Traveling the Family Tree

Traveling the Family Tree

Frankly, I want to know more about the people who are my family, those who lived in times gone by. I know the grit, the grime, the successes, the failures; all of it helped build the privileges I enjoy today.  There are great stories to hear and be inspired by, and I’m certain there are a number of stories to cringe at as well. For good, for bad, the family events through the centuries have helped fashion my current world. 

Historical family photo
Reese Family c. 1913

In my family tree, I know 3 out of the 4 “where did they come from” for my grandparents. My dad’s parents were Irish and lived in Hiawatha, Kansas before moving West , but I’ve no idea how they landed in Kansas or when. Mom’s grandparents came from Oopdal, Norway in the late 1800’s and I think they went through South Dakota headed West.  Mom’s other grandpa I believe was French Canadian. I know he left my great grandmother with 3 small children to raise in the early 1900’S but where in Canada was he from? Do I have far distant relatives in France? Obviously there’s work to do if I want to learn about my family. Figuring out the path of their lives here in the states is the place to start.

The challenge of course is being able to trace the roots of ones family beyond what can be done on the internet.  

If anyone has done any work on the internet and paper you know how quickly it becomes overwhelming. Genealogy can be a full time job on its own. Even with great tools it’s hard to stay focused on looking through 1000s of records. But paper, pen, and the internet is the best place to start and we all should take time to do this sort of thing.

Get your whole family involved – it’s a great school project!

  1. Write down the known family names (including all middle names)
  2. Dates of birth/ places of birth
  3. Places of death/ dates of death
  4. Marriages/ place of marriage
  5. Divorce
  6. Have them do a brief interview of each person if possible and ask them to tell about their life and their best memories.
  • Maybe Aunt Sophie tells a story about living in Portugal for a summer in college with a family. What a perfect reason to head to Portugal.
  • Maybe cousin Wayne went to school down in New Orleans and lived in the Quarters back in the day.
  • Did grandpa go by ship through the Panama Canal when it was just built or maybe he and grandma went to Cape Canaveral to see Apollo launch?

May seem trivial but it’s a great jumping off point for family based travel. Keep a map and put pins in all the places mentioned. A great reason to walk the streets of this nation is because your relative walked those same streets. This is how we carry forward our deep connections with the world around us.

I’ve never really considered Travel for Ancestry, but it makes sense.  It’s a way of connecting to ourselves and the world in a different way.

So get out your paper, pen, and your internet connection. Start compiling who your family is and where they’ve come from. Soon you may be wandering through a small town in the midst of the Blue mountains or driving across the plains picturing your family being there 100+ years ago. The places where your great great aunt/uncle lived or worked makes it part of your families history. What a cool thing to discover as you travel that the place you are standing is in a way already familiar, evidence we are all connected at some level.

Things to consider as you dig through the dirt of your relatives lives.  Pretend it’s a mystery you’re solving and don’t take any of what you learn personally!  

  1. While you may find out you are descended from some kind of nobility, (yay!!) you may also find out you are connected to a person who did atrocious things (boo!!).  Life is messy for humans. So be neither surprised nor dismayed by it.  Either person may be the reason why your family made the choices they did to get you where you are today.
  2. You may well discover that family tales are not accurate. Those same stories may lead you to places you never would have visited.  Enjoy the visit and the way life is woven together in a tapestry. 

Top Do It Yourself dedicated genealogy websites:,   

When the internet has run its course and that digital dog no longer hunts, it’s time to head to the professionals.

Find family using a different methodology 

Hire a genealogist. Have someone else do the grunt work.

This is not nearly as expensive as I thought. The cost can be anywhere from $400 – $3000 depending on the amount of hours you hire them for. Remember the work a professional can accomplish compared to what you and I might get done is worth the expense.  Sometimes what you need is just a little bit of a leg up to get over that hurdle. 

Here are pretty standard services provided by professional genealogists (excerpt from FamilySearch)
  1. Tracing Ancestry. A professional genealogist can help you trace your ancestors. For example, a genealogist may be able to discover who your immigrant ancestors were and where they came from. Or, a genealogist can research one of your family lines back to a specific time period or individual. This work is helpful when people want to join a lineage society.  
  2. Researching Descendants. A professional genealogist may help you in descendancy research by identifying people who descended from a particular individual. A professional genealogist can help you identify the frontiersman’s descendants so you can contact them. 
  3. Searching Records. To save time and avoid travel costs, employ a record searcher to find and review the records for you. Record searchers review only the records you instruct them to search. 
  4. DNA Analysis. Many companies offer services to test your DNA. Professional researchers can help you track down candidates for DNA testing and interpret your results. Hiring a DNA Testing Company provides further information. 
  5. Other Services. Genealogists also provide a range of other services that include the following­: 
  • Consulting and counseling with you about how to solve a research problem
  • Deciphering handwriting on old records
  • Translating foreign records
  • Instructing and lecturing on genealogical topics
  • Computerizing genealogical information
  • Abstracting and publishing records
  • Finding missing people

Imagine the fun of seeing where your triple great grandmother lived or meeting a distant cousin.  What joy to breath in the air of a place where centuries ago your ancestors lived and walked. Connect to those who came before. 

Who knows, there’s a chance the person who gave your great grandpa a hand-up is the great great grandpa of your current best friend. Wouldn’t that be the coolest connection to discover?  Our past and present might collide in a lovely way.

How are you connected to the world? 

I know there are some wonderful trips to experience while traveling your family’s path to the current moment. Let’s explore together and find out who you are!

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