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Find Your Family - Visiting Ancestral Homelands

Article Date: 
15 June, 2012 (All day)

The Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch is a world-renowned Irish researcher.  Irish records are challenging and often necessitate a visit to Ireland to fully research the records.  He is fond of saying, “You don’t have to visit Ireland. You GET to visit Ireland.”
This is how I feel anytime I have the opportunity to visit where one of my ancestors lived.  It is a wonderful experience that can’t be matched.  If you have not had the opportunity to visit where your ancestor resided, I would recommend it.  
The visits are both a way to help you connect and understand your ancestors, and they are a great way to further your research.  You will often find clues that would otherwise elude you.  
When you visit the homeland of your ancestor, take time to plan in advance.  Learn about the cemeteries, churches, record offices and other locations.  Take time to find your ancestors’ residence on a map.  It is also helpful to use a phone book to look for others with the same surname as your ancestor when you visit.  
As you plan you may want to place a few calls to the local historical society, genealogical society, or to some of the names you find in the phone book.  It is almost shocking the number of stories that have been related (some of them mine) to visits of an ancestor’s house that resulted in connecting with living family members.  Often the family members will have stories, photos, and connections to other researchers in your family of which you may have been unaware.
Be sure to visit cemeteries.  There are clues here that may not be available elsewhere.  It may be a good idea to call the government or other organization that runs the cemetery to obtain information on those with the same surname as your ancestor who are buried there.  You can also search findagrave.com or billiongraves.com to see if any of the cemetery headstones have been transcribed.  If the plot purchase records are available they can often be an invaluable source of family information.  You may learn family connections by who purchased the plot and then who is buried there.
I have personally had great success with talking to neighbors.  In our society where it is common to move, I am continually surprised by often I find neighbors who remember my ancestors or who have family that remembers them.  Many times the older residents of the area will have a wonderful time reminiscing with you about their memories of your family.  
Lastly, walking the streets, seeing the geography, visiting the churches, and seeing the surrounding towns will give you a perspective on their life that will help you every time you look at a record or find new information.  The other benefit is a great vacation meeting fun people and learning a little about yourself as you learn about your ancestors.  
I hope you have the opportunity to visit the home, town, or country of one of your ancestors.  You will find it a joyful experience and, likely, an experience rich in gathering genealogical information.