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How to Explore Your Family Roots Through Travel

By Michele Herrmann
January 12, 2022
Flags at Rockefeller Cener
Julie Feinstein/Dreamstime
With trip-planning resources from DNA research services, you can go home again.

While taking an at-home DNA test can offer a guide to your genetic makeup, planning a trip can bring you closer to your lineage.

Some DNA research companies have gone a step further through teaming up with travel businesses to provide resources for planning a trip. In May 2019, Airbnb and 23andMe announced their partnership in providing bookings for experiences and accommodations based on customers’ test results and tied to their ancestry destination. In 2017, Ancestry and EF Go Ahead Tours jointly launched a portfolio of heritage-centered tours in Ireland, Italy and Germany.

If you want to plan a trip on your own, there are some measures to keep in mind while getting excited about what you might find. Here are some tips provided by genealogy and travel experts on how to map out your trip.

Start by Building a Family Tree

“The first thing I recommend is for everyone to start their own family tree,” said Jennifer Utley, director of research at Ancestry. “Call relatives who know your family history; add their experience.” Also get your children involved in trip planning. “They also can give a different perspective; they may come up with places you didn’t think of.”

Know What You Want to Do

Another initial step in planning is to understand what kind of trip you want to pursue – is about the destination itself or directly your family? “A heritage trip is about seeing the sites, experiencing the culture and walking in the footsteps of your family in a broad way,” said Cara MacDonald, reference services manager at the Scotiabank Family History Centre at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Whereas, a research trip is to find out more detail about your family during their time in that area, which usually involves visits to archives, museums and genealogical societies.”

Reach Out to Tourism Boards

Mickela Mallozzi, host and executive producer of “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi,” whose third season of her TV series used her DNA map to bring her to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, recommends reaching out to a country or region’s tourism boards as a resource. “It is the DMO’s job to promote their own destination, and usually these people are very proud of their country or region,” she said.

Make Appointments

With visiting archive centers or government offices, learn ahead of time what your accessibility to their records and reference materials might be, in the case they may take some time for being pulled up, or there are required payments for getting copies or other services. “You almost always have to have an appointment and you have to order the files or boxes in advance,” said New York genealogist Terry Koch-Bostic. “If it’s a book from the shelf, it’s usually not a problem, but if you want to look at documents or manuscripts, then you usually order them in advance.”

Check Hours of Operation

Maybe you went to a center on a Friday and found out that they’re open the four days prior only or closed at certain times or for private functions. “Always make sure you check hours of operation, especially if you are traveling in the off season,” said MacDonald. “Genealogy societies may be staffed by volunteers and only be open on specific days.”

Go Beyond Google

While search engines are right at your fingertips, and Facebook groups on geological research, do some local digging into your past. Ancestry’s Utley noted that historical societies throughout the U.S. can provide information on the background of a region or even chapters of ethnic groups with a prominent presence such as Italian, German or Irish. Other go-to sources can include the newspapers of the day, census, country or municipal records, city directories (a pre-cursor to phone books), and records from courts, churches, cemeteries and military museums and other venues.

Get Extra Help

Kudos to you for pursuing your family’s history on your own but don’t hesitate if you need some guidance with your research. Travel expert Charles McCool, who has conducted family research trips to Ireland, advises connecting with a contact within your destination of family origin before the trip for help. “Hire that person to walk you through the bureaucratic maze, like requesting vital records, accessing archives and so on.” Koch-Bostic also recommends hiring a travel agent for bookings or a genealogist for extended research or a guide for showing you around.

Embrace Your Surroundings

Along with seeing places connected to the past, Valarie D’Elia, a video travel journalist specializing in ancestral travel programming, recommends building your itinerary around local agendas such as going during a coinciding event and partaking in cultural, religious and traditional activities. “Most importantly, add context to these events,” said D’Elia. “How do they relate to your family history?” Also, D’Elia notes to include side trips outside of the city, village or town you’re visiting.

Get Engrossed in Culture

Gina Paige, president and co-founder of African Ancestry, noted that culture can be a key part of heritage travel. With those of African American ancestry, U.S. cities can be sources for information such Baltimore’s ties to the Underground Railroad specific institutions such as National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Local communities, too, can help. Paige pointed out that African Americans who trace their roots to the Tikar in Cameroon can find significant communities within the U.S. – such as in NYC, Houston and D.C. “They tend to have networks within those organizations already, so when they are ready to travel, they use those people as a resource,” said Paige.

Put Your Family in a Historical Context

If you’re finding road blocks with your research, look at your background from a historical perspective. For example, Allison DePrey Singleton, a librarian at the Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., noted that those of Irish decent can learn about the vast impact of the Irish potato famine, which led to many Irish leaving their homeland or perishing from hunger. “It’s about putting your family in a historical context; learn about what was going on in that country and that location within a certain time period.”

Manage Your Expectations

DNA trips can bring up all sorts of emotions, but you want to stay receptive in the moment and around others. “Be respectful of the culture and realize that [your] accommodations can be rudimentary,” said D’Elia, “Be mindful you are visiting ancient places and ancient infrastructure; pack proper footwear. These trips attract multiple generations, so be sure to accommodate specific mobility issues."

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10 Best Aquariums in the World

For many of us, aquariums offer our very first glimpse of what life looks like under the sea. Our oceans and fresh water bodies are teeming with marine life—a dazzling array of animals, plants, and organisms that shape our world, and a visit to an aquarium can be the first step in teaching children how to care for their planet. There’s no shortage of aquariums, though. According to the MarineBio Conservation Society, there are more than 200 marine aquariums and ocean life centers around the world. Need some help narrowing down your options? These 10 are Budget Travel’s list of the best aquariums across the globe. 1. Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta, GA The largest aquarium in the U.S. has tens of thousands of animals swimming in over 10 million gallons of water. Located in Atlanta, the massive institution is home to some of the biggest fish in the world. Daredevils can even swim with the aquarium’s whale sharks. For kids, there’s a petting area where you dip your hands into a shallow pool filled with rays and baby sharks, including Bonnethead sharks, which have eyes in the back of their heads. Don’t miss the museum’s dolphin show, where trainers showcase the beauty, athleticism, and intelligence of bottlenose dolphins. 2. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom: Hengqin, Zhuhai, People's Republic of China Want to explore the largest aquarium in the world? This aquarium in the People’s Republic of China boasts eight themed areas inside the park, each representing a different part of the ocean. Chimelong’s whale shark exhibit offers stunning views of one of the largest creatures in the world through its massive viewing window. The aquarium also has a dolphin’s island, otter’s den, and sea lions theater, where the animals show off acrobatic movements to the beat of tango, rock, and Brazilian samba music. 3. Marine Life Park: Sentosa island, Singapore This Singapore aquarium is home to more than 100,000 marine animals of over 1,000 species from across 50 different habitats. The museum’s shark encounter lets guests swim inches away from some of the ocean's stealthiest predators, such as the hammerhead, silvertip and sandbar sharks. Visitors can also meet face to face with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. When you’re done gawking at the sea life, check out the high-speed water slides and lazy river at Adventure Cove Waterpark, which is located next to the aquarium. 4. Dubai Mall Aquarium: Dubai, United Arab Emirates One of the world’s second-largest shopping mall is also home to an aquarium with more than 33,000 aquatic animals and the largest collection of sand tiger sharks. Rising to the mall’s third floor, the museum is famous for its 48-meter tunnel, where people can watch the museum’s divers feed sharks and rays throughout the day. For a closer encounter, the aquarium offers a 30-minute tour of the museum’s back-of-house facilities, where you can feed shark babies and learn about the center’s shark breeding program. 5. Shedd Aquarium: Chicago, Illinois Opened in 1930, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is one of the oldest aquariums in the world. Home to sea otters, lake sturgeons, giant river turtles, blacktip reef sharks, and other water animals, the museum specializes in providing learning experiences for visitors of all ages. Take advantage of the free audio guide, which provides detailed accounts of the aquarium’s most memorable species, including the incredible rescue story of green sea turtle Nickel. Penguin lovers can meet, touch, and feed Magellanic penguins while learning about penguin anatomy, nesting season, and the museum’s penguin conservation work in South Africa. 6. Oceanogràfic: Valencia, Spain Located in the avant-garde architectural complex of Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia, the Oceanogràfic aquarium offers a truly immersive experience. It has Europe’s longest underwater tunnel, where visitors get a front-seat view of more than 100 sharks of 21 different species. In addition, the aquarium features stunning sea life from the Mediterranean ocean, including barracudas, snakelocks anemones, and spiny lobsters. It also offers nighttime attractions, including live music and dolphin shows. 7. Oceanário de Lisboa: Lisbon, Portugal This Lisbon aquarium showcases four marine habitats crossing the temperate, tropical, and cold waters of the different oceans of the planet. The museum’s permanent exhibition features a stunning array of jellyfish, rich algae, penguins, and amphibians such as dusky salamanders, European tree frogs, and rubber eel. Kids can enjoy an overnight stay at the museum where they learn more about sharks. 8. Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey, California Another stateside aquarium well worth visiting is Monterey Bay’s. The museum’s ocean-view decks are a great vantage point for viewing local wildlife, from sea otters and seals to humpback whales and white sharks, which gather to feed in the bay after spending months offshore in waters as far west as Hawaii. Daily shows include sea otter feeding, penguin feeding, seabirds feeding, and “Luna: A Sea Otter's Story,” where guests learn about the threats facing California's sea otter population by following one sea otter’s journey. 9. Vancouver Aquarium: Vancouver, Canada Opened in 1956, Canada’s largest aquarium houses around 300 species of fish, nearly 30,000 invertebrates, and more than 50 species of amphibians and reptiles. The museum offers a number of full-sensory experiences, including sea lion training, otter feedings, dolphin shows, and walrus encounters. It’s also the headquarters of Ocean Wise, a non-profit where scientists, educators, and conservation experts spearhead initiatives such as shore cleanup efforts and sustainable seafood practices. 10. Texas State Aquarium: Corpus Christi, TX Dedicated to promoting the environmental conservation and rehabilitation of wildlife from the Gulf of Mexico, this Corpus Christi, TX aquarium offers a unique look at the animals that populate the rich habitats of this region. Kids will especially enjoy the museum’s slot meet-and-greet experience, where guests get a personal introduction to Xena or Chico, one of the Linneaus’s two-toed sloths. The aquarium’s wildlife rescue center helps rehabilitate marine mammals, sea turtles, raptors, and shorebirds who are injured in the wild.

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Harry Potter Fans: Here's Where You Should Travel Based on Your Hogwarts House

So you’re the ultimate Harry Potter fan but can’t decide where to take your next trip? First of all, true Potter fans should be aware of Pottermore.com: the official fansite where you can get sorted by the Sorting Hat into your Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry house. Your house is based on a variety of personality quirks and preferences, meaning you’ll fit in with the overall atmosphere of the house you’re sorted into. Once you know your Harry Potter Hogwarts house, you’re on the road to finding the perfect travel destination. Because let’s be honest, a gutsy Gryffindor may have very different travel goals from a humble Hufflepuff, and likewise a rational Ravenclaw’s travel bucket list might not overlap with a shrewd Slytherin’s vacation goals. Have no fear, Potter fans: read on to find out the perfect travel destination for your Hogwarts house. Best Destinations for Gryffindor: Utah or Nicaragua Being the house of Harry, Ron and Hermione themselves, Gryffindors are known as the brave, adventurous, daring and chivalrous of the Hogwarts lot. You have nerve and are very well-rounded, so only a very adventurous destination will do. Gryffindors are an active bunch, so we think you’ll love an outdoorsy travel destination like Utah. Hike through the otherworldly red-clay rock formations in Bryce Canyon, practice your rune-reading at an ancient petroglyph site in Moab or produce a patronus in Zion National Park. For a bit more adventure, Nicaragua is another great spot for a Gryffindor getaway. You can try out some exciting Muggle activities like volcano boarding down the active volcano Cerro Negro, swimming between wild islands or canoeing through jungles, where you might just spot some fantastic beasts. Best Destinations for Ravenclaw: Greece or Ethiopia Ravenclaw, you are the most intelligent members of the wizarding world. You have a thirst for knowledge, valuing brains and information over guts. To that end, we suggest a cultural travel destination for your house. Greece would make an ideal vacation for Ravenclaws. You can spend your time learning the (somewhat strange, we know) teachings of Muggle philosophers and perusing their ancient human sites, like the amazing Acropolis – Professor Binns would be proud. Ravenclaws are also deeply interested in diverse cultures and ancient history, so consider travelling to the cradle of Muggle civilization: Ethiopia, where some of the oldest human ancestors came from, a crossroads rich in culture and religion. Visiting cultures such as the Surmi, Mursi and Karo people offers a chance to see how local communities have preserved ancient traditions, while the 1600-year-old rock churches of Tigray show just how long the religious history is in Ethiopia. Best Destinations for Hufflepuff: Canada or Taiwan Dedicated and loyal, Hufflepuffs are the all-around nicest witches and wizards. They tend to be trusting, kind and value justice and fairness, and for that we think the best travel destination for a Hufflepuff is somewhere social and friendly with good nightlife. Canada would be the perfect travel destination for a Hufflepuff. Canadians are known the world over for being some of the friendliest Muggles, and they value equality and diversity. Travelling Hufflepuffs can enjoy the relaxed, peaceful pace of Vancouver; practice their bubblehead charms in the waters of Lake Ontario; or head to Newfoundland to pay homage to beloved Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory’s most famous spell, turning a rock into a labrador. Taiwan is another destination Hufflepuffs will love for its egalitarian and friendly attitude. And as the first country on the Muggle continent of Asia to legalise LGBT marriage, it is Dumbledore-approved. Night markets, such as Miaokou in northern Taiwan, are brimming with food and friendly locals, and a great place for Hufflepuffs to experience Taiwan’s welcoming attitude firsthand. Best Destinations for Slytherin: Tokyo or Fiji Okay, so Slytherins sometimes get a bad rap around the world due to one or two evil wizards who came through your house, but let’s not forget Harry Potter himself was one request away from Slytherin. You are a house of ambitious, determined and highly inventive witches and wizards. And you love what’s cool, unique and exclusive. We think a great travel destination for Slytherins is somewhere that values tradition as well as exclusivity, and where better for that than edgy Tokyo? Centuries-old shrines stand alongside sleek skyscrapers, and you can practise potions while sipping a cocktail with an amazing city view somewhere like Asahi Sky Room. Slytherins are also highly driven leaders who sometimes need a true escape from the wizarding world. 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While you’re in England, don’t forget to swing through King’s Cross train station to visit Platform 9¾, where you can have your picture taken pushing your luggage cart through the brick wall and onto the Hogwarts Express platform. And head up to Edinburgh, Scotland, where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. You can even book a stay in a Harry Potter-themed flat while you’re here. In Florida, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is another spellbinding experience. This theme park brings the magic of Harry Potter to life, with strange and wondrous experiences at every turn and plenty of rides that take you right into Hogwarts itself.

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Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Gets a Makeover

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