You guessed it, I'm engaged! In less than 200 days I will be marrying my partner in life: a handsome, compassionate, talented, and genuine man. As we've gone through the wedding planning process, a thought occurred to me while daydreaming about our honeymoon - What better way to start off our marriage than experiencing where we came from? As third-generation Americans (meaning some of our grandparents immigrated to the United States), we've taken note of the decline in patriotism for our countries of origin. Many of my older family members don't know any of the details of where our ancestors came from, or why. Thus, a concept I've been affectionately referring to as our "heritage honeymoon" was born.
Both Brandon (my fiancé) and I have origins in Europe, but not knowing the details was a little intimidating at first. So, we decided to view it as a challenge rather than a problem. It took hours of research, conversations with family members who we hardly talk to, and did I mention research? But we're finally at the point where we are ready to book the details of our heritage honeymoon. Here's how we planned it, and how you can, too.
Step 1: Gather the Information You Know
Any details that you already know about your family origins will be helpful. Even just knowing a country is still a good place to start. Depending on when your ancestors emigrated from their countries to the U.S., you might even be able to talk to them directly! Unfortunately, neither Brandon nor I had that opportunity. Some of our grandparents were immigrants, and some were born in America; for those who were, that meant that we had to trace our ancestries back even farther.
Step 2: Research. A lot.
Since we had such limited knowledge of our ancestries, we decided to take what we did know and begin creating family trees using Ancestry.com. Ancestry provides access to databases and records that are difficult or impossible to find for free on the Internet - trust me, I've looked. We subscribed to Ancestry.com for a few months to collect as much research as we could, based on the little information that we knew. And what we found was amazing! Seeing the military, naturalization, and marriage records of some of my ancestors really blew me away. Family whom I've never met, but their sacrifice, their decisions, and their love ultimately led to me. And being able to show my mom and my uncles the documents related to their father who passed away at a young age, and their grandparents, was really exciting, and we were able to discover new things together as a family. There are plenty of websites like Ancestry out there, and you can consult specific resources like The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation Passenger Search as well. In doing so, here's my warning: Approach each piece of information with investigation. Ancestry in particular suggests other family trees that may link to yours, and it's easy to get caught up in accepting all of the hints and attributing information to ancestors that you really don't know if it's true or not. We scrutinized as much as we could, knowing the limitations, and celebrated the puzzle pieces that fit.
Step 3: Lay it Out
Once we had gotten a better sense of the countries and cities or regions where our ancestors originated, it was time to look at the big picture. Disclaimer: We weren't able to zero in on clear locations for some of our ancestors. For example, my paternal grandmother's side of the family goes back generations and generations of being in the United States. We got a sense of what might be our family's path, but we couldn't identify for certain any other countries of origin. But, I now know a town in West Virginia where that side of the family lived for several generations. The tools and information still helped me learn, so don't be discouraged if you don't find exactly what you were hoping for. Work with what you can, and lay all of the potential locations out on a map.
The countries that we did know were: Wales, Slovakia, Croatia, and Italy. Countries that we had hints or suspicions about were England, Scotland, and Ireland. In attempting to plot out our itinerary, we first tried to plan to make it to all countries and cities. In doing so, we realized that we would be traveling more than we would be enjoying each place, and that the cost of traveling to all of the cities would be overwhelming. Which brings us to:
Step 4: Make Decisions
As difficult as it was, we had to make the decision to cut Slovakia from our heritage honeymoon itinerary. The flights and logistics weren't in our favor, and neither was the pressure to fit it into an already packed trip. We also had to make an alteration to our destination in Wales. We found that Brandon's family is from the north of Wales, but it is easier for us to fly into Cardiff in the south, and travel to our next destination from there. So, we decided that getting a sense of the country and culture in general would be a great first step. On the other hand, since we knew that both of our families are from Italy, we wanted to spend more time in that country in the particular regions we're from. And wouldn't you know it, but the two towns are only about 2 hours apart. Getting down to this level of detail will help you determine what's really doable given your time, budget, and energy commitment. In Croatia, where my paternal grandfather is from, we're taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches and relax and unwind a little bit in the middle of our adventures. In the end, we had to make some strategic and difficult decisions, but we are really excited about making our heritage honeymoon official.
Step 5: Book!
Ahh, and that brings us back to where we are now, preparing to book! We've decided that we will spend 3 days in Wales, 5 days in Croatia, and 4 days in Italy. Our heritage honeymoon will take us to cities and countries that we've never been to, and yet I imagine they might feel sort of familiar. Knowing where we came from can tell us where we're going. Understanding and appreciating, really, the incredible places our ancestors left to pursue something new in America will give us new perspectives on the family we will create, and our sacrifices, decisions, and love that will influence generations after us.
I hope this post may inspire you to do a little research into your family origins, even if you don't decide to pack up and go there. I hope you find time to consider the big picture of who you are and how you influence your family. We are living in a time in which it's ever important to celebrate what makes us unique - the melting pot of ideas, behaviors, perspectives, and characteristics that stirs inside each and every one of us, created by those who came before us.
Lover of life.