The Experience of an Ancestral Home Visit

Family History
3 March 2023
by Ancestry® Team

Twenty-seven family members from California, Massachusetts, and Georgia squeezed tightly together in a small barn on a farm in County Tipperary, Ireland. The farmer, a fourth cousin to some in the group, showed his newfound family members a map of his land, including the spot where Michael Hogan, their ancestor, left from when he immigrated to the United States in 1862. 

One hundred and sixty years later, some of Michael’s descendants had returned to Ireland in an ancestral home visit to see where it all began. The American cousins stood in rapt attention as they were told how their Hogan family had farmed this land since the early 19th century. 

Michael Hogan was the third son of his family, so he did not inherit the lease to his father’s small farm. There was no other choice for him but to “take the boat to America.” He settled in Pittsfield, in western Massachusetts, and worked in one of the city’s many woolen mills. Life was hard, but he became established, married, and had six children. He never returned to Ireland, nor did any of his children or grandchildren. The next generation made sure to return home. This is just one of a number of special moments I’ve been extremely privileged to be part of. 

The Growing Lure of Heritage Travel

In my role as an Ancestry® genealogist, I examine both historical documents and AncestryDNA® test results to help people find their ancestral homes. When I start working with them, some have done a lot of research over the years but have not been able to connect the last dot back to where their family originated. Others know little beyond where their family name might be from. Whether you fall into one of those camps or are somewhere in between, for many the thought of revisiting their family’s ancestral home is exhilarating. 

Heritage travel has become more popular over the last several years as people look to find deeper meaning in the trips they take. Step-by-step guides on how to take such a trip are available, and organizations like AncestryProGenealogists® offer everything that is needed to end up in your ancestral home. These visits are sought after by even the most well-known people. In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden journeyed to locations from which his ancestors departed on their voyage to America. While on a state visit to Ireland, he walked through cemeteries and the streets of towns where his forebears lived in County Louth and County Mayo.  

heritage travel tour

The Power of Ancestry® to Find Where You’re From

Ancestry has some great collections that can help you find your family’s point of origin. Passenger lists for ships that arrived at Ellis Island after it opened in 1892 contain many details about immigrant arrivals. Information like where they came from, who they were going to stay with initially, the names of family members back in the old country, and even how much money they had in their pockets might be recorded in these lists. 

For example, Antonio Barotti left Anagni in Italy in 1906 and arrived at Ellis Island, having come from Naples on the SS Moltke. He was on his way to Scranton, Pennsylvania, with $16. After immigration, the vast majority of arrivals became United States citizens. 

These naturalization records can also unmask ancestral homelands. August Geertz was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1870 and started his naturalization process in 1904 in Rhode Island. The records of the New York City-based Emigrant Savings Bank contain tens of thousands of ancestral home locations for Irish immigrants who fled the horrors of mid-19th century famine in Ireland. Locating your ancestor in these records can help you find the specific place they were born within the Irish county they were from.

Additionally, AncestryDNA® has completely revolutionized how people discover where their ancestors may be from, even if no family history research has been done, or can be done. The DNA Story is the first port of call, with the Ethnicity Estimate providing a visual display of regions of the world where ancestral lines emerge. These lines can go back as far as 500 to 600 years. Going deeper, many who take the test will also be shown DNA communities in their results, which reflect more recent ancestral origins from the last 200 years. These communities can be very specific and show precise locations in a country. For example, there are now almost 100 communities for Ireland.  

heritage travel tour

Completing the Circle

Family history research, DNA testing, and heritage travel can all lead to profound feelings of connection and belonging. One of the most vivid examples that will stay with me for a long time was when I brought a client on a tour of Ireland and then to her ancestral home in County Clare, on the famous Wild Atlantic Way. Her ancestors had immigrated to East St. Louis, Illinois, in the 19th century. Their arrival there was made possible by the client’s great-grandmother, who became prosperous and provided the initial money for many family members to come to the United States.

On our trip around Ireland, excitement levels grew as we got closer to County Clare. As the final day in Ireland began to end, she walked through the creaking iron gate of a small and ancient graveyard. After examining various burial markers, she found the stone with her ancestors’ names. She walked over by herself, began to cry, and said, “We found you.”