Following in the Footstep of My Ancestors in Catalonia

by Renee Hahnel

It’s been over six years since my husband and I packed our entire lives into six bags and left Australia for our new lives in America. Just under two years later I took a second plunge and became a full-time photographer and blogger.

Like the rest of the world, I put my travels on hold for a while. But I find myself once again thinking about new corners of the globe to explore and am excited to share my story, in partnership with Ancestry®.

Where It All Began

I attribute my love of adventure, for traveling and the great outdoors, to my mother. Mum’s also my source for many family stories.

The author as a child standing at a lookout point with her mother.
My mum’s the source of my love of adventure–and of many family stories.

Back in 2016 she told me that I had some Spanish heritage. AncestryDNA® testing later confirmed this.

But it was the family history discoveries that held some real surprises—and why I was excited to partner with Ancestry, when they offered me a free AncestryDNA kit and an Ancestry subscription to see what I could discover.

Domingo, Born 1835

Barcelona is on so many travel bucket lists. But for me as it turns out, it’s the home of my family, a few generations back.

Records I found on Ancestry revealed that my 3rd great-grandfather (on my mother’s side) was from San Andreu de Palomar, a small Spanish town that was later incorporated into Barcelona.

His name was Domingo, and he was born around 1835.

A marriage record I discovered on Ancestry revealed where he lived,  and what he did for a living–and when and where he married my 3rd great-grandmother.

A marriage record between the author's 3rd great-grandparents
An 1860 marriage record on Ancestry® between Domingo and Sarah shows biographical details and even their signatures.

At that point, in 1860, Domingo had moved from Spain to England, which is where he met his wife Sarah. They married in a church in Manchester, according to the marriage record, which also gave their home address.

His profession was listed as an engineer. And from the same record I also learned his father’s profession (merchant).

 Immigration and a Shipwreck

Through records on Ancestry I was also able to discover when Domingo immigrated to England (and then later to Australia).

The immigration record on Ancestry® shows Domingo arrived in Melbourne at age 47, in April of 1883, after a voyage of 140 days.

I even found an 1882 newspaper article detailing a large shipwreck off Cape Finisterre that Domingo was in. Apparently the Spanish steamer he was on, bound for Puerto Rico and Havana, struck a British steamer bound for Southampton from Lisbon. Luckily Domingo survived.

A newspaper clipping from The Manchester Weekly Times in April 1882
The shipwreck Domingo was in was chronicled in The Manchester Weekly Times, on April 8, 1882, available on

According to the article,

“Twenty-Three Lives [were] Lost. A telegram which came to hand on Tuesday, stating that thirty-six of those on board the Yrurac Bat were saved and thirty missing… the second engineer was a Spaniard named Domingo Piferrer, and not an Englishman, as at first supposed…When thirty miles north of Ria de Camarinas the Yurac Bat struck the British steamer Douro, bound to Southampton from Lisbon. As a big wave struck the Douro she rolled away to port, and then the Yrurac Bat dashed into her, crashing through her starboard side abaft the engine room…The Yrurac Bat tried to mend her course, and stopped her engine. But all was in vain…Fifteen minutes after the collision the Yrurac Bat disappeared…The Hidalgo, an English steamer, was near at hand, and stood by. She saved twenty-seven men and nine passengers belonging to the Yrurac Bat…”

Seeing Domingo’s immigration documents and lucky survival, evidence of a family adventurer crossing oceans long before me, I felt a real connection.

¡Hola Barcelona!

All of the details about my family story made me curious to learn more. Ultimately it inspired me to take a journey to the Catalonia region of Spain to explore my heritage.

A woman, the author, walking aroud the wall of a fortress in Spain
Exploring the Catalonia region was a way to reconnect with my heritage.

My journey to Catalonia, walking in what could have been Domingo’s exact footsteps was amazing.

There were so many what-ifs as I strolled past cathedrals and down historic alleyways.

It was an amazing experience to literally walk around the city my ancestor once lived.

Did my ancestors walk these paths?

I’ll never know some of their stories for certain. But I’m curious to keep exploring and discover more!


What Will You Discover?

Whether it’s an equally adventurous ancestor or an unexpected connection to a part of the world you hadn’t deeply explored, there’s no telling what you might uncover.

Log in to Ancestry® or try Ancestry®14 days free to connect with the unique stories in your family.


About the author: Renee Hahnel is an Australian travel photographer, blogger, and author based in Seattle, Washington. You’ll usually find her hiking up a mountain or exploring some faraway place, forever in search of new adventures. Her brand, Renee Roaming, inspires millions of travelers to live intentionally, place value on experiences over possessions, and to find joy exploring this beautiful world we call home. Renee’s work has been featured by Lonely Planet, Today Show, Travel + Leisure, Cosmopolitan, New York Post, Condé Nast, among others, and her client list features some of the world’s largest brands.