Walking tours – virtual and in-person – give you the opportunity to walk where your ancestors walked and connect through stories and history.
I am a traveller, and I love nothing better than to find local walking tour companies offering unique tours of their city. It’s a great way to learn about the local culture and history from enthusiastic guides. My husband and I have done food walking tours (these are our favorite – Yum!), history tours (of course!) and even architectural walking tours.
Recently, I was able to participate in a live virtual walking tour of Prague, Czech Republic. The country may still be closed to visitors due to the pandemic, but I feel like I’ve been.
Specifically, the 60 minute tour was of the Jewish Quarter in Prague and was hosted by Prague City Adventures and #VisitCzechRepublic. As we walked the streets of Prague with our guide Nikola, I recognized the implications for genealogy and family research were huge.
Stick with me. I’m taking you on an adventure.
Why a Walking Tour For a Genealogy Researcher?
The short answer: Social History.
Understanding cultural, political and economic circumstances surrounding our ancestors helps us as researchers and family historians find and connect deeper with our ancestors. [Learn more about using social history in your genealogy research in Use Social History in Genealogy Research – Telling Your Ancestors’ Stories.]
Walking tours may be in a small group or on a more personal or individual basis. And yes, they can be done quite well virtually. My favorite part of a walking tour is being able to connect with locals and learn more about a guide’s culture in an easy going way. Questions can easily be asked in real time.
When I had the opportunity to tour the Jewish Quarter of Prague – one of my bucket list cities to visit – I jumped at it.
A Virtual Walking Tour Through a Genealogist’s Eyes
Meet my tour guide Nikola! [She’s fabulous!]
A walking tour through Prague’s Jewish Quarter gives us an opportunity to see what our ancestors may have seen as they walked the streets of their town. To smell the smells and hear the same sounds. Even virtually, you can hear the sounds of the busy city and see the same views and buildings your ancestors saw each time they walked down the street.
From a research point of view, getting a sense of the distance and proximity of housing, places of worship and shopping adds to the understanding of an ancestor’s daily life.
Our tour guide was even able to share a photograph of what the Jewish Quarter looked during WWII and other pertinent photos throughout the tour helps make the connection to the past. As researchers and seekers of family history we start to understand a bit what life for our ancestors was like. To be able to tell an ancestor’s story fully, we must understand the life they led.
One of our virtual tour stops was the Maisel Synagogue which served the Jewish population of Prague as early as the 1590’s. During World War II, the synagogue was used to store the properties of the Jewish communities. Today it serves as a museum documenting Czech Jewish history. It’s a definite must-see on my – I mean your! – list!
Small things we as tourists on our own might miss are pointed out by local tour guides. Our Prague guide Nikola pointed out the Stumbling Stones embedded in the sidewalks of the old Jewish Quarter. I was unfamiliar these, yet their relevance to one’s family history could be immense.
Stumbling stones or stolpersteine can be found throughout Europe. Artist Gunther Demnig made it his mission to not let the future generations forget those who were victims of the Nazis during World War II. Stumbling stones are small brass plagues embedded in the sidewalk in front of their “last residence of choice”.
The stumbling stones put each individual in time and place and tell their story. The above example is the stumbling stone for Max Eckstein. His birth in 1896 and deportation to Lodz in 1941 with the word “murdered” tell a powerful story.
Why stumbling stones? Jewish custom holds that a person dies twice. Once, when their body dies and a second time when their name is forgotten. Stumbling stones keep these individuals known.
Sir Nicholas Winton: Hero To Nicky’s Children
Sir Nicholas Winton of the United Kingdom is a true hero and humanitarian saving 669 Czech children during World War II. Winton found homes for 669 children – most of them Jewish – in Britain by the eve of the second world war. Many if not most of the Czech children lost their parents to the Holocaust and continued to live and grow up in England. The video from BBC show That’s Life 1988 shares more about their story.
Learning the Social History of Ancestors in a New Way
Why do I share my experience of the walking tour?
Walking where your ancestors walked is part of your genealogy research. As genealogy researchers, we must understand the the intricacies of our ancestors’ lives to be able to document them and share their stories. For many the existence of stumbling stones throughout the Czech Republic and Euorpe represent one of the few ways to document a Nazi victim’s life.
Do we have to travel to our ancestor’s home country to benefit from a local tour? To learn local cultrual nuances? No. Being able to participate in person is the ultimate experience, and we will be able to get back to that eventually, but in the meantime, virtual walking tours are quite easy and accessible to all.
I challenge you to find and participate in a walking tour in the location where your ancestors lived. Maybe it’s here in the U. S. or in another country like the Czech Republic.