Eleonore Lee from England and Tony Lee from Ireland, met at a party in Australia in 1977. Almost 40 years later, this husband-and-wife embarked on an incredible journey to trace their ancestry in Europe.
During a 10-week trip-of-a-lifetime the pair retraced their history and reconnected with family between four amazing Trafalgar tours. Besides seeing the sights and meeting up with long-lost relatives, Eleonore was returning to the motherland with a mission to leave a lock of her mother’s hair at her grandfather’s grave.
Here is their story, as told by Eleonore.
Uncovering their ancestry
“I’m from a small town called Cirencester in Gloucestershire, in England. My parents met after the Second World War in Germany, where my mother was born.
My father was part of the Polish/English army… peace-keeping force I guess you could call them after the war. His family was displaced by the Russians. They were forced into Russian work camps in Siberia where they escaped from and ultimately walked the length of Europe to escape.
He and his family made it to Iran where he and his brothers were enlisted by the English army under General Anders. His parents were shipped to England and he went to Scotland to train as a Paratrooper. His brothers were sent to Africa.
“My family arrived in Australia on 3rd January 1967. I was 9 years old. I had travelled to West Germany many times as a child to visit my grandparents etc. My dad’s family were mostly in England. When we arrived in Australia we had no family here.
“Tony and his parents, two brothers and sister departed Dublin and arrived on 4th February 1976, when he was 19 years old. They had an uncle and cousins in Australia.
Planning the grand trip
“We had been saving for a long time to do the trip. Our 35th Anniversary was coming up and we knew that it would be a great opportunity to visit relatives and to tick off things from our bucket lists. It took me about 12 months to plan and coordinate with family as we stayed with some of them part of the time and between tours.
“[My husband] Tony was born in Dublin, so we arrived in Dublin as our first stop. As it happened the Hotel (Ballsbridge Hotel) we stayed at was within walking distance from where he was born at Simmons Court Terrace, Donnybrook, so we walked there on our first day to take some photos.
“That afternoon we met the people who we were touring with before our 10-day Best of Ireland tour began. Our guide’s name was Bernard and he was just amazing.
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“At the end of the tour we stayed with Tony’s cousins in Leixlip, County Kildare, for five days. We met up with the rest of the Lee’s and extended family at The Glenside Pub, which was a pub that they all used to go to when they were growing up with the family.
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Finding her grandparents’ graves
After the Best of Ireland tour, we flew to London and hired a car. We drove to Cirencester and met up with my girlhood best friend (it was as if we were never parted). She showed us around.
“I was able to find my grandparents’ graves without being told where they were. I just walked right to them as if they were pulling me. I found the flat they used to live in without any trouble too and visited the house I was brought up in.
“Then we visited with my 101-year-old aunt in Swindon, before returning to London and meeting up with our Best of Britain tour leader James. The bucket list got ticked off big time: we saw Stonehenge, Edinburgh, Wales, Loch Ness, Ben Nevis. Everything we had always wanted to see.”
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Reuniting her late mother and grandfather
“My mother died in 2013 and wanted to be cremated and her ashes put into the ocean so that she could make her way back to Germany. While we were waiting for the undertaker to arrive my eldest said why don’t you cut a lock of her hair mum, just as a keepsake. So I did.
“She had beautiful thick auburn hair and even at 86 there were just a few threads of white through it. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at that point until we started planning our trip. She was very close to her father and I just knew that it was the right thing to do to bury that lock of hair with her daddy.
“My cousin Piotre drove us from Warsaw, Poland, to Zapros’e in Belarus to meet our family and to visit the place where my father was born. Zapros’e is a very small village and we had to cross the border between Poland and Belarus at Brest, which is a small city.
“We stayed with extended family in Zapros’e for two nights, before flying to Germany to spend five days with my cousin Peter in Warstein. Peter showed us around and took us to Wuppertal to meet with my cousins and aunt and to visit my grandparents’ graves in Elberfeld.
Ticking off the bucket list in between
“After leaving the lock of my mother’s hair on my grandfather’s grave we travelled by train to Basel in Switzerland to visit my husband’s nephew and niece. We saw Zurick, Basel (of course) and the Jungfrau from Grindelwald before taking another train to Paris to meet with our European Spotlight Tour.
“This part of the trip was bucket list stuff: the Eiffel Tower, Monaco, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Rome. It was just amazing, mind-boggling and just perfect.
“After the tour finished in Rome, we spent an extra two nights then flew to Athens for the week-long Athens and Aegean Moderate, which included three nights in Athens seeing the sights then four nights cruising.
We don’t know about you, but this truly sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and an incredible way to learn more both about yourself, and your family.
Have you gone on tour to find your ancestors or meet with long-lost cousins? Let us know in the comments…