A Personal Sort of Time Travel: Ancestry Tourism

They toured Edinburgh, Inveraray Castle and the Isle of Skye, but she was particularly set on visiting Bellshill, an industrial area about 10 miles southeast of Glasgow where her grandfather lived. (It was a mining center until the early 1950s.)

“The tour guide was afraid I was setting myself up for disappointment,” she said. She wasn’t. She drew similarities between Bellshill, Sydney and Gary, Ind., where the family eventually settled in the early 1920s.

Ms. Rosenbaum knew from the letters that her grandfather, a stonemason, played lawn bowling competitively and donated property to the town for that use. The bowling green is no longer there, but Bowling Green Street is. Her grandfather became a superintendent in steel mills, she said.

“Travel experiences can show how a family developed, what family traits were dependent on location, why a family chose to migrate and how they made a choice of occupation,” said George G. Morgan, the author of “How to Do Everything: Genealogy” (McGraw Hill 2015).

But not every ancestry tourist is going to find the proverbial Rosetta Stone, he cautioned. They also need to set expectations for what they want to see and to ask a guide, “What will you be able to deliver?”

Carl Tiedt, 74, is a retired manufacturer from Springfield, Mo., and Civil War hobbyist. He has German ancestry and began searching genealogy sites over two decades ago, looking for relatives who fought in that war. Research on Ancestry.com and other sites turned up three great-uncles who were Union soldiers.


An inscription in one of the books returned to Audrey Goodman.

Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Still, “nobody ever recorded where the family lived before they emigrated and why they came,” he said. His parents never taught him German, saying only, “We had a hard time in America until we learned English.”

Two years ago he visited Germany with his wife, Barbara. His tour company, European Focus, recommended a genealogist who found the house where his great-grandparents lived in Bergen, Lower Saxony. The record of its property transfer indicates they may have sold the house to finance passage to the United States. Mr. Tiedt still doesn’t know why they left.

“In genealogy you never know what you are going to find or if you are going to find what you hoped to find,” said Jeanne L. Bloom, president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, a Washington-based organization that was not involved in planning Mr. Tiedt’s trip. “You can’t guarantee results.”

He also met a fifth cousin once removed on his mother’s side, Ida Müller, now 79, along with her two sons, who are in their 50s. They spent the day together and toured the family winery. Mr. Tiedt saw the church where his grandmother was baptized. He hopes the younger cousins and their children will visit the United States next year. “I don’t want to lose this connection,” he said.

Mr. Tiedt estimates the trip cost about $15,000 for two, including transportation, meals and lodging. He spent an additional $1,500 for a genealogist to complete about 40 hours of research. Ms. Albert said her two-day escorted excursion was $3,000 for her and her niece.

Hiring a professional genealogist can be expensive; many searches start online. MyHeritage.com, an Israeli company with offices in Utah, said five years ago that it had 4.6 million baby boomers out of 58 million users. This year that total reached to 9.6 million baby boomers out of 84 million users. A basic package is free; a complete annual package is $175.

Ancestry.com, which has two million members worldwide, offers monthly memberships from $19.99 to $49.99 and six-month memberships from $99 to $199. Familysearch.org, under the auspices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is free.


Carl Tiedt standing in front of the home his great-grandparents owned in Bergen, Germany, before they emigrated to America in 1883. He doesn’t know why they left.

Genealogy popularity may swell further. In 2012, Global Industry Analysts, a market research company in San Jose, Calif., estimated the global market for genealogical products and services at $2.3 billion in 2014, rising to $4.3 billion by 2018.

A May trip to Germany for Audrey Goodman, 67, of Bergen County, N.J., began unexpectedly with a message about some books, left last fall on her husband’s blog.

The message was from Antje Strahl, a historian at the University of Rostock who oversees restitution of books that were confiscated by the Nazis and later became part of the university’s library collection.

The books bore the name Malzer, the maiden name of Ms. Goodman’s late mother, who left Germany in 1937 at age 20 as a Jewish refugee, living first in England before coming to the United States.

Dr. Strahl invited Ms. Goodman to Germany to receive the books in a formal ceremony. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go,” said Ms. Goodman, who grew up hearing “We don’t travel to Germany.” Still she felt the journey would close a chapter.

At the restitution ceremony, attended by members of the university community, Ms. Goodman accompanied by her husband, Michael, and daughter, Amanda, spoke about her family’s escape from the Nazis and influences she remembered from growing up in Washington Heights in Manhattan, including recollections about German food delicacies.

Afterward the family traveled 375 miles south by car to Bad Königshofen, a farming community where her grandparents once owned a grain distribution business. The pastoral atmosphere was a surprise, but again, it had never been discussed. Her son, Brett, joined them there.

Through a tour guide, the family gained access to the apartment overlooking the main square where Ms. Goodman’s “mother and her parents sat so many years ago,” she said. The family toured the town and nearby cemetery to learn about the former Jewish community. “I’m happy to have it behind me, “ she said of the experience.

Ms. Albert, the retired psychotherapist, wants to return to Ireland and is now delving into books like “The Graves are Walking” by John Kelly and “The Princes of Ireland” by Edward Rutherfurd. “These are the stories of my ancestors,” she said.

Correction: July 29, 2016

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a picture caption with this article referred imprecisely to the owner of some books confiscated by the Nazis. They were taken from the family of Ms. Goodman’s late mother, not necessarily from her mother personally. An earlier version of another caption misidentified whose former home Mr. Tiedt is standing in front of. It is the former home of his great-grandparents, not his grandparents.

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