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Ancestry site set to trigger visitor boom.

Byline: By Molly Watson Western Mail

A website helping Americans find their roots is tipped to create a boom in Welsh visitor numbers as they trace their family trees back here.

Wales is expected to enjoy major benefits thanks to strong mining and steelworking links with the USA over the decades.

It is thought many more Americans have Welsh roots than is realised, and famous faces such as Tom Cruise have already been tracked by the site, Ancestry.com.

The combination of celebrity allure and other tourists tracing their own family trees could prove highly lucrative, it was predicted last night.

Genealogy tourism has become a growing market in recent years, thanks to the internet which has enabled people to research their family tree online.

But a new service, being launched next month, is expected to make it easier and boost the industry even further.

Ancestry.com has finished a six-year project to digitise and index all publicly available US census records from 1790 to 1930. Searches show George Washington and Hillary Clinton both come from the same part of north-east England near Durham, although Clinton has said her father 'got his looks from a line of black-haired Welsh coal miners on his mother's side.'

Using the information, Tom Cruise is found to have links to Dylan Henry Mapother, a Welshman who moved to Kentucky in 1850.

Mike Parker, author of the Rough Guide to Wales, said genealogy tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, and has the potential to be extremely lucrative in Wales, because of the large number of Americans whose families originally came from this part of the world.

He said, 'Genealogy tourism is already vast but it's growing and will probably be the biggest area of tourism inWales in the future. It gets people very excited and the internet has meant that people can now research it from their own home.

'It's particularly popular in America and although they might not be as well known as the Italian or Irish, you only need to look at the huge proportion of Welsh signatories on the Founding Fathers' document to see that there are a lot of Welsh-rooted Americans. It's a really under-explored market.

'Americans are very intrigued about Wales and their Celtic ancestry. If they feel they have half a toe in the Celtic gene pond, they'll be beside themselves with excitement and hot-footing it over here to get more.'

Conservative AM Lisa Francis has worked in the tourism industry for 25 years and is director of the Mid Wales Tourism Company.

She said the tourism industry needed to mobilise quickly.

She said, 'We need to have a more proactive approach and start looking at other things which can be done such as how to market these kind of holidays.

'It's something that VisitWales have been slow to pick up on but there are all sorts of spin-offs that could be created such as walking or cycling tours.

'It adds a new dimension to their holiday, to know that 250 years ago their ancestors were walking around this area. We need to link these things together.'

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said the website would give many people another reason to visit Wales.

'As they come to trace their roots I'm sure they'll be struck by the natural beauty of the country and be left wondering why their ancestors ever left.'

Tony Robinson, the actor and presenter of Channel 4's Time Team, a spokesman for Ancestry .co.uk, the British branch of Ancestry.com said, 'The new technology available produces almost infinite possibilities. Soon the ability to trace back our ancestors will alter the way we think about history and lead us to rethink our place in the world.' Celtic connections: It's not just Cruise who can trace his ancestry back to Wales.

Gladiator star Russell Crowe's grandfather was from Wrexham, while award-winning actor Kevin Spacey's maternal grandfather was 'of Welsh descent'. Veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones also has a Welsh father and Naomi Watts' mother is half-Welsh, half-Australian.

Outside the ranks of Hollywood, the father of Thomas Jefferson, the 13th President of the United States, came from Wales and Australian singer Kylie Minogue's mother is from Maesteg.

The Osmond brothers dominated pop charts in the 1970s and claim they can trace their roots back to 19th-century South Wales, where they've found connections to LLantwit Major and Merthyr Tydfil. In a recent interview they attributed their singing talent to their Welsh roots.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 26, 2006
Words:750
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