DNA kits are providing us with more information about our pasts than ever before and spurring many travelers to explore their roots.
Dawn Greb of Travel Til Dawn is a travel advisor with a background in genealogy research, which means she’s been planning this type of trip long before it was trendy. Her specialty is in culture, heritage, history and educational travel and, with her background, she’s able to plot out itineraries that explore her clients’ family backgrounds in depth.
“I can really get to connect with the client while discussing their DNA results, their family trees and what they are wanting to get from the experience,” Greb tells us. “Some are looking to learn more about what they already know, to put an image with the words; some are looking to solve the unknown; and then there are some that just want to experience areas their ethnicity is from rather than find their actual ancestors. I help determine what kind of travel would be most enjoyed and then plan their itinerary for them, while sometimes doing some of my own research to give them some extra special memories that connect their traveling with their genealogy.”
Greb says when she spoke of genealogy travel years ago, she got some raised eyebrows; planning such a journey didn’t sound like a very relaxing vacation.
“The expansion of the DNA websites have strongly helped this niche travel group grow. Five to 10 years ago, $49 for a DNA test would have been unheard of,” she says.
She is getting frequent requests for Germany, Ireland and “Viking” heritages, which usually entails a blend of countries along Northern Europe.
“These are all regions I am active in in relation to genealogy research due to my own history and research,” says Greb. “I have been noticing an increase in African genealogy within the last year, and am hopeful to see some safe options for Eastern Africa to come around in the future.”
When Greb plots out a genealogy itinerary, she conducts intense research, sometimes taking a weekend to visit her clients’ parents, their grandparents, gravesites and the homes the family has lived in. She’ll stop in at local libraries (which she’ll contact ahead of time to request any files on the family’s history). Sometimes there’s a town historian with stories that can enhance a family’s history.
“After your initial two generations, I then begin to break the family apart by location. I always include the address, map coordinates or town where the family had lived; location of gravesites; location of archives and libraries for each town. I also include museums that are relevant to the time period their family was living in that location. If relatives were in any of the wars, I check their records to see if it mentions any battle locations they were in and I include tours of those locations when available,” says Greb.
Dawn Greb of Travel Til Dawn plots out itineraries that explore her clients’ family backgrounds in depth. She is shown here in Belgium.
Sometimes, the destinations that pop up on a family’s genealogy history will take clients very much off the beaten path, which can be a challenge if they’re used to traveling in high style.
“I love off-the-beaten-path requests because there is so much more culture, education and history involved within the planning and visit,” says Greb. “For luxury clients, though, you have to find a balance between how close to their roots they want to stay and what accommodations are available.” For this reason, Greb plots out two itineraries; one that includes the nicer, finer stay locations, which may have a little bit more travel and commuting time day-to-day to the villages / towns. The second itinerary will put clients in the locations their ancestors where in, or as closely as possible, which gives clients more time to meet the locals, possible relatives and experience all aspects of the culture.
“Both are very hands on, and permit the client to experience so much,” says Greb, adding that she tends to lean towards option one when it’s more of a family vacation and everyone might not quite yet be on board for a genealogy trip.
Wendy Fracchia is the department operations manager for Morris Murdock Escorted Tours & LDS Travel Study.
The “Morris Murdock” umbrella includes travel advisor / vacation sales, business incentive travel and its own branded escorted tours division, which is largely Christian faith-based.
Fracchia has certainly seen a large upturn in those interested in visiting the countries their ancestors came from and notes that the most requested destinations are the U.K., Germany, Italy and France. The company has handled multigenerational family groups (45-plus in size) to take people to their “homeland.” It also assists travelers who want to add on to an existing tour or cruise in order to visit a special site or conduct research.
“We love to custom-design experiences for our clients, depending on how in-depth, or simple, they want their experience to be. We have been able to line up ‘in-country’ family historians that can guide our clients to their history, their family’s roots. Clients have also come to us with a full lineup of what they’ve found in their own research and we were able to help them travel to the exact spot they were looking for,” says Fracchia.