Top LogoLogo

The Journey Takers

Springfield Republican, October 31, 2010

"Belchertown Author Leslie Huber Releases Book About Personal Genealogical Search" By Kathryn Roy

A Belchertown woman has released her first book about her genealogical search for her ancestors and her life-changing experience that resulted from her cross-continental research.

Leslie Albrecht Huber’s “The Journey Takers” is getting rave reviews and some national exposure with its factual portrayals of the lives of her ancestors who emigrated from Germany, Sweden and England.

Huber is giving talks and holding book discussions and signings all over the region. She will be at the Carnegie Library, 201 Avenue A, Turners Falls, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. She will give a lecture and sign copies of her books. The event is free and open to the public.

Huber, who has written many history and genealogy-based articles for magazines, has always wanted to write a book. She became fascinated with discovering her own roots while studying German history at Brigham Young University.

Huber completed a three-month internship in Germany in the summer of 1998, when she was inspired to write the book about her ancestors, who hailed from Germany and other parts of Western Europe.

“I saw the churches and the places where they lived, and I got the idea for interweaving their journey to America with my journey of discovering them,” Huber said.

With a combination of hours of research here in the U.S. and more research in Germany, Huber managed to dig up lots of facts about her family tree. She said her trip to Germany was essential, as she was able to find records there that she could not access here.

She said while many people conducting genealogical research are intent on finding names and dates, there is so much more to it.

“These are real people who had full lives – they’re not names and dates,” Huber said. “They had triumphs and tragedies. I realized my ancestors were absolutely ordinary – they weren’t famous or prominent. But that’s why I felt their story was so important. I hoped by making them real, I would help other people see ordinary people the way I saw them.”

Huber said the immigrants had very adventurous lives, despite the fact that they had ordinary lives, and she used her family to tell the story.

“The Journey Takers” is unique in that it is based on fact but also includes Huber’s personal perspectives.

“I interweaved into the story my personal accounts as I traveled,” she said. “In my life, I got married and had two children, and as I struggled to adjust to find meaning in my life, I was able to learn and benefit from the experiences I learned along the journey.”

Huber said the book is no ordinary historical account.

“It has a lot of historical information but it reads like a novel,” she said. “It is as interesting as a fictional story, and it has a plot that draws you in and emotionally connects you just like a fiction book would.” “The Journey Takers” has seen regional and national exposure. Huber was interviewed for a story on the book for ABC’s Good Morning America, and Northeast Public Radio. The book has been featured in numerous publications as well, including American Spirit magazine.

Agawam Advertiser News, October 14, 2010

"Author Shares Story of Emotional Journey" By Sarah Platanitis

Leslie Huber, professional genealogist and award-winning author of “The Journey Takers,” was guest lecturer at this month’s well-attended Western Massachusetts Genealogy Society meeting at the Senior Center.

In her book, Huber tells the story of her paternal family and details her own emotional voyage to understand the stories of those forgotten by time. Dramatic black and white photos grace the cover of the paperback.

“All of us have the desire to think our families were unique and special,” said Huber. “Instead they were 100% ordinary. By telling my family’s story, I could tell the story of so many others.”

Huber also gave tips on how to assist recreational genealogists in their efforts. She stressed the importance of seeking out maps and village records, and cautioned to watch for family name misspellings.

Huber said her personal project began in 1998 when she was a 21-year-old college student. She traveled to Mecklenburg, Germany and surrounding towns to trace the steps of her paternal great grandparents. These communities were so small that local reporters wanted to talk to her because she was visiting places far off the beaten path for most tourists.

Years later, Huber’s research brought her to Sweden to investigate the route of Karsti Nilsdotter, another paternal great-grandmother and favorite person in the book. The chapters on Nilsdotter describe her arduous solo journey from Vallby Sweden to Spring Lake, Utah.

“I found that she was courageous and amazing to leave her life and family to travel thousands of miles to help create America,” said Huber.

Huber recently embarked on her own journey, a book tour of 26 states, in early spring of this year. Her favorite experience took place in August at Utah’s Wayne County Fair, the home of her paternal grandparents.

“I spoke at the fair and there was an audible gasp when folks saw photos of my grandparents,” she said, “The next day, my family and I took a drive so we could look out over Fremont, my grandmother’s little town. I felt as if I had come full-circle.”

Susan Leverson, treasurer of the genealogical society, said she was pleased at the turnout for Huber’s talk, and said many people appreciated the topics explored by her group as well as network with people with the same interest.

Rollie Jacobs, a former TV sportscaster, said he attended his first genealogy society meeting because he was curious about the group.

“I’m a complete novice when it comes to genealogy. We have all kinds of documents collected but need to start,” he said, adding that Huber’s findings made him want to begin his research as soon as possible.

“I plan to use some of what I learned in our computer class,” said Fred Stratton, who joined the group on a whim after reading an article in the Agawam Advertiser News about the group.

Stratton and many others attended the twice monthly computer class taught by Bruce Cortis, described as “more like a workshop where people learn by example.”

Western Massachusetts Genealogy Society president, Jim Birchall, said the computer classes are popular, and along with the new website, have brought the group into the 21st century.

Researchers of all levels are welcome to join the Western Massachusetts Genealogy Society which is dedicated to preserving memories and family histories. The annual membership fee of $20 includes meetings and classes.

Huber’s book is available at and

Iowa Genealogical Society Review, October 2010

By Marti Rasmussen

This inspiring family history is a wish fulfilled for Leslie Albrecht Huber. She spent twelve years of hard research of her ancestors from Germany, Sweden and England. And what an accomplishment. The Journey Takers is good writing, exciting stories and excellence in genealogy research.

The book is a combination of personal travelogue and memoir. Huber relentlessly tracks down the villages and places her immigrants lived and why they were the journey takers. The Journey Takers is divided into four parts to tell the stories of those ancestors from Germany, Sweden and England. Part Four covers the families that came to Utah. It is a dramatic and fascinating account of these journeys and these travelers. The author has made use of scenes she’s imagined for individuals’ thoughts and feelings at important decisions or events in their lives that provides readers an added dimension in understanding these immigrants.

Huber stopped in Des Moines at IGS in July and shared some of her insights with IGS members and friends: 1. Understand the places your ancestors lived by consulting maps to discover jurisdictions and boundaries. 2. Remember that original records and family stories could be wrong so verify and evaluate them carefully. 3. Learn as much as you can of social history of time and place for the particular person you are studying.

Readers will enjoy the Journey Takers for its interesting stories and personalities, and its insights into the minds of these courageous, intrepid immigrants — our ancestors.

National Genealogical Society Quarterly, September 2010

By Will White

Huber plucks from her family tree European immigrants to the United States – Albrechts, Hakers, Harrises, and Nilsdotters, calls them the Journey Takers, and tells their stories in excellent historical context. An appendix provides detailed genealogical information on cited family group sheets.

The Journey Takers is not unique. Other family histories describe the nineteenth-century German-Swiss-English immigration experience, and many describe subsequent treks across the United States by rail, boat, and wagon. What sets this story apart is its masterful telling.

Most genealogies choose to present their family histories in one of three genres – a nonfiction story with genealogical narratives in a compiled genealogy; a fictional story wrapped in a factual framework; or a research story describing the discovery of ancestor-related facts. Huber chooses all three and adds a fourth, a first-person running account of her own life experience. The skillful integration of these four genres is The Journey Taker’s strength.

Fictional interludes in the nonfiction narrative allow the author to speculate freely on the possible emotions, motivations, and actions of her protagonists. Her research story conveys the thrill of discovering family names on German parish registers and Utah grave stones.

Her personal story of marriage, pregnancy, and parenting young children allows her to express her own reactions as she weeps at the tragic death of a shipwrecked mother and daughter, laments the loss of children to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century disease, and struggles with the emotional tug of her Fremont, Utah, ancestral home.

Fully states is the emotional connection she feels toward her ancestors, the passion for her subject, and the obsession that compels pursuit of family history. The culmination of Huber’s journey is her realization that family and religion drove many of her ancestors’ decisions and drives her own.

Huber is careful to preface her fictional interludes with phrases like “I imagine,” “I think of,” and “I picture.” Nonetheless, some would argue that it is impossible to mix fiction and nonfiction in the same work and maintain scholarly integrity. Be that as it may, Huber has come as close to success as any. The Journey Takers is an outstanding, innovative family memorial.

JSONS (Journalism Students’ Online News Service): Emerson College,
September 30, 2010

“Reviving Lost Ancestors” by Erica Kaliszewski

Leslie Albrecht Huber a genealogy aficionado, freelance writer, mother of four, and now author of her ten-year, project-turned-book entitled The Journey Takers, described how to delve into family history. She spoke on her own experiences Sept. 29 at the Boston Public Library.

Huber said her ancestral unearthing "changed my perspective on life."

When it comes down to lineage, Huber said, the lines become blurred. Generation after generation, stories "were forgotten." She said, it is now our job to research our roots as far back as possible to keep the history alive and thriving. "We must not forget where we come from," Huber said.

A then 20-year-old Huber traveled to a place she described as "not a normal stop on the tourist destination." It was the small village of Mecklenburg, Germany. In the 1820s, she said, "beggars lined the small, simple roads" while those who could afford an inkling of land, peasants mainly, "slept in lofts, homesteads, or in corners of rooms -- along with their animals." It instantly turned "dramatic enough to be an HBO miniseries," Huber said. "Imagine the smell."

"Church records are the fundamental record in peoples' lives," she said, and finding them is an essential starting point for individual investigation. Huber's ancestor, Johann Albrecht, was the last member within her family to sign in at a church in Germany before immigrating to Castle Garden, N.Y., in 1880.

Johann, although born and raised in Germany, was erroneously "checked-in" as Swedish after his arrival in New York. Huber said, "even original records can be wrong, sometimes use creativity to locate the records you need. Maybe experiment with facts."

With names, she said, being flexible is key. "Most people back then spelled phonetically because they were only semi-literate."

Huber's then on-going research hit a dead end when she became a mother in 2000. She juggled motherhood and what she described as a "burning desire to go to Sweden" up until the latter eventually engulfed her.

In a one-week stay in Skåne, Sweden, Huber discovered the exact land where one of her ancestors lived -- although now there is a new house in its place. The Swedes keep "really great records," she said. "Ninety-nine percent of the population belonged to the Swedish Lutheran Church in the 1850s." The pastor would go door-to-door, quizzing people on Lutheran Catechisms, Huber said.

She had spent her recently-deceased grandmother's last moments on a "tour" of Fremont, Utah, where most of her family resided. It was the place where "their destination holds their past," Huber said. Her grandmother had told her, regarding her family history, to "make an effort to preserve those stories or they'll be lost forever."

Mormon Times, July 30, 2010
“Chasing Ancestors Across the Ocean” By Michael De Groote

Leslie Albrecht Huber, an author and genealogist, spoke at BYU's Conference on Family History and Genealogy on Thursday about tracing ancestors to Western Europe. Leslie Albrecht Huber, an author and genealogist, spoke at BYU's Conference on Family History and Genealogy on Thursday about tracing ancestors to Western Europe.
Photo by Michael De Groote, Mormon Times

PROVO, Utah — Leslie Albrecht Huber wants to be very clear about one thing: If you want to do research on your immigrant ancestors, you need to know their hometown in Europe. "The town name. This is the key piece of information that you need to trace your European ancestor and to continue to have success in Western Europe. You need to find the name of the Old World town where your family lived," Huber said to a class at BYU's Conference on Family History and Genealogy on Thursday.

But that is the trick, isn't it?

Once the hometown is found, Huber said research is relatively easy — because people did not move around a lot and the records were usually local to the ancestor's local church. In fact, if you find that hometown and the ancestor's local records, Huber said there are often multi-generational records in the same place.

Oh, but to find that hometown isn't always easy.

Genealogical records can give sometimes give information like one entry Huber found that said an ancestor was born in Germany in the Empire of Germany.
"I'm going to tell you the good news about town names. And that is there are many possible places to find a town name," she said. "And now we have the bad news: None of these sources are guaranteed to have your family."

Even if a hometown is found, it may not be reliable, Huber said. The town could have been misspelled or translated (like the town of one ancestor in Sweden written as "Valley City." Not likely.). The town may not exist any more. The record may generalize — such as saying Hamburg when the ancestor really lived in a small town 10 miles from the city. And the town may be just plain incorrect. "Who knows why some of our ancestors tell us some of the things they do," she said.

Huber, an author and genealogist, shared eight ways to cross the ocean:

  1. Family Records
    The first place to look is in family records. "Ask your grandma first," Huber said. Although family records can sometimes be a mix of fact and fancy, they are an easy place to begin. For example, Huber was researching her husband's genealogy and asked a distant aunt if she knew anything about the particular ancestor. She said she didn't, but she did have a photograph. She sent the photograph, and on the back was written when the ancestor was born and in the German town of Erseolsheim. The actual town ended up being Ernolsheim and the records of that ancestor were found back to 1736.

  2. Genealogy Records
    Genealogy records are the secondary sources where people have already done work — such as pedigree charts, family histories and so forth. Huber said the information can be retrieved fast, but it has to be checked against original sources. For example, one pedigree chart listed a birthplace as Brenz, but it was really Benz. On the same line was a woman named Dorthea Ball. Wrong person. The correct woman turned out to be Sophia Engle.

  3. U.S. Church Records
    Churches often included vital information — births, marriages and death records. Huber said all you have to do is find the church where they went. The ease of this task depends on their town, ethnicity and how well the church kept records. Some records are at the Family History Library, others at state and local archives, but sometimes you need to go to the church.

  4. U.S. Vital Records
    Death and marriage records often give birth places. They were created at town, county or state level. Some are available online and at the Family History Library, but others need to be ordered (sometimes at high fees — $30 per in New York). "Where to Write for Vital Records" is an online resource that may help. Huber found one ancestor in New York death records. The hometown? Bavaria.

  5. Naturalization and Citizenship Records
    Foreign-born citizens didn't need to naturalize, but many desired citizenship and may have at least begun the trail of paperwork required. Before 1906 it was a state process and could take place in any court, Huber said. Some of this information is online. Some of this information is only found in the courts where it was done.

  6. Emigration or Immigration Compiled Sources
    These are the books like "Great Migrations Series," "Palatines to America" or "Irish to America." Huber said they are fast and easy to use, but incomplete and sometimes hit or miss. She said to check in its "maps, forms and guides" section.

  7. U.S. Passenger Arrival Lists
    Huber said there are more of these records online than any other records. Immigrants came to New York, but also other cities such as Boston. Some are available at, others at (10 million people) and (22 million people).

  8. European Emigration Records
    "I really want to put a gold star by this group of records," Huber said. Why? Because she said they are underutilized. Of all the records mentioned, these are the ones that, if found, are most likely to have the hometown. Some ports, like Hamburg, have good records. Others, such as Rotterdam, are lost.

"What if you go to all these places ,and you still haven't had any luck in finding your town name?" Huber said. "Well don't give up yet." She said there are other places to look. Any record could have the information needed — from census records, obituaries, military records, probate records and so forth.

Also be on the lookout for traveling companions — the friends and relatives of your ancestor. Your ancestor's record may be silent, but his friends may give the clue to their common place of origin.

When it comes to chasing an ancestor across the sea, there is no place like their hometown.

LDS Church News, July 29, 2010
"Finding Extraordinary Information for 'Ordinary' Ancestors" By R. Scott Lloyd

Leslie Huber

Are you faced with the task of telling the life story of ancestors for whom all you have are a few names and dates? Don't lose heart; if you poke around a bit, you might find a lot more information than you thought possible.

Leslie Albrecht Huber discussed tools and techniques for doing that in her presentation July 28 at the Conference on Family History and Genealogy at BYU.

Sister Huber, whose book The Journey-Takers tells of her own European emigrant ancestors, says that in telling such stories, one might be tempted to assign "criteria" according to which ancestors are more promising for uncovering information. The criteria are that the ancestor was recent, prominent and "verbose."

Yet, Sister Huber said, her favorite ancestor, Karsti Nilsdotter (1843-1902) from Vallby in southern Sweden, a prominent figure in her book, fits none of those criteria.

In selecting that ancestor as a subject for her book, Sister Huber was afraid she had chosen someone a bit too ordinary.

Leslie Huber

"But as I got into doing the research, I soon found myself with the opposite problem from what I had expected," she said. "Instead of having too little information, I found myself with too much. In fact, I had to cut 50,000 words from my manuscript."

The fact that an ancestor is "ordinary" does not mean his or her story is not as fascinating, moving, inspiring, important and worthy of being passed down as that of a more prominent ancestor, she said.

But, she said, such a story requires three things of a researcher: to dig deeper, rely on the personal accounts of others and "create the historical context."

"Before you start reeling through microfilms looking for new records, I would encourage you to look at the records you already have," Sister Huber said. They might contain little pieces of information such as witnesses, occupations, causes of death and any notes the record keeper added.


She encouraged would-be researchers to find make a time line of an ancestor's life, including events of from others' lives and outside events that would have impacted the ancestor.

Instead of paying attention to an entry pertaining to one's ancestor "look at the entry around them," she said.

"For example in a census, look for their neighbors. Look for people who traveled with them on an immigrant ship or maybe just others living in a community. These efforts can help you reveal information about the family. How often is it that the next-door neighbor is a sibling or a cousin or an aunt or uncle, or someone traveling with them is actually related, even if you don't recognize the names at first?"

A researcher can cast a wider net by looking at unconventional records, such as financial, school, payment and employment records, newspaper articles and records of societies to which the ancestor might have belonged, Sister Huber said.


"If your ancestor did not write anything, what can you do?" she asked. "You can read what other people wrote." Begin with records of family or friends, the closer to the ancestor the better, she said. Then expand to records of acquaintances or strangers: someone who sailed with the ancestor or even the following year from the same place, someone who fought in the same military unit or someone who lived in the same locale.

"Many of the events and circumstances will apply to your ancestor, even if the records don't give your ancestor's name," Sister Huber suggested.

"Mormon Immigration Index," a database on CD-ROM offered by the Church, is one of several sources she mentioned that might include such background information, she said. It is searchable by an ancestor's name and pulls up records of people who would have traveled in the same ship voyage and overland in the same company.

For example, for her ancestor Karsti Nilsdotter, she found in that index day-by-day accounts written by others in the same wagon train. "This is the only period of my ancestor's life where I have a sense of what happened every single day," she remarked.

Lebanon Daily News, Roots and Branches Column, June 12, 2010

“Reading Book on Immigrants a Spiritual Journey”

In a dozen years of column writing, you could easily say I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to family history books. I’ve seen books so scholarly that the text was strangled by footnotes. I’ve read ones that were little more than a compilation of names and dates (oops, I even compiled one like that some 20 years ago!) And I’ve read ones that were more fiction than fact, with tales of heraldry, knights and Adam at the top of the chart.

But I’ve never read a book that fascinated me as much as Leslie Albrecht Huber’s The Journey Takers (Foundation Books, 321 pages, $19.95). Reading the advance review copy of her book was truly an experience on the spiritual plane as she relates the tales of German, Swedish and English ancestors.

In her narrative, she rather seamlessly alternates amongst passages that lay out the information from records directly mentioning her ancestors, relate her feelings as she went through her present-day search, and – finally and most importantly – use her many historical sources to create scenes from the everyday lives of her ancestors.

In the present-day portions of narrative, the readers can follow Huber from an archival internship in Germany before she’s even married to the point a few years later when she’s mothering a brood of children. This type of back-and-forth technique could be distracting, but Huber succeeds by not overdramatizing it.

For anyone attempting to better understand the social history of their German ancestors, one of the strengths of Huber’s book is its extensive bibliographic endnotes. It is the sources listed in these endnotes that the author uses to create “might have happened” episodes from her ancestors’ lives. To her credit, she clearly labels these creations as such, but her extensive reading shown by her bibliography makes it seem logical that things may well have occurred as she has written. This is the type of book that needs to be read with one hand bookmarking the endnotes for easy flipping back and forth.

One passage that will grab readers who haven’t explored their roots in Germany – and ring true for those who already have done so – is her tale of going to the church in which her immigrant Albrecht ancestors were married in 1864. This part of the narrative starts with her being gruffly rebuffed by the wife of a local historian (to who she had been referred) before the historian himself warmly goes through his records and then offers to drive her to the village of Goldebee in Mecklenburg since he says it would be too far for her to walk.

Once in Goldebee, they find the church warden and upon entering the church Huber is overcome by being the first of her American family to return to this place: “Without warning, I feel my throat choke up. Embarrassed, I glance over the two older men, hoping my emotions aren’t apparent. To my surprise, I see tears in the eyes of both of them.”

The church warden then charges her – having rescued these ancestors from obscurity – to not let them ever be forgotten again. Her book fulfills that charge.

James M. Beidler

Award-winning "Roots & Branches" column author
Editor of Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society's Der Kurier
German Life Magazine "Family Research" columnist

Genea-Musings, Tuesday, June 29, 2010

By Randy Seaver

Author Leslie Albrecht Huber has written a wonderful book titled The Journey Takers about her immigrant ancestors and their lives.

The book's back cover says:

"Leslie Albrecht Huber's ancestors were journey takers, leaving their homes in Germany, Sweden, and England behind to sail to the US and start new lives here. Huber sets out to trace these journeys and to understand her family -- who they were and what mattered to them. As she follows in their footsteps, walking the paths they walked and looking over the land they farmed, she finds herself on a journey she hadn't expected. Based on thousands of hours of research, Huber recreates the immigration experience in a way that captures both its sweeping historical breadth and its intimately personal consequences."

The book is divided into four parts:

* In Germany: The Story of the Families of Georg Albrecht and Mina Haker
* In Sweden: The Story of the Family of Karsti Nilsdotter
* In England and Beyond: The Story of the Family of Edmond Harris
* In Fremont, Utah: The Story of the Family of Earl Albrecht

It also includes End Notes (in a separate section) for each chapter providing family and historical source citations. An Appendix provides detailed Family Group Sheets for each family discussed, and there is a selected bibliography of published books and articles and unpublished records and documents.

Leslie's book provides a magnificent example of family history writing - displaying the breadth and depth of her research, weaving historical and cultural events into the lives of her ancestors, and re-creating realistic scenes and family conversations at places in the stories. Throughout the book, Leslie's own family challenges and triumphs are woven into the narrative - she takes you from the ancestral past to her family's present on the same page. This reader felt that he was riding along with Leslie while visiting the ancestral places, and was witnessing her struggles as she tried to balance her family life with the thrill and drive to do more family research.

Significant historical and family research was conducted to generate the factual information in this book. She used published and unpublished resources in family papers, published books and periodical articles, and unpublished records found in the Family History Library microforms and in the local repositories in the places that she visited.

Leslie visited each ancestral place of the immigrant ancestors that she writes about. She spent several days, or several weeks in the case of the German towns, in the places trying to "see and feel" the homes, churches, and countryside of these locales. At each site, she found helpful and knowledgeable local persons that knew the history, the lay of the land and the local record repositories. It helped considerably that the ancestral homes were in small, and mostly rural, towns and villages.

What sets this book apart from a dry "what, when, why, where and how" recitation of the research facts, experiences and conclusions is the use of re-created family stories and conversations between her ancestors throughout the book. While they are based on Leslie's imagination, they seem to be realistically based on the historical situations, and on records and diaries for similar persons in the same or similar situations.

The impact of larger historical events - wars, economic conditions, cultural movements, church upheavals, immigration travails, etc. - on the ancestral families are one of the most interesting parts of the work for me. Woven throughout the stories are the conversion of the ancestral families to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was one of the major reasons for their immigration to the United States.

Of course, there are many more stories for Leslie to tell - this book details the lives of four immigrants from Western Europe to the United States, and then the family line from them to herself. She describes only briefly the parental families of these four persons, and does not treat the ancestral families of the females that marry into her Albrecht line.

I really enjoyed reading this book because it provides excellent examples of family history research. It made her immigrant ancestors - the journey takers - come to life as real people with real feelings and fears. They overcome hardships and family tragedies to persevere and settle in Utah in the late 1800s. Their specific stories are Leslie's stories to tell, but they are instructive to all of us with immigrant ancestors from Europe and the process of migrating and settling within the United States. Leslie tells their unique stories passionately and well.

I also liked the "road trip" experiences that helped Leslie find more family history. They are an integral part of this book. Many researchers can relate to them, and many wish that they could take more of them!

Leslie's own story makes this a very personal family history - the book starts before her marriage and ends with her at age 30 and a growing family. She says:

"I want them [her children] to feel the hand of family that reaches forward more certainly for me because of the strength I now recognize in its roots. To carry forward the legacy of their family though, my children must first know it's there." This book guarantees that!

Memoir Mentor, July 9, 2010

“No Ordinary Family History”
By Dawn Thurston

I’m always looking for examples of creative ways people write family histories that breathe life into ancestors long gone. I have posted a list of books I particularly admire in the Toolbox section of my website, I recently finished another family history I’d like to recommend to you, one that will surely go on the top of my list. It’s The Journey Takers, written by Leslie Albrecht Huber. I am impressed with the way Huber structured her family history and told her story, and I’ve picked up some ideas I’d like to implement in the Parrett family history I’m writing.

 Huber’s narrative traces the lives of several families on her paternal line who made the brave choice to forsake their homeland–in this case, Germany, England, and Sweden–to immigrate to America. Hence, the title, The Journey Takers. This is an interesting focus, one that provides a unified theme to the varied individual life stories. My husband and I have frequently discussed writing a joint family history about all of our immigrant ancestors who came to America. Huber has beat us to the punch and provided a superb template to boot.

The Journey Takers is also about Huber’s own journey, actually several journeys, including research trips to her ancestral homelands to comb through archives, talk to the locals, and walk the land her people called their own. While researching for this book–a ten-year project, she tells us–her own young family is also in a state of flux. Educational pursuits and job responsibilities require the Hubers to move to several different states and spend a year in Spain. She recounts these different experiences in an engaging way, candidly telling us about her difficult pregnancies, parenting adjustments, and frustrations about being sidetracked from her research and writing goals. Her children are her top priority, she tells us, but she’s also ambitious and driven to complete this book. The worst thing she can imagine, she thinks, would be to lead an ordinary life. A woman so driven finds ways to fulfill her goals. I had to smile at some of her solutions: bouncing a restless toddler on her hip at the Family History Library, juggling babysitters, toting her mother and pre-school-age children with her as she navigates the Oregon Trail. I felt like I knew this woman and could relate to her conflicted desires. 
The sections about Huber are told in first person, of course, and are also written in the present tense, which makes them feel both personal and immediate. The ancestral narratives are told in the past tense and third person. Huber has done her reseach, in both primary documents and social history, which she combines in an interesting, seamless way, documented inobtrusively with endnotes that appear at the back of the book.

Here’s the best part, however. The book is full of scenes…and you know how I like scenes. The book is worth reading just to convince yourself that scenes infuse lifeless names and facts with flesh and bones–and a heart and soul. Huber does a fine job with this creative form of writing, inbuing her scenes with engaging detail, dialogue, and emotion.

I love the slick way she transitions into scenes. For example, after describing horrible conditions on board an 1861 immigrant ship bound for America from Sweden, she writes the following:
When I think of Karsti’s voyage across the ocean, one image stands out in my mind.
Karsti hurries down the steps leading below deck in the semi-dark as the massive, angry sea tossed the ship back and forth. Behind her, she hears the hatch door slam shut with a resounding thud. She reminds herself that this is to protect the passengers–to keep the water out, not to make them miserable. A few lanterns give off a dim glow, the only light available. She searches for something to hold on to in order to steady herself against the relentless motion of the ship. Around her, she sees other passengers gripping their beds, their faces white.

The scene carries on in this vein for several more paragraphs, helping us visualize what Huber clearly visualized from her reseach about that voyage. It’s all done to good effect. I include below several more  examples showing how Huber transitions from narrative to scene. 

Sometimes I imagine Karsti at Castle Gardens. She stacks her luggage, which represents all her possessions, around her. She rolls up a piece of clothing and places it under her head….

In my mind, I can see James stopping to knock on a door. A few seconds later, Elizabeth answers. Her long, brown hair is pulled up neatly on top of her head….

I picture their wagon bumping over the parched ground as John guides the horses along the dirt trail lined with sagebrush.

The book contains many other fine examples of this type. We can learn a lot by reading books similar to the ones we want to write. This is no ordinary book, written by no ordinary writer and genealogist. Leslie Albrecht Huber has nothing to worry about. 

Mormon Times, August 27, 2010

“Author Says Her Ancestors Were Ordinary – and Yours Were Too” by Hikari Loftus
Leslie Albrecht Huber's ancestors were not special. Nor were they extraordinary.

In fact, they were 100 percent, completely ordinary and just like everyone else around them. And if you ask her, she'll probably tell you that yours were, too — no matter what stories you've been told about descending from Indian princesses.

But that is why their story is so important for her to share.

"By telling their story, I could tell the story of millions of Americans who share this story. I could tell the story of so many other immigrants who had experiences just like them," Huber said.

In a book lecture Thursday evening, Huber explained that for the last 12 years, she has been to Germany, Switzerland and back — seeking out her family names, records and locations of her ancestors. The stories that she discovered on her journeys became the inspiration for her book, "The Journey Takers."

As a 21-year-old, Huber traveled to Germany for three months searching for anything she could that would give her a clue as to who her ancestors were. Through her search, she was able to locate the church where some of her ancestors were married and their children christened.

Entering the church, Huber realized that no one in her family had seen that church since the Albrecht's left Germany hundreds of years ago. Their information and stories "had fallen into the vastness of forgotten history."

Before leaving, the churchwarden who had let her in said, "(Your ancestors) were forgotten, but now, you must not forget. Go home to your family and tell them about your German ancestors. Teach your children where they came from. You must tell them all so that they will never be forgotten again."

Huber left that day with a strong sense of responsibility and obligation to learn and share the stories of her family.

Huber's ancestors later met Mormon missionaries and were converted. Their conversion led them to leave their homes in Germany and Switzerland and come to America.

Through learning about their journey to America and then across the U.S. to Utah, Huber began to re-evaluate her statements of her family not being special or extraordinary. She'd sat in their churches, seen the land they had farmed, followed in their footsteps and came to know them in personal ways.

"I had been wrong in my judgment of my family. … My family were not important people. … They were just like everyone else around them. What I had been wrong about was that this group of people as a whole was extraordinary people who made choices that shaped our lives," Huber amended.

Huber selected stories about her family and her personal experiences to find them and put them together into her book, "The Journey Takers," for everyone to read and relate to.

The tagline for Huber's book is, "Sometimes you have to risk everything to find what you are looking for," referring to her immigrant ancestors who left everything they had to come to Utah.

The second part says, "But sometimes it's a lot closer than you think," referring to her own journey. "Sometimes we have to take big risks, but sometimes we don't. Sometimes it's what we already have, what's in front of us — and that is our family. That is what it's all about," Huber explained.

German Life Magazine, August/September 2010

“German-American Immigrant Histories Show Many Perspectives” by James M. Beidler
(quoting only part pertinent to The Journey Takers)

Where Fritschen’s account is methodical, Huber’s The Journey Takers (Foundation Books, 321 pages, $19.95) is a much more spiritual experience. She successfully intertwines her search for roots with the stories of those ancestors, who hail from Sweden and England in addition to German’s Mecklenburg area.

Her chapters on her Mecklenburg immigrants are the book’s Part One, and they set the stage for what she wishes to accomplish in an admirable way. For anyone attempting to better understand the social history of their German ancestors, one of the strengths of Huber’s book is its extensive bibliographic endnotes.

In her narrative, she rather seamlessly works amongst passages that lay out the information from records directly mentioning her ancestors, relating her feelings as she went through her present-day search, and – finally and more importantly – using her many historical sources to create scenes of the everyday lives of her ancestors.

To her credit, she clearly labels these creations as such, but her expensive reading (shown in the endnotes) makes is seem logical that things may well have occurred as she has written.

One passage that will grab readers who have not explored their roots in Germany – and will ring true for those who already have done so – is her tale of going to the church in which her immigrants Albrecht ancestors were married in 1864. This part of the narrative starts with her being gruffly rebuffed by the wife of a local historian (to whom she had been referred) before the historian himself warmly goes through his records and then offers to drive her to the village of Goldebee since he says it would be too far for her to walk.

Once in Goldebee, they find the church warden and he talks about the history of the town before they enter the church. After going inside the church, Huber relates in the book the tender moment of being the first of her American family to return to this places: “Without warning, I feel my throat choke up. Embarrassed, I glance over at the two older men, hoping my emotions aren’t apparent. To my surprise, I see tears in the eyes of both of them.”

The church warden then charges her – having rescued these ancestors from obscurity – to not let them over be forgotten again.

Family History Writing Blog, August 8, 2010

"Listening to an Expert Talk About Research" by Joy Stubbs

I'm in love with a new book. The author, Leslie Albrecht Huber, is an expert researcher. In her book, The Journey Takers, she intersperses the story of her own life journey with that of her ancestors' emigrant journeys. The stories of her discoveries and of their experiences in their life-changing "journey" to the new world is engaging. And I relate to Leslie's research experiences.

But my acquaintance with her book came after I spent a couple of very instructive hours in her classes at the BYU Family History Conference. Leslie gave me permission to quote her in this blog, but I also recommend a visit to her website which is filled with great tips and historical information.

On doing research: One thing Leslie recommends is that we dig a little deeper into the sources we already possess to make sure we are extracting everything there--not just the dates and places. Pay attention to clues about occupations, other people in the records, causes of death, the informant, notes added. Recently I have been cataloging a collection of family photos and it is amazing the clues I have found--on the back of one old photo was the order form to hand-color the photo, including the eye and hair color of my great-grandparents (see photo above). It was my great-great grandmother who made the order and her address was included! My personal hint is this: always scan the back of the photo as well as the front and link them together in your e-files.

As I puzzled over a Danish census record one day, wondering what happened to two of the children listed, I suddenly noticed a tiny "2" after the word "gift" (married) for the father. The mother had a "1" by her marriage notation. I looked at their comparative ages. He was much older. After some further research, I found another marriage--his first wife. Leslie is right. It pays to study the records we already have. I know there is still gold to be mined from my husband's great-great grandfather's lengthy pension record. One way I have found to find this valuable information is to completely transcribe the documents involved. It's on my list, Leslie!