Book Reviews - Biography & Family
My Scottish Common People - The History of a Scottish Family by George Smith
Published by: YouCaxton Publications
ISBN: 978 1912419234
This is a story of the author’s research into his family history that spans more than four hundred years. His ancestors have lived in Angus, Perthshire, Inverness, Fife, Orkney and Dundee.
The story begins with a detailed examination of the Trade Union movement from 1945 to the 1980s in which the author’s father rose through the movement from union leader to president of the TUC. However it is a story of common working men and women and the pursuit of their livelihoods and interests.
There are detailed descriptions of the jute industry in Dundee and family connections with India. There are the many references to agricultural labourers and the effects on them by ‘the clearances,’ agrarian revolution and political changes that occurred.
Many of George’s ancestors worked in textiles as handloom weavers, plate layers on the railways, quarrymen, clickers in the boot and shoe industry and in the tanneries. Each occupation is described in great detail. Then there was service in the militia and ‘fencibles’ during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars including a soldier who was involved in the mutiny of 1794.
There were dissenters from the Church of Scotland ,radicals, trade union members and involvement with the growth of the Independent Labour Party as well as the Labour Party.
The research carried out meant many trips to Archive services in Angus, Dundee, Edinburgh and London. An extensive bibliography is testament to the author’s quest for knowledge and to fascinating insights revealed among many members of George Smith’s family tree.
Reviewed by Ron Pullan – Wakefield & District Family History Society
John Jonas, Victorian Policeman by Paul B Davies
Published by: Altiorapeto
This book is a biography of John Jonas born in Lavenham in Suffolk in 1818. His early life is covered in 8 pages and the remainder of the book deals with his life as a police officer against the background of the development of Policing in the UK.
John was sworn in in Essex on 22 April 1842 but moved to North Riding of Yorkshire in 1856 and the book is written as a series of case notes dealing with the incidents in which John was involved. They read like extracts from the local press of the time and show that most of the incidents were petty crime. The book uses the phrases ‘might have, ‘probably’ ’would have’ and similar many times which indicates that a lot of the text is supposition.
The book is 191 pages and John’s life story fills 116, the remainder are notes. The Author has clearly conducted extensive research but does not say whether this is a part of his family history although there is an implication that it is.
The book is of interest to those researching policing but would also be of interest to those with an interest in the social history of North Yorkshire in Victorian times.
Reviewed by John Treby
THE HALF-SHILLING CURATE; A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18; by Sarah Reay
Published by: Helion and Company
Price: The RRP is £25 but discounted signed copies (£18.99) can be purchased from the website www.halfshillingcurate.com
This is the story of Herbert Butler Cowl, a Wesleyan Methodist minister and Army Chaplain in World War 1. It is written by his granddaughter who has drawn on family letters and papers to present a full picture of a modest man decorated for his bravery in the war. She shows how he was brought up in a Methodist household – his father was also a minister – and volunteered to serve at the Front where he was severely wounded. While being repatriated across the Channel, the hospital ship in which he was travelling struck a mine and sank. Despite further wounds he was active in trying to save others and for this and his service in the frontline he was awarded the Military Cross. After recovering from his wounds, he continued his ministry and during World War 2 he served in London where he experienced the force of the Blitz.
The biography has vivid excerpts from his letters home, both during the war and afterwards and the illustrations show his life in the army and at home. The importance to him of his faith and family is evident as is the high regard in which he was held by colleagues and congregations. One interesting anecdote, however, relates the disapproval of some to whom he ministered at his war service – as pacifists they could not accept his involvement with the armed forces. The title of the book comes from a description he made of himself when writing home; he referred to his youth and inexperience, saying ‘he’s not the full shilling, but a damn good worker’.
The book is well presented with plenty of relevant illustrations and maps and has a full bibliography ( including a number of genealogical sites ) and an index. It is an affectionate and convincing portrait and describes well the varied role of an army chaplain in the thick of war, including the ironic reality that wearing a white clerical collar made him a sniper’s target.
Reviewed by Charles Kaye
Weavers, Wanderers, & Wigneys by Tim King
(research by Heather King nee Wigney)
Published by: Lasius Press, Oxford
A good review for this book is provided by the author under the chapter Conclusion on page 170. The history of the family starts around the wool weaving mills in the North of England but the whole family story is “no run of the mill” and moves to popular Brighton. The various Wigneys family vary in their background and much is documented to prove the research. There are many variations on the name of Wigneys too and due to the male line almost dying out made the researching of the name much easier. There is much historic and social information given as it affected the individuals of the family lines with their mixture of affluence and some interesting shady characters. The main objective for the Wigneys appears to be getting involved in business of any description such as drapery, brewery, wool industry, public houses, shipping and so on.
Travel seemed to be no barrier for the Wigneys throughout the centuries going to America, Australia and Europe and education of a high grade was important too. Marrying to the right circle played a part in the Wigneys improving themselves and even to baptising offspring with unusual or celebrity names. Near the end of the story the male line hasn’t done so well and this has limited the expansion of the name in most lands.
The quality of paper in the book is good as is the printing and photos but some drawings are very small to read well.
It was a good read and easy to follow, studying the printed family trees at the beginning giving their tree locations for each family line.
It was a fantastic read that I wanted to read straight to the end and not put the book down which I did in one day. Not picking out specific points except for a local item for me is the Wigney who was interested in horses and has an event called “Bob Wigney Handicap” held annually at Cheltenham, he was “Clerk to the Course” including Pershore.
After reading the book I feel there are more questions such as where did the Wigney name come from, was it Belguim?
Reviewed by Michael J Taylor, Malvern Family History Society
One Family, Six Names by John and Anne Hercus
Pprivately published ( Christchurch, New Zealand ) 2017
Enquiries to Dame Ann Hercus email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a comprehensive study of the origins and history of the Scottish surname Hercus and its variants. Having written two previous books about their family history the authors, New Zealanders by birth and upbringing, decided to explore ‘the world of the medieval origin of our family name’. This book is the product of ‘the last decade of our retirement years’. They describe themselves as ‘family history detectives’.
Over eight chapters, from How It All Started to DNA, they very thoroughly trace the surname back to its Scottish place of origin in Berwickshire and to distinguished ancestors of the late12th/early 13th centuries. En route they cover the history of the development of surnames, the migration of their own surname from Southeast Scotland up to the Orkneys and Shetland, the evolution of coats of arms and the significance and interpretation of DNA testing. They identify 101 variations of the name, pinpoint its origin to one geographical location and its meaning to be a ‘grey rock or marker’. Their industry and enthusiasm are admirable; they advise fellow researchers always to question and doublecheck and to take nothing at its face value.
The book comes in A4 format, sturdily bound with a double column of print on each page – not the easiest layout to assimilate. All in all, an impressive achievement.
Reviewed by Charles Kaye
Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past by Marian Burk Wood
Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
The Author is American who gives talks on genealogy The Ancestry book is an essential read for those just starting on the path. It uses the PASS code (Prepare, Allocate, Set up, Share) which is used in each chapter. It goes into great detail as to how to present your research which means before you start your research you need to know how you want the end result to look. The presentation of your findings can vary in its cost.
Marian, in particular, has emphasised in easy “summing up steps” on each chapter what the reader should approach. She talks about your research and evidence kept in box/folder to be stored either at home or by approaching a local Archive centre. This is good for when we pass so that we can ensure the future family tree researchers can get access to the trawled research.
Another point which I found crucial is photographs in the form of slides. She recommends sorting out those not needed such as fields, animals and so on (slides being a rather out-dated form of photograph now) and get them digitised. The reader should if possible consult with other family members for updates on names to be put on the back of the photograph and also to digitise names and superimpose names to photographs. On page 32/33 she points out one or two pitfalls that can happen to the researcher such as losing data on your computer, so backing up is essential.
Overall, this is an essential must read for anyone starting their Family Tree or as a “check-list” for those already in the middle of their research.
Reviewed by Val Taylor for MFHS
Norton of Everest, The Biography of E.F. Norton, soldier and mountaineer by Hugh Norton
Published by: Vertebrate Publishing
I asked to review this book as it was a biography and hoped it would lead to some tips and ideas on how to write family history. I have no interest in mountaineering nor military history and so was slightly apprehensive when I started reading. But I was very pleasantly surprised and can recommend the book whole heartedly.
Hugh Norton, the son of Edward Felix (Teddy) Norton, the subject of the biography, writes very clearly of his father’s whole life, not just his mountaineering accomplishments on Everest. In doing so, he brings his father to life, showing the reader Teddy’s personality, his likes and dislikes, and most of all his values. The story of E F Norton covers the early 20th century and the turmoil brought by war and foreign policy. But the book doesn’t become bogged down with a technical and military history of First World War battles; nor does it get bogged down with the policies of overseas government of the British Commonwealth of the time. It is a very personal account of one man’s life in the Army, with a side story of his climbs on Everest.
The book is very easy to read and I did so in only a couple of days. The descriptions allowed me to picture the places E F Norton lived and his struggles in the very harsh world of Mount Everest. The photographs, sketches and quotations served to illustrate the commentary and ultimately to show an unbiased view of the man.
The book is not a series of anecdotes used to amuse the reader, but a proper life history. Although, some family stories have been included to lighten the atmosphere and ensure the story is not just a list of places and dates. As a biography, this is a well thought out book, enjoyable and worth reading.
Reviewed by Sue Steel
From Sailing Ships to Spitfires by Shirley Walker
Published by Borealis Press Ltd, 8 Mohawk Crescent, Ottawa K2H 7G6
This is a well written, well researched and readable book.
It is the story of Norwegian brothers Gustav and Olav Roseland and their families and descendants. It tells of their early days at the end of the 19th century on the family farm in Norway, of Gustav’s travels working on sailing ships, their emigration to the United States with the aim of making a good living and then returning to Norway. After failure in America they moved to Canada where life was no better until the 1940s. Although Olav did, Gustav never returned to his Homeland.
The book is arranged in five parts, Life in Norway to 1904, Life in America 1904-11, Life in Canada 1912-27, Life in the great depression in Canada 1927-39 and Life in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War 2 1940-45.
Each of the well-presented chapters details the life of the family members and tells of their efforts to make a success of the move to the USA, as well as their hopes and aspirations. The story relates the successes and the subsequently dashed hopes, the crushing hard work and grinding poverty which they experienced and tells why irrepressibly they were prepared to move on to try again after each failure.
After moving to Canada and establishing a farm with a small degree of success, after two years of economic failure, in 1927 they, in common with hundreds of others, simply had to walk away from their home and livelihood. There is a poignant picture taken in 2000 of the abandoned house still standing.
The title of part 4 ‘We thought it couldn’t get worse’ tells of their settlement in the nearby town of Okotoks, Life here was no easier especially when the family was hit the scourge of TB in the 1930 and jobs were no easier to find.
The poems written by family members whilst in the TB sanatorium are evidence of the family’s spirit and determination.
The last part deals with the experience of Gustav’s son with the RCAF in WW2 and his death in action.
The one thing which is missing and would help the reader, is a family tree.
Although none of the characters have any UK connection this is still a book which has plenty to interest the British genealogist.
Reviewed by John Treby, Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS
Men of Song by Jeff Campbell
The book can be purchased direct from the author at a cost of £11.00 (inc. P & P):
Jeff Campbell, 12 Fawns Close, Ermington, Ivybridge, Devon PL21 9NB
This is an enthusiast’s book. The author is a champion of Male Voice Choirs (MVC) and it is appropriate to be reviewing it when ensemble singing is, via TV and Gareth Malone, enjoying such popularity.
The author sums up his book in one sentence; ‘ I belong to a male Voice Choir and this is my story’. What follows is something of a pot pourri but is unified by his personality and his obsession (as outsiders would see it ) with MVCs.
The first half is an informal mixture of autobiography, jokes and MVC history (including autobiographies of each member of the Tamar Valley Choir – the author’s own). This section is disarmingly unpretentious; the only reservation your reviewer would have is that some paragraphs are printed in a feint Italic typeface – not an attractive or easily readable format. His own autobiography includes details of his family with a touching account of his granddaughter, Skye, ‘ who was born with Down’s Syndrome’.
The second half is a Directory of British MVCs arranged by country and county. There is also a list of Police Choirs. Each entry has a potted history (but unfortunately no contact details) which varies from several pages to a couple of lines.
It’s an intriguing glimpse into another, musical, world which is presented with simplicity and affection.
Reviewed by Charles Kaye
The Barque of Bulleyn by K C Isted
Published by: Conrad Press
Price £11.99 (Also available in Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk priced at £2.99)
This is a fast paced swashbuckling story of one of the author’s ancestors and a vessel he purchased. It is an entertaining book based on real life events with real life characters.
The story centres on the activities, legal and otherwise of Privateer Robert Isted and his crew in 1574 when Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne. England and Spain were at war and part of Holland was allied to Spain and part to Britain The action takes place between Hastings, the North Sea and Scotland.
The story is well researched and has well defined characters. The events are easy to understand.
Without giving away the plot we know that most pirates came to a sticky end and whether Robert Isted did is something to be discovered when the book is read.
A great way to present part of your family history.
Reviewed by John Treby, Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS
“He is our cousin, Cousin”: A Quaker family’s history from 1660 to the present day
by Antony Barlow
Published by: Quacks Books
Antony Barlow has a long, interesting and important Quaker pedigree. He seeks to chronicle ‘this Quaker family’s history to inspire future generations with what it is possible to achieve when we listen to voices of the past’. He describes the book as not only a personal family history but also a history of the Society. It tells of the life, traditions and expectations he knew as part of this extended family. There are influential stalwarts of the Society at national and international levels from the beginning of Quakerism right up to current times. The influence of Quaker boarding schools and philanthropy in cementing ideals and forging relationships is paramount.
The first quarter of the book acts as a backdrop of colourful ancestral Quaker cameos leading the reader to the more recent players in the family’s history. The 284 page book has 10 pages of family trees, copious black and white photographs as well as illustrations throughout. The photographs are not always of the best quality, but they cover a vast range of family members and each has a story to tell.
The book will be of special interest to anyone with Quakers in their family for its early histories, Quaker Connectivity, Quaker and Bournville social philanthropic and business life. As such funds from the Quaker Family History Society Small Research Award 2014 were given towards the production of the book. The book goes towards fulfilling Antony’s role as a torch bearer for future generations not just in the family or Quakers. May it encourage QFHS members and other family historians to follow suit!
Reviewed by Margaret Page of the Quaker Family History Society
The History and Hulley Families of the One House of Rainow near Macclesfield, Cheshire by Ray Hulley
Published by: Longview Publishing
Price £7.95 plus postage (free to UK)
Ray Hulley has done a terrific job in collecting, assembling and writing up the histories of not just the One House of Rainow (Cheshire) but of tracing the Hulley name (in all its variants) around the North of England, especially Ashton under Lyne and the huge Macclesfield Forrest area.
The History and Hulley Families of the One House of Rainow is a revised and expanded second-edition of his 2001 monograph. This revised edition contains 86 pages of detailed research (the first edition of 2001 contained 57 pages). Clearly it was an on-going project and whilst Ray admits there is no evidence to connect his kin with the One House Hulley family (p.45) he persevered in outlining the Hulley One House family tree from 1490 to the present day (One House was demolished in August 1939).
The book is structured on six chronological chapters and ten Appendices. There is an extensive index and fifty-four illustrations (some in colour). The book also contains a list of previously published articles by Ray dating from 1990 to 2013.
The story of One House begins with references to it (as ‘an ancient stone mansion in Rainow’) in a charter of 1166 and ends with its demolition in 1939. Full credit to Ray Hulley for producing this fascinating history of One House and the folk who inhabited it. The scholarship and research which created it are remarkable. Ray is a Fellow of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society and he has been a family historian for over 30 years and he deserves a glitzy commendation for all the time and patience (and, aye, money) he has put into this project.
The book deserves to be read not just for its content and style but for the sheer passion its author brings to the study.
Reviewed by David Gilligan – North Cheshire FHS
The Housekeeper's Tale by Tessa Boase
Published by: Aurum Press Ltd, London
ISBN: 9781 78131 043 4
Price £20.00 (£16.10 from Amazon at time of writing)
This book consists of five main stories presenting housekeepers, their employers and work. Each case has been fully researched and the social circumstances discussed in an even handed manner. Tessa Boase's writing brings these characters to life with well observed detail. Here the stories are told as presented by the record with social history adding context. The examples are chosen to show a wide history from Dorothy Doar working for Lady Stafford at Trenthem Hall, Stafford to Charleston, Sussex where Grace Higgens worked for Vanessa Bell of Bloomsbury group fame.
The research for this book has not been skimped. Boase's writing highlights the joy of using old records and bundles of letters in archives. Where the records are lacking, reasoned argument is used to complete the story. Family scrap-books and albums play their part and living relatives also contribute. Where there is no evidence, the unanswered question is presented. Even H.G. Wells contributes to the story of Sarah his mother, who worked for Miss Fetherstonhaugh at Uppark, Sussex. For the family historian this book is a brilliant example of how to present the lives of these women and gives great insight to social life within a large country house.
The stories well are chosen for themes within a housekeeper's life, keeping the house prepared, appointing and managing servants, devotion to duty and eventual loss of their own jobs. The housekeeper's position is a difficult, between upstairs family and downstairs service. The case of Ellen Penketh at Erddig Hall shows another problem, managing the accounts. The First World War changed the role of a housekeeper like Hannah Mackenzie when Wrest Park, Bedfordshire became a hospital.
The epilogue compares the life of a modern housekeeper to highlight the themes. This book is a fascinating read and a great contribution to understanding the social history of domestic service in Victorian, Edwardian and modern times. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Tony Sargeant – Buckinghamshire FHS
THe Loss of The Titanic : I Survived the Titanic
by Lawrence Beesley
Republished by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 1383 3
Last year's centenary commemoration of the Titanic disaster saw two new museums opened (in Southampton and Belfast) and a shoal of publications, including the re-issue of this classic account of the voyage by a survivor. Lawrence Beesley was a schoolteacher in his 30s on his way to meet his brother in Toronto. He was a second class passenger and was one of the fortunate ones who got on board a lifeboat and was rescued by the Carpathia. He started to write this book on board that vessel, completed it within weeks and it was published in 1912. He was an alert and keen observer and gathered eyewitness accounts from fellow survivors. It is a thoughtful and balanced narrative which avoids the sensational. There is anger about the mistakes he describes as contributing to the sinking and loss of life but his tone is always restrained and rational. He is particularly interesting when he describes the atmosphere surrounding the abandonment of the ship :
".... the principal fact that stands out is the almost entire absence of any expressions of fear or alarm on the part of passengers"
His detailed account of the collision with the iceberg (almost imperceptible in his cabin) and of the following events is graphic and still holds the attention today. He was not right in every particular but undoubtedly his is a convincing story.
This edition is enhanced by a generous selection of illustrations, mainly related to the ship but including some of the author. It also includes a very useful preface, written in 2011 by Beesley's grandson, which fleshes out the portrait of the man himself, who comes across as a fascinating, if unconventional, individual. All in all, a book well worth reading!
Reviewed by Charles Kaye
Richard III -
by David Baldwin
Published by Amberley 2013
History does not get much bigger than Richard III. Whether he was a 'good lord' or 'Machiavellian villain' we will never know for certain, but the discovery of skeletal remains under a Leicester car park and detailed investigation proving 'beyond reasonable doubt' that the remains were of King Richard III has made the story of his meteoric rise and fall incredibly topical and very interesting.
David Baldwin's book is as mesmerizing as Richard himself and while the author aims "to offer a fairer, more balanced, portrait of him than some others" (p.12) there is no doubt that the Richard III of Baldwin's biography is less of a baddie and more a pragmatic man of his time.
Baldwin tells us that Richard III 'is an enigma'; born Richard Plantegenet he was King of England for just two years (from 1483 until his death in 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth Field) and he was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field - the decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, is sometimes regarded as the end of the Middle Ages in England. Understanding this complex period of English history is absolutely crucial to understanding the narrative of English history. David Baldwin is inspired in this respect: his prose flows like a gently running brook. The twists and turns of the plots, counter-plots and conspiracies are explained in a crystal clear manner so much so that any general reader can easily understand them.
The book was first published in 2012. This new edition is basically that book with a supplementary chapter. As an interesting aside it should be pointed out that David Baldwin was the one who indicated where the remains of Richard III would be found.
The Book is lavishly illustrated with 81 pictures - 57 of which are in full colour. It is well researched, well written and well argued. The book also has a fine index as well as twenty pages of notes and references and a good bibliography.
I'm really pleased I was asked to review this book and I cannot praise it enough: it is to be highly recommended.
Reviewed by David Gilligan member of North Cheshire FHS
The Victorian Elliots in Peace and War by John Evans
Published by Amberley Publishing 2012
Subtitled Lord and Lady Minto, Their Family and Household between 1816 and 1901, this is a meticulously researched volume (351pp) detailing the lives of the Elliots, a large aristocratic family based in Roxburghshire, Scotland. The family descends from a line of successful lawyers, politicians and diplomats, a number of whom held important national offices. This book is based largely on original research focusing on George Elliot, second Earl of Minto, his wife Mary and their 10 children, and on Catherine Rutherford for 5 years governess to the younger children. Lord Minto was a Whig politician, with his five sons respectively a diplomat, MP, soldier, sailor and lawyer. One daughter married Lord John Russell, future British prime minister (and was influential grandmother to the philosopher, Bertram Russell). Like their peers, the family spent time on their estate near Hawick in the Scottish borders, in houses in London and the Home Counties, and in the many countries where family members were based because of roles as diplomats, military leaders and colonial administrators.
The book blends domestic details with personal perspectives on lives spent in key political and administrative positions around the globe. It is structured around an introduction outlining the lives of the main characters, followed by individual chapters on each and an epilogue covering the decline of the family’s fortunes in the 20th century. There are comprehensive chapter notes, photos, and bibliography and an extensive index.
For genealogists, probably the most useful chapter describes life on the Minto estate in the 1830s and includes lists of tenants and details of contemporary estate management. The individual perspective occasionally casts a somewhat prosaic light on moments of national importance but also provides evocative insights into Victorian social history (continental travel details, domestic arrangements and upper-class budgets) and some intriguing anecdotes (Queen Victoria sending for Lord John Russell in Edinburgh to attend her immediately on the Isle of Wight).
Reviewed by Karin Thompson, member of Wiltshire FHS and the Highland FHS.
7 February 2013
The FFHS takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any statements, information, opinions, recommendations and views contained in these reviews by any reviewer or any third party.