It's a small world after all when the nation's genealogy societies converge in Orlando for their annual conference. Whether you're attending FGS or just researching Sunshine State ancestors, our guide will get you started shaking your Florida family tree.
Move over, Pilgrims. Sorry, John Smith. When it comes to roots, Florida's go way back. In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon came here in search of the Fountain of Youth, and named the area La Florida for its flowers. Little more than a half-century later, the Spanish set up their first settlement in St. Augustine in 1565 — 42 years before the English founded Jamestown. Today, St. Augustine is one of the few American cities with its own Department of Heritage Tourism (904-825-1000, <www.historicstaugustine.com>). The city's Colonial Spanish Quarter living history museum (904-825-6830, <www.historicstaugustine.com/csq/history.html>) lets you step back into the era when St. Augustine was a remote outpost of the Spanish Empire, with costumed interpreters portraying Spanish soldiers and their families circa 1740.
Modern Florida ranges from the salsa beat and Cuban expatriates of Miami to the sugar-sand beaches and “Redneck Riviera” charm of the Panhandle. But for most visitors, Florida wears mouse ears. Walt Disney World (407-939-7675, <disneyworld.disney.go.com/waltdisneyworld>), built in 1971, has expanded to four theme parks — the original Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom — plus a bevy of resorts, water parks and other attractions. It's been joined in the Orlando area by Universal Studios (800-711-0080, <www.universalstudios.com>), Sea World (800-327-2424, <www.seaworld.com/sw_index.aspx>) and countless smaller tourist magnets.