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10 Great Places To Trace Family Roots

Television shows like TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are and PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow have fueled an interest in tracing family history. And now travelers are planning trips around researching their family tree, says Jennifer Utley, head of research at Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online genealogical resource. She shares some places to trace your family roots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY. You can also explore your ancestry records available via Genealogy Bank.Elis-liberty-seen-from-ellis

Family History Library
Salt Lake City
This Mormon Church-sponsored research facility is the world’s largest with records from 110 countries. The staff is in the process of digitizing all the records, but often the best way to get family information is to visit. “It’s good to do a little research ahead of time. There’s so much there that you can get lost if you don’t have a goal in mind,” Utley says. 866-406-1830; familysearch.org/locations/saltlakecity-library

National Archives
Washington, D.C.
The federal government’s extensive files provide a motherlode of information for family research. From military to maritime, to land and pension documents, they all can help piece together a family tree, Utley says. It’s also one of the best places for Native American family information. 866-272-6272; archives.gov/research/genealogy/

Ellis Island
New York
Many families trace their history to Ellis Island, the first stop in the country for more than 20 million Americans, Utley says. “You can look for people and passenger lists, and it’s also about understanding the experience that your immigrant ancestors experienced.” Because of damage from Hurricane Sandy, the park and museum are open on a limited basis, so check before visiting. 212-363-3200; nps.gov/elis

Heritage Library Foundation
Hilton Head, S.C.
The center focuses on local history and culture, including African- American research materials that date from before the Civil War, Utley says. The library contains resources such as plantation and smugglers’ records. “It’s really a different picture of America,” Utley says. 843-686-6560; heritagelib.org

New England Historic Genealogical Society
The nation’s first family-history society dates to 1845 and contains more than 12 million documents, manuscripts, records, books, microfilms, photographs and other artifacts dating to the 14th century. Visitors can book an appointment with and hire an on-site genealogist to help with research. Many families can find information here. “If you have roots that have been in America for a long time, you’re going to have come through New England,” Utley says.

Newberry Library
Utley wrote a book about using the resources at this renowned research repository, founded in 1887. There are materials from across the country, but it’s especially good for regional research. “They specialize in local history,” she says. “They look at churches of all the denominations, and church records in family-history research are really important.” 312-943-9090; newberry.org

Family history cruise
You can learn how to trace your family tree on the high seas on a variety of family-history cruises, Utley says. Trips usually feature top genealogists and provide a chance to meet others who are piecing together their pasts. The trips are also a way to learn about the latest research tools and resources. One company, UnlockthePastCruises.com, specializes in genealogy trips, and Cecruisegroups.com also plans one for 2014.

Local experts in Poland can help plan a family-research trip, booking hotels, arranging transportation and perhaps finding a living relative. “These people already know where to find records in each town and can get you in and facilitate and help you find places easier,” Utley says. polishgen.com

Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
If your roots lie in the West, this Houston public library research center should be on your itinerary, Utley says. “You’re going to get Wild West and Mexican border stuff.” But the library, one of the nation’s most extensive for family research, also has information for every state, along with 100,000 books and 70,000 rolls of microfilm. 

Lodge at Doonbeg
This five-star resort in County Clare on the Atlantic coast has an on-site genealogist to help guests track down their Irish family roots. “He might be able to help you find the ancestral village or an ancestral home,” Utley says. She notes that many people have a connection to Ireland, the second- most-common family ancestry in the USA.

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