annunciations.

For some tips on learning a language for travel check out this article.

Depending on where your ancestors lived or where you might be traveling to, you can’t always rely on English. And yes, there are many tools these days to help you communicate.

But I always am a big advocate of trying to learn a couple basic phrases.

Our genealogy trip was in Piedmont, Italy in a small town. We both wish we had learned more Italian for this part of the trip. Because it’s where people spoke the least English. Every night we would prepare for the next day by writing down Italian translations. We had so much fun doing this, but it would have been nice to have learned more before our trip.

Simply trying can go a long way!

Rent accommodation in the town your ancestors came from

Does your family come from a small town? You’d be surprised what accommodation you might find through Airbnb — even in really small towns.

This is how we did our genealogy trip. And it was one of our favorite places! I’ve linked it in our Italy itinerary post, but here’s the beautiful family-run Airbnb that we stayed at overlooking the foothills of the Alps…

Get creative! Maybe you can find a BnB or a local guesthouse through other resources. But if you’re at-all able to stay in the town that your family comes from — I highly recommend it!

Churches might be your best friend

Whether you’re religious or not, churches might be one of your best friends while you’re there. Now, this might be more of a Eurocentric view, but if that is where you’re ancestors came from, consider this.

Whether you’re religious or not, your ancestors probably were several hundred years ago. Back then, the church had the best records. They were the place that housed birth records, marriage records, and death records.

The church might get you local access to pieces of history you wouldn’t get otherwise.

For example, when we were in Italy, there was a private cemetery we were really interested in visiting. That was the first thing we wanted to do! But we wouldn’t have been able to get access without the local church pastor.

And — we spent quite a long time with her learning about the history of the church in this town, burial practices, and it gave us some ideas about where my husband’s relatives might be buried. It was fascinating!

Local City/Town Halls

Another tip we have from Italy is to utilize a local city hall. You might be able to find out in advance, or you can ask around when you’re there — is there a City/Town Hall nearby?

Thankfully there was for us and I can’t tell you all the things we learned and the connections we made from the Town Hall.

If the village is so small it doesn’t have a town hall think about the surrounding area that may have jurisdiction over the little town.

Each country and place will be different of course, but this might help you.


Cemeteries in the United States are quite young! If you think you find some cool things here, you would be surprised what you can find all over the world.

On your genealogy trip you might want to find a relative in a cemetery. Maybe you don’t know where they are buried but you want to investigate. Or maybe you’re just curious to see the culture around cemeteries.

All of this is valid! They can be a great tool to learning about the past. The past in a location that your ancestors came from!

Have an open mind

My final tip is to have an open mind. Have an open mind while you’re planning your trip and while you’re there. You never know what adventure might come up, what person you will meet or what you will learn.

It can be such a powerful experience seeing the area your relatives came from (in my case — relatives through marriage).

I hope you’re excited for your genealogy trip! And if you’re debating about doing one — do it!!


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