Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Meeting Family and History

Cardiff Castle - 29 July 2013
The sun was shining as our train pulled into Cardiff on July 29th.  Shortly after arriving, I received welcome emails and texts from my cousins - which were delightful and made me feel at home. One of them sent a list of pubs near our hotel that we could try - knowing my husband wanted to sample UK lagers and ales and I was on a bit of quest for the perfect pint of cider.

As we explored Cardiff and the Castle, I kept thinking about what the city would have looked like to Thomas before he left in the late 1890s. Why had he been the only one of six siblings to have left Wales? It's still a mystery, but I think that he must not have left willingly - Wales is such a  beautiful place.

We had been invited to Penarth for dinner on the day of our arrival. My cousin arranged to meet us in the lobby of our hotel that evening. As I stepped out the elevator, I instantly recognized him - the first thing I noticed was his blue eyes - a trait common to my siblings and myself. He drove us to his home, where we met his family and father.  We had a lovely meal and shared many stories of our upbringings, ancestors and life in general.  When it was discovered that my husband was originally a Nottingham lad, they forgave him for being English (actually, he's more Canadian than English as he grew up here). I have to say that it felt like family.  I brought copies of my current research and photos to share - and learned many new stories and some possible clues to mysteries yet unsolved. It was a lovely evening, made all the more special by our hosts.

A perfect first day to our Welsh adventure.

Cheers, Karen

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


After a very long break, I'm back. Work has been crazy busy - we moved the Local History collection twice and have now finally settled into our final location.  I have also launched a large WW1 volunteer project, a blog Historically Speaking and entered the Twitterverse .

Despite the busy-ness, I really missed working on my own family history and have decided to carve out time to pursue this once again. As summer rolls around again, memories of our trip to South Wales have flooded back and I'd like to share those with you.

As we landed at Gatwick on July 27th last year, the anticipation of meeting my Welsh cousins and seeing the hometowns of my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, was sweet.  My husband and daughter were eager to see all the sights, but for me, Cardiff was going to be the highlight of my trip.

After the overnight flight to the UK and the train ride to Oxford, we tried to soak in as much of this wonderous university town as much as we could before crashing for the night. The next day, we made the pilgrimage to the Bodleian Library and wandered through the hallowed laneways and courtyards of the University.  I even managed to have my first pint of real cider on tap - a luxury not often found at home.  However, all through the day, I could not help but wonder what it would be like rolling into Cardiff and meeting up with my third cousin Matthew and his family for dinner.

The next morning, we made the long walk with suitcases in tow to the train station and boarded the first of two trains, headed in the direction of Cardiff. We changed trains at Didcot Parkway, just outside of Oxford.  I didn't let the ominous skies dampen my excitement.

As our train pulled into Cardiff, I felt like it was a bit of a homecoming.

Stay tuned!

Cheers, K.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Travel plans, genealogy and compromises

Once we decided to include a visit to Wales and Devon in our UK itinerary, I had great plans to spend time doing research and further work on my genealogy.  In my mind, I was drawing up lists of questions to be answered and directories to be consulted. I wanted answers to those questions that kept me up at night... like when and why did my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, leave South Wales for Leeds, and what may have pushed or pulled him to Yorkshire?  I really could have spent the whole of the four days allotted for Cardiff trolling through local library and archives resources.

Our initials plans also included a day trip to Filleigh, Devon to see where my 3x great-grandfather, John Ball, had his tailor shop. My North American sense of 'drive anywhere' and straight line travel took a beating once we rented a car in Cardiff.   My husband did admirably driving a right hand stick shift, but we spent a couple of hours lost in various places - albeit in the lovely Welsh countryside. We decided to enjoy the journey rather than race about keeping to a timetable. The 3+ hour trek (each way) to Filleigh went by the wayside in favour of exploring more of Cardiff and nearby Caerphilly.

In the end, I realized that making this a research trip would not be fair to my husband and daughter, who don't share my fervent interest in genealogy and ancestor hunting. After all, this was their summer vacation too. Instead, we decided to make this trip about connecting - with family, with the land of my ancestors and the beautiful country that is Wales. 

In retrospect, the research trip is a journey for another day and my mother would be the ideal travel companion - now that has me thinking...

Monday, 23 September 2013

Journeys past and present

As I began this genealogy journey a few decades ago, I never thought that I would be retracing the steps of my grandparents, Bill and Mary Ball.  Back in late 1961, Grandad and Nana embarked on a round-the-world cruise on board a freighter. One of their last trips before returning to Canada was to Wales to visit Grandad's Welsh cousins in Dinas Powys.  Just over 50 years later, little did I know, I would be making a similar journey to connect with my family in South Wales.

It had always been a dream of Grandad to sail - he had always lived near the coast growing up in British Columbia.  Captain Bob Thomas, the husband of his cousin, Gwen Charlotte (Ball) Thomas, was a mariner and had visited with Grandad and Nana many times on his visits to Vancouver and Victoria.  Grandad loved the sea. I will always remember his beloved telescope in the big living room window of his Parksville home that overlooked the Strait of Georgia. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of ships, flags, and cargoes, having worked at the Shell Oil refinery in Vancouver.

When Grandad retired, my grandparents decided to fulfill a dream and sail around the world, in a freighter, no less.  They flew to Los Angeles, boarded a working ship and sailed to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and finally out onto the Atlantic to France and then onto London. Nana always recalled fondly having dinner at the captain's table and the friendly and hardworking crew that worked on the freighter.  From London, they drove to Dinas Powys to visit with Gwen and Bob Thomas and onto the south of England. They sailed to Montreal from Southampton and then drove across Canada, back to Parksville and the west coast.

My grandparents managed to get lost in Dinas Powys and finally stopped at a corner shop to ask for directions. When Nana spoke to the shopkeeper, he smiled and said "You must be the cousins from Canada" and gave her the directions to the Thomas' (which was coincidentally, just around the corner from where they were). They had a lovely visit with Gwen and Bob. Nana wrote to Gwen on 10 Apr 1962 from Leominster, Herefordshire and noted they felt that "we have known you all for ages". (Gwen's grandson kindly sent me a copy of Nana's letter).

Welsh brass figure.
 My Nana, Mary (McPhee) Ball, is in the framed
 photo to the right - London, April 1962
Of all the trinkets that Nana brought home from her trip, one was a brass bell of a woman in traditional Welsh dress. After Nana passed away in 1997, my mother gave me that brass bell as a keepsake. I think that she knew that I would, one day, make that connection with Wales again. And I did - happily, in late July of this year.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hiatus and Holiday

As you can probably tell from my lack of blog posts of late, I am not a prolific (or even a consistent) blogger.  I will admit that it is often difficult to juggle family, working full-time, volunteering at a local historical society, conferences, gardening, maintaining a house, sleep, exercise and blogging. And at times, I've decided to let some of the 'balls' (if you will excuse the pun) drop in order to keep my sanity.

Part of my hiatus from blogging was to plan and prepare for our summer vacation.  It was a particularly special trip as we traveled to Wales to meet my third cousins and their families. While I didn't do any research while on the road, I learned many interesting and wonderful tidbits about the Ball family in South Wales and visited a number of towns and villages where my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, and his extended family had lived.  As this was a family trip, visits to archives and libraries were not on the itinerary (although I did sneak one in to say thanks to a librarian who has helped me immensely in my research - I will write about that another day). I have been working through my photos, notes and discoveries from the trip and will share them in the coming weeks.  Back on the blogging beat... again.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Genealogical ADHD... I think I have it

As you can probably tell from my relative silence on the blogging front that I haven't been very productive on the genealogy research lately. I hate to admit that it's true ... work has been mad, have had some rather complex research queries at work, gave five presentations within a month, planned and booked summer holidays (which will include time in Cardiff to meet my third cousins, who I have met through my research), and am in the process of organizing a genealogy fair.  Time seems to be going by at a frantic pace.

I have done bits of research, but I think that I've been suffering from a bout of genealogical ADHD - bouncing from one branch to the other without fully committing to finishing the job at hand. To say that my attention has been scattered is an understatement.  I know that my lack of discipline reflects my tired inner genealogist and self.

My happy place
With an upcoming 2 day weekend, I am going to retreat to my happy place, sit in the sunshine, relax and assess the state of my research. I've come across a lot of interesting bits and pieces and will tell you about them shortly. I promise.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Acts of Genealogical Kindness Keep Me in Awe

St. George's Church, Reynoldston, Wales
After a particularly busy month at work and a frightening tumble down some stairs at home (no broken bones thankfully, only bruises and a few bumps on my head), I started catching up on my home email to find some lovely photos of William James Ball's church and home in my inbox.

The photos were sent by a very kind soul who had connections to Reynoldston as a child and contacted me after I posted the story of William's stay and death at the Glamorgan Asylum. She also attempted to find William's grave in the Church cemetery, but found that the headstone had sunken below the grass and was no longer visible.

I can't tell you how much the photos brightened my day.  Thank you, Vivienne. I am always in awe of the generosity and kindness of people in the genealogical and local history communities.  I promise that I will pay it forward.