If you read our Heritage Travel 101, you may already be digging into your family’s past and planning your ancestry travel trip. Thanks to census surveys from 2000, we listed the four countries that most Americans reported having ancestral ties to. While we can’t tell you exactly where your ancestors originated, we can share our top picks for countries that helped create this “Great Melting Pot.”
Germany: 42.8 million (15.2%)
Germans are the largest self-reported ancestral group in the United States. If you make your way back to the Deutschland, these places are definitely worth a visit.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber – This picturesque town is perfect for a family trip to Germany. Interested in time travel? Its well-preserved medieval center will have you questioning the space-time continuum. We suggest grabbing a traditional German meal at the Gasthof Goldener Greifen, which is housed in a 14th-century building, or take a walking tour of the Romantic Road.
- Munich – This postcard darling has a lot more going for it than just a pretty facade. And while we do recommend you visit the Marienplatz, a Gothic Revival masterpiece, we also think that practicing your prost in a traditional tavern like The Hofbräuhaus gives you a great opportunity to meet some locals and learn more about your homeland.
- Heidelberg – Another town that is a blast from the past. With medieval landmarks like Old Bridge, the Heidelberg Castle, and Germany’s oldest university, you’ll get a feel for how your ancestors lived.
Ireland: 30.5 million (10.8%)
Between 1820 and 1920 an estimated 4 million Irish emigrated to the United States. The Emerald Isle is absolutely beautiful, but we suggest planning your trips around fall and spring when the weather is less rainy.
- Dublin – It’s the capital, so it’s no surprise this place is steeped in history. If you’re not sure where to start, check out a guided tour that includes Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest and most notable school of higher education, where you’ll see the Book of Kells, a 9th-century manuscript.
- Belfast – This Northern Ireland city was at the epicenter of The Troubles, but visit it today and you’ll find a community that is ready and willing to talk about the past. Visit the Crumlin Road Gaol, which has daily tours and helps visitors gain a deeper understanding of Northern Ireland’s history.
- Aran Islands – Surrounded by the cold Atlantic, these islands and their residents may seem frozen in time. Take a tour of Inishmore, the largest of the legendary islands and outpost of Gaelic culture.
Africa: 24.9 million (8.8%)
The slave trade brought many people from West and Central Africa to America’s shores, but it can be difficult to trace back your direct lineage, as records usually weren’t kept. But many that have traveled here to reconnect say that just stepping foot in these places can be an incredible experience.
- Djenne, Mali – This area has been inhabited since at least 250 B.C., and is one of the oldest cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Be sure to visit the Great Mosque, the city’s main tourist attraction. You can also visit the Great Market on Mondays to get an idea of how bustling this once-prominent trade center was back in the day.
- Goree Island, Senegal – This small island off the coast of Dakar was once a major slave-trading center, and the Maison de Esclaves (House of Slaves) has been converted into a museum helping others learn of the city’s dark past. Once you’ve taken in the area’s history, we suggest spending the afternoon walking the quiet streets and enjoying the incredible scenery.
- Cape Coast, Ghana – The Atlantic coast of Ghana is lined with old forts and castles built by Europeans during the 17th century. Tour the Cape Coast Castle, which has been converted into a museum detailing West African history and is well worth a visit.
Mexico: 18.4 million (6.5%)
Between 1990 and 2000 the number of people who reported ties to Mexico almost doubled. With cities rich in ancient culture and incredible cuisines, your heritage trip is the perfect reason to explore our neighbors to the south.
- Oaxaca – This colonial city is the ideal spot to immerse yourself in Mexican culture. You can visit remnants of the Zapotec people with a tour of Monte Alban and fast forward to the colonial period with a visit to Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman.
- Guanajuato – This city begs to be photographed with buildings that looked like they were plucked from a Crayola box. Save room on your camera though because the Guanajuato city tour will lead you past ornate churches, subterranean streets, and tunnels in this highly walkable city.
- Mexico City – The most populous city in Mexico is steeped in history and should definitely be on your short list. Any look back to the past should begin at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, which holds artifacts from the pre-Columbian era. The Zócalo is the main public square and is a good home base if you want to explore more historic buildings.
Whether you are traveling as part of a group, with your family, or solo, a heritage trip can help you understand more of your past and your present. And while you’re traveling, go ahead and mention the reason for your journey. You may be surprised by how many people are willing to help you reconnect.
Header image via Andrzej Sowa/Shutterstock