If you’re running into some dead ends with your family history research, perhaps the following tips could help you blaze some new trails.
One of my family’s favorite finds through the years of doing family history research was an old travel journal that belonged to my great aunt. Reading it gave us a new perspective on our great Aunt Doris as she led us through the Louvre in Paris, a dance in Italy, and a World War I battlefield in Reims.
Throughout history people have kept travel journals, often detailing the very places where our ancestors lived and visited. These accounts offer eyewitness information that you may not find anywhere else. With the magic of the Internet, you can bring these fascinating records right into your own home, often for free. Travel journals can prove to be an incredible resource, even if they weren’t written by an ancestor. “Understanding the geographic, historical, and social context that our ancestors lived in can be very helpful when breaking down brick walls in family history research,” says Darris Williams, Accredited Genealogist®.
A Vision of Britain
For those with ancestors from the British Isles, a great resource is a website called, A Vision of Britain Through Time. Here, you can type in the name of a place to view related historical statistics, maps, and travel writing. The travel writing section of the site includes some interesting accounts, like Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery by George Borrow (1854).
Many early travel accounts are available on Google Books. Start your search with search terms like: Ireland (or whatever place you’re looking for), travel, travelogues, travelers.
After you find a book, click on the book image to read it. You can also scroll down to see a list of related books, too.
Several books are available at no cost in book form and on microfilm in the FamilySearch Catalog. Click on the keyword tab and type in: (country) description travel guidebooks.
When reading any travel journal, it’s important to remember that most people who wrote them injected their biases into the accounts. For this reason, the following should be considered:
- Identify who the traveler is
- The purpose of the journey and narrative
- Period and dates of travel
- Mode of travel
- Route traveled, which is often influenced by the traveler’s purpose and interests
- Interests and concerns of the traveler
FamilySearch Memories App
In addition to travel accounts from ancestors and other travelers, it could also be helpful to ask living relatives about the trips they’ve taken and start documenting them now. A trip does not need to be to a foreign land to be meaningful and worth preserving.
One way to record those travel experiences from living relatives is to use the FamilySearch Memories App. The app can be found on the FamilySearch Apps Gallery. This app includes a feature that allows you to orally record and then preserve any memorable experience digitally. Some sample questions to jump-start a recordable conversation with your relative include:
“Why did you decide to travel where you did?”
“Who did you travel with?”
“What did you think (name of location) would be like, and what was it actually like?”
“What was your favorite part about the trip?”
“What surprised you the most?”
“Did you learn any important lessons from this trip that you didn’t realize before?”
You never know where the answers may lead you!
Whether it’s reading a travel journal from your own ancestor, reading an account from someone else who wrote about where your ancestor lived, or recording a travel experience from a living relative, you may find new leads that will help you continue your family history journey.
How have travel journals helped you with your family history research? Let us know by posting your comments in the Comments field below!