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Journal of Heritage Tourism

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Seeking roots and tracing lineages: constructing a

framework of reference for roots and genealogical

Gregory Higginbotham

To cite this article: Gregory Higginbotham (2012) Seeking roots and tracing lineages: constructing
a framework of reference for roots and genealogical tourism, Journal of Heritage Tourism, 7:3,
189-203, DOI: 10.1080/1743873X.2012.669765

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Published online: 10 Apr 2012.

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Journal of Heritage Tourism
Vol. 7, No. 3, August 2012, 189 203

Seeking roots and tracing lineages: constructing a framework of

reference for roots and genealogical tourism
Gregory Higginbotham

Applied Health Sciences, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

(Received 24 August 2011; nal version received 17 February 2012)

Travel for the purpose of seeking roots, or roots tourism, is understood to be focused on
the descendants of a diaspora living in contemporary multicultural societies and
travelling to ancestral homelands in search of identity and belongingness. It is an
almost negligible niche segment of heritage tourism due to an obscure amalgam of
contextual concepts. The primary purpose of this review is to construct a conceptual
framework of reference based on sociological and psychological literatures
concerning identity and belongingness. This framework is then employed to
synthesize contributions to roots tourism from scholars both within and beyond
tourism studies. On the basis of a unique conceptual overlap with seeking roots,
travel for the purpose of tracing lineages, or genealogical tourism, by diasporic
descendants is concisely discussed with respect to tourism scholarship. It is
recommended that researchers in tourism studies systematically develop the
contributions of this review by continuing to draw from established disciplines and
closely aligned elds of study.
Keywords: identity; belongingness; diaspora; ancestry; roots; genealogy

Human beings are, and always have been, mobile beings. The theme of mobility has long
been acknowledged by social scientists as visible in the phenomena of exploration, trade,
migration, displacement, exile, expatriation, travel and journeying. It has been only in
the last decade, or approximately at the turn of the twenty-rst century, that scholars
have endeavoured to explore the relationship between the eld of tourism studies and
the study of mobilities in other disciplines. One of the most compelling outcomes of this
effort is the focus placed on the interplay of tourism, migration and diasporas (see Coles
& Timothy, 2004a). The research undertaken on this nexus has signicantly eased the tran-
sition into examining themes and issues that confront present and future studies of tourism.
Two themes worth examination are the practices of seeking roots and tracing lineages.
Before such an examination commences, there is an issue that needs to be confronted.
Travel for roots is believed to be a niche segment that pervades the heritage tourism litera-
ture (Timothy, 2008). Yet, it is one of the least understood elements of heritage tourism
(Timothy, 2008, p. 116) because the concepts that contextualize the subject are obscure
in meaning and signicance. As a novice researcher in the area of roots tourism, the


ISSN 1743-873X print/ISSN 1747-6631 online

# 2012 Taylor & Francis
190 G. Higginbotham

author came to realize that there was scarce tourism literature available from which to draw
for conceptual clarication. The primary purpose of this review is to construct a conceptual
framework of reference based on the literature in sociology and psychology concerning
identity and belongingness. This framework is then employed to synthesize contributions
from scholars in anthropology, geography, sociology and tourism studies and to open the
sociological imagination (Mills, 1959) towards a connection between the public
issues of (post)modern society and the personal troubles or existential preoccupations
of a growing number of diasporic descendants in search of identity and belongingness.
This line of conceptual thought on identity and belongingness is maintained as the
subject matter shifts to a concise discussion of research conducted by tourism scholars
on the practice of tracing lineages or genealogy.
It is advised that the practices of seeking roots and tracing lineages not be perceived as
two dichotomous or completely distinct entities. Nor are these two practices to be treated as
one and the same thing. Travel for the purposes of both seeking roots and tracing lineages is
focused on the descendants of a diaspora who live in contemporary multicultural societies.
The context of each is predominately centred on, but not limited to, the New World or post-
colonial settler societies of no ancient claim (Basu, 2004b, p. 39; e.g. Canada, the USA,
Australia and New Zealand). Both have emerged as separate areas of tourism that, jointly,
broaden the scope of return visits, travels and migrations by diasporic communities. The
leisure interests of roots-seeking tourists and genealogy-tracing tourists generally include
engagements with family history, visits to personal heritage sites and general heritage
attractions, organized ancestral heritage tours and attendance at special events, festivals,
ceremonies and family gatherings or reunions (Basu, 2007; Timothy, 2008). The main
difference between roots-seeking tourists and genealogy-tracing tourists is the latters
participation in the activity of genealogy for the purpose of producing a material or tangible
heritage resource (i.e. family trees, family history book, scrapbook or website). Further-
more, the genealogy-tracing tourist is not one who necessarily travels to an ancestral
homeland, as is almost always the case with roots-seeking tourists. Founded upon what
is known at present, an individual is a roots-seeking tourist, a genealogy-tracing tourist
or a roots-seeking tourist who takes up the activity of genealogy and thus becomes a
genealogy-tracing tourist.

Self- and identity-formation

Rather than referring to the self and identity as things that just arbitrarily are, it is sufcient
to draw attention to the process of self- and identity-formation. Understanding this process
of formation prompts a discussion of the work of George Herbert Mead, whose symbolic
interactionist approach expanded and enhanced the contributions to social theory of
William James and Charles Horton Cooley and on the whole established much of the
groundwork for current thinking on the self and identity (Stets & Burke, 2009). In Mind,
self, and society, Mead (1934) found the mind to emerge and develop out of experience
with its social environment. The mind, as an embodied cognitive mechanism, is described
in a sociological manner by Jenkins (2008) as the sum of our organized processes of
consciousness, communication and decision-making (p. 52). It is through the internal
processes of the mind and external symbolic interactions with the social environment
that human beings begin to see themselves as objects and initiate actions with other physical
and social objects. Meanings evolve through social construction and interaction, between
a minimum of two individuals, in a succession from the unconscious communication of
symbolic gestures to the conscious communication of language. The development of
Journal of Heritage Tourism 191

language, acknowledged in its contemporary form as a formal system of complex com-

munication, becomes the communicator of signicant symbols or vocal gestures that
permits an individual to respond and be responded to. To experience another persons
response is what Mead regarded as taking the attitude or taking the position of the
other. In his distinction between the I and the Me, Mead identied the Me as an
object of consciousness that appears in social experiences with others. The I is an acting
or processual subject that functions in response to the attitudes of others and appears
indirectly when previous social experiences are considered retrospectively. This reexive
process of becoming both subject and object is what gives rise to consciousness of the
self (Stets & Burke, 2009).
Meads discursive perspective continues with individuals who experience an internal
dialogue between the I and the Me from the generalized perspective of other members of
their social group or from a wide variety of social groups. The generalized other, as
Mead named it, is embodied in the Me and succeeds in internalizing a complex structured
society of roles (Stets & Burke, 2009). In order to explain the performative aspect of roles,
McCall and Simmons (1966) integrated both the I and the Me to formulate the concept of a
role identity, dened as the character and the role that an individual devises for himself as
an occupant of a particular social position (p. 65). The social positions that may also form
the basis for identities include sociodemographic characteristics, social types of people and
even character or personality traits (Thoits & Virshup, 1997). Contrary to the situational
approach of traditional symbolic interactionism that views society as a relatively undiffer-
entiated, cooperative whole (Stryker & Serpe, 1982, p. 206), Stryker (1980) presented an
observation of society as stable in the patterns of behaviour that, over time and across
populations, have created a complexly differentiated yet organized structure of groups,
organizations, communities and institutions. These patterned social arrangements signify
that the self and identity are complexly differentiated and organized too (Stryker &
Serpe, 1982). Therefore, they are social products that are formed and maintained through
interaction with others, located in socially recognizable categories and afrmed or nego-
tiated by means of self-presentation (Burke & Reitzes, 1981). Moreover, the self-meanings
and hierarchical salience of identities exist only in relation to the similarities and differences
of other related, complimentary or counter identities (Burke & Reitzes, 1981; Jenkins,
2008; Stryker, 1980).
Much of what has been discussed up to this point comprises a succinct introduction to
a structural symbolic interactionist orientation to identity theory. Ultimately, a nal note
of clarication ought to be given to the relationship between the self and identity: the
former is a reexive phenomenon that develops in symbolic social interaction; the
latter refers to the meanings an individual attributes to the self through situational inter-
action with others in a role performance. To be clear, as part of its symbolic relationship
with a plethora of others, the self has a set of multiple identities for each of the roles or
positions held. These multiple identities are, in sum, the dramaturgical realization
(Goffman, 1959) of a process of internal denition and external denition by others in
a structured society that is constantly in motion (Jenkins, 2008; Stryker, 1980). The per-
formance of multiple identities, particularly in a modern society, results in a widespread
expression of uncertainty concerning the degree to which there is a sense of stability,
coherence and continuity of the self and identity over time and a meaningful connection
of belongingness between individual identity and collective identities (Berger, Berger, &
Kellner, 1974; Giddens, 1991). The manifestation of such sentiments in modern society
necessitates not only explanation but also exposure to the critical responses posed by
postmodern theorists.
192 G. Higginbotham

Self, identity and (post)modernity

In the historical moments prior to the early modern era, traditional societies were believed to
be relatively stable, identities were ascribed in standard ways and the self was dened by a
meaningful cosmic order (Howard, 2000; Taylor, 1989). Towards the close of the Age of
Enlightenment in Western Europe, a certain set of attitudes and ideas led to views of the
world as something open to transformation by human intervention. The social conditions
became deluged with a complex of economic institutions including industrial production,
capitalism and a market economy, political institutions such as the nation-state and mass
democracy, and strong ideologies of individualism. Though not all cultures were impacted
by modernization in exactly the same ways, modern institutions were among some of the
most dynamic agents of change in human history (Giddens, 1991). The temporal depth
and spatial breadth of these macro-social transformations, especially evident in the phenom-
enon of globalization, began to affect populations and their identity embeddings as well as
the social structures in which these populations were originally embedded (Howard, 2000).
Habermas (1984) acquired an understanding from Meadian theory that everyday
communicative encounters occur in a taken-for-granted shared lifeworld. Knowledge of
presence in this lifeworld allows for shared understandings of accord and discord and the
construction of individual identity and collective identities. Parallel to Habermas position
on the modern rationalization of lifeworlds, Berger et al. (1974) understood the (re)con-
struction of the self as being highly subject to the dialectic between the subjective lifeworld
and the social lifeworld. With individuals in modern society becoming conscious of their
existence in a plurality of lifeworlds, precisely between the worlds of private (subjective)
life and public (social) life, it is the mobility between these lifeworlds that has important
manifestations on identities. Above all, it makes them open-ended, transitory and liable
to be affected by the strains of ongoing and unyielding social transformations (Berger
et al., 1974). As modernity renders the self and identity indenite, ephemeral and
susceptible to change, it is the pervasive sense of uncertainty as an outcome that predisposes
a fervid search for stability, coherence, continuity and meaningful belongingness.
The abstraction of modernity rests upon the institutional processes that, on the level of
social life, weaken the cohesive, stable and supportive communities in which humans once
found continuity and belongingness. In a paradoxical way, the individualism that character-
izes the transition into modern society is marked by an embrace of freedom and autonomy
and a lament over diminished collective belongingness (Berger, 1977). Regardless of the
positive and negative dynamics of this movement towards liberation, the social changes
of modernity convey an aperture with reference to how individuals make choices and
decisions, understand their rights and control the shape of their lives. In effect, the role
structure of a rationalized society allows for more roles than what was available in the
past and a persistent sense of uncertainty about which roles to select or decide upon
(Frank & Meyer, 2002). Durkheim (1893/1964) spoke of these changes in society when
he became aware of a collectively shared belief in individualism as a new secular morality,
a cult of the individual. He did not, however, view the complex social structures of
modernity as ushering in an atomized or egoistic individualism (i.e. alienation or isolation),
by which glorication is to be found in a private self. This privatized sphere of the self, in
which a real, authentic or true identity of the individual is believed to be lodged, may have
nothing glorious to offer except tenuous and limited identity-afrming processes. In simpler
terms, the private self is just as subject to social construction as the public self (Berger,
1977). Yet, there remains a cultural belief that this private self exists separately from
social interactions and as a key ingredient for life mastery (Baumeister, 1997).
Journal of Heritage Tourism 193

By way of his analyses of the self in social interaction, Simmel (1908/1991) understood
modern human beings to be subject to two normative requirements: (1) to develop a unique
and differentiated personality and (2) to nd social recognition for this uniqueness (Nedel-
mann, 1991). The inuence of this ethical standard guiding human interaction in all spheres
of modern society (Nedelmann, 1991, p. 179) can be gathered from Riesmans (1950)
other-directed social character, who progressively nds itself in modication among shift-
ing group patterns, pressures for approval and increasing measures of conformity. In an
inuential commentary on social developments in the twentieth century, Lasch (1979)
posited a preoccupation with the self (p. xv) in modern American society as giving rise
to a narcissistic personality. Corresponding to the ideas of Durkheim, Simmel and
Riesman, a narcissistic personality is less about hedonistic egoism and more about the own-
ership of a fragile sense of self that anxiously requires validation by others. There is, con-
ceivably, an overwhelming expectation for people in modern society to construct
identities that ought to be recognized and validated through an ever-changing series of
social interactions (Baumeister, 1997). Moreover, the juxtaposition between uniqueness
and differentiation brings about the expression of uncertainty with regard to how people
experience themselves as (a) essentially the same person from one situation to the next
and over time and (b) a unique and integrated person who is consistently different from,
as well as related to, other unique persons in their social environment (McAdams, 1996).
Existential dilemmas in modern society are inclined to be viewed as analogous to the
identity crisis that typies the transformative and perplexing environment of the adoles-
cent. Eriksons (1956) seminal work on the development of identity over the life course
draws much inspiration from a Freudian understanding of the self as ambivalent, and in
effect, his arguments present contemporary society as trying to make adolescents of us
all (Weigert, Teitge, & Teitge, 1986, p. 8). More importantly, Erikson conceptualized
the identity crisis as a critical developmental period that is intimately tied to historical
and cultural changes occurring in modern society. As an example, Baumeister (1997) dis-
cussed a pivotal social change or shift in the modern era that completely altered the role of
the self: the loss of a moral consensus. The replacement of traditional value bases with the
self as a value base is premised on the notion that the latter supplies morality, value and
meaning to life. Even as the idealist aggrandizes the self for these conceived capabilities,
the pragmatist may consider this aggrandizement as liable to lead modern people back to
the dilemmas and crises that they so avidly seek to avoid (Baumeister, 1997).
The sociological and psychological perspectives that underpin a modern conguration
of the self are in stark contrast to the sociological and psychological perspectives of a
postmodern treatment of the self. Over the last 40 years or so, a new and different set of
transformations have been guiding the social condition into a state of reconstitution. An
assortment of descriptors and terms are used by social theorists to represent these transform-
ations, for instance: postindustrial society, expansion of the international economy, consu-
mer society, proliferation of global communications and technologies, and mass media
society. In conjunction with these transformations has been the development of postmodern
critiques on foundationalism. An early anti-foundational stand on the modern self is taken
by poststructural theorist Foucault (1980), who understood discourse as a system of
representation that is linked with power and the production of knowledge. The self is
constructed in dialogue with the different discourses present in society and adopts the
subject positions provided by discursive practices (Hall, 1997). The self can also be por-
trayed as a diverse melange of insubstantiality in the Baudrillardian sense (viz., images
and simulations) and no longer a modern entity of substantiality (Gubrium & Holstein,
1994). Gergen (1991) argued that new communication technologies of social saturation
194 G. Higginbotham

in the postmodern era inuence the fragmented or fractured self by presenting it with a mul-
tiplicity of incoherent, unstable and eeting relationships. The onset of this condition of
multiphrenia causes identities to be continuously emergent, re-formed, and redirected
as one moves through the sea of ever-changing relationships . . . [and] a teeming world
of provisional possibilities (p. 139). This array of possibilities for constructing the self
leaves it lacking, or possessing little sense of, a real, authentic or true identity. The
centred modern self is to be likened to the anchoring device or metaphor that exemplies
the decentred postmodern self (Kuentzel, 2000). This is not to suggest that contemporary
individuals accept ambivalence and do not ask questions. Oddly enough, the postmodern
enigma of identity or the self (Elliott, 2001, p. 147) concerns the remarkable comfort and
tolerance with which these individuals live in the absence of a universalistic explanation, a
claim to truth and a stable ground on which to drop an anchor (Bauman, 1997; Elliott,
Theories of postmodern self and identity ought not to be considered a negative modi-
cation of theories of modern self and identity. Nor shall the recency of theories of postmo-
dernity be conceived as overshadowing or replacing theories of modernity. In the words of
Elliott (2001), it will not do . . . to dene the self as either modern, late modern, or postmo-
dern. For one can see a formidable mixture of such identities at work everywhere (p. 151).
On account of this observation, the link between the self, narratives and identity merits con-
sideration given that narratives are the means by which individual identity and collective
identities are constructed, embedded and framed. Specically, the temporal dimension of
narratives is worth drawing attention to because of its interesting relationship with coher-
ence and continuity of the self and identity.

Self, narratives and identity

There are a notable number of theorists (e.g. Cohler, 1982; Giddens, 1991; Kerby, 1991;
McAdams, 1996; Sarbin, 1986) who have advocated in favour of MacIntyres (1981) phil-
osophy of how natural it is to think of social life through a narrative conguration. It is at the
level of the individual that reexivity of the self portrays humans as self-narrating organ-
isms (Kerby, 1991). To revisit the relationship between the I and the Me once more,
Sarbin (1986) referred to the I as the author of a process that subjectively receives responses
from others and constructs stories of the Me. The stories of the Me are the result of the
ongoing changes occurring in this I-ing process, and so the Me comes to represent the pro-
tagonist of stories one tells oneself, and others, about oneself. This reexive dialogue
between the I and the Me is the collaborative process behind the self as a narrative construc-
tion (Sarbin, 1986). A self-narrative then is the intersubjective development of stories that,
as Cohler (1982) argued, signies an internalized interpretation of a presently understood
and reconstructed past, an experienced present and an anticipated future congured into
an intelligible order and a coherent whole.
While the I maintains a sense of similarity, the Me carries a sense of difference. It is the
sense of possessing multiple social selves and identities that causes temporal continuity to
be particularly challenging in modern society (Weigert et al., 1986). The diffusion of the
individual in this regard signies an involvement in multiple identity-forming self-
narratives. Giddens (1991) reexive project of the self addresses the search for temporal
continuity in the self and identity through the construction of rst-person biographical nar-
ratives. Given that the individual (re)constructs the self in everyday life and over the course
of an entire life, the narratives require the understanding and reconstructing of events of the
remembered past as well as continuous revision in the present and in light of what is
Journal of Heritage Tourism 195

anticipated for an organized future. The project is a form of life-planning devoid of charting
a life course from the beginning to the end. Instead the trajectory of the project is directed at
self-development and self-actualization, thereby employed to make choices and decisions
regarding future possible lifestyles and identities. Furthermore, this project proposes to
contend against the threats of existential doubt and personal meaninglessness and to
seize the opportunities of ontological security and a meaningful life (Giddens, 1991).
McAdams (1996, 2001) life-story model, though sharing similarities with Giddens
reexive project, is an adaptation of dramaturgical and literary concepts in conjunction
with major themes in psychology. He established that nding coherence and continuity
in the self and identity is a cultural expectation that, for many modern men and women,
begins in late adolescence and early adulthood (see Erikson, 1956). The structure of his
model is opposed to being a single, large and unproblematic narrative that provides individ-
ual lives with absolute coherence and continuity. The aim is, rather, to be inclusive of a mul-
tiplicity of ever-changing selves and identities that are integrated synchronically and
diachronically into a broadly framed, continuously evolving and individually unique life
story (McAdams, 1996, 2001). Throughout much of his research, McAdams remained cog-
nizant of postmodern scepticism and indifference (e.g. Gergen, 1991), especially of the
nature by which their claims to dissolution, exibility and indeterminacy negate the func-
tion of an integrative meta-narrative as a means to nding coherence and continuity in life.
Nevertheless, postmodern approaches to the self and identity retain a steadfast belief in the
importance of narratives (McAdams, 2001).
These self-narratives, either as a reexive project or as a life story, are nested within
external narratives (Gergen & Gergen, 1983). The latter contributes substantially to the pos-
sibilities and limitations placed on the self-narrator or life storyteller. From a cultural stand-
point, an external narrative is constructed and told within the paradigms of intelligibility
specic to a culture. It is subject to the norms, values, rules and traditions that prevail in
the given time and space. The contents and meanings of narratives cannot be separated
from inherited narratives of the past, narrative genres or structures, and the particular
language used (Kerby, 1991; McAdams, 2001). The extent to which the content and mean-
ings of narratives are sustained over time and across space depends upon the people who are
afforded, or constrained, the opportunity to selectively choose and interpret the appropriate
and meaningful aspects of their life both for themselves and for others. In my ways,
narratives are accepted or rejected in accordance with divisions of race, gender and class
and patterns of economic, political and cultural hegemony (McAdams, 1996, 2001).
From a historical standpoint, external narratives lay the foundation for the self-narrator
or life storyteller and members of a group to (re)construct individual identity and collective
identities. To utilize the words of Hall (1990), identities are the names we give to the differ-
ent ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past
(p. 225). Hall (1990) intended to suggest that humans are historically emerging being[s]
(Gergen & Gergen, 1983, p. 255), a notion of which is elaborated upon by Kerby (1991):

Indeed, much of our self-narrating is a matter of becoming conscious of the narratives that we
already live with and in . . . It seems true to say that we have already been narrated from a third-
person perspective prior to our even gaining the competence for self-narration. Such external
narratives will understandably set up expectations and constraints on our personal self-descrip-
tions, and they signicantly contribute to the material from which our own narratives are
derived. (p. 6)

Narratives of the past, which are generally constructed and told orally by others, have a
substantial inuence on the positioning of individual identity and collective identities. If the
196 G. Higginbotham

narratives encompass a migratory movement away from a location of origin, their spatial
temporal organization changes markedly. Not only do the self and identity adopt the histori-
cal narrative of a new territorial space, but the self and identity remain spatially temporally
extended to the historical narrative of a territory of origin. Even though that specic time
and space may only survive in memory, myth or nostalgia, it is the transfer of those
memories, myths and nostalgic thoughts into narratives that can be meaningful for gener-
ations of family members who after some time become preoccupied with questions of their
identity, home and belongingness.

Tourism of the diaspora: a foreword

Past contributions to the area of diaspora tourism (Coles & Timothy, 2004a) ought not be
overlooked and undervalued for assembling the conceptual framework of the two types of
tourism that are soon to be discussed. To extract from the literature on this topic, a diaspora
is a population scattered across different nation-states that commonly identies, as a nation
or ethnic group, with a geographical location of origin. Privileging of this myth of a
common origin (Cohen, 1997, p. 184) in the construction of identity also means privileging
essentialist myths of race, ethnicity and culture. Primordiality, the concept that underpins
these myths, gives identities the opportunity to cross borders and boundaries of different
nation-states and form racial, ethnic and cultural commonalities and solidarities at the trans-
national level (Anthias, 1998). The interstitial diasporic condition of being from one place
and of another has garnered considerable attention from tourism scholars interested in the
consumption and experiences of tourism by diasporic communities (Anthias, 1998; Coles
& Timothy, 2004a). Studies of return visits (Duval, 2003), ethnic reunions, visits to friends
and relatives (King, 1994), and return migrations (Feng & Page, 2000) have all assisted in
bringing awareness to dualities in the notions of identity, home and belonging. As both an
offshoot and a concomitant development of diaspora tourism theory, roots tourism takes
these notions into a slightly different realm of conceptual thought by presenting travel as
a route (i.e. a reversal of diasporic routes) towards the roots (Clifford, 1997) of an original
ancestral homeland.

Seeking roots through tourism: a synthesis of research

Roots tourism was recently dened as travel to ancestral homelands for purposes such as
leisure, visiting family and relatives, discovering the culture of the ancestral society, and
searching for ones roots and identity without the intention of permanent settlement or
work-related purposes (Maruyama, Weber, & Stronza, 2010, p. 1). A research article on
ethnic tourism by King (1994) is arguably the rst work by a tourism scholar to approach
the subject of travel motivated by the exploration of family histories and ancestral roots.
Timothys (1997) conceptual contribution to the tourism literature assisted in guiding the
concept of roots travel from scant scholarly acknowledgement to adequate scholarly inter-
est. He alleged that millions of people worldwide travel both domestically and internation-
ally to experience heritage at the personal level. Timothy (1997) understood the personal
heritage experience, by way of the assertions of Lowenthal (1975), to be about connecting
to a past that offers stability and continuity in the modern age. In addition, Lowenthal
(1975) expressed how the assault of modernity on heritage sites and historic relics nurtures
peoples sense of nostalgia for the past and, in turn, causes there to be more of an appreci-
ation for familial legacy and a desire to search for roots.
Journal of Heritage Tourism 197

The combination of multiple personal heritage experiences is a direct path to the collec-
tive heritage experience. This type of heritage experience can be observed through return
visits to formal natal homelands by ethnic groups and diasporic communities scattered
all over the world (Coles & Timothy, 2004b). Both Stephenson (2002) and Duval (2003)
studied self-ascribed members of diasporic communities who periodically and temporarily
sojourned in the homeland. Stephensons (2002) ethnographic study of the Afro-Caribbean
community of Moss Side (Manchester, UK) sought to reveal, interpret and analyse the
personal meanings that rst- and second-generation members of this community attached
to visiting the ancestral homeland. The ndings exhibited how desires to travel to the
ancestral homeland were prevalent among the community, even to the extent of fullling
a dream or fantasy for those who never had the opportunity to travel there. The fundamental
need to (re)connect with a displaced heritage and to search for roots was seemingly inu-
enced by subconscious or emotional reactions. Although some of these visits were found to
have occurred because of familial commitments and obligations, as well as encouragement
by family matriarchs to maintain social ties, many of them were believed to be much
more voluntary and personal (Basu, 2007; Stephenson, 2002). Several of the responses,
in concurrence with the ndings of Basu (2001, 2004a, 2005), were replete with religious
metaphors (e.g. pilgrimage), expressions of spirituality and sacredness, and a common
unwillingness to perceive oneself or be perceived as a foreign tourist.
These studies in tourism may suggest, though not necessarily in a direct manner, that
living in complex and issue-laden multicultural (post)modern societies leads to reexive
questioning and a problematization regarding the certainty of an externally (pre)determined
or collectively ascribed identity (Basu, 2007; Tilley, 2006). To suppress the uncertainty,
doubt or inability to secure a foothold in identity, these individuals may, during a fateful
moment (Giddens, 1991) of transition in their lives, turn to the opportunities of travel
and the ontological moorings of a collective identity, time and space (Basu, 2004b;
Louie, 2001; Wang, 1999). The modern attitude towards identity supports it as being situ-
ated in a stationary point, a physical home, in which one best knows oneself, where ones
self-identity is best grounded (Rapport & Dawson, 1998, p. 21) and from which the organ-
ization of space is anchored over the course of time (Basu, 2001). Physical dispersal from a
geographical location of origin, or an ancestral homeland, may disrupt some diasporic
migrants sense of being rmly rooted in a physical home and afict them with a deepening
condition of homelessness . . . [in which their] experience of society and of self has been
what might be called a metaphysical loss of home (Berger et al., 1974, p. 82, italics in
original). Since this homeless mind (Berger et al., 1974) is psychologically difcult to
bear, it is believably the basis for which some diasporic migrants become isolated from
their external social environment and come to seek out a nostalgic condition of being at
home while residing in a host country devoid of deeper meaning (Cohen, 1979, p. 190;
Berger et al., 1974). Rapport and Dawson (1998) readily disapproved of this thesis for
its condemnation of modern ills (i.e. individualism, pluralization and isolation) and ethno-
graphic insubstantiality. And so, as an alternative, they accepted a postmodern attitude
towards identity in which people are understood to be at home in the ux of a world in
constant movement. The ethnographic evidence of Basu (2001, 2004a) in his study of
the roots tourism phenomenon, however, revealed that home, narrative and identity are
not to be found in either movement or xity, but in the articulation of both. Otherwise
stated, contemporary roots-seeking tourists or later-generation descendants of diasporic
migrants want to be at home in a world of movement and to be at home in the xity of a
past home that offers ontological security in an era of existential doubt (Basu, 2004b;
Giddens, 1991).
198 G. Higginbotham

The relationship between diasporic migrants and a homeland is different from the
relationship between their descendants and a homeland (Louie, 2001; Maruyama et al.,
2010). From the perspective of a person living in a contemporary home in which a new
set of roots have been established by migrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents,
an ancestral home may be perceived in terms of a material reality that is territorially xed by
its geographical (e.g. landscape) and historical (e.g. sites of collective memory) specicities
(Basu, 2001). This home may also be perceived, in some profound sense, through an ima-
ginative reality as a mythic symbol of an emotionally powerful (viz., positive or negative)
cultural history (Stephenson, 2002). With reference to the history of a home, it does not rep-
resent a simple, factual past (Hall, 1990, p. 226) that has been sitting around waiting to
be discovered (Hall, 1997, p. 186). To associate the home of a historical past with a place
that is romanticized and idealized and a source of nostalgia can be argued in a geographical
sense as an attempt to construct singular, xed, and static identities of places . . . as
bounded enclosed spaces (Massey, 1992, p. 12). Such a construction was perceived by
Massey (1992) as undermining the complexity of home as a product of the ever-shifting
geography of social relations that occurred in the past and continue to occur in the
present. The effects of social relations render the identity of place and/or home in a state
of ux and with permeable and unstable boundaries (Massey, 1992). Thus, the roots of
an ancestral homeland have to be learned about . . . to be grasped, as a history, as
something that has to be told . . . narrated . . . through memory . . . desire . . . reconstruction
(Hall, 1997, p. 186).
Research conducted by Basu (2004a) found the necessity of roots-seeking tourists to
relocate the self both spatially and temporally in an ancestral homeland to be vividly
expressed in a need to afrm a genealogical rhetoric of blood and territorial attachment.
It is possible to join these notions with the related concept of ethnicity, or specically a pri-
mordial approach, that conceives of it as being derived from a real or imagined common
ancestry, ascribed biologically and involuntarily at birth, and observable in external
behavioural patterns such as language, dress, religion and cultural practices. To distinguish
from the objective nature of this approach, a subjective approach may disarm the
genealogical rhetoric of blood (Carter, 1987, p. 8) by regarding ethnicity as a social
psychological process in which people perceive themselves or are perceived by others to
identify and belong to an ethnic group based on boundaries delineating us (insiders)
from them (outsiders) (Isajiw, 1992).
Even though the roots-seeking tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Islands from
Basus (2001, 2004a) studies clearly perceived their identity to be collectively ascribed
by biological connections to an ancestral ethnicity, Halls (1990) non-essentialist position
challenges such ethnic essentialism and underscores the heterogeneity, diversity and
hybridity of new ethnicities (Hall, 1997). With a lesser proportion of single-ethnic identity
to multi-ethnic identities in North American society, two types of identities have emerged:
(1) hyphenated identity, reecting identication with both ancestral ethnicity and society at
large (e.g. French-American), and (2) hybrid identity, reecting a multiplicity of ancestral
ethnicities or diasporic lineages with no direct reference to society at large (e.g. German-
Hungarian-Croatian; Isajiw, 1992). As far as the latter identity is concerned, empirical
studies indicate that in the negotiation of their multi-ethnic identities, White Americans
of European ancestry have a great deal of ethnic options to choose from (Waters,
1990). This choice of an ethnicity, albeit a very modern perspective on identity construc-
tion, is ordinarily inuenced by a number of factors: a perceived importance of paternal
ancestral identity over maternal ancestral identity (Breton, Isajiw, Kalbach, & Reitz,
1990), knowledge of ancestors, surname, physical appearance and the relative ranking of
Journal of Heritage Tourism 199

different ethnic groups in society (Waters, 1990). It is pertinent to mention that the stability
of ethnicities and identities changes, particularly in an ethnically pluralistic society,
throughout the course of time and from one generation to the next. Consequently, some be-
havioural aspects of an ethnicity such as language, personal networks and cultural practices
may be retained or lose their sociocultural meaning and use due to a number of sociohis-
torical factors in the nation-state, including processes of assimilation, policies of accultura-
tion, discrimination, religious afliation, intermarriage, social class and occupational status
(Isajiw, 1992; Waters, 1990). Regardless of this, internal psychological aspects such as
knowledge, values, attitudes and feelings towards an ethnicity are not always simul-
taneously affected by external changes and may in fact stimulate a demodernizing
impulse (Berger et al., 1974) for an ethnic (re)discovery (Isajiw, 1992).
A journey of discovery may be more adequately signied through the proverbial quest
towards a destination in search of the mysterious or elusive object that is the Holy Grail
(MacIntyre, 1981). By applying the motif of the Holy Grail to the root metaphor of
quest, also used characteristically as a route metaphor by roots-seeking tourists in the
Scottish Highlands and Islands, Basu (2004a) claimed that these tourists search inwardly
and outwardly for the source of their authentic, rooted identity (p. 167) or a collective
or true self hiding inside the many other . . . selves which a people with a shared history
and ancestry hold in common (Hall, 1990, p. 223), as this is the primary source of a
deeper, more unied, more coherent and more enduring sense of self (Basu, 2004a,
p. 167). In other words, it is the desire of the soul or spirit to want to search for existential
authenticity (Wang, 1999) through existential touristic experiences (Cohen, 1979). This
desire is understood to have intensied for those who feel spatially displaced from the
source of an authentic rooted identity (i.e. loss of spatial rootedness), socially isolated
from a historical community (i.e. loss of social belongingness) and temporally disconnected
from the roots of their ancestral past (i.e. loss of historical continuity; Basu, 2007).
Therefore, to travel as a descendant of a diaspora to an ancestral homeland, or to make a
homecoming as Basu (2004a) contended, allows for the recovery of authentic ancestral
roots, an authentic sense of belonging and an authentic feeling of being at home
(Berger et al., 1974) or of being rooted again in an ancestral homeland. This experience
comes to facilitate a re-root[ing] (Basu, 2004b) of ethnic identity for the roots-seeking
tourist through a rite of passage described as profoundly transformative and personally
therapeutic (Basu, 2004a).
Basu presented a legitimate modern interpretation of this heuristic quest with evidence
from his research. However, Halls (1997) postmodern version of diasporas may suggest
that a search for roots is not conclusively bound to what Basu (2001, 2004a, 2004b,
2005) insisted is a search for or afrmation of a singular, xed, static and authentic
ethnic identity. Instead, a search for roots may initiate the ongoing and contextually depen-
dent (re)negotiation of an ethnic identity that is multiple, unxed, uid and impermanent
(Hall, 1990; Stephenson, 2002). For example, the Chinese-American roots-seeking tourists
in Maruyama et al.s (2010) study found themselves as having to negotiate the authenticity
of their Chinese and American identities, respectively, in divergent social contexts. Due to
the complex and even contradictory nature of this process, there are indeed limitations to
what, up until now, has been communicated as an intense longing to develop a sense of cer-
tainty, stability, coherence, continuity and meaningful belongingness through roots tourism.
Accordingly, while tourism is demonstrated to represent a vehicle for the discovery and
afrmation of identity, it scarcely represents a vehicle for straightforward, practically auto-
matic voyages of self-discovery and identity afrmation (Coles & Timothy, 2004b, p. 13).
This dialectic between (a) afrming ethnic identity (who am I?) and (b) (re)negotiating
200 G. Higginbotham

ethnic identity (what will I become?) continues to remain an obstacle at the very core of
roots tourism and undoubtedly one in need of further examination.

Tracing lineages through tourism: an emergent theme in tourism studies

Genealogy, or genealogical research, is the imaginative, cultural and empirical practice of
tracing ancestral lineages or family lines of descent (Nash, 2002). An extension of geneal-
ogy is family history research, which centres on the interplay between documentary sources
of historical information and the reconstruction of biographical narratives of family
members and ancestors (Meethan, 2004). Notwithstanding the absence of a denition for
this type of special interest tourism, the relationship between genealogy and tourism
lends itself to travel for the purpose of seeking roots, identity and belongingness and the
collection of information on a family tree and a family history (Santos & Yan, 2010;
Timothy, 2008). In an effort to situate their ancestors within a broad and complex narrative
of the past, amateur genealogists endeavour to afrm or assure themselves as possessors of
a unique individual identity and undifferentiated members of a collective identity (Erben,
1991; Nash, 2002). Yet, Nash (2002) contended against the afrmation of identity
through genealogy, as the practice may lead to a recognition that achieving a settled
answer to identity always eludes conclusion (p. 49).
To date, studies on genealogical tourism from strictly the tourism literature have been
limited to Meethans (2004) research on the common characteristics of those travelling and
using the Internet to perform genealogy; Birtwistles (2005) account of genealogical
tourism developments, initiatives and marketing strategies in Scotland; and Santos and
Yans (2010) phenomenological study on the meanings that domestic tourists attributed
to their lived experiences of genealogical research. Irrespective of the limited extent to
which tourism scholars have explored the activity of tracing lineages, their studies are
helping to develop the contributions made from the disciplines of sociology (Erben,
1991; Hackstaff, 2010; Jacobson, 1986; Lambert, 1996), geography (Nash, 2002;
Timothy & Guelke, 2008), and library and information science (Duff & Johnson, 2003;
Fulton, 2009; Yakel & Torres, 2007). Tourism scholars, arguably more so than any other
group of researchers at the moment, and perhaps unknowingly, stand at the helm of the
initiative to guide future research on genealogy and family history.

There is nothing new about the concepts of the self and identity, modernity and postmoder-
nity, narratives, diaspora and heritage. For that matter, there really is nothing new about the
practices of seeking roots and tracing lineages. The originality of this article lies in the con-
struction of a framework of reference which contextualizes concepts of heritage tourism that
were once obscure and poorly understood. Tourism scholars, and scholars of all disciplines,
have long adopted concepts from other disciplines for the purpose of contextualizing them
with their own domain. The practice of contextualization assists not only tourism scholarship
but also the wider academic community in enhancing our understanding of concepts devel-
oped through conventional disciplines. Therefore, this article is intended to be resourceful
and educational rather than prescriptive and argumentative. It demonstrates that tourism
studies may well be regarded as one of those transdisciplinary elds that gathers momentum
with advancements in traditional disciplines. Such is the case with the practices of seeking
roots and tracing lineages, which, for some time now, have been gaining momentum in a
eld continuously inundated with new types of tourism. It is recommended, with much
Journal of Heritage Tourism 201

optimism, that tourism researchers systematically develop the contributions of this review for
future research endeavours. Any conceptual discussions and theoretical research on roots and
genealogical tourism ought to continue to draw from established disciplines and, more
importantly, closely aligned elds of study, such as leisure studies.

The author expresses his gratitude to Dr Shalini Singh for her suggestions throughout the process of
producing this article and for her guidance on the larger project from which this piece is drawn. The
anonymous reviewers are acknowledged for their constructive comments. Lastly, the production of
this article was assisted, in part, by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS).

Notes on contributor
Gregory Higginbotham is a Master of Arts candidate in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Brock
University, Canada. He is currently conducting research in the areas of genealogical tourism and
serious leisure.

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