'Personal heritage journeys' bring travelers much closer to their family's stories

Talk about getting to know the family better.

A service operated by Kensington Tours and the genealogy website Ancestry provides a fascinating chance for people to connect with their heritage on a far deeper level than a typical tourist trip – by going to the very places their ancestors lived.

One traveler who has taken a “personal heritage journey” with Kensington Tours is Elizabeth Dobson of London, Ontario. She became interested in genealogy after she retired in 2015, she told Fox News Digital in a phone interview. 

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“My dad, before he died, told me that we had an artist in the family [who] was in the royal court,” she said. Dobson made it her mission to find out as much as she could about her great-great-grandfather, William Charles Thomas Dobson.

She had a membership with Ancestry, she said, and had even had her DNA analyzed by the company. 

“I signed up for a heritage tour, which involved genealogists doing professional research on my great-great-grandfather and forwarding that to me and forwarding that to the tour agents at Kensington Tours — who then devised a custom trip for me to find out about my great-great-grandfather,” she said. 

In May 2024, she embarked with her niece, spending 12 days tracing her relative’s footsteps in England. 

She even visited the Spyglass Inn on the Isle of Wight, where he died in one of the rented apartments in the late 19th century.  

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Dobson was also able to view some of his paintings kept in museum storage.

One of the more touching moments of her trip, she told Fox News Digital, was visiting her great-great-grandfather’s gravesite. 

“We found his grave and my great-great-grandmother’s grave and one of my great-uncle’s … sons was buried there. We brought with us flowers from London, and we put them on the graves of the three different people,” Dobson said. 

“That was quite important.”

Kensington Tours first teamed up with Ancestry in 2020, Jason Susinski, director of product for Italy and France at Kensington Tours, told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

The travel company specializes in individualized trips and tours, according to its website.

“We worked very closely with [Ancestry] to develop a range of itineraries that could reflect some of the more common destinations,” he said, that travelers were showing interest in “for heritage reasons.”

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The link between the two companies is “the perfect marriage,” he said. 

Each “personal heritage journey” is entirely unique, said Susinski, who is based in Ottawa. Rather than taking people to major tourist destinations, the personal heritage journey enables travelers, via private tours, to visit the small towns where their relatives originated, he said. 

Anyone interested in the journeys is “put in touch with genealogists from Ancestry, and they work together to uncover their family’s story,” Susinski said. 

“Once that family story has been uncovered, they share that information with our destination experts, and our destination experts will craft the trip.” 

“We craft the itineraries according to hotel preference and length of stay,” he said. 

“And often, we find these trips are a combination of heritage exploration, as well as a more generalized visit to the country.” 

Those seeking to embark on personal heritage journeys through Kensington Tours gain access to genealogical services that are not typically available to the average person, Susinski said. 

“They do work with genealogists who are locally based in most of the countries in Europe that we service,” he said. 

Those genealogists, fluent in the local languages of the area, Susinski said, “are able to access local archives, which typically aren’t translated – and often these records aren’t digitized.” 

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He added, “So it means going to a city archive or even going to cemeteries and looking at tombstones, things that simply aren’t possible if you are on the other side of the ocean.”

Popular destinations for these types of tours include Ireland, France, Japan and New York City, Susinski said. 

And because the areas they travel to often are not major tourist destinations, travelers have sometimes found themselves meeting long-lost relatives. 

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“We’re taking clients into very small towns, remote villages,” he said. 

“These are little places that have maybe one church, one or two cemeteries – very much a slow, small, rustic way of life.” 

Visitors, like the ones on the tour, often “stand out” and “attract local attention.” 

“We’ve heard stories where a guide, with the clients, will be walking down a street and a local approached them and asked why they’re in this town,” he said. 

Popular destinations for these types of tours include Ireland, France, Japan and New York City, Susinski said.  

“And that leads to a back and forth, and they find out that the person they’ve spoken to is connected to the family by multiple generations,” Susinski said.

“It’s a really interesting way to bring these stories full circle.” 

He added, “To see the walls or to step on the grounds where their family members had stepped is deeply meaningful.”

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