Program 263a: Looking Up Ancestors in Europe; Irish Roots; Highlights of the Low Countries

Release Date: 09-28-2013

On Air Description

Get closer to your family roots on this week’s Travel with Rick Steves.

Rick checks in with European tour guides on researching family history in Ireland, and listeners tell us of their own discoveries meeting relatives in Sweden and Lithuania. 

And we’ll get highlights of the Low Countries of Belgium and the Netherlands, where a cozy medieval city, or a bike ride to the sea, is just a short ride from the major cities. 

Get inspired to start digging around your family tree on the next Travel with Rick Steves. 


  • Tour guides Stephen McPhilemy (based in Derry, Northern Ireland) and Barry Moloney (based in Kinsale, Republic of Ireland)
  • Belgium-born tour guides Ferdi Menghi and Nina Dierckx

Related Links

  • The Swedish Emigrant Museum that Rick mentions is in Vaxjo, in the Swedish glass country, and includes a library for conducting family research.
  • Stephen mentions Irish Genealogy for searching family records in Ireland.
  • Barry notes that the Ellis Island Foundation in New York is the best place to start tracing your family ancestry back from your immigrant ancestors who landed in America.
  • Stephen recommends the Disney movie "The Fighting Prince of Donegal" (released in 1966) to caller George, for a depiction of his O’Donnell family history. 
  • The music excerpt "It’s Great to be a Belgian" was written and performed in 1998 by a British singer named Mister John, who lived in Belgium until he died in 2011.
  • Rick recommends the Open Air Folk Museum in Arnham in the Netherlands as an easy daytrip from Amsterdam. Ferdi notes that the Zaanse Schans Museum is one of the top tourist sites in the Netherlands for viewing working windmills and other Dutch traditions. The Aalsmeer flower auction is also easily accessible from Amsterdam. 
  • Wikipedia has an entry about the engineering sites in the Delta Works coastal region of the Netherlands. 
  • Caller Matt enjoyed visiting the university city of Ghent, Belgium as a more-active alternative to the tourist-popular historical city of Bruges.  Rick also recommends the Dutch city of Haarlem as an easy day trip from Amsterdam.


  • Looked up distant relatives in Sweden and describes getting to visit them.  (Kay in Florence, Arizona)
  • Grandfather came to America from Lithuania in 1909;  traced his roots there using old family letters and visited his cousins there.   (Gary in Vancouver, Washington)
  • Traced family history back to 1805. "My great-great-grandfather's name was Henry Kerr. He was born in the U.S., but I assume the family came from Ireland at some point.  I would love some tips on how to go even further back on my family history."    (Cheryl in Portland, Oregon)
  • Caller describes what he learned about his O'Donnell ancestors' history from Kinsale to Donegal and Westport, and encountering relatives "above and below ground."  (George in Adkins, Texas)
  • Asks about daytrip ideas from Amsterdam for a group which includes teenagers.  (David in Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Caller enjoyed finding a mix of old and new in the university city of Ghent, Belgium, which he describes as having a more vibrant modern scene than Bruges. "Less touristy and underrated."   (Matt in Chicago)

Incidental Music

  • Helsinki Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Okku Kamu, "Karelia Suite, opus 11, 3-alla marcia (Sibelius),"  Sibelius--Finlandia:  valse triste;  Karelia Suite / Deutsche Grammophon
  • Ireland National Symphony Orchestra, "'Polka' from 'Roslagen' (written by Swedish composer Hugo Alfven),"  Midsummer Vigil: Orchestral Favourites of Hugo Alfven  /  Naxos
  • Lithuanian band Jonis, "Karveleli, paukštu┼żeli," EBU World Music Workshop, vol. 2 (2003) / Radio Netherlands Music
  • * Michael McGoldrick, "Sully's Reel," Celtic Crossroads (collection) / Putumayo
  • Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Erich Kunzel, cond., "The Irish Washerwoman," Celtic Spectacular / Telarc
  • The Chieftans, "Treasure Island," Film Cuts / RCA Victor
  • Anuna, "The Flower of Maherally," The Celtic Heartbeat Collection 2 (collection) / Celtic Heartbeat
  • Luka Bloom, "The Man Is Alive," Celtic Heart (collection) / BMG
  • * Enya, "Boadicea," Paint the Sky with Stars / Reprise
  • Rob van Kreeveld, "@ My Age," Rob van Kreeveld / Radio Netherlands Music
  • Musical Youth, "Pass the Dutchie (singalong version)," Mary's Boy Child-Oh My Lord / Goldenlane Records
  • Mr. John (John Makin), "Potverdekke! It's Great to be a Belgian,"  Essentials / (self-released album in 2004)  (this song was a big hit in Belgium in 1998)
  • John Cale, 'Bicycle," Hobo Sapiens / Or Music
  • St. Augustine Ensemble, "Christmas Bells of Ghent," Christmas Piano and Bells (various artists) / Big Eye Music
  • Sonny Rollins, "St. Thomas," The Best of Sonny Rollins (remastered) / Milestone  (note:  it was a Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone in the 1840s)

Dated References

  • After describing his experience in Lithuania, caller Gary says, at 15:29, that he visited it "last year, 20 years after freedom."  He adds at 16:14 that there's still "a sense of suspicion" among people in the former Soviet countries. 
  • At 21:00 and 22:04, Stephen mentions that Ireland is in “dire financial trouble,” as he discusses the potential for attracting 40-million Americans with Irish ancestry to visit Ireland, and a certain cynicism among some of the Irish about the Americans coming to look for their "roots."   At 21:26, Barry adds there are many Americans coming back to Ireland to explore their ancestry. 
  • At 33:58, Barry and Rick discuss how the population of Ireland is still only half of the 8-million it was before the famine in the 19th century.  Rick notes at 34:05 there are 40-million Americans with Irish heritage.  At 34:28, Stephen adds that Ireland is the only country that has had continual emigration since 1845 to now, and that 2/3 of native born Irish die in another land. 
  • At the open of segment C, at 41:40, Nina notes there are 70,000 German-speaking people who live in Eastern Belgium.
  • At 42:06, Ferdi notes that people of different backgrounds get along, but that politicians representing Belgium’s different language groups do not.
  • At 43:53, Nina and Ferdi say that Belgium’s farming heritage results in a more-conservative populace than the merchant-based heritage in The Netherlands. 
  • Nina notes at 56:15 that the population of Ghent is about 250,000.
  • At 56:33, caller Matt describes getting same-day tickets for the opera in Ghent for around €8.