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Following ancestral footsteps

July 27, 2010

At 19 I was the first to leave the family nest for a new life overseas, away from sedate life I’d ranked as “ordinary”. I quit university –much to everyone’s horror — wanting to live a life of travel and exploration. At 19 I was chomping at the bit to get on the first plane out of New Zealand.

The night before I left while my mother was fluttering elsewhere, my father sat me down for what appeared to be “a parental chat”. He was a man of few words and when he spoke it was often of a story or tall tale. But this time his words differed.

His words were a context for ancestors, unknown deep roots lying somewhere on the shores of England and Ireland. My father spoke of a great sea-captain who he claimed belonged to our heritage, even though he had no physical evidence nor ever spoke of this person before. By the end of the monologue, I had been set a task — to trace the ancestral link back to this sea-captain.

Being a young kiwi I had never heard of this ancient mariner, but once I arrived in London I soon found out that he was a small celebrity in the days of tall ships and tea trade. He was Wildred Dowman owner of the Cutty Sark one of the fastest sea clippers of all time. Gifted to the city of London, the Cutty Sark sat in Greenwich Village, used as a cadet training vessel and then a museum until 2007 when it burnt down (well almost).

via Wiki Commons

Following ancestral footsteps has been the focus of travel on my maternal side but not my paternal side. I know everything there is about my mother’s parents, their parents, their relatives and potential skeletons in closets left closed. The unusual mix of Irish working class and English middle class who made their way out to New Zealand in separate boats, from separate ports, at separate times, has continually peaked my interest as I’ve grown older, eager to know more about the skeletons taken to graves more than anything else.

via Geograph.org.uk

When I was 19 I was interested in pubs, fun and discovering my ego naturally the thought of tracing ancestral lines simply bored me. Even though I visited the Cutty Sark and took some photos, I never took up the challenge to find those roots that my father claimed we had in this part of the Dowman clan.

August 2010 was a chance to change my youthful neglect. Along with my husband (also with Irish ancestry) we both planned to spend a couple of weeks driving around the back roads and lesser known counties of Ireland looking for clues in unlocking some of my family skeletons, finding out more about my paternal side, as well as stopping into the place where Irish coffee was invented!!

Unfortunately because my resident’s visa is STILL being processed as I write this which means I am unable to leave the US should I wish to return and I’ve had to cancel this ancestral trip to Ireland which also included my brother’s wedding in Dublin.

Despite this setback, the internet is here and the number of genealogy sites including ancestral travel sites are numerous and I have time to research and plan for an ancestral footsteps trip in 2011.

How about you readers? Have your ancestral links influenced your travel in anyway? Have you found your heritage in the most unusual places…any skeletons?

Thanks Sharon @ Everywhere Travel for this story inspiration. I went lurking on your blog yesterday and loved what I found.

Caffeinated Traveller

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15 Comments
  1. travelforaircraft permalink
    July 27, 2010 6:16 pm

    Strange that as we get older we appreciate the past and the future more than when we were younger and looked only to the present?

    I’ve read that Irish coffee was indeed invented in Ireland. It Foynes Ireland at the landing for the Pan Am Airways Atlantic Clipper. There is a museum there now, the Foynes Flying Boat Museum and it looks like a good one to see.

    Back to discovering ones roots.Why not?

    Good luck with the visa … you will get it sooner than later, I’m sure 🙂

  2. July 28, 2010 10:44 am

    I hope you will be able to plan that trip to Ireland soon! I think tons of good stories can come up when tracing your ancestry. A few people in my writing classes have mentioned wanting to trace their ancestral routes in other countries and write essays about the experience.

    I would definitely go to Poland or Ireland to explore my ancestral roots. In fact, I’ve been trying to get my grandmother to go to Poland with me for years, but I think we’ve missed that opportunity. (She’s in her 80s, so traveling could be hard for her.) I’ve been to Ireland before, but only for a weekend when I was living in London. I’d love to go back on a research project like this.

    • July 28, 2010 12:35 pm

      I love the idea of writing this kind of essay particularly on the journey and findings, perceptions etc. Your grandmother would make a neat tour guide if she went back, a tour back in time with grandma. The ting with doing this kind of research is that you need a great deal of time to spend in the actual country, researching something like this is not something you can do over night. I hope you get to carry out your ancestral tracing especially on the Polish side.

    • July 28, 2010 12:36 pm

      I love the idea of writing this kind of essay particularly on the journey and findings, perceptions etc. Your grandmother would make a neat tour guide if she went back, a tour back in time with grandma. You do need a great deal of time to spend in the actual country, researching something like this is not something you can do over night. I hope you get to carry out your ancestral tracing especially on the Polish side.

  3. July 28, 2010 1:16 pm

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  4. July 28, 2010 4:08 pm

    Very interesting article, thanks. Keep up the good work.

  5. July 28, 2010 5:32 pm

    I think there is a right time for everything in life. Sometimes I feel this curiosity to know more about my ancestors. No famous skeletons in the closets as far as I know, but the stories about people I never knew but are part of my heritage are always interesting.

    • July 30, 2010 4:48 pm

      I’m always interested in how they ended up where they did, the travels and trips they made with hardly any modern equipment and heavy outfits as well.

  6. July 29, 2010 2:10 pm

    Yes, my family background is very important to me. When I was in grade school I did a family tree for my Dad’s side of the family. He was born in Denmark and one of his aunt’s had done a history all the way back to Erik the Red!!! It was so fascinating and I loved all the old pictures. I hope you get to make your trip to Ireland very soon. I’ve been there twice and it is so beautiful, peaceful, with the most lovely people. 🙂 I hope you find some wonderful stories!!!

    • July 30, 2010 4:49 pm

      I think there is a very good story here Krista.

  7. July 29, 2010 6:36 pm

    The Cutty Sark! Ah ha. This is where your travel bug comes from. I like hearing these stories of discovery. I want you to get back on the road soon. But while you are cooling your heels here, maybe tell us some more about your family’s history?

    • July 30, 2010 4:51 pm

      This side of my family is still very vague but it has also been nagging at me to get to unravel some of its threads. I can’t say whether the Cutty Sark Captain and his wife are ancesters but it’s going to be a good place to start. And you’re right, why am I cooling my heels here in the US? Once I get my residency I plan to head off overseas in search of great tales.

  8. August 4, 2010 6:57 pm

    Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

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