A hike to an old stone barn on a sheep farm in the country. A walk through a graveyard. An 11-day bus ride with 22 complete strangers.
This may not immediately sound like the description of a dream vacation. But talk to California resident Vicki Stuber for two minutes, and you’ll be convinced that these activities and many others on her recent visit to Ireland made for the perfect trip. In October, she joined AncestryProGenealogists researchers and guides from Go Ahead Tours on their inaugural family history tour through Ireland to discover more about the origin and hometown of her ancestors. Months after her return, she is still glowing.
“I want to say this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but now that I’ve done it, I know it’s not going to be only once,” Stuber said.
For 11 days, the group of genealogy buffs visited one treasure after another on the Emerald Isle. Some were well-known, like the famous Blarney Stone, while others were specifically meaningful to her family. All were new discoveries for Vicki. Her father died at a young age in 1979, and he had not shared many details of their lineage. It was up to her to track it down, and she hired AncestryProGenealogists to help her with her family tree.
“You know, I’m not a wealthy person, but it was just something I set aside for, and it was worth it to me,” Stuber said. “It was like a blessing. I couldn’t do this on my own.”
Vicki and her cousin joined 22 other travelers who were interested in tracking their own family histories. The group bonded instantly, rejoicing when anyone made an ancestral discovery and sharing tips with each other about how to carry out their research.
“It was awesome! We all had this common ground, common interest, and purpose,” Stuber said. “We all cared when someone talked about their family and their ancestors’ history. We cared about how they found that information, because that could help us.”
Professional genealogist Kyle Betit was on the bus, too, sharing the knowledge he has gained throughout his career in genealogy and on numerous trips to Ireland. Along the way, he gave presentations about such topics as church records and passenger lists, not to mention insights about each town, cathedral, and castle they passed.
The adventure, which started in Dublin, moved first to the City of Kilkenny. After checking out Kilkenny Castle, the group stopped to marvel at the Saint Canice Cathedral, where one traveler found his ancestor (the 8th Earl of Ormonde) buried in the church graveyard. They walked in Queenstown (Cobh), visited the Emigration Centre there, and walked along the port from which most Irish natives left. They also shared a moving visit to the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross (County Wexford) to learn about the realities of emigration.
“They give you boarding passes, and they make it interactive, so you can check out where your family bunked, and you follow whether they made it, if they lived,” Stuber said. “It makes you feel a part of it.”
The travelers continued to County Cork, where they visited the impressive English Market and the Blarney Castle. Stuber was grateful for the freedom to delve into family history knowing the tour took care of all the logistics of transportation and lodging.
“The facilities, the hotels, the food, the tour guide—loved him!—[it was] just absolutely the best,” Stuber said. “And the locations—I just loved it all.”
Later stops took them to County Kerry (Killarney, Muckross House, and Ring of Kerry), County Clare (Cliffs of Moher and the Burren), County Galway (Galway City and Connemara), the monastery at Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, and Kilbeggan, including its historic whiskey distillery, in County Westmeath.
Taking in the sights of these ancient locales was breathtaking for Vicki, but a side trip to a small village in County Clare was the most unexpectedly moving stop for her. She had arranged for a day-long ancestral home visit to the village of Cree and Ballynagun West Townland in Kilmacduane Civil Parish of County Clare, where her paternal ancestors lived. Joanna Cicely Fennell, a researcher from the Dublin office of AncestryProGenealogists, met her there with a bulging file of documents she had discovered about Vicki’s ancestors. Vicki knew she would need professional help to sort out the many local residents with her family surname Considine. She and Joanna hit it off immediately.
“She’s my little Irish doll! She was so much fun,” Stuber said. “And you know what I love about the Irish is they’re so welcoming, and they’re so family-oriented. And we drove around to cemeteries, and she would point out her relatives and my relatives. We had so much fun that whole day. She was just so excited about my journey and what I was doing, and then, when she’d point out a relative of hers, I think I was just as excited about that.”
After some colorful conversations with friendly village residents, they found their way to the farm where Vicki’s great-grandmother grew up.
“I just thought at the time, ‘This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve set aside money for it. I’m going to take advantage of everything,’ ” Stuber said.
They took a chance and knocked on the door of the home that now stands on the property where Vicki’s great-grandmother, Mary Considine, once lived. The man who answered was a Considine himself, and he celebrated with Vicki when she described their connection. He spread out photos and family pictures and got on the phone to call relatives who lived down the street.
Joanna even led Vicki to the home of Mary Considine’s father, where they again found a friendly homeowner who graciously shared what he knew of the farm.
“It was so emotional,” Stuber said. “And I could never have gotten to those places without that help. I could never have found those places.”
Another discovery was in store—this one astounding even the genealogists. Vicki had taken an AncestryDNA test before the trip (the test is included in the cost of the trip, along with several hours of professional research), and the results revealed a cousin match who lived in Galway. She contacted the cousin, Peggy Doherty, via Ancestry’s messaging service, and they arranged to meet when the tour arrived in Galway.
Stuber said the meeting felt like a reunion, even though the two women had never met and likely never would have without the help of AncestryDNA. Their common ancestors lived so far back in time that historical documents alone are not able to prove their connection; DNA analysis was essentially the only conceivable way they could ever have realized they were related.
“We’re friends for life now,” Vicki said.
The women shared the research they had done with each other, and Peggy’s work opened up an entirely new branch of Vicki’s family tree. Now Peggy plans to visit Vicki in California to continue researching their family together.
Each step revealed a new part of Vicki’s ancestry, and she struggled to articulate just how much it meant to know more of her own identity, not to mention the deep connection she felt to her own father after all these years since his death.
“You know what it did? I always thought I was a mutt, just not ‘anything of anything,’ ” Stuber said. “And I found I’m almost half Irish. I feel like I’m somebody now. I have a sense of who I am. I have a culture, and I’m proud of that. And my dad would be so thrilled, you know? I mean, this is what I’m going to pursue now. It has really meant a lot to me. It’s changed me.”
Many opportunities to expand Vicki’s family tree remain, and she is now planning her next research pursuits, hoping to follow her great-grandfather’s story in the coming months. She is already saving for another trip with AncestryProGenealogists and Go Ahead Tours.
“I had the time of my life,” Stuber said. “It was the ultimate trip for me.”
More tours of this kind are planned to Ireland, Italy, and Germany in 2018. Click here to learn more, or stop by the Ancestry booth at RootsTech, where experts from AncestryProGenealogists will be available to discuss further details about all upcoming heritage trips.