THE search for ancestors of the Lost Colonists of America is starting in earnest in North Devon with a Barnstaple businessman submitting his DNA for testing.

THE search for ancestors of the Lost Colonists of America is starting in earnest in North Devon with a Barnstaple businessman submitting his DNA for testing.

Financial advisor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Philip Milton is among the first to have answered the call of Mayor of Bideford Andy Powell, who is trying to establish whether people from the Bideford area were among the founding fathers of America - more than 30 years before the Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Plymouth.

Keen to establish the town's part in the early colonisation of the continent, Mr Powell is seeking local people whose surnames match with the 117 known names of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke Island in North Carolina, who disappeared without trace in the 1580s.

He hopes to establish that they were not "lost" but joined with the native American people to become the first permanent English settlers and that they included men and women from Bideford.

It is documented how ships from Bideford, captained by Sir Richard Grenville, were involved in the colonisation attempts made by Sir Walter Raleigh from 1584-1590.

Information he has discovered convinces Mr Powell of the likelihood that Bideford took part.

Many Native American people carry European DNA, he pointed out. In conjunction with a study in the US using DNA he is hoping to prove the existence of DNA from the Lost Colonists and from people emanating from Bideford and North Devon.

He is asking that people with the same surnames as the Lost Colonists who can trace their family history back at least 300 years to make contact with him.

After reading of Mr Powell's quest in the Gazette, Mr Milton was one of the first to come forward.

An historian and with a family history in North Devon that can be traced back to the 1600s, he is keen to see if he can go back further and also to help in the Lost Colonists research.

There was a Henry Milton named among the colonist group and also in the 1580s mention of a Henry Milton working as a woodsman on the Irish estates of Sir Richard Grenville, said Mr Powell. It was possible when these estates collapsed that the workers may have been brought back to England and offered the chance to go to the colonies by Grenville.

Mr Milton has received his DNA testing kit from America and his samples will be sent out to Texas for evaluation. The results will be shared with the Lost Colony Genealogy and Research Group. To speed the process, he has paid for the kit himself.

But for those whose family records and names made them highest priority for testing, the American study group may sponsor or at least assist candidates, said Mr Powell.

"The more people who come forward, the more we raise the profile and, hopefully, more funding will become available."

Through DNA it was possible to show not only if they were related to namesakes in America, but at what point in history this took place, he said.

Since the initial story in the Gazette he had received some 120 e-mails from 70 different families, plus a dozen letters, said Mr Powell.

"Great Britain is behind the US in getting this together. We need to galvanise funds and get it together," he said. "This is something that could re-write history."

The full list of names is:

Allen

Archard (aka 'Orchard')

Arthur

Bailey

Bennett

Berde (aka 'Bird')

Berry

Bishop

Borden

Bridger

Bright

Brooke

Browne

Burdon

Butler

Cage

Chapman

Cheven

Clement

Coffin

Colman

Cooper

Cotsmuir

Dare

Darige (possibly 'Dorridge')

Dorrell

Dutton

Earnest

Ellis

English

Farre (aka 'Farr')

Florrie

Gibbes (aka 'Gibbs')

Glane

Gramme (Possibly Graham)

Harris

Harvie (aka 'Harvey')

Hemmington

Hewett

Howe

Humfrey (aka 'Humphrey')

Hynde (aka 'Hind')

Johnson

Jones

Kemme

Lasie (aka 'Lacey')

Lawrence

Little

Lucas

Mannering

Martyn (aka 'Martin')

Merimoth

Myllet (aka 'Millet')

Mylton (aka 'Milton')

Newton

Nichols (aka 'Nicholls')

Paine (aka 'Payne' or 'Pyne')

Pattenson

Phevens

Pierce

Powell

Prat

Rufoote

Sampson

Scot

Shabedge (Possibly 'Shawbridge')

Smart

Smith

Sole

Spendlove

Starte

Stevens

Stilman

Sutton

Tappan (Possibly 'Topham')

Taverner

Tayler

Taylor

Tomkins

Topan (Possibly 'Topham')

Tydway (Possibly 'Tideway')

Viccars (aka 'Vicars')

Warner

Warren

Waters

White

Wildye (aka 'Wild')

Wilkinson

Willes (aka 'Willis')

Wood

Wotton

Wright

Wyles (Possibly 'Willis')

Wythers