Sometimes you have to risk everything to find what you're looking for. But sometimes, it's a lot closer than you think.
Leslie Albrecht Huber's ancestors were journey takers, joining the LDS Church in Germany, Sweden, and England and setting sail to start new lives in Zion. Huber sets out to trace these journeys and to understand her family — who they were and what mattered to them. But 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.
“Thousands of hours of research enable Huber to reconstruct a deeply personal, profoundly vivid picture of challenges these men and women faced. Extensive notes and a list of sources round out this captivating portrayal, solidly grounded in reference yet written as smoothly flowing as a novel. Highly recommended.” — Midwest Book Reviews
“Leslie Albrecht Huber has the ability to pull us back in history, allowing us to view it through her eyes. She is able to capture the essence of life as it may have been. The reader will find it impossible to lay the book aside as Huber shares her experience in a way that envelops, inspires, and motivates.” — Holly Hansen, Family History Expos President
“The Journey Takers shows an impressive level of research, polished writing, and engaging and frequently moving interpretations. The theme that emerges about the importance and lasting influence of choices is a powerful on.&rduqo; — Dr. Lavina Fielding Anderson, author of Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir
About the Author
Foundations: Early Ancestors
We usually don’t recognize which experiences in life are important until long after they’re over. We need that separation to put them in perspective, to judge what resulted from them. But once in a great while, we know—we sense somehow—even before the experience happens, that it will be significant. We realize that for the rest of our lives we will look back on this experience and know we are different because of it.
That’s how I feel about this summer.
I can sense it as I sit here on a bench outside the Rathaus (town hall) in Neubrandenburg, Germany, trying to focus on writing a postcard as I wait for Frau Wolf. The view of the old city walls, the sound of people talking in unfamiliar words, but most of all something more vague—a feeling that something important is happening (although really nothing is happening at all)—is already etching a picture in my mind I know won’t ever be erased.
I came to Neubrandenburg to do an internship in the city archive for the summer. But it wasn’t only the archive that drew me here—it was my family. My family lived not far from Neubrandenburg over a century ago. For the past couple of years, I have learned everything I could about them. I’ve taken college courses on German history, German language, and even German paleography where I studied each letter in the German Gothic script (the handwriting style used in the old records) by writing line after line in a first grade primer. I’ve searched dozens of microfilmed parish records, locating each event in my ancestors’ lives. I’ve loved the thrill of discovery as I’ve uncovered new people and linked them into my family tree. I’ve loved my afternoons spent in the library, coaxing the records’ secrets out.
But it wasn’t enough.
A trip to Germany seemed like the logical extension of my research to everyone. I wrote essays explaining the reasons I should go for the scholarship committee and the history department so I could get academic credits for my adventures. I spoke with professors and internship advisors to arrange the plans. I explained that I needed firsthand research experience. I needed to look at the real records, see the collections available only in Germany, and improve my language skills. They all nodded in agreement and signed the papers on the line.
But I told my committee only part of the reasons I wanted to go—and not even the important ones. I came here to be near my family—not the living family members, but the dead ones. I longed to walk the paths they walked, to look over the land they farmed, to breathe in the air they breathed. I wanted to not only know about them, but to actually know them—to understand who they were and what mattered to them.
That’s what I told myself anyway. But just like I told the scholarship committee only part of the reasons, I also didn’t tell myself all the reasons either. Only since I arrived here have I realized what I probably knew deep down all along. My trip isn’t only about my ancestors—it’s also about me.
I realized it as soon as I stepped off the plane and a feeling of urgency washed over me. The past isn’t urgent, but sometimes the present is. People don’t start tracing their families because they like to read obscure documents about forgotten events. Family history isn’t about what you do; it’s about who you are. It gives people a feeling of stability, of belonging to something greater. It provides a sense of identity, an anchor, a foundation.
And now, more than ever, that’s what I need. My ancestors can wait, but I can’t. If I don’t learn about my family and about my past now, it may be too late—it might drift away from me. The past won’t change, but with the events ahead, I might.
I look up from my bench outside the Rathaus to see Frau Wolf, the director of the city archive, walking towards me, her long brown hair pulled back loosely, her cotton dress swaying with her steps. More than just my employer, Frau Wolf is my host. She picked me up at the airport last week and arranged my accommodations down to stocking my room with food and placing a single flower in a vase on the table.
I’ve appreciated Frau Wolf’s kindness. But even more, I’ve appreciated her English-speaking skills—uncommon in this area, which belonged to East Germany not that long ago. My German skills, which seemed so impressive in Utah, now seem pathetic. Three semesters of classes barely enable me to order lunch, let alone discuss the important historical events of the past centuries.
“Es tut mir leid,” she tells me, before switching to English. “I am sorry. My meeting went long. Should we go now?”
Before I can respond, she begins walking briskly down the sidewalk as if our schedule holds an important meeting we might be late to instead of just an informal walking tour of the city. I glance at my postcard where I’ve written my almost-fiancé’s address, but nothing else, then shove it in my bag and hurry to catch up with her.
Here on these cobblestone paths, the nearness of my ancestors sometimes makes me catch my breath. None of my family actually lived in Neubrandenburg. They lived in villages relatively near it. But perhaps its proximity is good enough. I can feel my family here. Sometimes, when I turn my head, I have the sense that I just missed them. Now as I walk beside Frau Wolf, I can almost see them a few steps ahead of us.
Georg and Mina Albrecht stroll along side by side. Their steps fall in an even rhythm, as if they’re just out for an afternoon walk without any real destination or purpose. Once in a while, one of them leans over to the other to say something—either to point something out around them or comment on something one of their children has done. But they mostly just walk in a comfortable silence.
Mina carries the baby, wrapped in a light blanket, in her arms. A daughter, around five years old with blonde hair tied back in a haphazard ponytail, concentrates on trying to skip next to Georg, the pieces of her hair that have managed to escape the ponytail blowing in her face. The other kids, ranging in age from nineteen to two, walk in front of their parents—some talking, some laughing, an older one sometimes instructing a younger one to slow down or speed up.
I watch them for a few more seconds. Then, they turn the corner and disappear.
Georg and Mina are the central characters of the German story—the journey takers—the immigrants, the ones who changed everything. In 1880, they gathered their nine children (another would be born later) and traveled to Hamburg where they boarded a ship and set sail for the US. They forced Germany with its cobblestone paths and cross-beamed homes, into the past.
And yet as I hurry along the path beside Frau Wolf, the cobblestone roads of Germany are no longer the past. They are the present—my present. Here my path nearly intersects with Georg and Mina’s path, off only by a hundred years—a hundred years that don’t matter now.
At the corner where Georg and Mina’s family disappeared, a little girl with blonde hair in a scraggly ponytail peeks her head around. Her eyes meet mine unexpectedly. Neither of us looks away, waiting to see what will happen.
Then she smiles and tilts her head just a little as if to ask, “Are you following me?” And I nod, because of course I am.
a genealogical masterpiece!
by Anita - reviewed on December 03, 2010
Leslie has created a masterpiece--a scrupulously researched and documented history of her paternal line which brings ancestors to life and weaves together her own quest in finding them with their ancestral quest for Zion. The honesty and diligence of her search, as well as the exciting discoveries she made along the way, are impressive and page-turning. Her own growth from college student to mother are chronicled and have echoes in the stories she tells. This is a treasure for her own family as well as an inspiration for others.
by Robin - reviewed on September 15, 2011
What an inspiration Leslie Albrecht Huber's book has been to me. Through her painstaking research and illustrative imagination she painted a realistic picture of her ancestors' lives, making me want to reach out to my own fore bearers to discover the details of their pasts, not as names in black on white paper, but as real people who struggled with the circumstances of their times as much as we do ours. My research will never be the same again, as I begin to create my own picture of heretofore unknown loved ones, without whom I would not be, and with whom I can be more. Robin Pa'u Leota
by Tyler - reviewed on December 02, 2010
I love family history and this a great book
This is the format I want to preserve my Swedish relatives' stories.
by Cathy - reviewed on December 02, 2010
I have loved reading and absorbing the writings of Leslie Huber. I have been gathering photos and information to write a book on my Swedish ancestors for 20 years, but couldn't develop a clear format. With the example of The Journey Takers, I now am ready to put into context the information which will preserve the lives of my Larson ancestors. Thank-you, Leslie, I look forward to meeting you when you speak in Utah in February/March. Respectfully submitted, Cathy Knight
Enjoyed taking the Journey!!
by Lora Linn - reviewed on December 06, 2010
I enjoyed reading this book. The characters were brought to life as Leslie gave historical background information that brought me into the lives and times and places where the characters lived. I already enjoy family history; this book was a joy to read. In fact, we're giving some as gifts!
a nonfiction book that reads like a novel
by Laura - reviewed on December 03, 2010
Leslie Albrecht Huber has the talent for making history come alive. Her non-fiction book The Journey Takers is definitely not a dry account of her ancestors but an appealing narrative that blends her own life with that of her past relatives, making this book feel like a novel. It was a real pleasure to read, the pages turning quickly as I was transported into the arduous, interesting, and exciting lives of common people who became immigrants and started a new life in a strange and hard land. It made me stop and think of my own ancestors and parents. The book is fascinating because it is filled with facts about the time period and country of the people she wrote about. I learned many new things reading it, among them what tedious and hard work the study of genealogy is! Meticulously researched and well written, this book includes extensive notes, family sheets and a bibliography at the end of the book, which I consulted as I read. It aroused in me a healthy curiosity about researching my own ancestors. I understood the author’s ardent desire to know more about her ancestors because I feel the same way when I visit my aunts in Italy and ask them to tell me about my grandparents and great-grandparents. But more than just details about her ancestors, Huber’s accounts touched me, especially that of Eliza Barret. I loved the author’s imagination as her mind could reel back in time and she could picture with her researcher’s eye scenes in the lives of her ancestors and what possible decisions their personal conditions led them to make. She traced her roots by travelling to the places where they were born, and walked the streets they once did. By the end of the book, I felt like I also knew these people personally. No doubt about it, the author has created and left a beautiful legacy to her children: the story of their ancestors with the clear message that family and faith are the most important things in a person’s life.
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