Family historian Leslie Albrecht Huber wrote a book called The Journey Takers, a story about her search for information about her German, Swedish and English ancestors who left their homes behind and sailed for a new life in a new land. After reading her work, I developed a great need to know who the journey takers were in my family tree. The actions of one such individual can affect hundreds or even thousands of his or her progeny, as a journey taker determines where future generations will live their lives – and may even affect the circumstances in which they do.
Doing My Family History Research
Following my maternal line, you’ll encounter my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Smart Barker. Her grave marker stands in a cemetery just a few hours from my home, and it was from this source that I learned she was one of the journey takers in my family tree:
From this you can see that she was born in Coventry, England, and yet her grave marker was located 4,742 miles away in a small town in Utah. Mary Ann Smart Barker, whose barest life details were engraved on a stone in this Mormon pioneer cemetery, was the ancestor who made me wonder: what would a person be searching for that would possess her to take such a risk, to incur such an expense? What were conditions like in England that caused her to move away, forever? What factors were pulling her toward America? Did she find what she was looking for and, in the end, was it worth it?
Her grave marker gave another piece of vital information about her journey that launched my research – she arrived in Salt Lake City in 1853. So my search for documentation about her immigration would begin in that year. Knowing that Ancestry.com holds a substantial collection of digitized immigration records and has a powerful search engine, I input into the search fields what I knew about her: her given name, her married name, her birth year, the place of her birth, and the year she arrived in Salt Lake City. I was gratified to find her on a passenger list for the ship Camillus:
From this document, I learned that Mary Ann was age 21 and traveled with John N. Barker, age 25, and their child Alma N. L. Barker, age 18 months. I was surprised to find that she landed in New Orleans, rather than New York City. In 1853, New Orleans was in the midst of a devastating epidemic, and by the end of the year, 10% of the city’s population was dead from yellow fever, making this an undesirable place to land for a new immigrant.
Learning from Other Immigrants
Because I wanted to know what it was like to sail on the Camillus, I turned to a website sponsored by Brigham Young University that has a collection of accounts written by immigrants. While my own ancestor left no such record, I did find individuals who sailed on the same ship as her who did. As it happened, fellow passenger James Lee Newton wrote daily entries and I learned a great deal about Mary Ann’s voyage. Some were mundane details:
Friday 15th We arose about 6 a.m. fine morning, Ireland still in sight. Lost sight of it about 7 a.m. Calm wind all day.
Others were more tender:
Wednesday 20th We arose as usual. Brother Wild’s infant daughter about 5 weeks old died about past 2 a.m. Was committed to the deep about noon by third mate, stiff breeze.
And I followed their geographical progress in entries such as this:
Monday 23rd We arose as usual, fine morning, moderate wind. Jamaica in sight. 4 a.m. came on rain 6 p.m., a wind also which drove our ship on 10 miles a hour. Jamaica lost sight of.
Also, these accounts informed me that Mary Ann and her family had sailed from Liverpool on 6 April 1853. A quick Google search turned up an image of the recently renovated Albert Dock in Liverpool, the very place from which Mary Ann sailed:
Because I knew she left from Liverpool on 6 April 1853, I was able to find a record of departure created on 24 March 1853, and the information from this record verified the information found on the passenger list: Mary A.M. Barker was age 21, and traveled with John N. Barker, age 25 and Alma N.L. Barker, age 1½ years. Both she and John worked as ribbon weavers:
Finally, I searched for an image of the Camillus. While I did not find one, I learned that typical ships used by emigrants in 1853 were three-mast, square-rigged packets, and consequently found this image of an unidentified ship of the corresponding type, courtesy of the United States Library of Congress:
Looking at this photo, I like to imagine my great grandmother as one of those individuals standing on deck, looking out at the vast ocean, her toddler perched on her hip. From this research and from the few collected documents, I became better acquainted with my great-grandmother and became a little more familiar with her experience as a 21-year-old journey taker.
My earlier question still remained: was the journey worth it? The answer to that question will require delving into and collecting more records, and will require another delightful quest in genealogical research.
Do you want to come to know your ancestral journey taker? Legacy Tree Genealogists’ team of experts can help you with our vast experience in working in immigration records, passenger lists, naturalization papers and foreign records of origin. Give us a try! Contact us to learn more, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments!