Traveling can bring any family closer together, but imagine an RV camping trip that connects your family to past generations and the places that populate your family’s history. The comfort and convenience of an RV can be a great motivator for families to take a trip to travel back in time.
Here are our best tips for planning and enjoying a road trip that reconnects you with your roots. Choose the ones that make the most sense for your family, and get started planning your own trip soon.
Will You Follow Events, People or Places?
A memorable road trip can be conquered in one of three ways:
- Choose destinations and follow an itinerary.
- Simply head out on the open road.
- Choose “must-see” places while leaving time for surprises along the way.
A road trip to reconnect with your roots can follow the same approach. Will you choose specific events in your family history (pioneer journeys, Civil War battles, arrival in America) and locate the places where they happened? Do you want to find the birthplaces, neighborhoods, homes, and burial spots of an earlier generation, or will you choose a region where your ancestors once lived and then search for evidence of their lives?
To help you decide how to structure your road trip to find family history, you’ll need to do at least a little research. Even if you’re choosing the random travel method, it helps to have a few solid facts to save time and frustration.
Information on your family history can be gathered from many sources—older members of your extended family or public records such as censuses are a good start. Genealogical data collection sites such as Ancestry can be enormously helpful and save you time, especially if you know very little about your family’s history.
Practical Tips for Your Family History Road Trip
A little planning can help keep your road trip on track. Do some research online or call campground hosts in the areas you’ll visit to learn how much lead time you need to make campsite reservations. Campgrounds can fill up quickly, especially if you’re making your trek over summer vacation, so plan ahead.
To allow maximum time for discovery, decide whether you’ll use your RV’s kitchen to make meals or if you’ll be eating at restaurants along the way. This lets you budget for food on the road or groceries and supplies, or both. (Tip: Plan to use local produce, fish, and meats for at least some meals. It will give you a deeper appreciation for the regions where your family once lived.)
Make a Record of Your Pilgrimage
Now, onto the reason you’re making this trip. As you travel, why not create a family history record, complete with maps, that can be shared with others also interested in your genealogy? This can be done the old-school way, with pages from maps, printed photos, and travel journal notes about the places you visit. It could also be created digitally, using screen shots from mapping apps, digital photos of buildings, grave sites, and historic places of significance to your ancestors, as well as your notes about what you discover. This is simple to do using an app such as Evernote.
Young ones can also contribute to your traveling history lesson. Their impressions of what you learn about your roots will be equally valuable and may also spark their love of genealogy that benefits the entire family. Ask them how they feel about learning their great-great-grandfather died at Andersonville Prison. Listen to what they say when you visit the business your grandmother founded. Those memories will be precious and add richness to your recollections.
What You May Find as You Follow Your Family’s Roots
Families who have shared their stories of RV pilgrimages to find family history with us have reported that both awe-inspiring and disappointing results are likely. For example, searching for battlefields where a Revolutionary War soldier wrote home can uncover a wealth of unexpected regional history related to your family.
On the other hand, sometimes you find that the homes, schools or businesses that played a part in your ancestors’ lives have been demolished to make room for progress. It’s still meaningful to photograph and record those sites on your family history map so that future generations can track the progression of time. Don’t forget to brush up on your cemetery etiquette.
Here’s the truth: Your present-day journey to find your roots will also become a part of your family’s history! Make it count by recording your impressions, doing local research and preserving the journey in photographs so that generations to come can use your data to plan their own trips.
After Your First RV Trip to Find Your Roots
We’ve found that once you’ve taken the first step, RV travel and researching your family history can be addictive. It’s quite likely your family will wish they’d had more time to pay homage to places special to earlier generations.
Why not make it a family tradition to plan at least one RV camping vacation each year around the places, people and events that impacted your family? Once you’ve followed that first branch of your family tree, record the questions you had to leave unanswered in your family history travel journal, and let them spark your next trip. You may even find a place in your travels so meaningful that you’ll want to journey back there often, which is another wonderful reason to gather your family and travel.
Whatever it is about your family’s history that has you itching to hit the road and find answers, pay attention to that and let it be the foundation for your next RV journey. Traveling with your family to learn more about shared history is one of the best ways we can think of to spend some free time.
Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. Joe has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, and greatly enjoys exploring the outdoors. Joe has been camping across the United States, from coast-to-coast, and makes a point to stop at national landmarks along the way. He is also actively involved in numerous campground associations, including RVIA’s Go RV’ing committee, as well as travel industry associations.