by Edith Wagner
We’ve made a wonderful discovery for families who dream of following in the footsteps and trails of elders or ancestors. Project ECHO (Exporting Cultural Heritage Overseas), supported by the European Union, is a new European initiative aimed at promoting tourism to parts of England, France and Holland that have strong, distinctive historic ties with North America.
Our travels abroad tend to concentrate on large cities, however, the richness of foreign lands is often in the countryside away from cities. Life is as full and unpretentious as it is in any inland area of the US. You will feel as comfortable in any of these places as you do at home.
If you have the luxury of being able to concentrate on an area important in your history, make the most of it. For the millions of North Americans descended from ancestors who lived in coastal England, Holland and France, for those millions whose ancestors set sail for the new world from Southampton, Cherbourg, LeHavre or Amsterdam, much awaits you in Southern England, Northern France and Holland.
Hope for a bright future drew millions of Europeans from poverty or persecution to a fresh start in the New World starting with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620.
Follow their footsteps
Imagination comes alive when you walk the same paths and breath air from the same space as ancestors who debarked for their new world lives. Their sacrifice and challenges are not forgotten.
Memorials and museums are neither dry nor lifeless. They are full of life about those who lived it and their progeny and descendants. Activities and exhibits are engaging. High tech plays an important role in telling history; computer enhancements and interactive displays abound. Hands-on involvement clearly engages younger generations to build an interest in history and, not so altruistically, build a new generation of audiences for living history.
Few of us have connections anymore to maritime history, focal to these areas which depend even today on the sea for transit and shipping. It was the center of the trading world until the last half century.
If you travel off season, you’ll have the pleasure of being surrounded everywhere you go by school children who are enormously fascinated by living history. Children climbing about the planes at Southhampton’s Hall of Aviation, exploring history in a Victorian kitchen at the Poole Museum or eager to explore exquisite ship models at the Vauban Docks in LeHavre. Perhaps most notable were hundreds of students of all ages who blanketed the wonderfully interactive and engaging Memorial to Peace in Caen, France. These are wonderful places for your children to visit.
Tracing your roots
Are you one of many millions of North Americans who are exploring the genealogy of their families? Where did your ancestors debark? The information is all there. How you access it is up to you but visiting the archives to see for yourself adds a whole new dimension to how your family, as you know it, in the US, started from a port. Did they debark from Southampton? or Le Havre? Both port cities come alive with growing exhibits and information that reconstruct the travels of your ancestors.