Walking in their Footsteps

Researching and uncovering one’s family history can be quite an academic exercise. However, it dawned on me that I could make it more tangible. So with my newfound information and curiosity, I managed to convince hubby that a road trip to the stomping ground of my ancestors was a brilliant idea. We were still childless and relatively fancy-free, and it would be a lovely little holiday for the both of us. So in the summer of 2007, we set off to the two key towns strongly linked to my personal history; Burra, SA and Cobden, Victoria.

Open Road Signposts Burra Townships

Click image to enlarge

The trip took us along much of the NSW/VIC border heading west to South Australia. The countryside was amazing but so was the breadth of drought affected land. Creek bed after creek bed was cracked and dry. Even the river had shrunk and narrowed. The landscape was brown and in some areas, very dusty. We were often on roads where there were no other cars for miles. We saw emus running alongside us. It was a truly fascinating experience to feel so alone in our vast outback.

Our targeted destination was Burra, South Australia. You may have never heard of Burra, but you may have seen this famous photo of one of the stone houses from its glory days, now derelict and abandoned.

Abandoned Farmhouse, Burra, South Australia (SA), Australia

Abandoned Farmhouse, Burra, South Australia (SA), Australia © Ilya Genkin Photography


My mother’s ancestors on her father’s side (my grandfather) migrated to this town not long after it was established. In its heyday 150 years ago, it was a bustling town of almost 5,000, Australia’s 7th largest town, with migrants from many parts of the world, most notably Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Germany. The Burra Burra Monster Mine was recognised as one of the world’s major copper mines. This accolade lasted a mere 30 years but its history and legacy live on today in this picturesque town of 1,000.

Monster Mine Lake Museum Mud Dugouts

Click images to enlarge

We used the Burra Heritage Passport which gave us a literal key to the town. Using the key and passport, we were able to open doors and gates on a self-guided tour to the town’s main attractions. These included the Monster Mine area, Redruth Gaol, the underground Unicorn Brewery cellars, the mud dugout caves along the dry riverbed where my ancestors made their home for a period, a nearby deserted town and Burra’s three museums. Our final priority stop was to Burra Cemetery where many of my ancestors are interred.

Dirt roads Great-Great-Great Grandparents Great-Great-Great Grandparents

Click images to enlarge

After exploring for a few days, we continued our journey south to Adelaide. After spending the New Year in Adelaide and visiting the picturesque town of Hahndorf, we set off towards Melbourne, Victoria.

On our way out of South Australia, we passed the stunning Blue Lake and the Umpherston Sinkhole at Mount Gambier. Further along into Victoria, we enjoyed a stopover at the Great Ocean Road National Park. We then passed through Western Victoria, where I was surprised and fascinated to learn about the region’s volcanic origins.

All of these little highlights were just a prelude to our second major stop; Cobden, Victoria. My mother’s ancestors on her mother’s side (my grandmother) settled in the little town of Cobden, Victoria. In fact, my Nanna was born in this town. I managed to visit the local library just before it closed and copied some pages of a history book mentioning my relatives. As with Burra, our final priority stop was to Cobden cemetery.

Cobden Town Great-Great-Great Grandparents History of Heytesbury Region

Click images to enlarge

It’s a funny thing, tracking one’s family history. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this mini-series, some people don’t want to know the past. It’s too emotional, especially the recent past. But when you look back a couple of generations, it can become more clinical. I was able to look at the tombstones with an academic interest, like a researcher recording the names of those who had passed on.

However, as I pondered the connections and reflected on my journey, it was hard to ignore that the fact that the bloodlines of these people led back to me. I inevitably came face-to-face with a sense of my own mortality. It’s not something I like to think about too much but it’s something none of us can escape. Putting together a family tree, a stash of heirlooms or stories from our past, is just one way to keep our heritage alive even long after all of us are gone.

I am so glad we ventured on that road-trip. I hope to one day continue my journey further afield in the UK. Cornwall, England, watch out!

Have you had the chance to visit places sacred to your ancestors? 

Great Grandparents Ward Lyons, Actor Ford Family Memorabilia

All images my own or my families excepting the photographs of Joseph and Caroline Ford and the Ford Memorabilia items (Source: “The Promised Land: Ford Family History by Patricia Lock)


This is part four of my series to uncover my family tree. In Part 1: Bloodlines, I wrote about the idea of looking at our personal history. In Part 2: Uncovering the Past, I wrote about how I uncovered much of this information through genealogical resources. In Part 3: Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 1, I shared some of my road trip pictures as we headed to the place in South Australia where some of my ancestors migrated to 5 generations ago. Tomorrow’s final post will be Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 2 showcasing many of the places mentioned above.

I’m linking with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBOT.

I Blog on Tuesdays


25 thoughts on “Walking in their Footsteps

  1. Pingback: Bloodlines « Mixed Gems

  2. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 1 « Mixed Gems

  3. Pingback: Uncovering The Past « Mixed Gems

  4. What amazes me is that there are people in your family who you may share physical or character traits with, who died hundreds of years ago, and you had no idea who they were! They lived a different life, and could never have imagined the future that would come from them.
    It is confronting. In a few generations our ancestors will have no idea who we were, except for a name on a family tree. (and perhaps an old blog)

    Oh an on an aside, isn’t Hahndorf beautiful?

    • I can see such physical similarities in the men on my mother’s side of the family. I can also see these similarities amongst the men in my father’s side of the family. It is amazing how family resemblance can be so strong, and at times, not show itself too. Of my ancestors, some of the stories are quite fascinating. Sadly, there are a couple of large successes a few generations back which ended up squandered or lost for all sorts of reasons. It made us imagine what could have been right now. There are also sad stories and emotional pain from war trauma and other heartaches. It really brings home to me that the essence or core of people, their soul maybe, is essentially the same despite the technological advances that have taken place over the years. It would be interesting what our descendants will think about us in years to come. A little scary too!

      I loved Hahndorf too. It really is picturesque and so accessible from Adelaide.

  5. I am really loving reading this. You have taken this journey so far! Can’t wait to one day read about your travels to Cornwall.

    You are giving me a renewed passion for continuing to research my family tree.

    • Thanks, Amy. It’s quite a personal journey but I’m glad you have enjoyed the ride with me and are getting re-inspired too. I don’t know when I’m going to get to Cornwall, but it’s definitely on my list. So is Ireland, once I dig up more about the rellos on that side of the tree.

  6. wow pretty amazing to journey to find your own roots. I think one of my older (distant) family members wrote a book about our family tree.. gotta ask my parents about that one day. interesting! there’s quite a bit of intercutural marriages in my family but one day I hope to decipher them too..

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • You should try and track down that book if you can. Those types of resources are priceless. Saves you lots of time doing your own research too. I, obviously, have a personal interest and fascination with intercultural marriages (being a child of one myself!) but they do bring interesting things to the mix of relationships.

    • That’s the tricky part of these searches. It can be impossible if names are changed. He did that for personal reasons but would have had no thought to how that would affect his future descendants. It’s interesting. It must be quite hard for adoptees too.

  7. It really sounds like it was fascinating!!! Thank you for sharing your trip with us, and for letting us in on a bit of your family history! Mud caves, huh? Cool!

    • Thanks, Daisy. It was obviously quite a personal journey but I’m glad you came along for the ride. There is so much more I’ve found out about the people, relationships, challenges, problems, they experienced too but I couldn’t put it all down here; things that do go a long way to explain some of the behaviour and inclinations of people here and now. As to those mud dugouts, I think people chose them as “cheap” and quick accommodation when the town’s population was growing faster than homes were being built. In the end, my great, great, great grandfather ended up owning a lot of the land around the area (which was later, sadly, lost) when he died intestate. From humble beginnings……..Their main home is still standing at the main road into the town. I wish I could have taken a peek inside!

  8. Wow, thanks for sharing this with us. It’s great way for you to have it all recorded.

    Cobden is very much my neck of the woods, well nearby anyway in Warrnambool. Though I was born here, my parents were born in Melbourne. My mum has done heaps of research on our family tree and I was able to visit our Scottish clan burial ground in Killin in Scotland which was pretty interesting.

    I look forward to seeing your photo’s tomorrow.

    • Thanks, Lee. Yes, we passed through Warrnambool on the way from SA. I wanted to spend more time in the area but we couldn’t. I apparently had two distant elderly relatives still there 4 years ago. They would be cousins of my grandmother. Not sure what they would make them to me. I thought about writing to them to find out more about the family but not quite sure what to ask. They would be very elderly. I may yet write before it’s too late.

      I think it would have been fascinating to visit the burial ground in Scotland. I do find old cemeteries interesting though they can be a bit morbid too, I suppose.

    • Thanks, Laney. I wish I’d know about my ancestors when I did visit the UK twice before. Unfortunately I only started the research after those two trips. I can’t wait to go back and have a look see. I have some names up one of the branches on my grandfather’s maternal side going back to the early 1700s. It should be fascinating.

  9. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? My mum has been tracing our ancestry, slowly but surely. I’d love to hear their stories. I often wonder if there are tales of strong men and women forging the way for the rest of us, overcoming hardships, great successes and tragedy. I can’t help but peer at the old photos too, scanning their faces for family resemblances.

    Good luck on the rest of your journey!

    • It’s a great help that your mum is doing the work. You still reap the rewards. 🙂 It is more academic collecting names, dates, countries, cities; the skeleton. It definitely starts to get more tangible with those stories; the meat on the bones. We do have success, loss, personal tragedy, conflicts especially since Catholics married Protestants way back there. It’s both interesting and sad at times. It’s made me hope not to repeat some of those old mistakes so as to break bad traditions. Definitely fascinating stuff.

  10. What a great trip to make. I can imagine a great deal of reflection would have come from it. I was particularly interested that you said it was like coming face to face with your own sense of mortality. That’s exactly it, isn’t it? That we fit in with history and will be history one day too!

    By the way, I wonder if we may be related somehow! lol… My ancestors are also from many country towns in South Australia (I wonder if Burra was one?.. must ask my mother) and also from Cornwall and Germany!

    Looking forward to reading more. xx

    • Yes, Deb, the mortality part isn’t too fun, but it’s reality. It’s definitely made me think about how I want to be remembered and what I want to pass on to the kids. The most important investment is into them, but that can have far reaching effects way beyond us.

      Let me know what you find out about your SA connections. If they were from those countries, they may well have worked on the various mines in the region. There were several listed here – http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/miningov.htm.

    • Thanks, Maria. I wondered if they would turn in their graves knowing some Chinese descendants ended up in their family tree (it was not an impossibility given the nature of things in those days), but I was surprised and impressed to discover, the family had a close relationship with a Chinese man who was one of their many employees/farm hands. He was apparently treated almost like family.

  11. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 2 « Mixed Gems

  12. Pingback: Family: Life and Legacy « Mixed Gems

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