Millions of immigrants arrived in America via Ellis Island, making it a great place to start researching your family history — Photo courtesy of The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
Genealogy, the study of our lineage, has come a long way since the family trees we used to have to draw in elementary school.
In the United States alone, one in 25 adults has taken a DNA test and genealogy itself is now the second most popular hobby in the country (after gardening) and the second most visited website category (after pornography).
With TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are? attracting big-name celebs to explore their history, it's no wonder genealogy travel is booming.
From millennials to baby boomers, travelers are taking the results of their DNA tests and heading around the world to explore their family's past and understand their own unique place in history.
"There is power in genealogy," said Jennifer Utley, Director of Research for Ancestry. "You gain a sense of belonging and responsibility, and realize that if your family survived adversity, you can, too."
Here are 10 places to help you start digging into your own roots.
Note: Be prepared to learn dirty family secrets. According to Eva Goodwin, Research Manager at AncestryProGenealogists, "DNA doesn't lie. But your mother might have."
Queen Mary 2 Journey of Genealogy
Captain Wells learns about his own family history on Queen Mary 2's Journey of Genealogy with Ancestry.com — Photo courtesy of Jim Byers
As part of its inspiring Insights program, the iconic Queen Mary 2 recently embarked on its first Journey of Genealogy in association with Ancestry, and the response was overwhelming.
Four Ancestry Genealogists hosted presentations, talks and practical workshops, and answered questions from guests eager to explore their roots. Every day, there was a Daily Reveal into a guest or crew member's family history, along with a fascinating explanation of the research process.
As the ship made its transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York, it followed the same route as so many immigrants did, giving passengers an even deeper connection to their ancestors.
National Archives | Washington, DC
The National Archives offers a wealth of information for genealogists — Photo courtesy of National Archives
The National Archives offers a wealth of information which you can access once you've received your Research Card.
Subscription databases, which usually charge a fee, are available for free on National Archives computers. You can also find out if your ancestors had any interactions with Congress and search specific records including the Dawes Rolls (Native American records), the "Famine Irish data files," casualty lists for the Korean and Vietnam Wars and selected Chinese exclusion lists.
Research rooms are open to the public but it's best to email a month ahead of your visit to make sure you can get what you're looking for.
Jewish Heritage Tours
Iddo Katz, Isareli scholar and guide, along with two scholars guiding Jewish Heritage Travel guests through the Old City in Israel — Photo courtesy of Jewish Heritage Travel
Jewish Heritage Tours offers enriching learning adventures that explore Jewish history. Carefully-selected scholars and local experts bring to life the historic, Jewish and cultural experience in every country they visit.
Avraham Groll, Director of JewishGen.org, a Jewish genealogy website that works with Jewish Heritage Tours, explained, "JewishGen.org is searched thousands of times each day by people who seek to identify relatives, and connect with family, but also to understand what life was like for their ancestors, and to understand, in a personal way, how they fit within the continuum of the Jewish people.
"They want insights into the values and ideas of those who came before us. What ideals did a grandparent cherish? What challenges did they overcome? How can their experiences inform our own life choices? With all of this in mind, researchers have a much more meaningful and impactful experience when visiting their ancestral towns. Suddenly, they are not just tourists visiting a distant place, but relatives returning home."
Ellis Island | New York
The Wall of Honor pays tribute to hundreds of thousands of immigrants — Photo courtesy of The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
For so many people, this is the first place that comes to mind when talking about family history – and for good reason. Twelve million immigrants entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island and their descendants account for almost half of American people.
Today, you can view passenger manifests in the American Family Immigration History Center and read the growing collection of annotations in the Community Archive. Pay tribute to your own ancestors by having their name inscribed on the Wall of Honor next to those of 700,000 other immigrants.
New England Historic Genealogical Society Library | Boston
Discover your past in the 7th floor Reading Room at the NEHGS Library — Photo courtesy of New England Historic Genealogical Society
America's founding genealogical organization, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is the nation's leading comprehensive resource for family history research and the largest society of its kind in the world.
The NEHGS Library in Boston offers millions of books, manuscripts, microfilms and more, with materials in their collections dating from the fourteenth century to the present and spanning North America, Europe, and beyond. NEHGS is also home to the Jewish Heritage Center, a resource for the histories of Jewish families and institutions in New England.
Although you can get lots of information online, nothing beats an in-person, one-on-one consultation with one of the NEHGS family history experts who represent research specialties in so many backgrounds, as well as in the field of DNA.
10 jaw-dropping libraries you need to check out
10 jaw-dropping libraries you need to check out
Family History Library | Salt Lake City
The Discovery Center at the Family History Library offers lots of interactive experiences — Photo courtesy of Austen Diamond Photography
This is the world's largest genealogical library, with 1.4 million rolls of microfilm and more than 600,000 books, periodicals and maps.
The Family History Library has 550 internet-enabled guest computers, offering free access to billions of additional records online, as well as 200 microfilm and microfiche readers. The library also offers free access to scanning equipment, making it easy to digitally preserve and share family records.
Family Tree Tours
A group explores their roots in Germany on a Family Tree Tour — Photo courtesy of Family Tree Tours
This heritage/genealogy tour company specializes in small group tours, predominantly in Germany.
Working individually with group members to help you visit your ancestral hometowns, Family Tree Tours works with local guides, who show you around and give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in and absorb the culture and history of the area. With lectures by historians, and trips to archives and living history museums, you get a real feel for how your relatives lived.
The Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library l Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library offers free professional help with your search — Photo courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne
The Genealogy Center offers free hands-on expert help to visitors, whether you're starting from scratch or have hit a wall.
With 350,000 printed volumes and more than 513,000 items on microfilm and microfiche, they offer all kinds of resources from city directories to military and U.S. Census records. I found my grandparents' names on passenger lists when I was there, and felt like I had discovered gold.
European Focus Private Tours
Dominick and Lorraine Petrulli in Dominick's ancestral town of Bitetto, Bari, Italy on a genealogy discovery trip with European Focus Private Tours — Photo courtesy of James Derheim
James Derheim started out by taking photographs of people's ancestral villages on contract and, 2200 destinations – and thousands of stories – later, realized how hungry people were to actually see and visit the spots where their ancestors lived, worked, played, celebrated and suffered.
All of his tours are private and custom-designed to meet clients' goals and, over the past three decades, European Focus has coordinated and led more than 300 highly personal and often emotional trips for individuals, couples and families. "People are blown away time after time," said Derheim. "It's all about exploration and connection."
The Cherokee Heritage Center l Tahlequah, Okla.
The Cherokee Heritage Center focuses on history, culture and arts — Photo courtesy of Cherokee Heritage Center
Located in the heart of the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee Heritage Center was established in 1963 to preserve, promote and teach Cherokee culture and history.
You can use the many resources at the Cherokee Family Research Center for genealogical searches, and visit the Cherokee National Archives, which boasts the country's foremost collection of historic documents of national significance and artifacts from the 1700s through present day.