Just a few months ago, we found out that we had ancestors that came to Australia from England in the mid 1800s. One part of the family ended up in the states, the other stayed in Australia. I’m in Australia to find out what happened to the side that stayed, and why.
And, I had a couple of other really important questions that needed answering:
Why did my great-great Grandmother leave Sydney where she was living to get married in a tiny town that would have taken a week to get to by horse and carriage?
Why did my family leave a comfortable life in Great Torrington, Devonshire, England to go across the world to Australia in the first place, then only part of them move to the states?
This is how I ended up flying from Sydney to the Gold Coast, then driving seven hours to Glen Innes, NSW, Australia by myself…
Step 7: Have No Expectations
My heart was beating fast. That feeling in the throat when a huge cry is about to come on was forming.
I felt so stupid. I’d come all this way.
What did I expect? I put the phone down on my car passenger’s seat.
The gravestone earlier that day had told me about the children – my great-great-great uncle’s children. A few people earlier that day told me to get in touch with the sisters because they were the ones interested in the genealogy.
I couldn’t help but think back to the dreams I had the other night sitting down with my cousins and having tea and cakes. I’m usually spot on about this. I was told to just call the sisters, but I only had another hour and I couldn’t get through to anyone else.
I started the engine. I breathed in.
It doesn’t matter, I said to myself, the dead spoke to you and perhaps that’s enough. The living never promised you anything. And the people in the town were the kindest you could have asked for.
The male cousin had answered.
“Well, I guess I could meet you for a coffee,” he said after quizzing me on my knowledge of the family and my marital status. “But then, what’s really the point? That was so long ago.”
“No, no, totally,” I said, perhaps a bit too quickly. “Just thought I would ask as I happened to be in town. Have a good day.” Happened to be in town, I thought. Ha.
“Well, listen, if you get stuck, let me know. Good luck anyway.”
“Thanks a lot. Have a good day,” I repeated. And, we hung up with nice pleasantries staying strangers.
He was busy. I got that.
And, I knew I sounded like a crazy person calling up a long lost relative in the middle of the day with no warning, and expecting to grab a coffee with him. If I had received that call, I have no idea what I would have done. I didn’t blame him at all.
Still. It stung.
No matter how much I tried to pretend it didn’t. The rejection of a family member – even one I had never met – stung.
So, I drove off sucking back the tears past the Macca’s, the Tourist Information Office, the old Convent and down the one-lane highway.
I couldn’t help but feel like I failed a bit in my expedition – despite all the treasures I got along the way.
I passed the cemetery that I had been in that morning looking at my ancestors’ gravestones who I felt were trying to tell me something deeper, and finally, I let the tears fall.
I was exhausted from running around speaking to everyone in town, and I had to drive six hours back to Byron Bay to check in to my hotel that night, so I cried. I was alone back on the highway.
Even still, as I was crying, I had a feeling it wasn’t over.
I pulled over down a dirt road.
I thought about the rest of the day to pull my spirits back up….it hadn’t all gone badly…in fact, it was all quite magical.
Step 8: Listen to the Guides Along the Way
“You’re looking for the B-family?” Eve at the History Museum of Glen Innes asked. It was 10:01am, and the History House had opened at 10AM. I didn’t have a minute to lose.
“That’s right,” I said. “The lovely people at the tourist information center said you might be able to help me, and you might know them?” I explained to her my relations, my situation, how I’d come all the way from America via France and how my mom has been doing a family tree and found this name and town where my great-great grandmother got married.
“Let me show you something,” she said and walked me through the building that was once the old hospital, through long corridors of knick-knacks and history of this town. She opens the door to a backroom where three other women are pulling things out of filing cabinets, writing notes on small cards and going through old photos.
“There,” she said as she opened a visitor log. There on the visitor log was the name of one of my 4th cousins. She was the visitor BEFORE me. “You just missed her. They are also doing a family tree.”
I stood back for a minute – my family that I’ve been looking for on the other side of the entire world has been researching the family at the same time that we have been? What are the odds?
“She was looking for a photo of your great-great-great Aunt,” she said.
“You have photos of my ancestors?” I asked.
“We have so much more than that.Wait here,” darling Eve said with a twinkle in her eye.
I sat down at the table across from a woman going through an old catalog and taking notes. I breathed in the smell of old papers. I couldn’t believe this.
I was still a bit cold from the rain and wind at the graveyard, so this warmth was welcome. And the welcome was warmth.
I had butterflies in my stomach. I felt like I was onto something truly magical. I grinned from ear to ear and I didn’t even know why yet.
“We have this,” she said as she pulled out three huge folders of papers. “Have a look through that and see if you find anything. You looking for anything in particular?”
“Well, the marriage certificate of my great-great grandmother. I know she got married at a place called Riverside in Dundee. I’d like to try to understand why on Earth she would come all the way up here from Sydney back then which would have taken over a week in a horse and carriage.” I spoke quickly. I had a lot of questions and things to get out.
“My family bought Riverside. That was your family’s house. She would’ve wanted to come up and see the family and their house. Do you know the name of the minister who married her?”
“I do. Reverend Thoms. Parker,” I said. “We had found the announcement in the paper.”
“Thomas,” Eve said. “Thoms. Was abbreviated back then for Thomas.” This woman is already a wealth of information!
She pulled out index card after index card of handwritten notes. She had at least twenty index cards on my family.
“Who wrote all these out?” I asked.
“We all do,” the woman across from me who had been writing quietly piped up. “Where are you from?”
“Well, the United States originally,” I said.
“Well, look at that, Eve,” the woman smiled to Eve. “Glen Innes is famous.” I smiled back at her. It was famous to my family, I thought.
I went through the folders slowly, reading all the relevant information I could find – there were leases of land, deeds, old receipts, announcements of running for councilman. The papers were so old…I felt like I was reading the equivalent of our family’s Declaration of Independence.
Until I found it…the jackpot!
Tuesday, February 11th, 1862
A journal from the time I left home (Great Torrington, England) for Sydney, New South Wales
Having determined to leave today unless received a letter to the contrary, waited until the post arrived and found nothing for me, left in Mr. Eastmond’s horse and cart for Umberleigh at 8.
I said goodbye to those so near and dear to me.
Gave a farewell glance to the old town when at Hatelimoor. and thought whether I should ever see it again. How much there is in that dear old place to cause me to leave it. What dear associations formed there. How many good and kind friends I have found.
Never shall I forget the kindness I have received – never shall I forget their dear faces who have been so dear to me. Although not being able to see them face to face, to talk and chat over our little doings, etc – yet I have their likenesses and every time I look at them i tis with greater inererst than before.
Farewell to all. Farewell. I shall say no more but I hope that I may see many of those again, that although separated now., I hope not forever.
My great-great-great Uncle was writing to me from the dead!
Next installment to be posted quickly!