Where did I come from? More on heritage trips...

by amyrosenthal / Sep 10, 2008 / 1 comments

Was your great-great grandmother a duchess? Did your great-great-great uncle rub elbows with the avant-garde? All families have legends of greatness, which, if true, can make your search for an ancestral town or region easier. The extraordinary are often widely documented and celebrated. However, if you are like most, your ancestors were farmers or servants or regular Joes and Janes who held regular jobs. And as such, no one documented their every move.

If your family traveled to the United States by choice, their departure and entry was likely recorded as part of ship passenger records. You can perform a cursory search of these records, or if someone else in your family has already uncovered transportation records, you can use that information to figure out from which port they left. Although not always the case, their city of departure was probably close to your ancestors place of residence.

Don’t discount the power of family memories and tales, or the power of reading up on a bit of history. For example, you might find distinct naming patterns in your family that include first names that look remarkably similar to those of a ruling family. Although your first reaction may be that your family could be distantly related to royalty, more likely this naming pattern indicates that your family lived in a certain region during a certain time. Think of the impact of popular presidents, or maybe more poignantly now, the impact of popular television characters on baby names. Coupled with vital records, such as birth and death records, you may be able to piece together a story that helps you close in on your family’s place(s) of origin.

--Amy Rosenthal is the Southern and Eastern Africa Editor at

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