Family Ties the World Over

The great thing about this blog is that I get to communicate with people from all over the world.  As a result, I have recommenced contact with an extended cousin in Canada and to both our delight, we have discovered some pretty interesting insights about one another and that we do actually have quite a lot in common.  Five years ago I was informed by a mutual cousin from New Zealand (yep our family is spread out) that we have family in Canada.  After living in the UK for a few years, I felt ready to head home but before I did, I wanted to do some travelling first. I already had plans to travel through North America prior to having been informed of family connections in Canada but once I was aware of this then the decision to go was a no brainer. After all, why knock back the opportunity of some free accommodation and cheap food (needless to say I am joking)!

So off I went, but before I boarded the plane, the first stop was Liverpool in England.  Ahh Liverpool, my favourite city in the UK and, in fact, my favourite city after Melbourne and New York.  My loyal readers will recall I wrote a story about the grandfather whom I never met who was born and bred in Liverpool but then stowed away to Australia in 1920. Well yes I am probably biased, but Liverpool is a fantastic city to visit with it’s variety of architectural styles. It’s right up there with Paris.  I had been to Liverpool twice before this particular visit but the third time I visited was much more special for sentimental reasons.  This mutual cousin also informed me that there are some family members in Liverpool, connected to my grandfather.  Naturally we had always assumed there was extended family in the great city of Liverpool considering my grandfather had siblings there but apart from his brother’s family, we were not aware of anyone specific.

I was living and working in Scotland at the time and I remember some interesting conversations I had with a couple of colleagues prior to me leaving. After having informed them that I was planning to visit some family members I had never met or seen before, one girl in particular was pretty shocked and in awe that I was about to do this.  She said she could not imagine doing such a thing or going through with something like that.  It had not occurred to me that what I was about to do was unusual but I suppose in hindsight, it was.  After all, I guess anyone can claim they are related to someone and show up on their door step.  But rest assured I am 100 percent legitimate and there is plenty of proof that exists to prove I am no fraud.

I was not new to dropping in and looking up family members.  A few years prior to this I went to Ireland. My aunty was in written contact with another family member also from my grandfather’s side (yep I said we are spread out).  I had starting writing to this particular cousin prior to leaving Australia so by the time I arrived in Ireland, I was not anxious to meet her at all. I remember getting off the bus and there was this Linda Evans look-alike waiting for me.  We hit it off immediately and I ended up staying with her and her husband a full week.  This was before I lived in the UK so when I returned to Australia, we kept writing letters to each other for about two years.  Unfortunately we are no longer in contact but I do have fond memories of that period.

A couple of years after this, now living in London, my sister and I had Christmas with some other extended cousins also on my grandfather’s side. I was also really excited about the prospect of having my first white Christmas but unfortunately that never eventuated, not in Southport anyway. My sister and I boarded a train from London on Christmas Eve and we were headed to Southport to have Christmas with some cousins who again, we had never met or seen before.  I had no idea what they looked like and when I look back now I guess it was a pretty daunting thing to do. But we were invited to spend Christmas with them and we didn’t want to decline the invitation because it would have just been the two of us, which would have been boring.

The train arrived late into Southport and when we got to the station, there was not a soul anywhere in sight. It was quite late at night and my sister and I looked at each other thinking shit what are we going to do.  Anyway disaster was averted when we saw this middle aged couple walk up to us.  Apparently they thought we would have arrived at Liverpool train station and not Southport. We spent a few days with them and had a lovely Christmas. They had also lived in Australia briefly in the 1970s so they weren’t total strangers to their Australian counterparts because they spent a bit of time with my grandfather and the family. In fact, my mum said she had Christmas with them once too. So it was nice to talk to him about my granddad and he said he was a good man and they adored my grandmother but then everybody adored her.  That was nice to hear.

Fast forward a few years and I have arrived in Liverpool for the third time.  After catching an overnight bus from Edinburgh to Liverpool I felt jet lagged all over again but I was excited and nervous at the same time at the prospect of meeting yet more family members.  I can’t remember now if the bus arrived early or late but I was waiting at the bus depot for what felt like an eternity and after 20 minutes had passed, I was beginning to think I had made a mistake and that no one was coming for me.  That was until, (let’s call her The Blonde because if I mention her name she will kill me), walked in the door. She was younger than I thought because I was expecting an older person. She also arrived in a BMW and now I was thinking ahh this is where the inheritance money went.  I might have to stake my claim here.  Just joking – there was no inheritance in the family, before I get crucified for making a lame attempt at humour.  The Blonde said she had slept in and didn’t realise the time.  Not to worry, all was forgiven and by night’s end I think we had consumed quite a few bottles of red, an occurrence that lasted much of the duration of my visit with this family in Liverpool.

I met other members of this family and I stayed about a week. It was great to meet my mum’s cousins because, unlike me where I grew up and knew most of my first cousins, she didn’t. I really enjoyed my stay and I was only disappointed I had not known or met them earlier because I was now on my journey back to Australia. But I am glad to say we do keep in touch and I keep pestering them to come visit us in Australia.  The pestering will continue until someone from that family comes to visit!  Hint, hint.

I boarded the plane to Canada drunk because The Blonde had me up late drinking more red wine the night before. I really was feeling seedy and I was wondering if I could last the distance to Canada.  I did and I finally touched down at Toronto airport at about 9pm. After a drilling from the customs officer (I thought they were only meant to give Americans a hard time)  and wanting to know what the purpose of my journey was, where I was staying and whether I had a return ticket, which I didn’t, I explained that I was getting picked up by ‘a cousin’. For reasons I can’t remember, I had to confess that I did not know this particular ‘cousin’ and that I did not have a return ticket.  Now it’s a bit tricky to explain to a stoney faced customs officer, after arriving alone and late at night that I have no idea where I am staying and that I didn’t know who this ‘cousin’ was who was meant to pick me up. And I really didn’t have any idea at all. I did have an address that was given to me in Liverpool and after telling the customs officer the name of the town, I thought I was going to stay somewhere that was named after a soft drink. What sort of a name is Limehouse??!! Mmm. Gee, I thought Australia had weird names but Canada sure has some strange ones too.  I had no idea whether Limehouse was 20 or 200 kilometres away and considering the size of both Australia and Canada, even 2000 kilometres away.  All I knew was that someone was meant to be picking me up but I still felt like I was walking on a tightrope and after my experience at having been stranded at a bus depot in Liverpool, I was beginning to lose all faith in mankind.

I eventually made it through customs and into the arrival lounge and lo and behold there was a sign with my name on it. Someone had remembered to pick me up. Relief! I met numerous cousins during this time and I stayed at various homes for three weeks before flying to Vancouver.  I had a wonderful time and Canada is truly a beautiful country. It was a pleasure to meet all these people I never knew existed and again to meet my mum’s first cousin and while we may not be immediate family, for the most part, I felt there was instant rapport.

I am sure there are heaps more extended family members out there in the big wide world but to be honest I do not have the desire anymore to look anyone up and I think I met the best bunch anyway although I do believe there are connections to a certain British pop group from the 80s.  Besides, my feet are permanently settled in Australia and my career is now the top priority. In future, it would be nice if people looked up their Australian counterparts for a visit, should anyone have the desire.

I realise that this has been my longest post to date and I hope you are all still reading. Is there a message in this story? Absolutely. While not many people will have the opportunity, desire or circumstances to do what I have done, the message is whatever opportunities you are presented with, just do it and never look back. At the time, I was really worried about what they would think of me and whether they would like me because I can be pretty shy at the best of times. I never expected to become best friends with these people and I am even surprised that to this day I remain in contact with some of them. Apart from my own family, it was a privilege to obtain a different perspective of my grandfather even if most of them did not meet him themselves. They were certainly aware of him. Friendships can blossom from unusual circumstances and had I not had the courage to put myself out there into the unknown, I would never have met such wonderful people, who are in fact, connected on the same family tree.



~ by Shae on December 16, 2009.

4 Responses to “Family Ties the World Over”

  1. Hi Shae
    Yes I did sleep in, but I think the bus was early as well!!!! we did have a good time though!!! on the couple of occaisions you where in Liverpool and from that I also met Kellie – it was a pity the three of us could not have gotten together while Kellie was still in the UK – though what state we would have all ended up in I don’t know !!! and I will get there one of these days I hear Melbourne is a blast – xxx

  2. Canada Calling
    With airplanes and internet (no more stow aways or snail mail)the world truly is a small place. We are just one big spread-out (and thanks to someone who had the nerve to “just do it”) connected family. How many opportunities are lost because we are afraid to reach out to people..Dee

  3. We did have a good time and I will be back in Liverpool one day for sure. When you do come to Australia, then you, me and Kellie will be together and you will get to meet your Australian counterparts. Same for you Dee! I really did enjoy meeting all of you and I have no regrets!

  4. Hi Shae, has been great reading your story on “Family Ties”. I have always found family history fascinating. It is amazing just how spread out our family is!!.. I have been doing research on John’s family – interesting that his father’s mother was a Lalor/Lawler- It always amazed me that his family knew nothing about “where they came from”, not to mention the family I have found that they did not know about, nor had never met

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