Monday, May 10, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - Bertha’s Audio Tape- Part 5

Bertha Louise (Roberts) Wilkinson
This photo was taken about the time of her arrival in America in 1915

I read about Amanuensis Monday in Randy Seaver’s blog “GeneaMusings” and Randy read about it on John Newmark’s genealogy blog “TransylvanianDutch”. Amanuensis: A person employed to take dictation or copy manuscripts.This is an ongoing series of Monday posts to transcribe an audio cassette tape my Grandmother, Bertha Louise (Roberts) Wilkinson (1897 – 1990), made in the 1970s. In this section of the tape she describes the extended family and their trip to America via Ellis Island in 1915.
“We had lots of good times with the family. I remember my grandma coming and visiting, my father's mother. She was a sweet little old lady and she wore a jet bonnet and a jet cape and she would come and visit us and when she came we used to tease her and play games with her. And then I had, I don't remember my other grandma, but she did bring me into the world. And at the time my mother said I had thick black hair when I was born and her other children were all very light, not much hair. My other grandma lived with my mother and Dad but I don't remember her because I was quite..., just a baby when she died.

My aunts and uncles would come and visit us. My father had five brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers came to this country when he was 18 years old. And he had, there was Edward, Frank, Jim and Sam were twins, and my father. The twins were Jim and Sam and one of the sisters was the mother to the one that married my sister. She was my father's sister and they had a drapery store in Armley (?) not too far away from Leeds. And I remember going over there when I was a little girl. We used to visit them. And I loved to go in the store and my uncle would let me measure the ribbons and I thought that wonderful. It was quite a nice store and they sold a lot of lovely things and they had five girls and just this one boy, Herbert.

My sister... my mother had four sisters and two brothers. The sisters were Betsy, Liza, Mary, Hetty and my mother. My mother's name was Emma Frances. The two boys left home and went to New Zealand when they were just young boys and it was very sad because my mother didn't hear from them. My grandma never heard from them for years and years and they never wrote and we never heard from them until after I was married even, and we heard from one of the widows saying that this George had passed away and was always talking about home. He was blind for quite a while and she sent news, but we never heard from Arthur the other boy.

So my father was just a young child and there was this girl taking care of him and he fell in this pond wherever it was, and this man saved his life, and brought him home to my mother and he said "Has this child been christened?" Well, he had been … He was named John, but his man's name was Peter Bowden, and he said, "Will you give him my name, too?" So my mother called him John Peter Bowden Roberts. Now this man was a very wealthy man and he lived in London. Once in a great while he would come up to Leeds and he would visit. And he would tell my father to be a good boy and to learn all he could and he would give him a gold piece. He would give all the other children a silver piece. My, I think that they thought he would take care of my Dad but he left his money without a will. So when that happens it goes to Chancellery.

Anyway, Dad started working very early because my people were just well they didn't have much to do with really. And so he started working half days when he was 10 years old. And his father was an engineer and he showed him, told him all about trade, being an engineer. Before my father married he took care of his mother for quite a while and they lived nearby. And my mother took care of her mother. My mother worked in a shoe shop and she would bring home her work so that she could stitch at home and make extra money. Many times my father would go to walk to… they worked in the same factory, and he would walk there to…. And look through the window and my mother would be asleep at the sewing machine. So she really neglected herself and didn't get enough rest. And she wasn't too well. Even when they got married she was wasn't too well. She had a cough and I remember one time she went away to the hospital for quite a while. And I remember going to visit her. But she did work hard, all her life and….

I think I told you all I can remember about my childhood. Then when we came to this country we were treated very good. Of course, we had to come third class. The captain was very nice. My mother and I shared a room and my father and brother shared another room. But we ate at the table together and I enjoyed the voyage very much, although it was really risky because it was during the war. In fact when we were booked to go on this Orduna Cunard liner and the voyage before the Germans had almost torpedoed it. The torpedo had just missed the boat. So they were yelling out the news that this had happened. So when we went to Liverpool to go on this boat, everybody was looking at me saying they didn't think it would make it. They thought that it would be torpedoed. Well, they had a life belt drill. Oh, we waited until the middle of the night. We went down the river Mersey and it stopped there and then in the middle of the night it started up. And the only ones who know which way we were going was the pilot and the Captain. And they had a life belt drill to tell us what to do if the siren sounded. We had a life belt. Each one of us had a life belt and they were looking out all the time for submarines.

My father wrote a diary and I gave it to my granddaughter. He had very little schooling but he was a wonderful writer and he was a smart man. Well, we enjoyed the voyage and we got there safely. And when we got here my sister had decided to meet us with a cousin of hers and the baby. But she missed us, so the guide put us on the train to Beverly, Mass. from Boston and we got off at Montserrat station. Now Beverly at that time was a beautiful city. It was called a garden city, and I thought it was just beautiful. We didn't know exactly where 60 Colon Street was, but we took a taxi and my mother was quite sick. Well, we got to the house and a neighbor came out and she had the key to the house and she said that my sister would be back again. And my sister had everything ready for us to have a nice dinner. And my uncle, the one who came when he was 18 lived in Beverly, Mass. And, of course, he and his wife and children came up to see us. Well, that night the older people talked all night, they had a lot to catch up with.

And this young cousin I had, the next morning we went for a lovely walk to the Beverly country lanes. Now since then it's all been built up and Beverly isn't as pretty as it used to be. It's deteriorated like lots of cities do, but it was beautiful then. [I’d love to tell her that Beverly, Massachusetts is again a beautiful seaside city!]

My father got work at the United Shoe. I worked as a ladies tailor. I didn't care for that kind of work and finally I got work in the United Shoe. And I worked there for 10 years. And we lived with my mother and father. But my father had to start work as a fireman and work his way up to be an engineer. But it wasn't too long and he started to get sick. Well, we finally found out he had a large cancer in the rectum and he was a very sick man. He had an operation and a colostomy, and was sick a long time. And my mother wasn't a bit well. So for quite a while my mother was upstairs sick and my father was downstairs sick. Well, I had an aunt come during the week to take care of them. And then weekends I stayed home and well... when I met my husband in a church in Salem through a friend, and then my father died. Don would come over all the time to see me and of course we couldn't go anywhere but he would shave my father and we would sit on the porch in the summertime like that, and then my father passed away.”

Click here to see my blog post from July 2009 with a transcription of my great grandfather’s journal during their trip from England to America via Ellis Island

Click here to see Part One of this series on the audio tape by Bertha

More about the SS Orduna at this link: 

The URL for this post is

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. That is an absolutely stunning photo - what a beauty she was! And she was obviously very sharp when the recording was made - able to remember so many names and stories.

  2. I love this photo. She's so beautiful and there is peace and happiness in her eyes and smile.

  3. She's beautiful! I especially love this photo because her hairstyle is so natural. Those audio tapes are quite a treasure.

  4. I have to ditto what Greta, Laura and Amy all said She is so lovely, hair beautiful, eyes so expressive, and that recall, ooooo, what a wonderful thing, for you to have her story.

  5. Thanks so much Greta, Laura, Amy and Carol. I'll have to post a photo next week, with the last installment, with Bertha as I knew her, in her older years.