Monday, April 5, 2010

Amanuensis Monday- Bertha’s Audio Tape, Part 1

Houses in the Woodhouse section of Leeds
photo circa 1980s
most of these buildings are no longer standing

I read about Amanuensis Monday in Randy Seaver’s blog “GeneaMusings” and he read about it on John Newmark’s genealogy blog “TransylvanianDutch”. Amanuensis: a person employed to take dictation or copy manuscripts.

Years ago my uncle sent me a cassette tape. It was my grandmother Bertha’s voice, telling about her childhood in Yorkshire, England and her arrival in Massachusetts via Ellis Island in 1915. She must have made the tape sometime in the 1970s.

Bertha Louise Roberts was born in 1897 in Leeds, and she died in 1990 in Long Beach California. When I heard her voice on the tape, it brought back lots of nice memories. Not only did she have a distinctive Yorkshire accent, but she was also a very good storyteller.

Bertha left school at age 12 to become a trained British nanny. She was the “Under Nurse” for the archbishop in Leeds, and then at age 19 she emigrated with her parents and brother to join her married sister in Beverly, Massachusetts. I previously posted her emigration story on November 23, 2009, and her father’s emigration journal pages on July 30, 2009. Here is a transcript of part of her audio tape. I’ll transcribe a little more, and post more on each Amanuensis Monday.


“Bertha Louise Roberts Wilkinson, "The Story of My Life"

"My name was Bertha Louise Roberts. I was born September the 30th, 1897 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Leeds was a big industrial city and a very hilly city having many hills and valleys in it. Many steps leading up to the higher plateaus. Leeds was in the Pennine Chains and it's chief industries was furniture, woolens and shoe factories.

The district where I lived was named Woodhouse. I think it was named after a furniture factory on the street near where I lived. The school was called Woodhouse School; there was Woodhouse Lane, Woodhouse Road and et cetera. My little street I lived at number three North West view, a short street leading off of Woodhouse Street. It was a small house and the sides were attached to the next-door, the next houses, and the back was attached to the back of the house on the next street. So there was only the front of the house open.

We had a large kitchen. Well, it was a living room and everything was done in that one room. We had a huge fireplace with an oven along the side of it, where Mother did all her cooking. She was a good cook and made all her own bread and would make tea cakes. And when my brother and I were small we used to take our bath and make the tea cake last as long as we could so we didn't have to go to bed.

In the living room we had a piano on one side of the room and a chiffonnier on the other. And then to the side of this living room there was a scullery where we had a big sink and a bath tub and a huge set pot where Mother would get a little fire going underneath it and boil the white clothes on wash day. In the corner of the living room were stairs leading up to the two bedrooms. My mother's bedroom had a huge fireplace in it. And then there was a smaller room where my sister and I slept. And my brother would sleep up in the attic where Mother stored a lot of her furniture. A lot of things. And of course we had a cellar where we kept the coal.

I had a sister six years older than me. She is still living. And then I had a brother two years older than myself. He passed away. I was really the baby of the family. But I did have a little baby brother. He died when he was an infant. And my Mother and Dad told me that there was a son after my sister and he died when he was a small child. My earliest recollection was of my mother holding that baby. And then I remember the baby being in the little casket and people coming in the house and the funeral. I wasn't three years old then.

And a little later on I would chase my sister to school. So finally they let me stay. Now in those days there was no automobiles. Everything was horse and buggies and wagonettes and so forth and we had to cross the street to the school. This infant school was separate from the public school where the boys and girls went. I remember the classroom very well. I remember there was a hammock in the corner where the good little girls and boys could take their turn and have a swing in it. And I can remember the clay modeling we did and things we played with. And the colored rings that we did put our toes to and did gymnasium things.

I was really quite a bit spoiled I think because I can remember being real tiny and crying quite a bit. One day my father got very exasperated with me, and he.., I had my hair shampooed, it was wet, and I was crying a lot, and he put me, shut me on the cellar head. Shut the door. And of course I got sick out of it. I remember that I was very sick and I had a birthday while I was in bed. The doctor came in a Hansom cab and the neighborhood children all gathered around the door. And I remember the gifts I had to play with while I was in bed.

I had heavy curly hair. Of course at times when there was special occasions I had my hair put up in rags. This was quite a procedure. Part of the hair was twisted around a piece of rags and then the other half of the rag twisted around it. I remember my mother combing my hair and it was very hard to have it done because it was so curly. And when I started going to school I can remember every noon time she would go through my hair with a fine toothed comb because I did get some of the lice from the other children. And she would… … she battled with it until I got rid of them.

I remember when I first went to school, noon times after she combed my hair she would hold me on her knee for a while. I really didn't care for school too much, especially arithmetic. I didn't like the arithmetic but I like the other subjects. Of course in England the arithmetic was different because they had the pounds, shillings and pence. And it was, I think, much more difficult than the arithmetic here.”

...To be continued on another Amanuensis Monday....


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Love those stories told by our folks. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love it that you were able to hear and transcribe the tapes. I was not as fortunate my dad's lost volume.
    I have given you the Ancestor Approved Award. If you will drop by my blog Branching Out Through the Years, you can pick up your badge and the rules.

  3. Heather - I am really looking forward to the continuation of this! A very vivid description of childhood.

  4. I'm also passing on the Ancestor Approved award to you (you can pick it up at my blog). I've made some head-way on the Mott memoir. By the end of this week I should be up to the Dominis family and Estrella's time in Hawaii, let me know what day I should post it on so we can collaborate our posts (does Friday work for you?).

  5. Thanks for the comments Joan, Hummer, Greta and Leah! And thanks, too, for the wonderful award. I've seen it on other blogs, so I know what I'm in for in getting ready for this award! I had fun doing this, but transcribing from a tape is very difficult and time consuming, especially for someone speaking in a heavy accent.

  6. Heather, I commented to this, and now think I didn't write the security word right. Anyway, I loved this post. It is amazing that you have the old tape and I give you credit for transcribing it for us to enjoy.

  7. What a treasure! Thank you for sharing it with your readers... I'm really enjoying your blog.