1. Take a DNA test.

A number of popular services, such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe, have cropped up to analyze a DNA sample for clues to your ethnic history. “If you don’t know your heritage – for example, if you’re adopted – then it’s a great thing,” says Virtuoso advisor Marion Hager.

2. Rely on an advisor’s extensive contacts.

Although most genealogy records can be found online, there are potential gaps, particularly in small towns. In times when Internet searches haven’t sufficed, Virtuoso advisor Claire Schoeder has even tracked her clients’ families on the ground, looking in parish registers and playing with common misspellings or anglicized names to locate records. “I use my on-site connections to help clients meet their relatives,” she says.

Advisors also have the advantage of in-depth knowledge of the territory. “When I send clients to Scotland, I’ll suggest specific kilt makers, family-surname castles – even single-malt-whisky tastings of spirits indigenous to certain areas and families,” says advisor James MacPherson Ferguson.

3. Work a genealogy trip into your family vacation. 

Roots research doesn’t have to dominate an itinerary, but it can enrich a journey. Ferguson often works with Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections to incorporate ancestral excursions into cruises. “It gives travelers an added purpose in port,” he says. “If we do the research right, we’ll land on a port where they have an ancestral footprint and can customize a day of exploration that goes beyond the brochure experience.”
A family dinner in Italy. [Photo: Simon Pilolla/Getty Images] / Featured image: Ireland is a popular choice for genealogy trips. [Photo: Mammuth/Getty Images]
4. Go on a heritage trip. 

You don’t need an extensively detailed family tree to explore your roots. Advisors can, for example, work with Virtuoso partners to help adoptees discover the culture of their homelands. On one such journey with tour provider Artisans of Leisure, a client traveled with her family on a customized trip to Vietnam. “She wanted to share Vietnamese food and culture with her kids,” says Artisans senior associate Stephanie Dosch.

Advisor Jack Ezon has handled a number of heritage trips in Russia, Argentina, Israel, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Italy. “Many people with Sicilian roots, for instance, haven’t delved into what that means,” he notes. “They come back from a trip there with a stronger appreciation for who they are.”

5. Consider your family’s domestic past. 

Among Marion Hager’s clients, a family sought to trace their grandfather, who had emigrated to the U.S. from Spain via Cuba. Because the grandmother was too elderly to take the trip abroad, the family went to Tampa, where their ancestor had entered the country and worked at a cigar factory. “When we think about exploring our history, most people think ‘international,’ but there’s also an interesting story in your relative’s arrival in the U.S.,” she says. For instance, your travel advisor can work with on-site connection American Excursionist to help trace your family with a genealogist at NYC’s Ellis Island.

6. Explore your faith heritage. 

Virtuoso advisor Sheila Gallant-Halloran says that faith-focused trips are on the rise, as travelers “seek to understand their religious heritage and how it shapes their lives.” She’s already booking trips for the 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play, Germany’s once-in-a-decade performance that focuses on the final days of Jesus, through tour provider Globus. River-cruise lines such as Avalon Waterways and Uniworld both offer Jewish heritage sailings in Europe. Virtuoso advisors can also help Buddhists trace their religious roots through Asia with the help of tour providers such as Remote Lands; Cox & Kings can help craft Arabian and North African journeys that focus on the Islamic faith.