Are you Welsh? You might be, even if you don't think so. About 1.7 million Americans consider themselves 'Welsh American,' but the actual number with some Welsh blood (folks like Hillary Clinton, Bo Derek and Abraham Lincoln) is much higher. Thus it's no surprise that many families tracing their roots are finding their way to Wales - and turning their research into full, family-affair vacations.
Of course you don't have to be a Jones, or the least bit Welsh, to make a memorable family vacation or reunion in Wales - and winter is a great time to go. It gets wet at times, but temperatures (at 40°F on average, milder on the coasts) are a bit warmer than Santa Fe's. Plus, places like Cardiff embrace the cold with outdoor events as if the sun shines all year.
Also, self-catering trips are perfect for families looking to base themselves in one place, like fully-stocked cottages or a castle hotel on the coast; most discounted in winter. You can make trips by foot, car, bus or train by day, then all cozy up to your fireplace by night.
Some families come to see towns where their ancestors lived. Others probe deeper, benefiting from our local genealogists who help break the family-tree walls faced back home. Some genealogists can customize a tour that takes in family-specific sites like a farmhouse that your great-great grandfather lived in.
The bridge between Wales and the USA has deep roots. The first Welsh-American, according to local legend, dates from the 12th century, when Madog, the illegitimate son of a Welsh king, roamed about what is presently Alabama. Others reckon Welsh-America is more closely tied with the better-documented Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. To start a family-heritage trip to Wales, research a little first to see how far back you go. Start at www.homecomingwales.com for some useful pointers. Other useful websites include Ancestry.com and Ellis Island's database.
One genealogist based on the northern island of Anglesey helps bridge the gaps. Angharad Holmes, builds day-long (and longer) trips to family sites around North Wales that she researches in advance. These trips give a family a real sense of belonging of being the latest and newest link in a large chain, she says. Her day trips start at $280 including transportation, entry fees and a pot of tea or two.
Covering all of Wales, Brecon Beacons-based Dragon Tours also helps trace family trees, and customizes guided trips in vans from $400 to $600 per day for up to eight people; perfect if you don't want to deal with driving on the left-hand side of the road yourself! On one recent trip made for a Pennsylvanian family, guide/historian Mike Davies actually found a 93-year-old local who had known the family's ancestors. She even insisted we all go to her home for tea! Davies said. Plan before you go if you're hoping to get a little gossip of the past.
Ancestry aside, any family will enjoy staying in a castle on the Pembrokeshire coast, or a converted farmhouse surrounded by private gardens. It's not out of reach, particularly in less-expensive winter months. The Landmark Trust oversees 16 lush, fully restored cottages and castles around Wales that sleep four to eight people all discounted in winter. One excellent Landmark Trust choice is the West Blockhouse (a couple of hours west of Cardiff), a 19th-century fort with drawbridge that once garrisoned 34 soldiers and now sleeps eight. Its Victorian interiors, with wood-beam ceilings and crenellated roof deck, are decidedly un-military. Best is the price about $160 per night during the week. Another place to find similar historic properties around Wales is the National Trust Cottages.
Those wanting to combine the luxury of a spa hotel with the flexibility of five-star self-catering accommodations, and a milder winter climate, should check into Celtic Haven, at Tenby, Pembrokeshire. The Haven offers a heated swimming pool, a spa, neighboring nine-hole golf course, and a children's play area. With 26 properties to choose from, it can accommodate even the biggest of family reunions. On milder days, you can take advantage of portions of the nearby 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which passes cliffs, sandy beaches and castles, or go on occasional guided walks from the 300-acre Welsh Wildlife Centre, about 20 miles northeast in Cilgerren.
Wherever you go - to the mountains, the city, the coast - Wales makes it easy for the family to build new memories together.
All images for this article, photo © Crown Copyright 2006