Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Huber publishes book on immigration experience


Leslie Albrecht Huber comments on the connected ancestry of President Obama and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a Good Morning America sequence aired October 13.

Obama and Palin are 10th cousins, both related to John Smith who lived in Massachusetts in the 1600s. "Whenever you have people that can trace their family quite early into this country, particularly those people who came in the 1600s to New England, there is a fair likelihood of finding connections," Huber says about 43 seconds into the 1 minute 54 second spot.

Leslie Albrecht Huber

Web site
Understanding Your Ancestors


The Journey Takers is available from Family Chronicle

Destinations and results are often unexpected, Leslie Albrecht Huber finds as she applies aspects of her La Follette training to her career as a freelance writer.

The 2002 alum has published The Journey Takers, a narrative nonfiction book that tells the story of the Western European immigrants through the story of one family — her family. Huber traced her ancestors' travels from Germany, Sweden and England to their destinations in the United States in the 1800s. As she followed in their footsteps, walking the paths they walked and looking over the lands they farmed, Huber found herself on a journey she hadn't expected.

"Learning about my ancestors, who they were and what mattered to them, ultimately changed my perspective on my family now," says Huber, who weaves her own story into the narrative, including scenes from her travels and her personal life as she struggled to balance her family and her research.

The Journey Takers has been Huber's project-in-the-making for more than 10 years. It represents thousands of hours of research in libraries and archives across the country and the world. She uses this research to recreate the lives of the common people in Western Europe, their ship voyage across the ocean, and their experiences as they settle into the United States. "The Journey Takers gives voice to the experiences of my family — and to the experiences of the group of people they represent — the Western European immigrants," she says.

Yet, despite the book's emphasis on a journey, much of the story takes place in Madison, Wisconsin, where Huber wrote most of it. Two of her "journeys," one to Sweden and one to England, were both launched from Madison.

After she graduated from La Follette in 2002 with a Master of Public Affairs degree, Huber and her family stayed in Madison until 2005, while her husband finished his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. During those years, Huber started freelance writing for magazines in addition to working on The Journey Takers. Huber's family spent a year in Valencia, Spain, then moved to Massachusetts where her husband took a job as a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. They live there now with their four children.

Huber has written more than 100 articles, mostly on family history and history topics. Her work has appeared in publications such as Ancestry, American Spirit, Family Chronicle, The History Channel Magazine, Family Tree Magazine, History Magazine, Internet Genealogy and others. She enjoys speaking to genealogy societies and other groups in New England and across the country.

During her research, travels, writing and marketing of her book, Huber finds aspects of her La Follette training to be useful. "I feel like many of the things I learned at La Follette have helped me get to the place I'm in now — some in unexpected ways," she says. "Many of the critical thinking skills I learned at La Follette have helped me put my book together and shape my approach to marketing."

Huber regularly gives PowerPoint presentations about The Journey Takers and family history. She put her first slides together at La Follette. "I remember well the tips we got — particularly Paul Soglin telling us that you should NEVER, EVER go over your allotted time," she says. "I think of this often and make sure to follow his advice."

She also found the advice of Leslie Ann Howard, president of United Way of Dane County and an adjunct professor at La Follette, on working with different kinds of people to be helpful as she interacted with publishers, book reviewers, graphic designers, media representatives, conference organizers, magazine editors and potential readers.

Huber applied these skills this summer during a journey in which she drove from Massachusetts to California on a book tour, speaking and doing presentations along the way. She spent two nights in Madison, doing an interview with television station NBC-15 and speaking at the Sequoya public library. "We still look back often on our years in Madison," Huber says. "The visit really made me 'homesick.'"

Portrait photo by Michael De Groote, Deseret News

— updated October 14, 2010