Family History & the National Park Service

It’s getting close to summer vacation time. Have you planned your vacation yet? Years ago, not long after Dave and I got married, we started to plan a summer vacation. He mentioned visiting a national park and was absolutely astounded that I had never been in a U.S. national park. I don’t think I had ever even been to a historic site in the NPS system, with the exception of my kindergarten class trip to the Statue of Liberty.  Today, I can proudly say I have visited 204 sites in the National Park System. Dave is still ahead of me with a total of 223. We’ve even purchased the park Passport and collected the stamps at each park site visit.

Since I consider myself a veteran park site visitor at this point, I am as amazed nowadays as Dave was when we first married when I talk to someone who has never visited a national park or historic site. Most genealogists also have a love of history and want to experience places in which their ancestors were born, traveled through, served their country, raised families and places where they died. The National Park Service seems to me to be a natural link to genealogical adventures.

The National Park Service  hosts its own website, but there are tons of links to websites for sites around the U.S. that are in the NPS system. An annual pass is $80, but that is good for a driver and all passengers in the car. There is a free annual military pass for service personnel, a $10 lifetime pass for seniors age 62 and older. Children under 15 are free.


Now, exactly what would one visit in the NPS system that would tie into family history? Well, there are about 400 sites from which to choose.  In the top left corner of the home page, choose “Find a Park” and a map of the United States appears. There are park sites not only in the 50 U.S. states, but in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. You can search by location or, if you know the name of a specific site, you can enter a search that way.

If I had never visited a park site and wanted to choose places linked to our family history, where would I go?

1. Ellis Island – My father’s immigrant grandparents arrived at Castle Garden and then Ellis Island. Their first view of their new home was the Statue of Liberty.
2. Boston National Historical Park – My colonial ancestors settled in New England. Samuel Scripture fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This national historical park stretches from Bunker Hill through Boston all the way to Boston Common.
3. Lowell National Historical Park – A more recent ancestor worked in the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts.
4. Yorktown Battlefield – Dave’s ancestor, Matthias Williams, was present at Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis surrendered.
5. Trail of Tears – One of Dave’s collateral lines took part in the walk on the Trail of Tears

I could list many more sites that tie into our family history. I know of a man whose great grandparents headed west during the Klondike Gold Rush and opened a restaurant there for those seeking their fortunes. Did your family cross the country in a covered wagon? They might have stayed overnight in the safety of Fort Scott, Kansas.

Was the end of legal segregation in the public schools of America important to your family history. Visit Topeka, Kansas, where the Supreme Court case Brown vs. the Board of Education originated. Little Rock Central High School is also a site in the NPS.

Did your family provide soldiers in the Civil War? Many Civil War battlefields are part of the park system, too.

Was your Japanese-American family detained in a relocation camp during World War II? Were they sent to Manzanar?

Do you have roots deep in the Mississippi Delta area? The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area might be the destination for you.

With 400+ sites, I could provide one question for each site and I believe all my readers would find multiple places to visit that relate to their own family history.

If you can’t make it to one of these park sites this year, did you know that historical and educational materials are available for free on line?

There are even virtual museum visits.

In addition, each local NPS site offers items relating to its own unique history.

I hope I have convinced you that checking out the National Park Service is a worthwhile use of your genealogical time. If you can’t visit in person this year, a virtual visit might be possible. The National Park Service sites included not only some of the most important sites related to U.S. history, but also some of the United States’ most beautiful scenery.

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