Just a few months ago, we found out that we had ancestors that came to Australia from Devon, 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 Paris, France to Sydney to the Gold Coast, then driving seven hours to Glen Innes, NSW, Australia by myself…
Step 9: Keep Digging
“Eve?” I yelled out inappropriately across the office. “What is this?” I held up the journal.
“Your great-great-great Uncle’s journal about his journey from Great Torrington, Devon to start a new life in Australia.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” I exclaimed. I was flabbergasted. This was so much more than I had bargained for.
Of all the things I had hoped to find – a journal was by far the furthest from my mind, and yet somehow exactly what I needed. As I read more of it, I understood in a profound level how important writing is.
I’m reading about my ancestor’s voyage to start a new life 160 years ago…
If this doesn’t prove to me that: Writing can heal. Writing can transform. Writing can touch people in the future in a way you could never fathom.
“When the girls saw it, they were quite excited as well.”
“That’s what we call them. Five of them – the B sisters. We call them the girls.”
“They’ve seen this? Can I please have a copy? I’m a writer, and this is like gold to me.”
“Yes, well, I’ll have to manually photocopy all 92 pages.” And so she did. I promised to digitally scan them when I got back.
“This is really important work you all are doing. Thank you so much. This has changed my life,” I said as I stopped myself from tearing up…again.
“Email the girls. They would be delighted to hear from you.”
Before leaving the town to try to find the farms my family owned, I popped in the health food store that I had been eyeing up. I bought myself a mixture of Turmeric Latte – I have literally never tasted such good Turmeric Lattes as I did in Australia.
A woman about my age was at the register and we got to talking. She wasn’t a local. Had just moved here for a change of pace. Asked me where I was from. Told her the story, and how for my last stop I was trying to find the old farms but Google wasn’t showing the address.
“Oh, you should go to the Rural real estate place across the street. They’d be able to tell you. In fact, let me ring up Liz for you!” She paused. “Sorry, I think I’m a bit too invested in your story, but I want to help you!”
“No, don’t worry,” I said. “I think I’ve gotten the whole town invested in this story.”
We both laughed.
“Liz?” She said into the phone. “Oh, is Liz there? Ah, hi Paul. I’m sending Meagan over to you. She is looking for some family and their farms and needs some help.” She nods and smiles, and hangs up. “He said that Liz wouldn’t know anything about that. He’s the guy for you. It’s just across the street and a bit to the right.”
And that’s how I got my male cousin’s phone number.
Final Step 10: Just Trust the Universe
“You need just the right amount of Will & Grace,” Victoria had said on a phone call a few weeks ago.
“HA! Like the TV show?”
“Yes, you need enough will to push you to do something, and then enough grace to allow it to happen. One of the best lessons out there.”
I thought about that conversation as I sped away from Glen Innes – with all the will I had and all the magic that appeared to have happened, perhaps now I needed to let grace do it’s job.
I pulled down a dirt road by the Severn River where my great-great grandmother had gotten married. I found myself crying some more. – not all sadness.
Just tears of emotion.
I just felt so overcome with emotion with the whole trip – so grateful for the adventure, so amazed at the people in the town – contemplating my family’s life all that time ago. Without them forging the way in a country across the world, I wouldn’t be here…well, at least not in the same form.
I scooped up a bit of sand and packed it away, breathed in the Australian air that smelled different than anywhere I had been in the world and closed my eyes one last time before I got back in the car and didn’t look back.
By the time I got to Byron Bay six hours later, I was so exhausted that I passed out in my hotel bed fully clothed by 8pm.
I found a gym around the corner the next morning to continue my health kick. It was grimy and weird, and during my session there was a tsunami outside. I pushed myself hard. Felt good to get back into my body.
My phone rang. I ignored it.
After an hour, I headed back. I decided to change my flight out and spend more time in Byron Bay. I wasn’t ready to go back to the city, and needed a bit of beach time. Luckily, the hotel had one room available that night as well.
After I booked the hotel, I looked at my phone, and I saw multiple missed calls and a text message.
It was the B girls!!
My heart started racing again. I dialed the number back.
“Hello?” The voice on the other end said.
“Hi,” I said. “This is…”
“Meagan!!! Is that you?!”
I could’ve burst out crying again. The voice sounded so pleased to hear from me. “Yes, yes, this is Meagan.”
“Well, Meagan, dear!! This is your long-lost cousin, A. We heard you were in town. I just got your message today. We get such terrible reception here, that I didn’t see it until this morning. My sisters and I couldn’t believe it when we saw we missed your number. Are you still here? We would love to have you over for tea and cakes. I’m just outside of town. Oh my, I can’t believe our luck. I can’t believe you found us. We have so much to catch up on!”
“Oh, I’m so happy to hear from you,” I exclaimed. “I wish I were closer but I drove back last night to Byron Bay.”
“Oh, no! Did you know we just started looking into this family tree just a few months ago? We are fascinated by the family, and when we saw that Eliza and her daughter had headed off to America all those years ago, my sister D said to me – well, we’ll never find that side of the family, and here you are!”
“Here I am!”
“Well, look dear. We have two sisters in Sydney. Will you be heading back that way?”
“Yes, in fact, I am heading there tomorrow.”
“Would you have time to meet with them? I know they would just be delighted to see you.”
I told her that of course I would love to see them. She gave me their numbers, and we planned an evening with the family the next day.
When I arrived at D’s house a bit late because of a flight delay, I couldn’t have gotten a warmer welcome. She laid out roses, cakes, tea and even had a little card for me. I was so humbled.
Since I hadn’t planned this, we didn’t have a lot of time but managed to catch up on as much as we could in two hours – my trip, the adventure, how I found them, why my mother was looking, her love of Europe and an upcoming trip.
Her sister J and her son W stopped by as well. Each of the sisters from Glen Innes that I missed called during the evening to discuss. I told sister B that my mom felt she finally knew which side of the family she looked like.
It felt like…well…family.
I had to remind myself throughout the night that we had just met, and this was all new.
It felt like I knew they existed all along.
I just couldn’t stop thinking about my great grandmother x3 Eliza in the late 1800s who went from England to Australia, then when her husband died, how she made the trip to America with her daughter. Then, if it wasn’t for her brother, Samuel, who left England for Australia to start an entire town in Australia, we would all still be in England.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Samuel’s journal, how it lasted all these years later and how my mom said his writing sounded like mine.
I couldn’t stop thinking how I found another side of my family across the world in a country I never was supposed to go to, and how now I have five incredible women in my life who are blood.
You never know what you will find when you look for family, it could really go many ways.
But if you follow my steps, you may or may not succeed…but you’ll have an incredible adventure along the way!