Jean: Deborah, I love reading the “about us” page on your website Ancestral Attic. It sounds as if you have some very special people in your organization. Can you tell us a little about some of the key players in your unique organization?
Deborah: We are truly a team. Starting with the director who creates the research plan and delegates the necessary tasks that will achieve the goal. Our researchers then pour over the collections at the archives, churches and other repositories gathering every detail of the ancestors we seek. Once we have the genealogy and history of the family our tours coordinator will create an itinerary that incorporates the locations most significant to the family. This includes the village, the church or synagogue, cemetery, houses and any place uniquely relevant to the ancestors we have found. Our guides will be completely versed on the genealogical history as well as the history of every location providing a very special story every step of the journey.
The key for us is the relationship we have with each member of the team. We all care about each other and we all care about what we do. We have fun and we are enriched by every journey we take. We have made so many friends along the way, because there is so much individual planning that client’s become a member of the team as well.
Jean: “Private, escorted genealogy tours of Poland & custom Eastern European Heritage tours in general” is what your “Tour” page tells us. What a treat, to be the recipient of a personally-formatted, escorted tour around one’s ancestral homeland. If someone from, say, America requests to take part in this service, what do you tell that person to do in advance of hopping on the plane (besides put down a deposit)?
Deborah: Actually, one of the nicest aspects of taking a fully personalized and escorted tour with Ancestral Attic is that we do most, if not all of the work with two exceptions. If they have done their own research, we ask that our clients provide us with any ancestral information that will aid us in making sure that the trip is truly unforgettable. Second, if a client wants to perform research themselves while abroad; we also ask that they fill us in on exactly what they are seeking so that we can predetermine where the records are preserved and prearrange all research visits. Most often our team performs the research in advance of the visit, so that the client can focus on the sights and the history that we present while in their ancestral villages. Other than that, we take care of every last detail so that when our clients arrive, they can simply enjoy the journey. In addition to the exclusivity of our tours we make certain to take our clients to the major attractions that define each country.
Jean: Your experience log must be filled with some wonderful stories about people discovering their roots. Can you share a brief one (without violating privacy, of course)?
Deborah: One story that stands out is about a young woman who lost her parents in the war and wrote to an uncle in the States telling him that she and her sister were trying to make ends meet as seamstresses, but had little hope. The grandson of that uncle had found the letter and gave it to us in order to aid in our search. We found the woman, then in her 80’s and we arranged the reunion with our clients on tour. She presented the letter of response she had kept and eagerly showed us the sewing machine that her uncle had sent to her so many years ago. She said it saved her life. It was a very moving moment and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
Ancestral Attic was actually featured in a special House Hunters International episode highlighting the story of a young woman who had recently relocated to Warsaw. Aside of deciding on a home, she was also hoping to track down the relatives her great-grandfather left behind nearly a century ago. For the
show, we researched her family back to the 18th century. The meeting with live relations we also uncovered was captured on camera and it was a wonderful and very meaningful moment for all. Reuniting families is an honor and a privilege for us here at Ancestral Attic and we are always equally as excited as our clients about the gathering.
Jean: Gena is one who seeks first the food (I can’t understand why she doesn’t weigh 400 pounds . . . which she doesn’t come close to). So what foods are your favorite when you are on a tour and what do you recommend your clients “give a try”?
Deborah: Where to start?! I suppose with the most obvious….Pierogi! There are so many different fillings; so much to tempt the taste buds! Another favorite in Poland is of course, Gołąbki (a traditional cabbage roll) and Plackiziemniaczane (potato pancakes) are fantastic and one should never consider departing Poland without trying Polskienaleśniki which is a thin crepe with a sweet surprise inside (or filled with meat if you are so inclined). As for other countries, no one should leave Germany without trying a traditional Laugenbrezel(pretzel) and accompanying Schumacher Alt (a very tasty beer). In Ukraine, Borshch would be the dish not to miss. In Lithuania, don’t pack your bags without first trying Didžkukuliai which is similar to a Polish Pierogi. In Belarus, Porcini mushroom soup with truffle butter, hands down! Belarus also has some lovely breads. In Slovakia, don’t miss a visit to the Tokaj wine region where you can sample some of the best wine ever created and to complement it, Bryndza which is a cheese made of sheep’s milk.
Jean: I am the one who loves the music of the location. Can you tell me how people react when they hear the music of their ancestors for the first time? Hearing the music of one’s ancestors is really the “icing on the cake”.
Deborah: Music has a magical way of transporting you to a time and place and it has an almost mystical ability to carry you to a moment that is beyond your own years. Somehow the faces of your ancestors become more vibrant with the aid of music. You can imagine them listening and dancing. Eastern Europe is known for its eclectic sounds so we always incorporate a night of traditional folk music and dance into an itinerary for just this reason. Typically we will save this treat for the end of the tour as it’s a wonderful and often poignant way to say goodbye to the country of your heritage.
Jean: Is there anything else you would like to share about your unique service?
Deborah: Just that each journey is so different, because each family is a story in and of itself. We never know where the road leads until we take it.
Jean: Thanks, again, for being part of this project. Safe travels on your next tour and best wishes in your roots pursuits.
--Jean Wilcox Hibben