Planning An Ancestral Trip 1

Planning an Ancestral Trip

When you are planning a genealogy research trip to your ancestral homeland, the key is being prepared ahead of time. I know firsthand that people who work and plan ahead are far more successful in their genealogy journeys in their ancestral homeland than those who think they are already prepared.

Here's what you need to know in order to be successful researching your ancestors in your ancestral homeland.

Create A Research Plan 

Take the time to create a research plan. Use a spreadsheet or create a chart with five columns:


Looking at the documents you have and knowing what you still need to find out, what are the best documents for you to get that might give you the answers you need?

Next do some online research to determine where you are likely to find the records that will help you fill in the gaps or chip away at your brick walls (newspapers, land records, church records). Where are those documents actually located? Archives? Library? Local Genealogy Society? Church?

Many archival institutions have their holdings off-site and so it is important that you know this and order ahead so that your time can be well spent and disappointment minimalised. Will you need to call or write ahead in order to make sure the documents will be available while you are in the country?

Read up on whether you are allowed to photograph the images, scan the images, download or copy the images. If you can download or print the records, what are the fees?Are there requirements for researching? Do you need to book research time? Can you just walk in? Are there requirements for obtaining a research pass or card? If so, will you require photo ID? Save time by taking this with you

In the 'Notes' section you can write down the hours that the repository is open, any fees for researching, whether you need to contact them ahead and anything else that will be of assistance in your planning.

Take Your Tree With You

Make sure that your family tree is up to date. If you can, make it portable. Have it on a laptop, iPad, tablet or smartphone so that you can access the information while in the archives or repositories. If you are going outside of continental North America, you may find that while in the archives, you will not have access to Wifi so having your family tree on a cloud will be a hindrance to your time there.

Getting Around - take your driver's licence. Even if you don't plan to drive. In many of the repositories, you will need to show government issued ID and often a photo is required as well. If you do plan to drive, check whether you will need an international licence. You can find this information out from your local automobile club.


Again, scout out the best places online. Check tripadvisor or post on Facebook and ask others who may have already travelled to your destination to see what they can recommend. Often, the country you plan to visit will have a website where accommodation providers are listed. And you can always check with a travel agent or the local automobile club’s travel department.

Travel Documents

Make sure that your passport is valid and up to date. It must not expire before you return to your country of origin. Check to see whether you will need a visa to enter the country you wish to visit.

Plan to Journal 

Author, blogger and speaker Michael Hyatt has said "What happens to us is not as important as the meaning we assign to it. Journalling helps sort this out." Like your wedding day, the time in your ancestral country will fly by and quickly become a blur. Having the journals to fall back on makes the impact of your finds and connections even more meaningful. The words will trigger memories and emotions attached to those memories in a way that just looking at photographs of your trip can't do.

Journalling your ancestral trip will allow you to:

  1. Process your previous understanding of your family's story
  2. Clarify your understanding based on new information you uncover in your research or by speaking to people connected to your family or ancestral community
  3. Help you to better understand the context of the times in which your ancestor lived
  4. Process your intense emotions when you walk where your ancestors walked, worship in the same church they attended or visit their homes or graves
  5. Ask important questions which will become the basis of a new research plan, and perhaps become the focus of a return trip in the future.

While we all like to think our memories are robust and we will "never forget this experience", reality is a bit more cruel and we often forget details even of things as monumental and meaningful as an trip to our ancestral home. The journal entries can be whatever you wish them to be. 

Create a Travel Plan

  • Make a list of the places you want to see and the things you want to experience while in your ancestral homeland. Do you want to visit cemeteries? Homesteads? Do you want to try ethnic foods? Visit historic sites?
  • Be realistic about time. Factor in travel time. How long will it take you to get to the parts of the country that you want to see? Will it be necessary to stay overnight it you travel to a more remote area?
  • Do some online research to learn the best way to get around your ancestral homeland. Will you need to hire a driver? If so how will you find a reputable one?
  • Will you need assistance on the ground? Will you need a professional genealogist to assist or even accompany you? If so, where will you find a competent one? (

Planning ahead will provide you with greater success. With advance planning you can turn your dream holiday into an ancestral experience that will connect you to your ancestors in a way you never dreamed possible. But be flexible enough to allow a Plan ‘B’ Sometimes things will not go according to plan. You may find that through your research you want to do or see something connected to your history. Be flexible enough to allow that to happen. Who knows, you might even be lucky enough to meet up with family or friends of your ancestors. Above all, enjoy the adventure.



About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland ( and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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One thought on “Planning An Ancestral Trip

  • Clorinda Madsen

    I’ve taken one trip somewhere, an off the cuff visit that produced nothing because I wasn’t prepared. Your tips are exactly what I needed to do beforehand and I wish I could redo it. Next trip, will be better. Thank you for these tips!