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March 5, 2010

Now comes genealogical tourism! Going to one's grandparents' parents' place

     Washington: Genealogical tourism is redefining leisure travel market, says a University of Illinois travel expert. U of I recreation, sport and tourism professor Carla Santos explains: "Genealogical tourism provides an irreplaceable dimension of material reality that's missing from our post-modern society." According to co-author and U of I graduate student Grace Yan, going back to the old church where one's great grandparents used to worship in rural Ireland, or buying a loaf of bread from a grocery store in a Greek village where one's grandmother lived, create a significant space to imagine and feel life as a form of continuation. The research also says genealogical tourism is popular because we live in a world where mediated, inauthentic experiences have become such inseparable part of our everyday lives that we're almost unaware of it. Santos says: "Genealogical tourism capitalizes on this by allowing individuals to experience the sensuous charms of antiquity, and provides a way of experiencing something eternal and authentic that transcends the present." In academic analyses of the 1980s and early 1990s, tourism was seen an escape from the reality of the workaday world. Today, scholars approach travel and tourism in a much more complex and nuanced fashion, the authors point out. Santos says: "We believe that movement is due partly to the increasing sociological awareness of the post-industrial society that we currently live in. "With tourism studies developing a more sophisticated interpretative paradigm, more meanings of tourism have been discussed in academia, including the hunt for exoticism and experiencing nostalgia." "According to our research, the baby boomer generation now constitutes the primary profile of genealogical travelers," Yan says. "Aging plays an important role in defining a person's choice of tourism, and genealogical travel is contemporary society's way of attaining a more coherent and continuous, albeit imagined, view of ourselves in connection with the past." According to Santos: "Diaspora definitely plays an important role in popularizing genealogical tourism," Santos said. "Individual cultural and ethnic identities exist in fragmented and discontinuous forms in the U.S. Traveling to identify with an unknown past seems to give existence to meanings and values that the individual then carries forward on into their present." Since diaspora is a ubiquitous condition in our multicultural country, "our ancestors' past seems less retrievable and almost mythical," Yan says. Santos adds: "A lot of us may feel that there's a tension between the need to feel connected and the need to be individualistic. "Genealogical travel gives us a practical way to explore those feelings and move toward a deeper understanding of our identities." "Not only does it help to mitigate the desires and anxieties about our age, genealogical tourism also encourages us to take a more humanistic approach toward issues of belonging, home, heritage and identity," she said. The study has appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Travel Research.
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