Ancestral Trails – A Solo Travel Report

Genealogy Study – Travel Plan for One

© 2012; 2004 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Diane Redfern. Information
Note: This article is posted here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

By Diane Redfern

I knew that following my family history would lead to England and Switzerland, but despite learning about Adam and Eve in Sunday school and viewing old bones in Archaeology 101, I never dreamt my very own roots could actually be traced back 60,000 years to a cave in southern Africa.

Now that's lineage, but not to brag, it's your lineage too, and the lineage of every human alive today according to geneticist Spencer Wells. He and like-minded colleagues claim science has proved that our mutual ancient grandfather was one man whose descendants looked beyond the horizon, gradually moved out of Africa, and thus began the evolution of every modern human – race, color, and creed.

It all has to do with advances in genetics and traceable markings on the "Y" or male chromosome. It's technical but fascinating stuff masterfully documented by Wells as he followed the migration of that sturdy strand of DNA to all corners of the globe. The resulting book and film is Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (Princeton University Press, US$29.95).

Science being what it is, the hypothesis is open to debate like other studies that identified an earlier ancestral "Eve" as the mother of all Homo sapiens. Scientific and biblical theories aside, the Journey of Man is still an enthralling saga.

Wow! I'm a Survivor!

Watching that film on PBS television reinforced one essential truth that only began dawning on me as I approached the senior stage of life: I live only because my ancestors survived long enough to procreate regardless of every trial by fire, famine, ice, drought, flood, disease, and war – from the very beginning of mankind, generation after generation, eon after eon.

This was quite a revelation for one who hadn't before paid much attention to known relatives never mind those long gone.

How annoyed I am, now it's too late, that I never cared enough to ask my father about those Swiss relatives in his photo album, or why his father went to Brazil.

Now, I am hooked on following my ancestral trail. Too bad I gave up on genetics after first year college, but even if I haven't the skills to follow the lead of Spencer Wells, at least there are tools at my disposal, at home and abroad, to help me journey into my own epic past.

The Quest Begins

I sometimes wondered about my mother's maiden name: Routledge? Hardly English sounding, I thought, not like Brown, or Jones, or Smith, though I knew the family roots were in England. But where did a name like "Routledge" come from and what did it mean? With time to kill one rainy Sunday afternoon I got on the Internet and idly Googled possible search phrases: "Routledge surname origin." After wading through a few irrelevant documents, I came across this clue: "These people were border reivers."

Skeletons in the Closet

Turns out the word "reiver" is an old term for bandit, or raider. I found that dubious bit of information intriguing if not heart-warming, and so might you if your surname is among the 75 or so families that inhabited the Scottish/English border lands during the 13th to 16th centuries. Evidently, four hundred years of intermittent hostility between England and Scotland bred a predatory culture of raiding, rustling, and feuding that both nobleman and peasant regarded as normal routine. It was family first, followed by king and country only when the cause suited one's purpose. It was the wild, wild west writ large; indeed this same bold spirit and independent purpose characterized many of the immigrants who later populated British colonies overseas. I won't bore you with more of my personal history, except to say that I soon became fascinated with searching for links between those reiving Routledges and my own ancestors, and that research quickly evolved into an enduring travel plan for one.

Solo Travel and Family History Make A Match

Poking about in libraries, poring over old documents, probably wouldn't be on many lists of fun holiday ideas, but, if you ask me, it sure beats sitting alone on the beach. For many solos curious about their recent and distant history, genealogy is an absorbing and rewarding pastime. The quest may begin as an at-home hobby and then branch out to visit family haunts both near and far.

Genealogy research has led me back to the 1400s on both sides of my family, and because of that study, I have the added fascination of seeing distant historical events from a more enlightened perspective. Now, I think how famous battles, political intrigues, and social changes might have directly affected my ancestors. I've walked where my relatives lived and died in England, Scotland, and Switzerland, and there are familial links I've yet to uncover in Poland, Brazil, China, and Russia. If I accomplish those explorations, who knows where else my ancestral trail might lead?

Tips for Beginners


Visit the Relatives

Getting relatives to talk is one thing, but getting them to write details down or go rummaging in the attic for family documents may be tiresome. The easiest way to get the job done is for the self-appointed family historian to personally do the jotting down and participate in sorting through papers, photos, bibles, journals, clippings, souvenirs, anything and everything that might piece together a credible historical documentary. That means getting in the car, or on a plane, train, or bus, and going visiting with pen/computer, questionnaire, and briefcase in hand.


Research worksheets, pedigree charts, and family group forms are still widely used to record and organize information, but computer aids have virtually revolutionized genealogy research within the last few years.

I use Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a computer software program published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. PAF organizes individual and family records and photos, and produces, either on screen or on paper, pedigree charts, family group records, individual notes, and official sources.

Libraries, Archives, National Registers

Tracking down pertinent records is quite a daunting task at the beginning, rather like learning golf – wild swings, missed shots, and many out-of-the-way forays. Practice helps, and so does taking beginner lessons.

Any local library either stocks or can supply numerous how-to genealogy guides and history books useful for organizing a plan, and providing contacts for country specific resources, such as genealogy and history societies, national registers and archives. These are some of the records you will be looking for:

Family History Library

Without traveling directly to the originating archive, the single most comprehensive center for researching ancestry is the Family History Library operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Genealogy is central to the Mormon faith, and the church has been collecting, copying, and storing family related documents at its Salt Lake City Utah headquarters for decades. All of the stored records are available for public viewing, free of charge, at the main library in Salt Lake City.

Family History Centers Around the World

Additionally, the Family History Library catalogues and various indexes may be accessed via more than 3,400 Family History Centers placed in cities all over the world. At these centers, microfilmed copies of specific documents can be ordered up from Salt Lake City for a small shipping fee. Also available at the centers is FamilySearch™ a huge Internet-based resource that contains millions of indexed names and sources along with selected 19th century Census returns for Britain, Canada, and the USA.

World Wide Web Revolutionizes Genealogy Research

With your own computer and Internet access, you may explore FamilySearch™ and a host of other genealogy websites from the comfort of home.

These few are good starter sites:

Reiver Surnames

Archbold, Armstrong, Beattie, Bell, Burns, Carleton, Carlisle, Carnaby, Carrs, Carruthers, Chamberlain, Charlton, Collingwood, Crisp, Crozier, Cuthbert, Dacre, Davison, Dixon, Dodd, Douglas, Dunne, Elliot, Fenwick, Forster, Graham, Gray, Hall, Hedley, Henderson, Heron, Hetherington, Hume, Irvine, Irving, Johnstone, Kerr, Laidlaw, Little, Lowther, Maxwell, Milburn, Musgrave, Nixon, Noble, Ogle, Oliver, Potts, Pringle, Radcliffe, Reade, Ridley, Robson, Routledge, Rutherford, Salkeld, Scott, Selby, Shaftoe, Storey, Simpson, Tait, Taylor, Trotter, Turnbull, Wake, Watson, Wilson, Woodrington, Young.

>> DR

See also:
Industrial Roots, England
Swiss Roots
Diane Redfern's Genealogy

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