Quest for Francis history

FRANCIS HISTORY: Thomas Christopher, George Henry, Clement Douglas, Ernest James, Harriet, Leopold Leonard and William John Francis. Image provided.
FRANCIS HISTORY: Thomas Christopher, George Henry, Clement Douglas, Ernest James, Harriet, Leopold Leonard and William John Francis. Image provided.

Lisa Pigna has been on a self-led mission to discover all that she can about the Francis family who arrived in Port Pirie in 1889, 130 years ago this year.

Lisa's mother is 79-year-old Francis Mosher who lived in Port Pirie throughout a period of her childhood, and along with Lisa, they wanted to learn more about their family's history.

A starting place for the librarian was Christopher Francis who was a train driver on the Midlands railway in the United Kingdom who later moved to Port Pirie in 1887 due to the high demand for train drivers.

He brought his family out in 1889 and from there, the Francis family history in Pirie began.

Lisa is the great, great, grand daughter of Christopher Francis, whose son William John Francis, is the grandfather of Lisa's mother, Francis.

William Francis had seven siblings, including two sisters who are not pictured above named Sarah, also known as Gertie and Kate; who over the years have spread their lives across Port Pirie, Broken Hill and Perth.

Francis, Lisa's mother has strong memories of her grandfather, William Francis who sadly passed away when she was ten and from that Lisa has taken on the job to pull together the family strings and locate any family members who still remain in the Spencer Gulf city.

She explains that after a short trip to Port Pirie five years ago, she realised there was a lot more to her family history than was first presented and since, she has been digitising records and tracking down people to help fill in the missing pieces to their family tree puzzle.

"I am interested in family history and certainly for my mum, they lost touch with a lot of the family that are here. Her grandfather moved across from here to Broken Hill in 1912 and they set up their own businesses there. The family lived there for another hundred years, so the link between Broken Hill and Port Pirie is quite a strong one," she explains.

Lisa stumbled upon some success on her visit to Port Pirie when she visited the church of St Peter and Paul, the same church her great grand parents were married in in 1908. It was then the gentleman showing her around questioned her roots and was able to help kick start her journey.

"As it happens in a small town like Port Pirie, the man who let me into the church to have a look asked me who my great grandparents were and said that the name Francis is a common name here.

"He said that he thought there was a church warden for that church who was a Francis and we made a phone call and an hour later, she called me back and realised that I was family and took me to the local cemetery," Lisa explained.

Five years later, Lisa has kept contact with that family member Pauline Matthews and since been able to connect many lines of enquiry she had and put them together with a print and digital copy of a book, outlining their family history, which was handed out to about 10 Francis relatives at a reunion on June 10 in Pirie.

Lisa explains that there is still a lot she does not know, but is hoping to be able to fill more gaps as the Francis name is spoken about more often.

"I want to find out about before they came to Australia, what their life was like, then obviously based on the social history of Port Pirie, what it would've been like. They were amazing people," she elaborated.

"This is a trip for mum, like a 'who do you think you are', but also to come full circle with her early life here. Really she is 80 next year I have been the person that knows this place and have been getting her around to where she needs to go. To be able to do that with her is really special."

Earlier this month, Lisa and her mother Francis met up with several relatives who still remain in Port Pirie, they included great grandchildren of the brothers, grand children as well as a distant cousin who lives in Adelaide.

For both women, this trip which also extended to Broken Hill is 'satisfying'.

"It is for her, it is part for me, but it is really for her," Lisa said.

"She was really happy to piece it all together. She loved her grandfather very much, but he passed away when she was about 10. She was very fond of him. She actually wrote something about him in the book. It is all about making this happen for her."

Lisa is still looking to fill the missing gaps in her family's history, specifically any descendants of Christopher Francis or photos of the family.

If you know more about the Francis family and would like to get in touch with Lisa, you can email her on