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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Travel to the ancestral homeland

Traveling with family to the land of ancestors is a profound experience. The efforts to get there pale by comparison to what our forefathers suffered, but the fatigue and stresses give us inklings into their plight. Cultural shock arriving at the destination, with unfamiliar cuisine and language mixed with the thrill of feet planted on our homelands. 

I gathered the names of small German villages, discovered the names of the parish churches, and booked a trip to take the children using up all our credit card Airmiles. We flew into Paris and took a commuter flight to Strasbourg where my high school French did not help quickly communicate my need for sustenance after the long days of travel. We were lucky to have booked accommodations for a family of five and passed out. Walking through the old city the next day we saw jaw-dropping artists and the cathedral, but the boat trip through the city was my favorite. A train ride into Germany took us through beautiful scenery to Pforzheim and then a rented car took us into the rural countryside to stay in a series of ancestral villages.

After checking into a hotel and buying a bag of snacks for a walk through the village, we approached the old town wall and as I reached out to touch the old brick with threatening tears, my teenager said, "where's the McDonalds?" The message of balance between ancient family history and adventures for the rest of the family was received and we planned some fun days throughout the rest of the trip with a family fun park, visits to gift shops, firework displays, and another boat ride down the Neckar River through the vineyards that was breathtaking. We experienced conversations with local merchants and the waitress at a restaurant in a mix of German and English maternally scolded us that we needed to finish dinner before dessert. We made memories in the towns of our ancestors and the remembrances held most dear are the adventures we all shared together.

Black Forest Cuckoo Clock purchased in Triberg

Research for travel and accommodations gets the plan started, but communication with local businesses or the town hall can help avoid loss of access on a holiday or limited hours. Many historical societies or genealogy groups can help with church history or the location of cemeteries that may be sites of ancestral interest. Sometimes there are living descendants of our ancestors in the area who can give a personal touch to the visit. Traveling with family could be an immersion into the culture and getting a flavor of the village saving the research days for personal genealogy trips. Sometimes families will go in different directions one day so the family historian can dig in with the local archives. Taking notes as you photograph the village keeps you organized, but taking time to label all the various points of interest once back home allows researchers to use the photos and antidotes gathered later when they want to illustrate the family history.

Mapping out a planned itinerary was important, but so was the flexibility to pivot on the ground when changing weather or interesting side trips suddenly begged for a different route. The trips I over-planned were always best so we had lots of options, but be willing to cross off items to save for another time so your family has time to absorb the ambiance. Making memories together by walking in the steps of our ancestors was momentous, and doing so together was unforgettable.