By Bev Murray.
I’m sure that as family historians you will appreciate the wonderful experience of discovering special family history places. It’s such a thrill to discover places where significant events took place and to be able to think, “I’m here! This is where it happened!”
I have enjoyed this experience on numerous occasions. During a visit to the UK in 2014, I had the good fortune to stay in the home where my paternal grandmother, Florence Wright had lived. In fact, she was born in 1896 in the very room where I slept. As I reflected silently, I felt a precious link to that time so long ago when my ‘nana’ had been a newborn baby. How very fortunate was I to be able to visit this family home, I thought!
In 2014, this house belonged to another descendant of the Wright family, John Wright. He was able to give me some information about the house as it had been during my grandmother’s period and he very kindly, drove us to the village of Tissington. Located in the Peak district of Derbyshire, this village remains authentic to the 18th and 19th centuries. Each year people gather there to attend “The Dressing of the Wells” ceremony that commemorates the fact that there were no deaths due to the ‘Black Death’ in the village. This was attributed to the water supply from their many wells. It was also at Tissington that my great grandfather, John Wright was born and lived until he married Elizabeth Barnes in 1890. Although we couldn’t go inside this home, known as Yew Tree cottage, I was delighted to be invited inside another similar home, located nearby. This became yet another awesome experience as it gave me real insight into the lives on my ancestors and served as another precious link. This is where they lived and worked so long ago.
On another visit to the UK, I travelled to Shropshire to locate the special places for some of my maternal ancestors. I will never forget being able to walk in the churchyard of the Holy Trinity church at Dawley and to locate the graves of my 3x great grandparents, John and Hannah Deakin, who both died in 1869. I also made an unexpected discovery of the grave of Ann Hopwood, who was the sister-in-law to my 2x great grandmother, Julia Deakin nee Hopwood. Remembering an ‘In Memoriam’ postcard in the family archives to this lady, her grave had added significance. This is where her mortal remains lie!
Nearby is Ironbridge, where I found St Luke’s Church. I remember the surreal experience of proceeding down the very aisle, where my 2-x great grandmother, Julia Hopwood walked in 1856 to be married to John Deakin. Can you imagine my excitement when I also visited the church where the parents of John Deakin, Hannah and John Deakin were married in 1830! As I stood at the altar of St Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury, I felt quite emotional. On the previous day I had found their graves in Dawley. How lucky was I to be able to see these special family history places?
Another memorable experience occurred in Saffron Walden, Essex, where I was able to view the workhouse where my ancestor had worked as the matron for 16 years. All these experiences serve to make me feel closer to my ancestors and not so remote. Therefore, they are precious!
Australia is a wonderful country! There is much for the international tourist to seek out and to enjoy. Ours is a vibrant, relatively young country in terms of European settlement with a lifestyle that is envied by many people abroad. The casualty of our affluence and preference to live in coastal cities is that family history locations are often redeveloped and even demolished.
During my lifetime I have witnessed the demise of many places of family history significance. The home of my maternal grandparents, a block of flats renovated by my great Uncle etc. Sadly, for my descendants, they are going to struggle to find any remnants of my life, particularly my childhood. My first home at Birmingham Gardens, a suburb of Newcastle, remains, although extensively renovated. The next home was at Merewether, a beachside suburb, and our lovely home there was demolished in 2016. We relocated to Melbourne in 1965 and I lived in a modern brick veneer home in the prosperous suburb of North Balwyn. On a visit to the home in 2018, I discovered that it resembled something out of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ and I expect that it too will fall victim to a demolition order someday.
If my descendants are keen to discover any of my places of employment, they may be disappointed. My first job was with the Department of the Navy as a clerk working at the Albert Park Barracks in Melbourne. Yes, you guessed it…the barracks have been demolished! My next place of employment was at Camperdown, Sydney at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, which was later redeveloped to become up market residential apartments.
As for the schools that I attended, my first school, Birmingham Gardens Infants school was closed and demolished several decades ago! The Junction Demonstration School, which was my primary school in Newcastle was demolished and rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1989.
I am relieved to say that there are other significant places linked to my life that still exist. My descendants may need to persevere with their research! This makes me appreciate even more any opportunity to seek out places of family history significance. Plus, it is vital that we take photos of places linked to our lives in case they become victims of the demolition experts. I wonder how many places that you have lived in remain in existence?