Self-Publishing Review

Review: Searching for Charles by Stephen Watts | Self-Publishing Review (

May 20, 2023

Taking readers on a historic journey across the Atlantic and into the burgeoning American continent, Searching for Charles: The Untold Legacy of an Immigrant’s American Adventure by Stephen Watts is a stunning portrait of the past.

In 1835, Charles Watts left the oppressive gloom of Dickensian London in search of a better life in the nascent nation of the United States. What followed were years of curious exploration, keen observation, and diligent letter-writing that captured the energy, emotions, and events of that formative period in American history.

This book serves a number of purposes, and will appeal to a variety of readers for precisely that reason; it is a fascinating account and reflection of life in Victorian England, Canada, and the American frontier more than 150 years ago, as well as a ledger and legacy for the Watts family and the many descendants that followed from Charles’ ambitious journey. History books typically give us generic facts and landmark moments about American development, whereas this type of first-person reporting is intimate, revelatory, and authentic.

The book’s three parts – Charles’ life, letters and records, the legacy of his many descendants, and the five-decade research effort to compile the story – are each intriguing in their own way, though may not appeal equally to all readers. The detailed dissection of the Watts family tree and the book-writing process narrative will be fascinating for genealogy buffs, but perhaps less engaging for those who simply want to read an immigrant tale.

The story of Charles’ travels is a delicious dive into history, with extensive context and explanation provided by the author before each letter that Charles sent back to England. By framing the time, place, and backstory of these letters, readers are given a comprehensive picture of life at that time. From sharing painful family drama and stories of monumental risks/rewards to critical analysis of a new nation through the eyes of an Englishman, the gamut of subject matter is broad and undeniably fascinating.

Having an in-depth glimpse into someone’s daily struggles from the mid-19th century is quite unusual, particularly for someone who was not notably famous, but also led an adventurous life. Aside from being a bold visionary who refused to live an average life, Charles Watts was also an exceptional writer, as evidenced by his entertaining, insightful, and progressive commentary on pioneer America. The self-reflective third section about the author’s efforts to research his family, as well as the efforts of his father, gives a greater picture of Charles’ personality, and there are moments when you can clearly see the connection of the Watts family, particularly their legacy of determination.

The book is quite long, which may discourage some readers, but this account isn’t necessarily meant to be read cover to cover. The technical structure is intuitive for reading in pieces, while the editing is very thorough, and the in-depth referencing adds significant authority to the prose. All told, this book is an impressive genealogical achievement, an homage to the power of family, and a testament to the importance of our ancestry. ★★★★★