Places to visit may include the Museum of Native American History. Special to The Commercial/Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
A Helena Welcome Center official greets visitors. Special to The Commercial/Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
Traveling to explore one’s roots has a long lasting impact, according to an expert.
“Genealogy travel is all about human connections,” said Jeanne Rollberg, who is on the board of both the Arkansas Genealogical Society and Friends of the Arkansas State Archives. “It’s the best type of family-oriented customized travel. It involves personal family research, followed up by visiting the historic places in locales of our ancestors, and then seeing where they personally lived, worked, attended church or civic activities, and sometimes viewing their final resting places.”
Rollberg said the benefits of this type of travel are long reaching.
“Our ancestors’ travel, especially the immigrants’ voyages, were risky and life-changing,” she said. “If we travel to where they lived, we often stumble into meeting actual new relatives or connect with experts in the local area who can show us new clues and resources, too. This way of traveling is a natural in The Natural State since so much DNA research is now being done.”
Rollberg said people inherently want to understand their heritage fully. When they stand where their ancestors stood, they understand more about their own DNA and those that came before. An extra benefit is that they learn more about Arkansas and American history itself.
“Arkansas is scenic and a terrific place for genealogy travel because the state has invested in heritage tourism development and showcasing local historic sites related to our forebears,” she said. “It has diverse heritage featuring the accomplishments of African Americans, Native Americans, and all kinds of immigrant settlers.”
Rollberg said the entire state is prime for genealogy travel. Arkansans and travelers alike can visit research facilities such as the Arkansas State Archives in Little Rock. Local libraries, including the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, host genealogy lock-ins. During these types of events, libraries are open after hours to help those interested in family research. Also available are publications targeting genealogy travel. Literature highlighting historic cemeteries in Arkansas’s Delta region and other areas of the state are available through local chambers of commerce or visitors’ bureaus.
“There is an active Arkansas Genealogical Society that supports this type of travel and wants to promote it, especially connected to the critical family research component,” said Rollberg. “A wonderful thing is that this kind of travel can be done 365 days a year in all 75 Arkansas counties, so it’s virtually unlimited.”
More than 200 family reunions take place each year in Arkansas, bringing family history to the forefront. If one is interested in a genealogy venture, Rollberg said to customize and plan carefully to maximize the travels. She said determine ahead of time the open hours of libraries, archives, and historical societies because they typically have limited hours. Another tip is to create Google Maps showing locations one knows about ahead of time to maximize time on the ground.
“Plan for genealogy travel to take a little longer than it might because unexpected opportunities often crop up,” she said. “Missing those could diminish the overall experience. Allow a little wiggle room.”
A genealogy venture also has the potential for one to come away with a profound and enduring experience.
“When you listen carefully to people who have pursued genealogy travel in their vacations or tacked it onto business travel, you hear stories about personal transformations in their voices,” she said. “You can sense their satisfaction, their deep pride in their families, their sorrows when they have learned about family tragedies or their joy in solving family research mysteries. It’s heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye, mind-to-mind travel that doesn’t end when the physical journey does. All travel broadens our horizons and typically reduces prejudices, but this kind of connection adventure enriches the travelers and brings forebears back to life to shine again. The DNA circle is closed. All’s right with the world.”
For details on historic places to visit in Arkansas, check out Arkansas.com. For further details on Arkansas genealogy, visit the Arkansas Genealogical Society at agsgenealogy.org.
— Zoie Clift is a travel writer with the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.