OK… so, 2 weeks ago, (while my husband was country-hopping in Europe on a shoot), I loaded my mother and my kids in the car and we went on a Family History Tour.
The goal? To document and photograph all the places where my mother, my father, my grandparents and great-grandparents grew up / went to school / got married / were buried, etc… I think it’s a fascinating journey of discovery… finding out more about my family history: who my ancestors were… what they did… where they came from… what they believed in… and so much more.
On this little tour, we focussed mostly on my mother’s side of the family. My father is from England (and we’ll do a second family history tour around Morecambe one day too!).
To give you a tiny chunk of history: my mother is the eldest of 4 children. They were orphaned (when Mom was 8 years old) when their parents were both killed in a collision between a train and their car outside the town of Ladysmith, here in South Africa.
The four children were then adopted by my great-grandmother – whom I was fortunate enough to know (she passed away in April 1993 – a year after attending my first wedding). My great-grandfather, Frank, sadly passed away only a year after the death of his eldest daughter (my grandmother)… thus leaving Gran to raise 4 orphaned grandkids – and her youngest daughter, Wendy (my great aunt). Gran had to do this as a single mother on a single income (her other children, Frank, Doreen and Maureen were already out of the home by that time).
We all remain inspired by Gran’s story.
During our Family History Tour, I drove between Durban, Underberg, Estcourt and Ladysmith… and the homes, churches, schools and cemeteries where our family story took shape.
Here’s some photos…
Above: My great-grandmother, Athena Aphrodite Atkinson (nee Vedovitch)… and her husband, Francis Albert Atkinson (my great-grandfather). He was originally from Scotland. His father was Clive William Atkinson and his mother was Josephine.
We also visited his gravesite in Stellawood Cemetery in Durban. Here’s a pic:
“In Loving Memory of my dearest husband and our beloved father, Frank, who left us suddenly on the 14th September 1959, aged 53 years. We will meet again”.
Gran’s heritage is still a bit hazy, but I stand to be corrected when I say that her mother (Florence) was a German Jew… and her father from Yugoslavia (or Croatia?) – but they spent many years in Thessaloniki (hence the Greek names given to Gran). Apparently, my great-great-grandfather (Paul or Pablo) served as one of the Greek Evzones – and my Gran still had his old uniform and mentioned it to my cousin… (although I have no idea who has it now).
As a side-note, my (Greek) husband thinks that this is all rather funny – that I actually DO have a trace of Greek history of some kind in my family…
I love a good mystery – and it frustrates me enormously that I don’t have the full details and that everything is a bit sketchy and unsure. However, whilst searching the internet trying to find out more about Gran’s parents (my great-great grandparents)… we did discover a picture of her grave site. Here’s a pic:
“In Loving Memory of our dear mother, Florence Vedovitch. Died 13th July 1932. Aged 62 years. R.I.P. Always remembered by her children”.
As it turns out, she’s buried in the same Durban cemetery (Stellawood) as my great-grandfather… and my grandparents. But because the cemetery is so flippin’ enormous (and it really is enormous!) – we had no idea where to find her grave.
However, my aunt Meryl did know where to find the graves of my grandparents…
Above: Here’s a photo I took of my mother standing at the grave of her parents. This is the first time she has been to her parents’ grave – and also the first time I have visited the grave of my grandparents. It was an odd experience for me. My grandmother died at the age of 29 (when Mom was 8 years old). Their gravestone said this:
“In Loving Memory of our darling father (Ben, aged 31 years) and mother (Thelma, aged 29 years) who died tragically on 28th March 1958 (Ben) and 27th March 1958 (Thelma). Ever remembered by Linda, Meryl, Mark and Derek. The sun set before their day ended”.
It was a strange feeling… standing above the remains of Thelma Bredenkamp (nee Atkinson)… my grandmother… who never lived to see the age of 30… while I, her granddaughter… will be turning 40 in November this year.
Here’s some photos of my grandmother…
The picture above is of my grandparents on their wedding day – 11th December 1948 – in Estcourt (we visited the old church on our Family History Tour). My grandparents are standing with Gran (who ended up raising my mother)… and Gran’s youngest daughter, my Great Aunt – Wendy.
Here’s a photo of the full bridal party:
So… after the train/car accident that took the lives of my grandparents… and after Gran adopted Mom (and her siblings)… here’s a photo of them a few years later:
My Mom is the girl in the white top. She’s standing with her sister, Meryl… her brothers, Mark and Derek… and a cousin – Ronnie.
Here’s another photo of my mom (on the left) and her sister:
And here’s the most recent photo of my mom and Aunty Meryl – just 2 weeks ago – going through all the old photos at Meryl’s home in Durban…
Here’s a photo of Mom and Dad on their wedding day (22nd August 1971)… at St. Cyprian’s Church in Durban.
And here’s a photo of Mom and I, inside that same church – many years later (I can’t do the maths)… on our recent Family History Tour (apologies for the blurry photo):
I could show you loads of photos… both old and recent… of our family and of the places we visited on our Family History Tour – but I also understand that this content might not be relevant – or even remotely interesting – to many readers. After all – if it’s not YOUR family history… then my endless photos of churches, cemeteries, schools, houses and town squares will probably be more than just a little bit yawnworthy.
So – I’ll end off the post by encouraging everyone: DO this! Find out everything you can about your family history! Visit the places where YOUR family story took shape. Take the kids along and tell them more about their heritage and background. The 10 days we spent researching Mom’s side of the family was fascinating – I learned so much… and my kids did too!
I’m going to put together a big scrap book which will eventually be a lovely heirloom for my kids. I kinda wish that one of my grandmothers had left a treasure like that for me. I have sooo many unanswered questions – and part of this journey of discovery is coming to terms with the fact that I will never know the Full Story behind my family history (and this is a tough pill for a curious creature like me to swallow).
Anyway – enough rambling. I’ll end off this blog now.