In “A Lone Star Story,” writer Chris Colin visits Silverton, Texas, to place his feet on the ground that his ancestors settled more than a century earlier. He unravels his family’s history in West Texas, learning stories that are often uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking.
A growing number of travelers want to step into the village of their great-grandparents or learn more about their ancestors’ diaspora. But not all heritage explorers are so lucky to have their clan just a phone call away. That’s where these travel specialists come in. Whether clients hope to dust off decades of archival records or simply connect with their ancestral culture, the following outfitters can craft itineraries as individual as a family tree.
Artisans of Leisure
Artisans of Leisure offers six Jewish heritage-based tours in Europe and Israel. A 12-day “Jewish Tour of Central Europe” whisks guests from Warsaw to Budapest to Prague and includes visits with religious leaders as well as trips to historic synagogues and poignant Holocaust memorials. Individualized departures from $14,340. (212) 243-3239; artisansofleisure.com
Ancestral Journeys of Scotland
Co-founder and Scotswoman Brenda Atkin passed her love of ancestry to son Jerron, a genealogist by trade who now conducts clients’ initial family research. Tour guide Bob Kucharzewski—whose Scottish ancestry can be traced to the 16th century—meets clients upon their arrival, and his relationships with parish churches help track down former homes and gravesites. Departures between August and September range from 7–14 days and start from $2,495. (801) 696-5613; ancestraljourneysofscotland.com
Spector Travel of Boston
This outfitter claims more than two decades of experience connecting clients with their backgrounds in West Africa. Their 9-day “Roots and Culture” tour of Ghana brings heritage travelers into the heart of the African diaspora, examining the horrific history of the slave trade through tours of the UNESCO World Heritage forts and castles along the coast. For further context, guests may access the extensive library and manuscript collection during a visit Accra’s W.E.B DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture. 9-day “Roots and Culture – Ghana” has departures in August and November 2013, starting from $2,884. (617) 351-0111; spectortravel.com
Brown + Hudson
Clients embarking on a genealogy-focused itinerary with Brown + Hudson begin preparation at least six months prior to departure, consulting with trained researchers who handle the historical heavy lifting. Exclusive access is then incorporated into every aspect of a trip: a family traveling to Ireland might spend a night at the medieval Ashford Castle, before meeting such experts as best-selling author and historian Turtle Bunbury, a former presenter on Ireland’s “Genealogy Roadshow” TV series. Individualized tours start from $25,000 and range in length from 6–10 days. +44 203 358 0110; brownandhudson.com
With a singular focus on genealogy tours, Ancestral Footsteps likens their research process to writing a university dissertation. Depending on the clients’ geographical area of interest, the outfitter asks for a minimum of six months to investigate their lineage. After thorough reconnaissance, clients are given the option of discovering their personal family history on a “mystery tour,” wherein strategically placed items such as diaries, manuscripts, and photographs function as clues to uncover and piece together throughout the journey. Individualized tours start from $30,000 and range in length from 3–7 days. +44 (0) 1227 281 222, ancestralfootsteps.com
Zicasso processes over a dozen requests a month from travelers hoping to plan a genealogy-based trip. Through their referral service, clients are matched with three highly specialized outfitters in their desired destination, ultimately crafting an itinerary with those most suited to meet their goals. This granular level of operation means that tours coordinated by Zicasso have included visits to remote family cemeteries in India, access to vast genealogical archives in Italy, and joyous reunions between biological parents and children in rural Brazil. Individualized departure times and starting costs. (650) 395-8890; zicasso.com
Photo of Ghana by Van Nguyen on AFAR.com