Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: The Journey Takers, by Leslie Albrecht Huber

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Family Group Sheets for each family discussed, and there is a selected bibliography of published books and articles and unpublished records and documents.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 She used published and unpublished resources in family papers, published books and periodical articles, and unpublished records found in the Family History Library microforms and in the local repositories in the places that she visited.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!

Publication details:

Leslie Ann Huber, The Journey Takers, Foundation Books, 2010, 332 pages, 6 x 9, with appendix and bibliography. ISBN 2010924144, $19.95 (paperback).

The book can be ordered through Leslie's website, http://www.thejourneytakers.com/.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of the book directly from Leslie Albrecht Huber and promised her an objective review by 1 July.


Anonymous said...

What a great review. I am now more excited than before to see Leslie Huber at my local library on July 6 and hear more about the "Journey Takers" on her cross-country book signing and lecture tour.

Linda said...

An excellent review, Randy. I can't wait to read it for creative ideas of how to write a family history narrative that includes as much of the whole story as possible - including that of the author.