Bringing family history to life

Curious about where you come from or which exciting parts of the world play a part in your family history?

Family history for the Sato and Miyoko family in Bruyeres
The Sato and Miyoko family in Bruyeres

Tracing ancestry

Genealogy inspired travel and ancestry tracing trips have long been a popular way to give special meaning to overseas visits.

Especially among communities that saw mass migration from the “old” to the “new” world the bonds remained very strong. Whether Irish or Italian in the USA or Greek in Australia, most families can pin point the town where their family originated from.

With every new generation however, the ties become looser. The almost mandatory stay at Nonna’s house at least every few years disappears when Nonna is gone. At the same time,  relatives who didn’t follow the migration wave have holiday plans of their own…

Battlefield tours as part of family history

In some way, battlefield tours are a bit the opposite of visiting the “homeland”. Rather than visiting the place of origin, it is all about visiting places that saw a – temporary – influx. But the curiosity for these places can be just as strong as the pull of the ancestral home. Because although for different reasons, these places do form part of a soldier’s family history.

Family history extends to "adopted" families on the battlefields
Local friends always provide a warm welcome for visiting Nisei families and look after the graves of their fallen relatives in their absence

Looking at it as just a box ticking exercise or a whistle stop string of photo opportunities would do both the concept and the soldiers great injustice. So much more goes into a battlefield tour, making it an enlightening and moving experience for both the visitor and the local resident.

Once in a lifetime or ongoing history?

Often, families make this kind of trip only once. Sometimes… they become almost “regulars”, because the story itself keeps growing.

The perfect illustration of all this is the Sato and Miyoko family. I met them for the first time on tour in April 2019, in Italy. At the time, the Florence American Cemetery was undergoing extensive ground works to fix a drainage issue. This left the grave of Noboru Miyoko, one of 13 soldiers of the 100th/442nd buried here, in less than optimum condition.

Family history getting a new chapter when the next visit is planned
The Sato family visiting Florence American Cemetery in 2019 while ground works were being carried out

They decided to return in 2020, but of course needed to postpone until this year. The cemetery looked in great shape again, as the ABMC staff does a wonderful job at maintaining the sites under their care. And since our visit coincided with Memorial Day, our group enjoyed special guest status during the ceremonies.

Afterwards, the entire family gathered at Noboru’s grave for some contemplation. Other members of the group, the cemetery’s Superintendent Angel Matos and the ABMC Commissioner Raymond D Kemp joined for a chat and an exchange of experiences.

The visit to Noboru’s newly landscaped grave site marked only the first part of the family’s extended trip to Europe. The second part took them to north-eastern France, resting place of Noboru’s brother Mitsuru. Killed during the battle for Bruyeres, he is buried at the Epinal American Cemetery. With a few more family members joining for this portion, the occasion was rather momentous on two counts.

Family history gets extra meaning with poignant traditions
Moose Sato adding sand from the Normandy landing beaches to the newly installed headstone of Mitsuru Miyoko

Unfortunately, a spelling mistake in Mitsuru’s name on the headstone took over a decade to get rectified. Eventually, ABMC relented and corrected the headstone, to the obvious delight of the family. They couldn’t wait to see the new headstone in place.

Stories that keep growing

But the another rather moving connection was about to be made. Shortly after the cemetery began operations after the war, the then-mayor asked his citizens to “adopt” a grave as a thank you to their liberators.

The “parrainage” program continues to this day and Richard Meylan, a Swiss national living about 3 hours away across the Franco-Swiss border adopted Mitsuru’s grave . With the help of the cemetery’s Superintendent, the Sato and Miyoko family managed to make a connection with Rich and invited him to join them during the stay in the Vosges.

As a keen reenactor, he had great interest in hearing more about the 442nd and especially his adopted Nisei soldier. By the end of our tour our new friend himself was firmly “adopted”, adding another chapter to the family history.

Find your own family history

If you are curious about your own family history, joining a tour is a great way to explore. Travelling to well-known places is very easy and can be relatively cheap. It becomes slightly more tricky when you are looking for places that are unique to your story or that are off the beaten track. That’s where we can offer help.

Through ongoing extensive research and local connections, we can customize itineraries to make sure you get to the relevant places. Diving into your family history is a great way to make your next European trip special and add your own unique experience to your family’s story.

Want to explore the options? Drop us a line and we will be happy to outline some of the possibilities for you.

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