Bridging Generations

Ancestors and descendents of Joyce Verla Pratt and Mark Richard Berrett

Uncommercial Travelers

On 20 May 1863 Eliza, her father John Brown, and her brother George left their village of West Lavington to begin their trip to Utah.  It took about two weeks to get to London and make preparations for their journey.  Their ship, The Amazon, was anchored in the Thames River and a group of 882 Saints went on board.


Passenger list from the Amazon – bound for New York.
The Brown family is listed about halfway down the page.

Emigrant ships full of travelers going to America were not an uncommon sight at the docks.  However, this ship caught the interest of the English writer, Charles Dickens, and he went aboard the ship before it sailed.  He was curious to know why and where such a large group of emigrants was going and to find out what was the motivation behind their travel.  Family history reports that among those Dickens interviewed were Eliza and George and their father. His impressions of his visit that day of June 4, 1863 appeared in his book, “The Uncommercial Traveler.”  (And whether or not it really is our Eliza who is featured, the link is to an excerpt from the book that is very interesting and worth at least a quick read.)

The following excerpt is the conversation as Dickens published in his book.

“But nobody is in an illtemper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oator uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck in evercorner where it is possible to find a few square feet to kneel, crouch, or lie in, people, in everunsuitable attitude for writing, are writing letters.

“Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June. And these people are so strikingldifferent from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, Whawould a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!
The vigilant bright face of the weatherbrowned captain of the”Amazon” is at my shoulder, anhe says, ‘What, indeed! The most of these came aboard yesterday evening. They came from various partof England in small parties that had never seen one another before. Yet they had not been a couple ohours on board, when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their owwatches at all the hatchways. Before nine oclock, the ship was as orderly and as quiet as a manofwar.’

“Similarly on this same head, the Uncommercial underwent discomfiture from a Wiltshire laborer: simple fresh colored farm laborer, of eightandthirty, [Eliza’s father, John] who at one time stood beside him looking on anew arrivals, and with whom he held this dialogue:

“UNCOMMERCIAL: Would you mind my asking you what part of the country you come from?
     WILTSHIRE: Not a bit. Theer [there]! (Exultingly) Ive worked all my life o Salisbury Plain, righunder the shadder o Stonehenge. You mightnt think it, but I haive [have].
UNCOMMERCIAL: And a pleasant country too.
     WILTSHIRE: Ah! Tis a pleasant country.
UNCOMMERCIAL: Have you any family on board?
     WILTSHIRE: Two children, boy and gal. I am a widderer [widower], I am, and Im going out alonger mboy and gal. Thats my gal, and shes a fine gal o sixteen (pointing out the girl who is writing bthe boat). Ill go and fetch my boy. Id like to show you my boy. (Here Wiltshire disappears, anpresently comes back with a big shy boy of twelve, in a superabundance of boots, who is not at all glato be presented.) He is a fine boy too, and a boy fur [for] to work! (Boy having undutifully bolted,Wiltshire drops him.)
UNCOMMERCIAL: It must cost you a great deal of money to go so far, three strong.
     WILTSHIRE: A power of money. Theer [There]! Eight shillen a week, eight shillen a week, eighshillen a week, put by out of the weeks wages for ever so long.
UNCOMMERCIAL: I wonder how you did it.
     WILTSHIRE:recognising [recognizing] in this a kindred spirit). See there now! I wonder how I donit! But what with a bit o subscription heer [here], and what with a bit o help theer [there], it werdone at last, though I dont hardly know how. Then [p. 227] it were unfortnet for us, you see, as wgot kep in Bristol so longnigh a fortnight, it wereon accounts of a mistake wi Brother HallidaySwallerd up money, it did, when we might have come straight on.
UNCOMMERCIAL:(delicately approaching Joe Smith). You are of the Mormon religion, of course?
     WILTSHIRE: (confidently). O yes, Im a Mormon. (Then reflectively). Im a Mormon. (Then, lookinround the ship, feigns to descry a particular friend in an empty spot, and evaded the Uncommercial forevermore.)”

Maybe we really are published!


Weekly Family History Calendar


This week in our family history we can celebrate two birthdays.

20 February 1767 – Robert Comfort:  my fourth great-grandfather through my mother’s line was born in Ulster, New York.  That’s 219 years ago!  He was 8 years old when the Revolutionary War started.

The pedigree:
Joyce Pratt Berrett -> Madalene Roberts Pratt -> Ezra Nahum Roberts ->
Annie Elizabeth Slingerland Roberts -> Nancy Comfort Slingerland -> Robert Comfort

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

20 February 1834 – F. Edward Toone:  my second great grandfather through my dad’s line was born in 1834 in South Molton, Devenshire, England.  He was born 183 years ago.


F. Edward Toone – undated photo

The pedigree:
Mark Richard Berrett -> Thomas Francis Berrett ->
Annie Elizabeth Toone  -> F. Edward Toone 

Weekly Family History Calendar

I’m going to try a new weekly feature that I saw on another family history blog.  Each week I’ll post a calendar of births and marriages in our family history, and I’ll try to include a little information about those individuals.


February 14, 1878 – My great-grandparents through my father’s paternal line, Annie Elizabeth Toone and Richard Thomas Berrett were married on Valentine’s Day, 139 years ago.


Richard Thomas Berrett and Annie Elizabeth on their wedding day, 1878


February 18, 1820 – My 3rd great-grandfather through my mother’s maternal line, Taylor Buker was born in Bishops Mills, Ontario, Canada.  I have no pictures and very little information about him, but I’ll keep searching!

Let’s celebrate!

RootsTech 2017


No posts this week, because I’m at RootsTech!

I’ll be back next week, hopefully full of new and fabulous ideas about sharing our family history.

Her greatest hope

Eliza’s parent, John Brown and Sarah Mundy, were the first in their locality of West Lavington, Wiltshire, England to embrace the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – – the Mormons.  They were baptized in about 1845-46 after being taught by missionaries in their area.   Eliza’s decision to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young girl, was probably the greatest influence on the experiences of her adult life.

It was while working at the silk factory when she was just past eight years old, that she, her sister Sarah, and a friend Annie Draper were baptized in May 1856,  by Elder Edward Hansen, a missionary from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Of course there was no church building in the little village, so  Eliza was baptized in a boat canal.  Family history tells that she was baptized in the “darkness of the night.”  I’m not certain of the religious climate of the little villages in Wiltshire in the mid 1800s, but perhaps night baptisms were to avoid harassment or persecution from townspeople who were opposed to the Mormons.


If Eliza was working at the silk factory in Devizes, this canal, the Kennet and Avon Canal may be the one in which her baptism took place.  photo credit 

While Eliza was being baptized, the Elder somehow lost hold of her and she floated down stream.  Can you imagine the concern that must have caused among the onlookers?  She was rescued by the excited group and revived with some difficulty. Her life was spared through their quick action, faith and prayers.


Not the same canal Eliza was baptized, but perhaps it looked something like this. photo credit

Eliza was true to her religion, and regardless of where she was working she found the Church meeting place and regularly attended meetings.  In her early teenage years she had to walk five miles to Sunday meetings of the LDS group, but continued faithful attendance. At that time her greatest hope was to immigrate to Utah and join with the Saints in that great free country.  She helped her father as best she could to save money to make the trip.

Finally when she was 16 years old, Eliza, along with her father and her brother George, left England for Zion.   But that’s another story for another day.

170 years ago today

In honor of my great-grandmother’s birthday,
I’m repeating a post from my personal blog.

Eliza Brown White Brown

For as long as I can remember, I have giggled at this great grandmother’s name (my father’s maternal grandmother).  After all, “Eliza Brown White Brown” has quite a rhythm – she was born Eliza Brown, married John White, then married Thomas Brown.  But after reading – really reading – her history, my feelings have been focused, and her unusual name has become a standard of hard work and perseverance and deserves my greatest respect.

As I read the account of her life, I found myself studying her picture and pondering.  How I wish I had known her!  My heart was touched when I thought about that little girl living in an unfamiliar home as a housekeeper and nanny when just a child herself.  What a heartbreak that must have been for her parents, and what a difficult experience for her.

In honor of her birthday, the following is an excerpt from her history written by her son, Nephi James Brown, detailing her early years.  In later posts I’ll share events of her adult life.  She truly was a remarkable woman.

Eliza was born in the country town of West Lavington, Wiltshire, England– the daughter of John Brown and Sarah Mundy.  When she was about three years old, her mother died of a sudden illness at just 34 years old.  Eliza went to live with her maternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Mundy, who were very kind to her.  About the first things she remembered while she was living with them was having a little red chair and two or three very meager toys to play with.  The grandparents were not really in a position to keep her very long.  About a year later, Eliza’s father married Jane Wilkins, and Eliza then returned home to live with them.  When she was about five years old, she began to go to school in a little thatched roof schoolhouse where the morning was spent in reading, writing, and spelling.  In the afternoon she was taught sewing.  Owing to the poor circumstances of her father, she was only permitted to go to school a short time after she was eight years old.  It seems incredible that she ever learned to read and write as well as she could during her lifetime with such a meager amount of school.  At that time in England it seemed that child labor was encouraged rather than restricted, unlike later years when they were compelled to keep children in school until 14 years of age.  Eliza always greatly regretted that she only had about two and a  half years of schooling.

Her first employment commenced when she was a little past eight years old in a silk factory [winding silk threads on little spools] – hard work, and long hours for the unbelievable small amount of 10 cents a day – a ten hour day – one cent an hour – 6 days a week.  She continued her work at the silk factory for about 9 months.  She paid 12 cents a week for a place to sleep.

Eliza next went to Bristol as a servant girl for her Aunt Ann Dyer.  She lived there and at two other places in Bristol, working hard for her board and lodging.  She received however, in addition thereto, a salary of 12 cents a week. At the last two places, her work was very hard, and food in very scanty quantities.  From Bristol, she returned to West Lavington and worked in a bakery, where she was given quite fair treatment.

Old houses and church in Potterne, England – 1898
from ecard

From there she went to Potterne and worked in a grocery store.  Here she endured the greatest hardships of any place she worked in England.  Besides her daily grinding routine of hard work, she had the care of four children, including a pair of twins.  Her living consisted of only bread and molasses, and was dealt out to her in meager quantities.  Her strength was so reduced, and her undernourishment through lack of food so apparent, she left and went back to her father and stepmother.  After regaining her health and strength at home through having sufficient food, she again went out into servitude.  At one home where she worked for a period of 6 months she was given her board and room, and in addition an increased salary of 24 cents a week.

Eliza worked at the silk factory and a driving, unrelenting housework for six years, from the time she was eight years old until she was fourteen.  She left the driving routine which had hounded her youthful years in March, 1861 – and also the harsh discipline of her hard-hearted bosses, and returned to her father’s home to live.  Her prior employers had demanded all work from her without giving her any time to play.  This change [move home] was made necessary because of the death of her stepmother, Jane Wilkins Brown.  Eliza kept house for her father and her brother George, , a rented house in the beautiful peaceful country town of West Lavington for a little more than two years.

Granddaughter, Myrtle B. Maathuis (my aunt) recalled that Grandma had marks on the back of her hands where she had been whipped for picking up scraps from under the table at one of the early places where she worked.

Granddaughter Afton B. DeHaan related that Grandma told her that while working in homes the days were hard and she had very little food.  In one home she had to sleep in the attic.  The lady of the house would give her one slice of “current bread” a day.  She [the lady] would butter it, then scrape the butter off – “bread and butter scrape.”

I am humbled.

“Dies After Mishap”


Neighborhood where Ezra lived at the time of his death
(photo 2016)

Mishap seems like a rather casual word to describe the accident that took Ezra Roberts’ life, but the headline of The Flint Journal described it that way.


One man was injured fatally and five other person were hurt, two seriously, in traffic accidents here Sunday [August 17, 1930].

Ezra Roberts, 68 years old, 2014 Ferris St, who suffered a fractured skull, body bruises, and shock when he was knocked down at Saginaw and Fifteenth Sts. by a automobile driven by Oscar Balser, 612, East St., died early this afternoon [August 20, 1930] in Hurley Hospital.

Mrs. J.C. Dowding, 118 W. Newell St. told Traffic Investigators Herbert W. Straley and William N. Monroe that she was driving south on Saginaw St. and saw Roberts step off the curb and start crossing the road without looking in her direction.  She slowed down to let him pass, Balser’s car passing her and hitting him, she said.

Balser declared he was driving about 10 mile an hour and than when he saw Mrs. Dowding slow down, he thought she intended to park and started to go by her.  He noticed Roberts, but saw him pause, so he continued to go ahead, the pedestrian walking into the path of his car he said.

Grandpa Ezra is buried in the Imlay Cemetery, Imlay City, Lapeer County, Michigan.


And as a side note, I couldn’t resist doing a little research on Oscar Balser. At the time of this accident he was a 21 year old single man who had immigrated from Canada in 1927.  He married in 1932 and had two children.  He seems to have lived his whole adult life in Flint, Michigan dying there in 1991 at the age of 83.
It’s interesting to think about the strangers who have an impact on our lives.

1405 Lippincott Blvd.


The house where Stella and Ezra and their family lived at the time of her death.
(photo 2016)

I’ve written about Stella’s untimely death from pneumonia in this post.  Following is her obituary published at the time of her death in 1926.

ROBERTS – Mrs. Estella Jane Roberts, 54 years old, died Saturday at 1405 Lippincott Blvd. from pneumonia after a week’s illness.  She was born in Elmira, N.Y. Oct. 29, 1871, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Widger.  She had lived in Flint since March, 1901.  On June 2, 1905 she was married to Ezra Roberts in Tuscola  County.  She was a member of the Latter Day Saints Church  She leaves her husband and her mother, and four sons, Alvin, Ray, Glen, and Don, all of Flint, and six daughters, Mrs. David Lutze, Madeline, Nina, Erdine, Dorothy and Irene, all of Flint.

Stella left a large family, and I can’t imagine the loss they felt at her passing.


Stella and Ezra


Sheet music cover featuring Charles K. Harris

In 1891, Charles K. Harris – a well regarded American songwriter of popular music – published “After The Ball.” The song is a classic waltz, and the lyrics tell the story of why a older man never married.  He explained to his niece that he saw his sweetheart kissing another man at a ball, and he refused to listen to her explanation.  Many years later, after the woman had died, he discovered that the man in question was actually his sweetheart’s brother.  So sad!

“After the Ball” became the most successful song of its era, selling two million copies of sheet music in 1892.  Like many of the popular songs of that time, whose topics were frequently babies, separation, and death, it is a typical sentimental ballad that made a big impact on American citizens of that time.

As sweethearts in the early 1890s, it is possible that Ezra and Estella may have danced to this popular waltz during their courtship, perhaps thinking how lucky they were to not have had that kind of a misunderstanding.  I don’t know why the Widger family moved from New York to Michigan, but in 1890 they were living in Kingston, Michigan, the same little community where Ezra Roberts had grown up and still lived with his family.  Somehow, Ezra and Stella met, fell in love and were married on 22 June 1893 in Kingston.

Version 2

Marriage record of Ezra N. Roberts and Estella Widger – last entry

Ezra was 30 and Stella still several months short of her 19th birthday when they married, but in spite of the age difference, their marriage seems to have been a happy one.  They had 13 children over 20 years.  Wow!


Ezra Nahum  and Estella Jane Widger Roberts

My Gram adored her parents and had many happy memories in spite of the fact that they were a very poor family.  In the weeks and days prior to her death from cancer, Gram often “talked” to her parents and at times would call out, “Mama, Papa, help me.”


Stella and Ezra


To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root. Chinese Proverb

Estella Jane Widger, my great-grandmother


Caton, Steuben, New York (credit


Born on 29 October 1874, Estella is my great-grandmother, the mother of my Gram, was the second of three children born to Alpheus and Rosanna Buker Widger.  Her older brother, John Alvin was born on 13 August 1872, and her younger sister, Evaleen, joined the family on 5 May 1880.

From the website, Town of Cato, New York ( we learn that Caton is a small town in southern New York state right on the border with Pennsylvania. The first permanent settlers arrived in the area in 1819, and in 1840 the town was officially named Caton and included 219 farms.  From 1861-1865, 175 men from this little community fought in the Civil War, more than any other small town in New York State.  In 1870, just a few years before Estella was born, Caton had three resident physicians.  Perhaps one of those attended her birth!

I know very little about Estella or her family, but I have discovered a few pictures of her.  Perhaps you’ll see a family resemblance.


Estella as a young woman before she married

Version 2

about 1892-1894 — 18-20 years old

Fortunately I have a postcard Stella wrote to her sister, Eva, in 1919 after Madalene returned from a visit there.



Postmarked July 21, 1919-5 p.m.-Flint, Michigan

Dear Sister,  Madalene got home all right she had such a good time.  We have got to move the place (?) is sold and I am glad of it.  Sam and Elsie Hansen just called on their way home.  They both look good.  Thy are going to California to stay a year.  I was sick when Madalene came home but am all right.  Glenn & Ray are still in the country.  Alvin stays with Eva makes my family seem small.  Write soon.  Stella 115 River St

It’s fun to see the kind of correspondence that family members shared in the absence of a home telephone, and it’s amazing to me to have her handwriting, 98 years later.

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