Friday, 31 July 2015

Dinner, Driving and Discovery

After our visit to Dinas Powys, we braved the roads and returned to Cardiff  - mind you, not by the route that we had intended to take. We never seemed to take the same road twice - driving on the opposite side of the road completely turned around my sense of direction and orientation. After a few missed turns and exits, we made a hasty retreat to our hotel to change and to meet another set of my cousins and their mother for dinner in Cardiff Bay.

Luckily, we chose to walk - so my map skills were back on track.  It was a lovely, warm and sunny evening, perfect for a walk and another adventure. When we reached the forecourt of the Millenium Centre, we stood for a moment scanning the crowd milling about.
Wales Millenium Centre - Cardiff Bay
Much to my delight, I saw my cousin waving to us. We had been found! After hugs and introductions, we walked over to a  wonderful Italian restaurant  and ate dinner on a balcony overlooking Cardiff Bay. We talked like old friends and it really felt like being 'at home' again. The meal, like the company and conversation, was perfect. To this day, my husband still talks about the spaghetti carbonara that he had that night. After a drink at a nearby pub, we said our good-byes and headed back to the hotel.

Originally, we had planned on driving to South Molton and Filleigh to visit the home of my Ball ancestors in Devon as a day trip. I soon realized that there was so much to see in Wales and decided to go to the Gower for the day to explore the area where my great-grandfather had been born.  The day started out rainy and wet, but after a stop in Mumbles, the sky started to clear. I loved the windy narrow roads, but always jumped when we rounded a corner and passed vehicles going in the opposite direction. We landed at Rhossili just after lunch as the sun was coming out.

The area was, in a word, breathtaking. The view of the bay and Worm's Head was spectacular. It truly is an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".
Worm's Head, Rhossili
We walked along the promontory taking it all in - we even got to some sheep grazing on the cliffs and hills in the park.

On the way home, we stopped in Scurlage, the birthplace of Thomas, my great-grandfather (1875-1941) and I had a quick walk around, trying to imagine what life would have been like in the late 19th century Gower.
We also passed the road to Reynoldston, the home of William James Ball (1858-1922), the eldest son of William Huxtable (1837-1927), whose life had a tragic end in the Brigend Asylum.  Every bend in the road told a story and the place names seemed all very familiar.

As we neared Swansea, we managed to get lost in rush-hour traffic, but eventually made it back to Penarth. We dropped by the home of my cousin (with whom we had dinner the night before) and he gave us a fascinating tour of the town where our family lived. The clouds had rolled in again, lending a perfect sombre backdrop to St. Augustine's Church where my 2x great-grandparents, William and Charlotte Ball are buried.

St. Augustine's Church, Penarth

We walked along the beautiful Penarth pier (which was still under renovation) and saw many more sight where family lived, worked and played. Knowing my fascination with the BBC series, Gavin & Stacey, my cousin happily pointed out several exteriors and landmarks which appeared in the show, including a church hall in which his mother's aunt had been married. Our evening ended with a quick visit with my cousin and his family and yet another unknown route back to Cardiff.
Penarth Pier

All in all, another perfect day.

Cheers, K.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Meeting Family and History - Continued

Well, that was a long break! Yes, a year away from this blog - far too long. I've missed doing my own family history research and feel the need to get back to doing something that I've loved doing... So I'll dispense with the excuses and jump back into finishing my Wales holiday story.

To pick up where I left off....

The next day we drove back out to Penarth to explore. I was particularly interested in seeing Plassey Street, where 2x great-grandfather, William Huxtable Ball, lived with his family.  The skies were clear and the sun shone overhead - an auspicious start to a new adventure. We managed to make it to the town centre, after a detour to see the marina, and headed to a pub for a bite to eat.  On our drive up, I recognized several streets that I had researched and caught a glimpse of the end of Plassey Street.

After lunch, we left the pub, rounded the corner and arrived - Plassey Street!
Plassey Street, Penarth
I recognized the former Plassey Street Tabernacle  and passed by #96, where my great-grandfather's brother, Henry had lived with his family. As we headed down the hill towards #140, I could not help but think that I was walking the road where Thomas and his  family had walked before - how life had changed for Thomas from this quiet, quaint street to the bustle of Leeds, to a transatlantic sail to Montreal and cross-country train ride to Vancouver, where he and Annie raised their family in the shadow of the mountains, the smell of cedars and the fresh sea air. When we reached #140, I couldn't resist crossing the street to take a photo (it's the house with the open door).  It was special to be there and to take it all in.
Home of Wm Huxtable Ball 1837-1927 - 140 Plassey St.

We had made arrangements to visit a relative in Dinas Powys later that afternoon so we headed along Stanwell Road to the Penarth Library.
Penarth Library
William Spickett Ball (aka Billy Ball) had been the library caretaker for about 25 years and lived in the cottage behind the library. I also wanted to thank Marcus Payne, the Branch Librarian, for all his assistance with my research.  I left my husband and daughter to explore the shops while I stopped at the library. Marcus was a most gracious host, giving me a tour of the library, including the cottage which has been incorporated into the main building. We ended our tour in the former back garden. It as a lovely treat to meet Marcus and I shall be forever grateful for his assistance in solving the mystery that was Billy.

St. Andrew's Church, St. Andrews Major
After a few missed turns, we arrived in Dinas Powys mid-afternoon and met with my second cousin, once removed (his great-grandfather was my 2x great-grandfather). He suggested a quick drive out to Ty Gwyn, John Ball's farm in St. Andrews Major, just a couple of kilometers from his home.  As we came up to the the parish church, we stopped at the graveyard where John and Ruth Ball and children, Gwen and Nelson were buried. The beautiful Norman church in its bucolic setting seemed perfect - a lovely, quiet and peaceful place.

Ty Gwyn Farm, St. Andrews Major
 We walked around the perimeter of John's farm to get a sense of his holdings and stopped by Ty Gwyn, the old farmhouse where John and his family lived.  Our afternoon ended at my cousin's house for a cup of tea - which was the perfect ending to a lovely day retracing my family roots in Penarth.

As we drove back into Cardiff, I could hardly believe all the connections, sites and people that we had encountered.  Our evening was yet to hold more treasured moments. More on that soon...

Cheers, Karen

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.