FEDERATION OF FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETIES

FFHS - supporting family historians for over 40 years

Book Reviews - Research & Writing

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Tracing your Church of England Ancestors
- by Stuart A Raymond

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 47389 064 0
Price £14.99 (£12 from P&S at time of writing)

This book is an extensive look at the records created by the Church of England. The majority of the population through the years has been affected by the Established Church. Hardwickes Marriage Act of 1753 for example, required every marriage (even Roman Catholics) except Quakers and Jews to be conducted by Anglican Clergymen.

The book starts with a potted history of the Church of England from its establishment through to the 20th century. In travelling this road, we learn many interesting facts such as the fact that today’s low church attendance is nothing new. The 1851 Religious Census revealed that fewer than half the population attended any church at all and the Bishop of Hereford refused to record attendance number in 1788 because they were so low.

The next chapter details the structure of the Church. This gets a little complicated and uses many technical terms. It needs careful reading. A good glossary would help. The chapter does reveal that women were ordained as Deaconesses by the Bishop of London in 1862 to support his clergy.

Subsequent chapters discuss the records created by the Church and these reached every aspect of life from baptisms to which pew parishioners sat in, licences for medical practitioners to the moral conduct of the public and wills to missionaries.

Each chapter has a bibliography and where appropriate details of websites. The content refers to England and Wales only.

Reviewed by John Treby

October 2017

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Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: The Egypt & Palestine Campaigns – by Stuart Hadaway.

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473897250
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

Stuart Hadaway is a Senior Researcher at the Air Historical Branch [RAF] and has written a number of books on not only the role of British Airmen in both World Wars but also on other aspects of these wars.

Many readers will have had their perceptions of the conflict in the Middle East coloured by the part played by Lawrence of Arabia, particularly by the Hollywood version of the same name and starring Peter O’ Toole. It was in fact more than just a side show when compared to what was happening on the Western Front. This book explains why and helps to guide those who had ancestors who fought in the Middle East towards the main sources that can be accessed. There are chapters that describe the conditions under gone by soldiers which were so different from those serving on the Western Front.

Records where they have survived are detailed and can include medal, pension, casualty and prisoner of war records. War diaries, although not always providing names of other ranks, are useful if a researcher has the name of a regiment.

However it is the description of the conditions experienced in Egypt and Palestine that are revealing when Allied soldiers entered a world of which they had no knowledge. Today there is cinema, TV, magazines and even holidays abroad that can provide an insight into life in the Middle East. The logistics involved in preparing for battle were extremely challenging. Then there was the difficult terrain, sand storms, flies, disease and the long periods of boredom between campaigns. There were 600,000 casualties during the period spent in the Middle East of which 50,000 were from battle wounds. Most casualties were from enteric fever and malaria.

The chapter on the life of prisoners of war was particularly fascinating for me when it was revealed that often the life of the Ottoman Turk guards were just as difficult as it was for their captives. They were often old or excused from front- line duties on health grounds.

Then there is an amusing chapter on the Imperial Camel Corps. This was made up of Australian, New Zealand and British soldiers and the initial attitude towards these animals was dislike at what at first appeared grumpy creatures.

Chapters on the role of the RFC [later RAF] and the navy are given good coverage as are the chapters on planning visits to campaign sites and Commonwealth War Graves.

I found the guidance provided for researchers very impressive with reference to TNA at Kew or specific regional archives held at regimental headquarters and museums and there are numerous websites listed along with an extensive bibliography.

Reviewed by Ron Pullen

October 2017

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Tracing your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-47388-065-8
Price £14.99

This new book concentrates on the ‘how’ of genealogical research rather than just quoting the sources that are available i.e. the actual processes involved with tackling the tracing of a family.  This book is for the researcher of families in England prior to civil registration when searching can become more difficult.  Since the turn of the century much more information is available online, but, the embracing of a record as ‘yours’ because it is the only likely one you can find without rigorously testing all available avenues of research is risky.  Sources for Pre-1837 research are more limited, primarily parish and church registers, which vary considerably in detail included, so the solving of genealogical problems requires additional information from different sources such as Wills, parish records, monumental inscriptions, Settlements and Manorial and Court records.

The Chapters are clear and well thought out including valuable sections on the challenges of pre-Victorian research, Religion and Occupation, Relocation and plenty of practical advice on searching for information in archives and libraries, family reconstitution and the Evidence and Proof needed to definitively ‘prove’ your descent.  This book emphasises the skills of searching, knowledge of sources, analytical problem solving and external knowledge of localities that are employed by professional genealogists on a day to day basis.  These tips can be employed by any serious family historian.  Each section has relevant case studies, examples and excellent illustrations with a good bibliography and index.   An excellent book, written by someone who knows what he is talking about, and one that I would recommend for any aspiring professional.

Reviewed by Jane Tunesi of Hertfordshire FHS

July 2017

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Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors by Stuart A. Raymond

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473883451
Price £14.99 (£12 from P&S at time of writing)

Stuart Raymond has produced a book that will be standard starting point for anybody wishing to study the many nonconformist denominations and sects in the United Kingdom. The first chapters cover the history of nonconformity and sources of information. Then the remaining chapters provide a detailed history and lists of sources for individual churches. A later chapter covers many small sects with relatively few members. The lists contain a commentary giving some indication of what is held and for whom the information will be useful.

This book is written with both family historians and local historians in mind. The commentary is most useful in pointing out the many sources and archives involved and their main subject. In the age of the internet this book will date, although not as seriously as in the past. The internet itself as become more stable as academic organisations use websites to advertise their presence. Raymond makes full use of internet links as sources.

Expect to see this book available in local studies libraries. And being very useful to professionals specialising in nonconformist research.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant of Buckinghamshire FHS

July 2017

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A Dictionary of Family History by Jonathan Scott

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473892521
Price £14.99 (£10.49 from P&S at time of writing)

Jonathan Scott is a freelance writer specializing in family history. He writes columns for ‘Who do you think you are?’ magazine and has written a number of books on family history. This recent edition is a genealogists’ ABC. It is the kind of book you can dip into being part encyclopaedia, part dictionary and part almanac. I found myself skimming at first but I began to realise that there was much that was interesting and often amusing. An example is the obscure definition of ‘loblolly boy’ who was an assistant to a warship’s surgeon! This book will be of great use not only for the beginner but also for the experienced family history researcher. There are definitions, timelines and terminologies, details of websites and archives as well as advice on research methods and explanations of peculiar terms like the one shown above.

I have made a note of a number of websites for my own research that I hadn’t thought of before. A couple of examples are: opendomesday.org This is a free online copy of the Domesday Book in which you can explore entries by county. Then there is: castlegarden.org being the main processing centre for immigration to USA with millions of records from 1820 to 1892.

This is a clear, concise and wide ranging book and one that should inform as well as entertain the reader. The author does not presume to have written a definitive dictionary of family history but there is a wealth of detail provided that will certainly keep family historians happy.

Reviewed by Ron Pullan. Secretary Wakefield & District Family History Society

May 2017

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Tracing Your British & Irish Ancestors - A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Scott

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473853256
Price £14.99 (£10.49 plus £4 p&p from P&S at time of writing)

I must confess to being somewhat sceptical when this text arrived on my desk. A large number of books, magazine articles and websites already exist with the objective of getting the new genealogist up and running, and I did muse whether yet another such publication was really necessary.

The author has taken an interesting approach to distinguish this volume from those already available. Whilst it will inevitably be of use to those UK residents who are embarking on the compilation of their “family tree”, Mr Scott aims this text at those fledgling researchers who live overseas. This means that as he describes the principal sources and gives advice on how best to explore them, the suggestions inevitably involve the use of websites. That might result in the text rapidly becoming outdated. But obsolescence is not yet an issue with it, given that every single URL therein that I tested opened successfully.

Mr Scott guides the new researcher through the basic - civil registration, the census and parish registers - research sources, before considering many of the records to be found in the local, regional and national archives of the UK and Ireland. He outlines the context of the records and why they were created, and advises the family historian on their use. In a lengthy section entitled “Going Further”, the author then discusses wills and probate records, deeds, the records of coroners’ inquests and a multitude of documents connected with the military, employment, poverty, crime, debt, migration, divorce and adoption.

This volume is fully indexed and comprises some 186 pages, which are presented in a soft, laminated cover. Illustration is by means of monochrome photographs, facsimile documents and images of webpages. A separate bibliography is not included, as the many suggestions for further reading are embedded into the text.

Reviewed by Paul Gaskell, Hon General Secretary, Oxfordshire Record Society (associate member society of FFHS)

March 2017

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Probate Jurisdictions: Where to look for Wills
by Jeremy Gibson and Stuart Raymond

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-55-0
Price £5.50 +p&p

Many of us involved with Family History research cut our teeth on the “Gibson Guides”. We quickly learned that we could trust Jeremy’s thorough research –which in the case of the first edition of “Wills and where to find them” involved personal visits to most of the repositories that held Probate records – and rely on his information. Along comes another author who provides well researched data to help us in our quests, Stuart Raymond.

Stuart already has a considerable body of valuable published work, including detailed information on Wills. His County genealogical bibliographies include lists of less well known and localised articles and literature on the subject. This collaboration between these two careful scholars produces an updated and augmented finding aid which will prove its worth many times over. Repositories and their holdings are listed as before with simple outline County maps showing the Church of England’s probate jurisdictions (Diocese, Archdeaconry, Consistory courts).

Details of current websites are provided to enable the searcher to check details such as access times and whether a CARN card or similar authority is needed. [CARN -County Archive Research Network – a card issued at the Record Office/History Centre/Archive of participating repositories against proof of identity and address.]. To all new to Family History research I would say buy this now and use it well, to those who have an earlier Gibson Guide on their shelf I say the same!

Reviewed by Ann Gynes

January 2017

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Dating Old Photographs 1840-1950 by Robert Pols

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-54-3
Price £7.50 +p&p

Hands up any Family Historian who has no undated/unidentified photographs – I thought not! We are all in that boat, but help is at hand, as the author says in his introduction ”knowing when a photograph was taken may help to identify an unknown ancestor...”.

The book is set out in six main sections: Dating by: process and format; transparent images; presentation; photographer; image – the setting; image - the subject. The remaining three sections cover
(1) Online assistance, i.e. websites that have advice for dating by identifying the photographic studios, and those covering mount designs.
(2) Photographic examples, useful for comparisons.
(3) Bibliography, again helpfully laid out in sections dealing with Military uniforms, Costume, Photographic chains and more. Some familiar ground is covered but always there is the chance of new insights. I, for one, have never previously considered trying to date the few old negatives I have, nor would I have known how to do so.

Robert Pols has an impressive array of published work on photographers, photography, photographs and family history. This book builds on previously published material but has been pared down ”in the interest of conciseness.” He has thus produced a very useful reference handbook with enough history, costume dating tips and narrative to make it informative and readable while remaining a quick reference point. It is attractively priced.

Anyone who, having read this book, wishes to go deeper into the fascinating subjects covered need only consult the bibliography or put “Robert Pols” into an internet search engine. When next I find courage enough to tackle my pile of “Unidentified / Date unknown” photos Mr Pols will be at my side.

Reviewed by Ann Gynes

January 2017

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Historical Research Using British Newspapers
by Denise Bates

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473859005
Price £12.99 (£10.39 from P&S at time of writing)

This book provides a general guide to using old newspapers along with practical advice on how to interpret the information collected for research.

Newspapers have now been around for more than three hundred and fifty years in Britain. The book begins with a brief history of the development of newspapers which have become such an integral part of society. But who will want to make use of such a book?

Those interested in political, economic, social and family history can find much that is relevant.

Denise Bates used old newspapers when researching for her first two books Pit Lasses and Breach of Promise to Marry. She shows how to prepare for research and how to find relevant material. For those wishing to take a more academic approach Denise has advice on how to collect data and how to collate it and interpret it. Methods include the use of Spreadsheets. Denise suggests you do not have to be an IT expert but with practise a researcher can make good use of databases and spreadsheets, however it is up to the individual how to use and interpret the information they collect.

Digitisation of many newspapers is one of the most recent and exciting resources for family historians in the twenty first century. It speeds up the researcher’s work and can be a useful tool when used along with other Sources.

National newspapers such as The Times, The Guardian and The Observer are free to use from major public libraries. Many libraries also offer access to The British Newspaper Archive or Find My Past. Local or regional papers may also be accessible on microfilm at local libraries or from digitised versions on-line.

Family historians will find newspapers useful for the birth, marriage and death columns and perhaps discovering the part an ancestor played in society whether as an upright member or even disreputable one!

There are extensive appendices that include world wide websites, advice on how to publish the results of research and further reading lists for those who want to delve deeper into a subject. The inclusion of case studies demonstrating how others have used newspapers to aid their research and locate information not found elsewhere is a valuable addition.

As a family historian I found the chapter on Finding Material in On-line Newspapers the most useful. For those requiring guidance from an academic perspective the book has a great deal to offer.

Reviewed by Ron Pullan: Secretary of the Wakefield & District Family History Society

September 2016

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Writing Your Family History by Gill Blanchard

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78159 372 1
Price £12.99 (£10.39 from P&S at time of writing)

This volume by an experienced family historian, teacher and lecturer could well be entitled ‘ how to write and publish your family history’. Although it does have references to research and resources, its principal aims are a) to take the reader ( and potential author ) through the key steps to transferring his/her fact gathering into an attractive worthwhile narrative that others will want to read; and b) to tell the aspirant author how to set about the business of publishing. The latter aspect includes commercial publishing, self publishing and publishing in print or on the net.

These processes are carefully and methodically set out – and no doubt honed by the author’s teaching experience. Chapters 1-4 cover the writing, organising and shaping of material and the style and format of presentation. Chapter 5 concentrates on editing, proofreading and copyright. Chapter 6 covers the publication process. Each chapter has practical examples and illustrations – often from the author’s own work. The first four chapters also carry suggested exercises to enable readers to test their understanding of the lessons they’ve just read. I suspect that only the most diligent of readers will carry out this homework. The book includes a Resource Directory, a concise Bibliography and an Index.

The whole book offers a sensible and practical guide and would be helpful to those who have researched their families and now want to share and preserve their discoveries, to ‘tell the story’ as the author puts it. Its step-by-step approach sets out a clear path into print.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

August 2016

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Wayward Women - Female offending in Victorian England by Lucy Williams

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78159 2649
Price £12.99

Whilst most family historians would be horrified if a relative or close friend were to be accused of a criminal offence, many would take a completely different view if an ancestor was to have been accused of such an act in the nineteenth century. A plethora of research opportunities would result from both the crime and the punishment, with these arising in both primary records and secondary sources such as newspapers.

The punitive punishments of the Victoria era are considered by Ms Williams when she looks at women who were jailed, transported and executed. The volume is illustrated by means of facsimile documents and monochrome photographs, with the bulk of the latter being prison portraits from the 1870s and 1880s. These include a plate of Winifred Curran from 1883, who is described as a ruthless brothel-keeper, with multiple convictions for assault and disorder. However, in contrast to Winifred Curran, the text describes the draconian punishments often handed out for what today would be considered to be trivial offences.

Those crimes committed in the pursuit of money are particularly varied. These include the extremes of armed robbery, burglary and pick-pocketing, through to those who tried to live on the proceeds of fraud, forgery and producing counterfeit currency. Edward and Eliza Welzenstein, an Austrian couple living in London in the early 1860’s, were particularly astute “con artists”, whilst Paul and Amelia Decuypere, a French couple, were at the same time gaining notoriety as international art thieves.

The author also elucidates how hard life was in the crowded Victoria slums, when poverty and violence were a daily part of the lives of many men and women. This inevitably leads to consideration of the part played by the “demon drink”, which fuelled the theft, violence and disorder. The text is both interesting and informative, and is probably best described as a social history presented in a series of case studies.

This volume comprises some 178 pages, which are presented in a soft cover. The text is fully indexed, and for those who want to know more, is supplemented by a bibliography of further reading. A brief description of a number of relevant websites, such as the splendid “Old Bailey Online”, is also included in an appendix.

Finally, prospective purchasers should note that this book is on sale in digital - kindle and ePub - formats via the publisher’s website at a significantly discounted price.

Reviewed by Paul Gaskell, Hon General Secretary, Oxfordshire Record Society

August 2016

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Tracing Your Ancestors in County Records
by Stuart A Raymond

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473833630
Price £14.99 (£11.99 from P&S at time of writing)

For a relatively short book, this publication packs an enormous amount of information into its pages. The chapters address various aspects of local life, explain many occupations and terminology, and explain the different courts and their jurisdictions over the centuries with brief, but always pertinent, descriptions of the scope of each and how these have changed or disappeared from century to century. Each chapter refers the reader to the various documents generally available to consult, what their general content is and shows how they can be used. There are further reading lists added at the end of each chapter and, where pertinent, publications worth consulting for specific counties. Sprinkled throughout are snippets of information, such as: informers reporting to Quarter Sessions, the building of a cottage on less than four acres of land; and did you know that itinerant sellers of corn, fish, butter and cheese were known as ‘badgers’?

Specific chapters include those on Quarter Sessions; Paupers, Vagrants and Lunatics; and Religion; as well as addressing the roles of Sheriffs, Lord Lieutenants and Justices of the Peace. Coroners’ records, trades and occupations, and other local government bodies are also dealt with in individual chapters.

This is an ideal book to ‘dip into’ for specific information when required. Reading it all through for review I found I was getting information overload. This is not a criticism. The book contains a vast amount of detail on county records, many of which I am sure, a great number of readers will not have been aware and which will be of enormous use to family and local history researchers alike.

Included is a section of Notes to all the chapters, followed by three short indices of place names, personal names and a subject index. There are also many black and white illustrations.

This is a fascinating book that helps the reader understand the construction of society in the past and how it operated and is well worth the price for the amount of knowledge contained within its pages.

Reviewed by Angela Blaydon, member of TNA Friends book reviewers; Family & Community Historical Research Society; West Surrey, Suffolk, Berkshire, and Bristol and Avon FHSs

August 2016

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Unearthing Family Tree Mysteries by Ruth A Symes

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473862944
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

This is a book designed to take the newcomer to family history beyond the bounds of their computer screen. In her introduction Ruth Symes makes a series of shrewd observations about why family history is more than following a genealogical trail.

Ms Symes illustrates this argument with a series of chapters based on the sort of thing which is said in families about the past, such as, 'She had a real good send-off.' Assuming there is a grain of truth in family legends, even when it turns out to be a small one, is the basis for the research which follows, using a variety of sources.

In the case of Ruth Symes's great grandmother the search led from death certificate and a notice in the local paper to an obituary in another paper, giving an account of the funeral which enabled gaps in the family tree to be filled. More importantly, it raised the question of how a woman born in poverty achieved a modest prosperity by the time she died. There is every encouragement here to follow up information once your curiosity has been whetted.

If anything, I wanted more in each chapter. Great grandfather Symes moved from rural Somerset to Manchester, leaving behind a memory of a dead wife and child. That may have been why he migrated. There still remains the question of why Manchester? The answer is not as obvious as it is with, say, a migrating weaver or a railway worker. William went to be a carter on the railway. He presumably already had experience of horses. Would a little more searching of his Symes ancestors and relatives begin to provide answers? In every chapter Ruth Symes leaves these tantalising loose ends. In fairness, she set out to illustrate how we can find out about the recent generations of our families, rather than going back over the centuries. Perhaps another book will log her further researches.

Another intriguing dimension of this book is the research into her husband's family, which came from India via East Africa. Expertise in these areas is hard to come by for most of us so it is encouraging to see how such research may be begun. About half the pages of the book are taken up by lists of possible sources, some of which are collected in the final bibliography. Taken as illustrative of what can be found on-line and in libraries this is useful but perhaps some of this space could have been given over to the methodology of research, which Ruth Symes clearly has at her finger tips.

Reviewed by Stephen Orchard - member of Derbyshire FHS

August 2016

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John Smith? - No Problem!!!!! - A Family History with Some Ideas for Tracing a Common Surname by J & A Welsford

Published by: Arthur H Stockwell Ltd
ISBN: 978 07223 4510-8
Price £7.95

This is an enthusiastic telling of genealogical research and how problems associated with a common Surname are tackled and defeated. It is also much more showing where new skills are learnt to over come problems and move on to the next set of documents and further research.

The discussion on how to tackle a list of 800 Smiths and questions to ask to separate the less likely candidates can be used in all research. The use of society databases shows the evolution of technique that can be applied to problems a more experienced researcher may have left untouched.

The sound logic required for successful research is applied as the parish registers became patchy and study moves on to wills and other resources when records are missing. Chance also plays a part as ancestors must be wealthy enough hold land or be taxed. The proof required for this type of research being successful is discussed using the many Smiths as examples. Some discussions are very detailed and worth the effort.

Don't think this is just about John Smith, there is so much more and a valuable source for research ideas and inspiration. Recommend.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant - Buckinghamshire FHS

July 2016

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My Family History Record Book
by Robert Boyd and Terry Walsh

Published by: the Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978 1 906280 49 9 (record book)
ISBN: 978 1 906280 50 5 (pedigree chart)
Price £9.99

This resource provides an efficient, hard-copy, method of recording and displaying the results of your family-history research. It is designed to be an handy 'aide memoire' to carry around when researching.

The booklet comes complete with a two-sided 10-generation pedigree chart, plus a system for recording re-marriages and new partnerships. It allows the recording of 256 marriages, and 512 ancestors plus offspring, stretching back to the early 1700s and beyond.

There are two separate sections provided for maternal and paternal entries to make navigation easier. All individuals are allocated a unique reference number to correlate entries in the record book with those on the pedigree chart. Clear and useful advice is also provided on how to best use the resource to capture and record information.

Reviewed by Emma Waltham

April 2016

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The Family History Web Directory: The genealogical websites you can’t do without by Jonathan Scott

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473837997
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

A practical book for beginners and the more experienced. I liked the logical introduction to the aims of the book. The clear, concise instructions to accessing the websites would enable a novice user of technology to get to grips with searching on the internet quickly. Each website is given a clear standardised entry i.e. name, internet link and a description of what the website does and the information included.

It would be a tall order to be a completely comprehensive guide to internet sources, but this book has a good stab at it. The section headings are clear: First Steps, Digging Deeper, Military and Conflict, Occupations and Miscellaneous with subject related sub sections within each with many ‘see also’ cross references. In the miscellaneous section there are useful sub sections on sharing your research, social media and software and apps. The index is excellent.

This author has done the hard work for you by visiting the websites and finding specialist sites that may be hard to locate using a search engine. He also gives sage advice to researchers: websites are changing all the time so there may be sites listed that are no longer live and to ‘make notes, either digital or physical. If you don’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs sooner or later you will end up going round in circles’.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Jane Tunesi (Hertfordshire FHS)

January 2016

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Family Fables – How to write and publish the story of your family
by Maisie Robson with Steve Rudd

Published by: The King’s England Press
ISBN: 978 1 909548 49 7
Price:

What an excellent book! This is an updated, revised edition of an earlier publication {Family Fables - How to Write and Publish Your Family's Story Eynsford Hill Press (16 Jan. 2006)] including additions by Steve Rudd on publishing and marketing covering self publishing, editing, design and printing, e-books and legal matters as well as other important considerations.

The author, Maisie Robson, successfully shows how to apply creative writing techniques to turn your family history into a readable, coherent work that others might actually enjoy reading!!

As Ms Robson states, ‘ The options open to the family historian with an enquiring mind and a story to tell are limitless’.

The reader is encouraged not to see gaps in their research, or rather lack of detail, as a barrier but how to use contemporary documents and other sources to fill those gaps.

Instead of presenting the facts in a straightforward chronological fashion or worse, not writing up your findings at all but leaving your research in a series of boxes (or stored on your computer) the author offers advice over 9 chapters on a variety of topics including writing biography, organising your material and structuring your book, characters, time and place, plot, conflict and tension, theme and trouble shooting.

Chapter ten covers how to get your work published with the final chapter encouraging and suggesting how to ‘limber up’ with some creative writing exercises. A useful bibliography is included.

It is a well presented, no nonsense book that encourages and inspires. I would recommend it to anyone interested in presenting their family story in a creative way, irrespective of whether you hope to get as far as publishing, you are sure to pick up useful tips on how to turn your years of research into an interesting volume for family and friends.

Reviewed by Philippa McCray, Administrator FFHS

August 2015

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My Ancestor Was A Leather Worker by Ian H Waller FSG

Published by: Society of Genealogists Enterprises
ISBN: 978-1-907199-31-8
Price £9.99

My g-grandfather having been a London leather merchant and my grandfather and uncle both tannery managers in Cheshire, I opened this book with much anticipation, hoping to find out more about the industries in which they worked. I was also aware that a key if controversial 18th century paternal relative was always known as William the Cordwainer, so at least two trades were of interest. Many other family historians will have similar connections and want to improve their knowledge of the leather trades.

Mr Waller’s book will certainly help these seekers after knowledge, if not quite in the way they may have expected. My tanning connections dictated a start on the chapter dealing with tanners and curriers. Mr Waller makes it clear that manual jobs in tanning before the days of factory-scale tanneries were pretty nasty by modern-day standards but he is notably unspecific on what those jobs actually were, and thus what might have been recorded against the individuals involved. It’s a pity that the illustrations he provides of tanning processes are so tiny that the captions are illegible, let alone the pictures.

He includes useful material relating to leather-merchanting and the leather trade in Bermondsey and Walsall, but makes all this more difficult to understand because he splits the Bermondsey material into two (pp 25 and 36), interspersing it with discussions of Livery Company schools and the currier’s job. This organisational problem, regrettably, recurs throughout the book.

The rather lengthier chapter on shoe-making is far more detailed and much more useful as an explanation of the industry as a whole, of the various shoe-making processes, and of the jobs entailed. Yet here as well a curious repetitiveness has ensnared Mr Waller; on p 113 he reproduces verbatim the same quotation from H E Bates that he uses on p 92.

Throughout Mr Waller lists sources of additional information, from local curriers’ guilds to shoe company records to trade union archives. These alone make the book essential reading for anyone with leather connections. The book is effectively an industry primer for those with leather connections who wish to understand their relatives’ background. It’s a family history book rather than a genealogical source book. It should have been a readable narrative but is almost impossible to read through rather than use as a reference book on specific topics. Sadly, repetitiveness, inconsistent structuring, multiple typos and questionable illustrations get in the way.

Reviewed by Rod Moulding, a member of Keighley & District FHS and of the London Group of Yorkshire FHS

July 2015

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My Ancestor was a Lunatic - by Kathy Chater

Published by: Society of Genealogists
ISBN: 978-1-907199-32-5
Price: £8.99

This is another volume in the well established series from the Society of Genealogists.  Dr Chater is a highly qualified and experienced family historian and she has produced a thorough and workmanlike survey of the subject.

The book consists of eleven chapters which each trace the history of mental illness and  its treatment from the Middle Ages to the present time.  Each chapter starts with an historical review, gives a list of sites and locations where records can be found and finishes with suggestions for further reading. The author defines the subject in both historical and contemporary terms showing the influence of religion, superstition and science.   She highlights key changes in attitude and treatment.

As well as the general chapters there are detailed considerations of suicide, the criminally insane, those with learning disability and of the relevant systems in Scotland and Ireland.

Overall the book is of a high standard but the index is rather sketchy and several of the illustrations are so faint in reproduction as to be almost unreadable.   And why do we have to have a French illustration as the cover?  We have our own pioneers in this field to celebrate.

A practical and useful survey which can be fully recommended.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

April 2015

cover for County Tyrone

Researching your Ancestors in the North of Ireland
– County Tyrone

Published by: North of Ireland Family History Society
Price: £7.50 (+p&p outside UK)

This book is the third in the series of books to cover the counties of Ulster. It is published by the Society and lists  sources of genealogical information in the county of Tyrone. The subject of this review is the first edition in A5 format and is some 54 pages in length.

In many ways the book is a treasure trove of information, dealing with all the topics of an Irish genealogical nature that researchers need. The book starts with a brief description of County Tyrone, it’s lands, maps and surveys, before moving on to 17, 18 and 19th century sources. It then covers in detail and in tabular form the churches in Tyrone of all denominations and their records. This is followed by a number of short sections on topics ranging from The Ulster Plantation, through Estate Records and School Records to Wills and Workhouses. The book finishes with a list of Books and websites,

Throughout the book each topic includes references to online sources, many of which would be useful for other counties.

My main criticism is that there is no index. For someone looking for a particular topic this would be helpful, rather than having to leaf though the book and for someone who is new to Tyrone, a way of linking the graveyards to parishes or even a map of their locations.

It struck me that the two thumbnail extracts on pages 7 and 46 are difficult to read and therefore do not add anything of use.

All in all a very useful and handy sized reference book.

Reviewed by Peter Davies, Rugby FHG

April 2015

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It Runs in the Family – Understanding More About Your Ancestors
by Ruth A Symes

Published by: The History Press (2014)
ISBN: 978 0 7524 9702 0
Price £14.99

I didn’t realise from the title that it is a book that places a lot of emphasis on the use of photographs to help you to discover more about your ancestors. The author does concentrate on less obvious details and refers to fellow family historians and authors Jayne Shrimpton and Robert Pols who she says ‘more ably address’ things such as dress, large props, backdrops and the history of photography.

Looking at social trends and clues contained in documents and artefacts, the author suggests how you might be able to find out more about your ancestor from other details, not all of which you could pick up from a photograph – e.g. the chapter on perfume.

The first chapter features eyes and advises you to try and focus on the expression of the eyes, whether or not the person was wearing spectacles and if the women were wearing eye make-up as pointers to try and help date the photograph. Queen Alexandra is referenced as being a trend-setter in the use of eye make-up but unfortunately the book says she was the wife of King George V when she was in fact the wife of Edward VII.

There are chapters on such topics as teeth, hair and beards which pose such questions as why didn’t your ancestor smile for the camera and did your ancestor follow the latest trend in hairstyles. Answers offered include that while sitting times for photographs were long your ancestor might have had poor teeth and therefore wouldn’t have smiled anyway and that un-styled hair was a sign of poverty.

The chapters on marks of distinction, tattoos and buttons suggest looking at military records as they will give details of any distinguishing marks and/or tattoos that your ancestor may have had. Also there is the suggestion of looking at passport records and immigration records. There are other chapters on such things as brooches, rings, cufflinks, flowers and dogs.

This is a book that suggests different ideas about tracing your ancestors and offers a different perspective when looking at old photographs. While this book may prompt you to further the research on people you already have on your tree it is unlikely to help you discover new ones. Each chapter has a further reading list if you wish to follow up on any of the topics. It’s a shame about the historical error in chapter one.

Reviewed by Jill Hickey, member of Felixstowe FHS and Cambridgeshire FHS

October 2014

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Militia Lists and Musters 1757 – 1876 (5th Edition)
by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978 1 906280 42 0
Price £4.95

All family historians are well used to the census records from 1841 but earlier censuses are less known and much more difficult to find.

The Militia Ballot lists were introduced to provide, parish by parish a list of all adult men. Ballots were then held to determine who should be called up to the Militia. These lists in theory provide a census of all men aged 18-50 (1758 – 1762) and 18 – 45 (1762 - 1831) 

Defence lists, compiled in 1798 and 1803-4, were similar but were to be used to organise reserves of men to help the civil population and remove crops etc in the event of an invasion by the French.

The book goes into more detail about what information is contained in these lists. It will tell you which records survive and where to find them and includes a useful bibliography.

The information is well set out and easy to use and includes Archive and Record Offices references.

The fact that this finding aid has reached 5 editions shows that more of these records are coming to light.

Reviewed by John Treby

October 2014

Grandad Did a Dastardly Deed - 50 More Family History Traps
by Kate Broad and Toni Neobard

cover for Grandad

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-47-5
Price £9.99

This book is a "must have, must read" edition. I just love its erudition and wit. But behind and through the wit, lies an absolute treasure trove of knowledge, wisdom and truth about family history research, to suit the whole spectrum of family historians. The beginner will find really valuable tips and more lengthy direction on all likely and unlikely aspects of this absorbing hobby, this occupation, this obsession, even. The more practiced will enjoy this for its clarity, confirmation of their own methods and progress. I would be very surprised if they might not find a pearl if wisdom and truth that suits them also.

I have learned a lot more about googling, than I ever knew existed. It appears that I have been missing out, in so many avenues of enquiry, for far too long. The inside knowledge portrayed is obviously hard won. I shall use it frequently with mindful acknowledgement to these playful authors. Their expertise is easy-going and well directed in the aspects they portray. I didn't think I could gain much more enjoyment from my hobby than I already have. This little volume has transformed my expectations.

I'm sure others before and after me, will acknowledge the truth in their humourous asides dotted generously throughout. They guide and illustrate from personal experience, many potentially destructive actions that the unwary, unaware, researcher can so easily fall prey to. Having myself, drawn on the expertise of a professional researcher, I agree wholeheartedly that such guidance is invaluable.

These two delightful authors have created a reference, a guide, an advisor, an amusing friend, that will sit beside you and tirelessly prompt you in your endeavours, whenever needed. Modern archive practises are as nothing to them - they know where you should seek that elusive break-through, that almost everyone experiences.

I think I have said sufficient by now - just get it and you will find yourself immersed immediately. Be prepared to make notes or insert little index tags because I can guarantee you will want to return to it, again and again for that elusive piece of information you read but didn't put a marker at. It'll encourage you to re-examine the value of everything you have recorded, to date. I fully expect it will give you confidence in what you have achieved so far and most importantly, encourage you to produce that meaningful story with the tree you have researched to date. Now that is worth the price of this book, especially. Your fellow branches will be very pleased at the result.

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson Member of Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society & Family History Society of Buchan

October 2014

Making Sense of Latin Documents for Family & Local Historians
by Brooke Westcott

cover for Latin Documents

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-45-1
Price £7.50

Latin”, the word used to send a shudder of dread through my whole body when I was at school: how I hated the lessons, but many years later and deep into family history I wish I had paid more attention in class because I now realise Latin can be fun.

Sooner or later every family historians or genealogist will come across Latin in their researches. Whether it will be in Parish Registers, Wills, Probates, Inventories, Citations, Writs, Post Mortem or Land Deeds, the former official language of documents (in the medieval period) will challenge the beginner and experienced researcher alike.

Making Sense of Latin Documents for Family and Local Historians has many examples of Latin text likely to be encountered by local and family historians. Please note: it is not a guide to studying Latin or reading old documents (which, I’m glad to say, does get easier with experience).

The book is both useful for those who have taught themselves some Latin (but who wish to look at examples of the text of documents they have encountered) or for those (like me) who know no Latin at all, but simply want a translation of some text they have found. For example in many parish registers I have often come across someone described as Jacobus and wrongly transcribed them as Jacob in English but Making Sense advises ‘that they were almost certainly James in English’ (p.5).

The slim book (84 pages) is divided into fourteen chapters which gives examples from the kinds of documents researchers often come across. These range from parish registers and wills to land deeds and even excommunications. Anyone who has looked at older wills and deeds will know that certain phrases and words pepper such documents. For instance In dei nomine amen (In the name of God, Amen) and Hiis Testibus (These being witnesses) occur again and again. The author (Brooke Westcott) explains these phrases and words and with the help of this booklet otherwise incomprehensible documents are illuminated.

I recommend this useful book very strongly and at £7.50 it is a real bargain.

Reviewed by David Gilligan, North Cheshire FHS

September 2014

cover Bishops Transcripts

Bishops' Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations (Sixth Edition)
Compiled by Jeremy Gibson

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-41-3
Price £4.95

Now in its sixth edition, this book should be one of the standard references for the serious or professional genealogist. For the amateur tackling the finer detail of their research, it will provide guidance on the general availability of resources.

As the title suggests, the book provides an overview of Bishops' Transcripts and Marriage Licences for each of the counties in England and Wales. The introduction provides an overview of the subject and acknowledges the generosity shown by archivists who completed Mr Gibson's surveys.

Each county entry consists of three parts, namely Bishops' Transcripts, Marriage Licences and an outline map of the county. The first section names the Diocese and say where the records are held, describe the scheme and highlights any parishes that are exceptions to the rule. This includes listing the peculiars, parishes not under direct control of the diocese.

The survival of marriage licences, as Gibson points out, is a matter of chance as they were passed to the groom to show the parson. As they are organised on a diocesan bases, they fit well with the Bishops' Transcripts. The detailed description of the records covering London and Middlesex also refers to other resources. The maps are simple and informative, showing positions of parishes mentioned in the text.

Here is a great way to discover what is available and where to make further enquiries. This book meets its brief admirably and reminds us that not all information will be online. It may not be for everyone, but using this book will improve your use of important genealogical resources.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, Buckinghamshire FHS

September 2014

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A Methodist in the Family? Answers to ten frequently asked family history questions- by Philip Thornborow

Published by: Methodist Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-85852-390-3
Price £4.99

Well it will come as no surprise that a second book relating to Methodist records has again grabbed my attention.  This is a 56 page ‘accessible guide aimed at answering the top ten most frequently asked Methodist family history questions’, small and compact and it delivers.  It will appeal to the professional genealogist, the family historian and the beginners who perhaps think they might have a Methodist ancestor in their tree.  The author Philip Thornborow was a liaison officer for Methodist Archives for over 35 years and an advisor on archiving to the Methodist Council. 

The guide is split into ten different chapters each looking at a particular frequently asked question on Methodists across Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.  Thornborow’s approach is I feel unique.  I don’t remember ever seeing a guide where it looks at the most common frequently asked questions and then builds a guide around them.  I like this style of writing.

Each Question or chapter provides a good amount of important straight to the point information.  There are also various websites listed with an indication on whether it is a free site or a subscription site.  Alongside this information Thornborow has included symbols to indicate the nature of the information being recommended – such as book, CD, online or place to visit.  Thornborow has packed lots of Methodist history in this little guide – just the kind of information that a researcher needs to be able to interpret and understand the records they are consulting.  Thornborow looks at Baptism, Cradle Rolls, Marriage, Burial, Chapel role and Committee meetings, The Wesleyan Historic Roll, Census Returns, travelling preachers and where to find out yet more information.     
The last page of the guide is a summary to how the guide works.  If the reader wants to know if their ancestor lived in Wales or Scotland then Thornborow directs them to look at Question 5 then Questions 1 and 2 and so on.     

In conclusion this book is exceptionally well sourced with credits given to primary and secondary sources including the images that he uses within the book.  I think every FHS and local history libraries should have one in their collection as it will no doubt prove really useful to those interested in looking at Methodist records. 

Lorna Kinnaird
Dunedin Links Genealogy

Member of the Scottish Genealogy Network

September 2014

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Census – The Family Historian’s Guide (2nd Edition)

Published by:Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1-4729-0293-1
Price £16.99

The first few chapters of the book cover the origins of the census and describe the Victorian and later censuses in detail.  Although not directly relevant to family historians this chapter provides useful background and does help to dispel the myth that the censuses were designed with genealogy in mind. Four case studies are provided which show how the census records can be used in tracing individual families.  I found the case studies excellent in bringing to life the information that had been covered in these chapters.

Perhaps the most useful chapter in the book is entitled ‘Why Can’t I Find My Ancestor?’. This covers a number of reasons why you cannot find people where and when you expected to find them.  The many possible issues with names, dates, places, and statuses etc. are explained.  Again two useful case studies are provided to highlight the issues described.

Having provided a good grounding in the history of the censuses and the possible problems of misleading, missing, or inaccurate information the online censuses are introduced.

Of particular interest is the section on indexing issues and accuracy.  A 1% error rate is stated as an unachievable target given the skills and training of the indexers used.  This means that at a minimum 300,000 people will be potentially unfindable in any particular online census. Using multiple services with different indexes is a way of overcoming this problem, and the subsequent chapters on individual online services describe from where they have obtained their indexes. This is important to know as using multiple services to try to overcome indexing issues will not be effective if they use the same index!

A chapter on online search techniques provides a useful overview of these techniques and covers the use of wild cards and features such as Soundex, Metaphone, and NameX.

A total of nine chapters describe the various free and paid for online services.  The subjects covered include charge rates, searching, images, and saving results. The sharing of census data between the various sites is described in detail and this enables you to determine which services may help if you are trying to overcome indexing issues.

Surprisingly in these days of online access to censuses there are still valid reasons for using microfilm and CD-ROM /DVD census material. Indexes have often been compiled by people with local knowledge and thus can more accurate than generic indexes.  In particular if you are looking to review a substantial amount of information, perhaps as part of a one name study then significant cost savings are possible against using an online service. Two chapters of the book cover use of these methods and described how you might benefit from doing your research this way.

Reviewed by Peter Barlow (Member of the Catholic Family History Society)

August 2014

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A Tommy in the Family: First World War Family History and Research - by Keith Gregson

Published by: The History Press
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9336-7
Price £12.99

This is a book that I was very keen to read and review for FFHS because of my interest in WW1 and I was not disappointed. It is a small A5 book but it packs quite a punch. It is divided into twenty individual chapters each relating to one of Gregson’s relatives. It is clear from the onset that the author Keith Gregson has not just a love of history, but many years’ experience both as a family historian and as an author of books including ‘A Viking in the Family’ and ‘Tracing your Northern Ancestors’ , he calls himself a ‘social historian’ which is very much reflected in this book. It will appeal to a wide audience both adults and children alike. It mentions important dates and battles, not necessarily previously known about in such detail. Gregson writes about his ancestor’s experiences in their own words then interprets this information from authentic known evidence, setting his ancestor in context and looks at both pieces of evidence critically and meticulously. In particular he mentions in ‘Chapter 7: Joe Bentley: a Mysterious Tale’ the sad realisation to him that Joe was one of the 250 men from ‘the Norfolk Regiment [who] mysteriously disappeared into the mist’ at Gallipoli in 1915. I remember watching the film All the King’s Men with David Jason in the lead role and the men from the Sandringham Estate. His reference to it in the book recreated the horrific images from that film in my mind and I can remember it vividly indeed.

Gregson follows a methodical and consistent format throughout. He has taken great care to elaborate where appropriate making it easier for the reader to understand terminology often found in War Diaries or Army Records. Chapter 19: Artie Watterson: A submariner’s tale was also engaging as it related to my part of the country (The Firth of Forth). I felt that this chapter could have included official naval documentation (references to where such records are housed perhaps on the ‘Kalamity Class’) of the incident particularly as the Forth played a major part in protecting Scotland from invasion.

The book is a well written and emotional, it relates directly to human tragedies of WW1 and one particular family’s experiences of the war. I admit I did shed a few tears at some of the personal accounts he told. Reading it has made me want to look again at my own family history and see where I can tease out and explore in more detail the experiences of my First World War ancestors.

A conclusion and bibliography at the end would have made it a good reference book too, although he does periodically reference well. The author’s meticulous attention to detail and his analysis of evidence is quite outstanding.

orna Kinnaird - Regional Representative for Scotland-South (Guild of One Name Studies) and a Professional Genealogist at Dunedin Links Genealogy and proud member of the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) & IHGS Student

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird - Regional Representative for Scotland-South (Guild of One Name Studies) and a Professional Genealogist at Dunedin Links Genealogy and proud member of the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) & IHGS Student

April 2014

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Methodist Records for Family Historians - by Richard Ratcliffe

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-44-4
Price £4.95 RRP

This is a booklet that I was very happy to review because it is for anyone researching Methodist records providing them with good basic information - and for family historians and genealogists to use as a compact resource guide. It is a small A5 booklet with 32 pages. The author Richard Ratcliffe is a family history tutor and a keen student of the history of Methodism, Quarter Sessions Records and School Records and his expertise and understanding on the subject is perfectly displayed within the booklet. This booklet is the updated and revised edition of Ratcliffe’s earlier book ‘Basic Facts about Methodist Records for Family Historians’ (published 2005 and now out of print).

It is split into seventeen different chapters all relating to Methodist records from around the British Isles and each chapter is packed full of relevant background historical information, useful up-to-date references, and clear locations of where the records are located to help the historian research the subject to the best of their ability.

I like the presentation and format of the booklet – it’s simple and doesn’t use jargon and terms that you can’t understand. But I would have liked to have seen at least one or two examples of original Methodist records included – so that a researcher could see what the documents actually looked like. Ratcliffe has, in my view, provided a good balance between just the right amount of information to references - without extending it to pages and pages of descriptive information. I always find it useful to read in such a booklet how Nonconformist records are organised and where they can be found – and this booklet provides that information and much more, in a very straightforward and logical approach. He discusses Methodist baptismal, marriage and burial records and offers some examples too as well as looking at records of a Methodist Circuit, what they might contain and where they might be found.

Chapter 15 (a select bibliography) lists many other equally good books for further reading and referencing. But I particularly like the Calendar (Chapter 16) in which he lists in date order the important key events surrounding the Methodist Church as this helps put any Wesleyan ancestor into context.

His references include full postal and contact addresses, email and websites and the person in charge at the Wesley and Methodist Studies Centres that should be contacted. Again, this kind of information is very useful to anyone looking for an up to date, easy to follow and informative reference booklet.

I really do think this is an excellent reference booklet and I for one will be suggesting to fellow genealogists and family history societies that they should include this within their libraries.

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird – Regional Representative for Scotland-South (Guild of One Name Studies) and a Professional Genealogist at Dunedin Links Genealogy and proud member of the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) & IHGS Student, ASGRA Probationer

April 2014

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Putting Your Ancestors in their Place
– A Guide to One Place Studies by Janet Few

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978 1 906280 43 7
Price £7.95

There are so few books dedicated to the subject of One Place Studies therefore this is a very welcomed addition to the genealogical and local history arena.

The book has been thoroughly researched and whilst is heavily slanted at such studies in the United Kingdom, those who are pursuing studies, or contemplating studies outside of the United Kingdom would without a doubt benefit from reading this book.

The book is divided into three distinct sections, Setting the Scene, Sources for One Place Studies and Pulling it All Together written over 12 chapters.

Part One covers the What and Why of One Place Studies, Reconstructing the Place and Populating the Community.

Part Two, Sources for One Place Studies covers Locating Sources from before 1600 to after 1900.

Part Three includes the final chapter which considers publishing your study, whether that is through a book or website. It also looks at the aspect of funding for a study and the importance of the future of your study.

The final pages are given over to examples of some studies, a comprehensive bibliography, magazines and journals, Societies and addresses, courses and an index.

At the end of each chapter there is further reading and of course many website addresses are presented so that you can explore as you read. There are also projects that can be undertaken as you read. I particularly like this idea, as it enables you to look at your place and community, layer by layer, by person and surname and understand how the individuals were in relation to their community.

This is a good grounding for those undertaking One Place Studies anywhere. The resources are obviously aimed at those within England and Wales, but that itself can give rise to contemplation of what similar records exist in your location where ever you or your study are in the world. I personally recommend this thoroughly researched and comprehensive guide to anyone who has an interest in understanding the places in which their ancestors lived.

Reviewed by Julie Goucher

March 2014

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Tracing your Limerick Ancestors by Margaret Franklin

Published by:Flyleaf Press
ISBN13: 978 1 907990 069
Price £14.50

This is a revision of the previous volume in the series published by the Flyleaf Press. This new and expanded guide to Limerick Ancestors is by Margaret Franklin, who has recently retired as Local History Librarian in Limerick County Library. It follows the pattern of other County books in the series.

Margaret writes in an easy to read and lucid style. All the “Standard” chapters have been included and there is a useful list of parishes under the Church record section. It is also helpful to be given the name of the Diocese to which the parish belongs.

Margaret has greatly expanded and updated the previous edition providing a very comprehensive guide of local sources. There is however unfortunately very little reference to sources for occupations (with the exception of Flax growers), education or immigration, which other volumes in the series include. Perhaps these topics could be included another time.

In this ever changing electronic age, Margaret lists many of the websites, where the information can be found, which is very commendable. The reader would need to beware however that some of these change or may even disappear as time goes on.

The section under civil registration, lists other records held by the GRO, was very illuminating and may even be the reason that an event can’t be found in the normal BMD indexes. Did the event take place at sea or did your ancestor die in the in the British Army. Margaret Franklin has suggestions as to where these might found.
Overall a very readable and informative book especially for those with Limerick Ancestors.

Reviewed by Peter Davies – Rugby FHG

March 2014

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The Family Historian’s Enquire Within (Sixth Edition)
- extensively revised and updated by Dr Janet Few

Published by:The Family History Partnership (January 2014)
ISBN 978-1-906280-11-6
Price £12.95 (RRP)

Family historians can never have enough reference books and although I have probably got more than most I gladly accepted the offer to review the latest edition of The Family Historian’s Enquire Within (Sixth Edition). This book (edited by Dr Janet Few) is considered ‘one of the standard reference works for family historians’ and rightly so.

First published in 1985 and regularly updated to reflect the rapidly changing face of family history research - Janet Few says ‘family history research has changed beyond all recognition since 1985’. The book gives clear and concise information on more than a thousand alphabetically arranged entries with explanations, definitions, dates, recommended books and useful website addresses. The topics covered are wide-ranging (as you would expect). As well as the usual stuff on parish registers, monumental inscriptions and probate there are extensive entries on Civil Registration, relationships (which includes an easy-to-read chart), prisons and prisoners.

No reference book can be completely comprehensive, of course, and I did find a few omissions in this one. On page 288 Jane Few mentions the popular television programme, Who Do You Think you Are? - and she rightly mentions the monthly magazine but not the accompanying book to the series (published 2004) by Dan Waddell which, I think, is an interesting introduction to genealogy in general. In addition I thought the space and depth give to some topics like MIs, funeral customs and death was a little lightweight. I was disappointed, for example, that she didn’t mention Julian Litten’s magnificent The English Way Death – The Common Funeral Since 1450 (1991) in the entry on funerals.

At 248 mm x 172mm and 293 pages the book is easy to handle and read (nice big type) and while many entries are very short there is on the whole enough information to follow the topic further with many excellent textual references and a selection of recommended books.

This is one of the most generally useful genealogical books on the market. In dictionary format, it provides clear sign-posts to point you in the right direction at every stage in your research.

Reviewed by David Gilligan (Member of North Cheshire FHS)

February 2014

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The surnames of Wales by John and Sheila Rowlands

Published by: Gomer Press Llandysul Ceredigion SA44 4JL
ISBN 978 1 84851 775 2
Price £19.99

This is an updated revised edition of this book which was first published in 1996. Although a scholarly work it is an interesting study of the development and distribution of Welsh surnames. Anyone who is researching a Welsh ancestor will be very aware of the difficulties resulting from the patronymic names.

The book takes one by the hand and leads one gently but very clearly through the minefield of Welsh patronymic surnames, their origins and distribution. It starts by describing the history of Welsh surnames and describes how they developed

This is followed by chapters on the origin and distribution of the names as well as the meaning and origin of many given names. These chapters are accompanied by good, easy to use maps.

The authors then describe several different ways to use their surveys and finish by discussing migration.

There is an extensive bibliography and useful appendices listing the Hundreds in Wales. If you are looking for your ancestors with Welsh names this book will certainly help point you in the right direction

Reviewed by John Treby (Gloucestershire FHS, Devon FHS, East of London FHS)

February 2014

Tracing your Ancestors’ Childhood
by Sue Wilkes

cover for Tracing your ancestor's childhood

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 9781781591666
Price £12.00

Tracing your Ancestors’ Childhood By Sue Wilkes
ISBN 9781781591666

Sue Wilks has produced a very detailed book on how to trace your ancestors’ childhood. She has taken a lot of time and is very organised and detailed in what she has written. The Book is divided into two parts. The first is in Chapters, each dealing with issues that might affect a child’s life; e.g. The Poor Law, Growing up at Work, Education and, very topically, Children in Wartime.

She states her parameters; primarily records about children aged 0-16 years old in England and Wales 1750-1950. She also includes information about children being shipped to South Africa, Canada and Australia and the thinking behind the placements.
Included are Case Studies that usefully illustrate the points she is making, such as the Chorley Union Workhouse records showing how a boy called John Silk repeatedly came up in the punishment book and was ‘severely punished with a rod.’

This detailed book will help to provide a broad brush picture of life for your ancestors as children in a particular period. Greater detail for a particular child may be difficult or impossible as the author reminds us that many records are missing or destroyed.

The surviving records are in many and various places; local museums, History Centres/ Record Offices, Family History Societies and other repositories. The second part of the book is a Research Guide which lists many of those Archives and Repositories. It lists useful addresses, twelve pages of web-sites (some free!), Education Sources and more, under helpful group headings.

The contact addresses and web sites will lead, in most cases, to details of the organisation, for example a brief history and any previous names under which it operated, and further details of how to pursue enquires with them. Very few will lead directly to names. (St Georges’ House, Police Orphanage, Harrogate, is a lovely exception listing 644 names of children, some staff and includes some photographs.) For any hope of a successful search for a particular child one would need the child’s full name and very good idea of the geographical area in which they lived.

Not a book to pick up to read cover to cover, but definitely one for your bookshelf to dip into now and in the future as a reference source.

Reviewed by Ann Gynes – Dorset FHS

December 2013

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Voices From The Asylum - West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum
- by Mark Davis and Marina Kidd

Published by: Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 2173 9

If you ‘lose’ an ancestor in or between censuses, there is the possibility that sadly they might have been incarcerated in an Asylum built by County Councils fulfilling their statutory duties to provide care and treatment of ‘lunatics’.

Within the last few days, ironically that happened to me. I discovered my ancestor died in the West Riding of Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum in 1877. That Asylum is the subject of this book, albeit that it concentrates on buildings at Menston erected 10 years after her death.

The author’s introduction and a section entitled Care and Treatment give an excellent and succinct overview of the way in which mentally ill persons were treated in an Asylum, such as Menston and its various buildings, which only closed ten years ago. By the middle of the 20th century the authors point out that such was its size, the Asylum had become ‘a self-contained village for the mad’.

Historians are fortunate that records of patients, including photographs and medical records, from admission to departure, are held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) from the 19th century until the latter part of the 20th century. These can be seen by researchers, although there are some closures on more recent records. They are also available online via the WYAS website. It is these records which the authors use to good effect.

Mark Davis has already written a book about the High Royds Asylum entitled: ‘West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum Through Time’. [ISBN 978-1-4456-0750-4 Price £14.99]. He knows his subject well and enlightens the reader about a subject which until very recently was rarely discussed or acknowledged.

The book deals briefly with 37 individuals who were resident at Menston. The format used by the authors is, in most cases, to have a photograph of the resident, taken at the Asylum and on the opposite page a summary of their personal details on admission, history of their medical state and mental illness, demeanour (in particular if they were thought to be a danger to themselves or others). This information is taken directly from the archives held by the WYAS from the 19th century until the latter part of the 20th century. Their collaboration is acknowledged in the book.

In addition, notes by the authors are added at the end of each page stating what happened to the individuals about whom they written. Other items are referred to, including an ‘escape’ by inmates as reported in a local newspaper, sad letters written by patients to their relatives and at the end of the book one patient’s ‘improved’ version of Hamlet’s soliloquy: ‘To be or not to be’ .

The book contains 96 pages but through the skilful use of photographs and the biographic details, light is shed on the lives of patients who were ignored whilst alive and forgotten in death. The photographs are particularly haunting. Several are clearly ill and indeed several die shortly after admission as explained in the text.

A large number of patients remained in the asylum until death and many (2,861) were buried in a pauper’s grave in the cemetery adjacent to the Asylum on Buckle Road.

The book records the inspirational work by the Friends of High Royds Memorial Garden, who have restored the High Royds Mortuary Chapel and Memorial Garden which contains the unmarked graves of the 2,861 pauper patients. As the book says, the Garden is now a ‘beautiful and moving place to go to contemplate these sad stories’. The authors are generously donating the proceeds of the book to the Memorial Garden. The book costs £14.99.

The book I am now reviewing supplements Mark’s earlier work referred to above, which should be read if more detail is required about the way in which the mentally ill were cared for and specifically this Asylum, its employees and residents.

A minor error I noted on page 87 where the accompanying photographs are wrongly stated to be on page 80. They are actually on page 86.

It has helped me to appreciate what my ancestor’s life might have been like in the institution where sadly she stayed for 12 years. I can recommend this book.

Reviewed by David Lambert (FFHS)

November 2013

The Great War Handbook – a Guide for Family Historians & Students of the Conflict by Geoff Bridger

cover for the Great War handbook

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978-1783461769
Price £10.39

I started thinking about the Great War in the summer and it occurred to me that as we approach the First World War Centenary next year I actually know very little about it. Like most people I know the basic details about it, I guess, like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which supposedly triggered off the war and that it was mostly fought in the trenches and millions died, but the rest of its history now seems hazy. I was very grateful, then, to find Geoff Bridger’s book The Great War Handbook which seems to have been written for people (like me) who are essentially family historians striving to make sense of the past and our ancestors lives.

In truth, thousands of books have been written and published about the conflict, the causes of the conflict and the consequences of the conflict, but I have found The Handbook is perfect for those who don’t really want to analyse the causes and consequences of the war but who simply want facts, figures and accurate data to help paint a picture of this momentous period.

I can confirm that Geoff Bridger's book answers many of the basic questions for those readers who are approaching this enormous and challenging subject for the first time. He tries to show not only what happened and why, but what was the Great War like for ordinary soldiers who were caught up in it. He describes the conditions the soldiers endured, the deadly risks they ran, their daily routines and the small roles they played in the complex military machine they were part of. His comprehensive survey of every aspect of the soldier's life, from recruitment and training, through the experience of battle and its appalling aftermath is an essential guide for students, family historians, teachers and anyone who is eager to gain an all-round understanding of the nature of the conflict. His authoritative handbook gives a fascinating insight into the world of the Great War - it is a basic book that no student of the subject can afford to be without.

His first chapter (Prologue and Overview of the War) sets the scene leading to the War he then has chapters on the army, the soldiers, trenches, weapons and Death in Many Forms (Chapter 7). Subsequent chapters cover everything from medical matters to ‘spies and their fate’. Chapter 11 is a Guide to Visiting the Western Front Battlefields and as I’m hoping to go over to France and Belgium next year this was very relevant indeed.

The handbook is packed full of detail and is lavishly illustrated with dozens of drawings, photos and diagrams. For instance I never realised conscription was only introduced in Britain halfway through the war (March 1916) and that while Conscription dates back to antiquity this was the first time Britain had used it (i.e. compulsory enlistment).

I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by David Gilligan of North Cheshire FHS

November 2013

cover for The Brewers ...

The Brewers and Breweries of Ayrshire, Buteshire and Renfrewshire - by Forbes Gibb and Rob Close

Published by: Lomax Press, 2013
ISBN 978-0-9560288-6-0
Price £10.00

Once again, Forbes Gibb and companion Rob Close have embarked on a fact-finding beer walk around part of Scotland, adding to their previous excellent accounts of the brewing trade in Stirlingshire, Fife and Linlithgowshire. The authors have brought together a wealth of information gathered from contemporary documents and newspapers describing brewers and brewing companies in the three counties over many years from the 18th century to the present day.

Brewers and breweries are listed by place within the three counties with the major breweries described in more detail in the second part; for the larger towns, background information on the brewing trade is given, particularly local legislation on the cost of beer. From the point of view of the family historian, perhaps the details of the many people involved in the brewing trade will be of most interest; in many cases significant dates and family members are mentioned. Accounts of the major breweries in the second part help to put these histories into context and give insight into their owner’s business activities.

The real ale enthusiasts are catered for, not only by the accounts of breweries no longer producing beer, but with information on currently working breweries and of the smaller operations, many recently established. Indeed the only brewery mentioned on the Isle of Arran began operations in 2000.

Full references are given to sources and both personal and brewery names are well indexed. Those with family connections in this part of Scotland may not have connections with brewing other than as consumers but should still consult this excellent source.

Reviewed by Stuart Laing, member of Scotslot

October 2013

Tracing Your House History – by Gill Blanchard

cover for Tracing your House History

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 184884254-6
Price £14.99

I was recently given a copy of this book to review and what a delight it was.

This book is more than a guide to researching the history of your house, or a house of interest. It is a font of interest if you are seeking to research and understand the social and domestic lives of people and their communities from early times.

The book is comprehensively laid out over 7 chapters and gently walks readers and researchers through where to find information. Starting with indexes, catalogues and transcriptions before moving along to finding archives in Records offices, local history libraries, heritage, local and family history organisations and numerous online resources.

The section on dating your home and house style is very comprehensive, starting with looking at architects and their role and then moving along to dating a building.

This nicely links into the third chapter which features architecture styles across the ages, commencing with Prehistoric through Norman, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victoria and Edwardian times. This chapter also looks at Modern homes, before moving onto discuss and provide resources for model villages, Garden Cities and Philanthropic Schemes, new towns and council housing. Also touched upon is the Public Health and slum clearances, why they were necessary and what gave rise to them in the first place along with locating the redevelopment and clearance records.

The book progresses to the process of building local knowledge, by looking at local histories, the importance of oral histories, local tales & legends and the foundations they can provide in research. This is followed by two important areas; finding out about local history and then about the resources of Societies, groups and information. Moving on from that is a section that looks at the visuals of such a study; photographs and postcards, along with paintings and drawings which add illustrative social context to your study.

Chapter 5 is a very full and comprehensive chapter on resources. Many will be already known to family historians, such as Birth, Marriage and Death records, Parish records, and Census returns. Also included is business and occupation records, directories and gazetteers, Electoral registers and poll books, Fire Insurance records, Glebe and estate records. Various taxes are looked at, such as Hearth, Window and Land taxes. Land registry, deeds, Manorial records, Maps and plans. The National Farm Survey 1941-1943 which is a an often neglected source in family history research, Quarter session records, Land Owner returns 1873 – 1876 and Valuation Office Survey 1910 – 1920 and finally Wills. A real bonus for this chapter is the inclusion of the useful and comprehensive timeframe for each resource.

The final two chapters deal with how you can present and write your own house history, but similarly this can apply should you be researching a One-Place study, before moving along to the directory of resources looking at Organisations, Websites and a selected Bibliography. There is an index at the end of the book.

All the way through there are illustrations in black and white with links to numerous and various web pages.
This book has been thoroughly researched and presented; and I believe it should be considered the book for those researching houses or a One-Place Study. It was a true delight to read and review.

Disclaimer – I was provided with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed by Julie Goucher

September 2013

Tracing Your First World War Ancestors – by Simon Fowler

cover for First World War Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978 1 78159 037 9
Price £10.39

This paper backed book is a delight! Clearly laid out and written expertly for the novice researcher in mind (although some military knowledge makes the task easier); full of detail, including black and white photographs, extracts from copious documents, VDU screen prints of salient visuals, to name but a few; the narrative is easy on the eye. Lots of web addresses are listed throughout, although I would prefer to have seen these emboldened or underlined. It is important to note that, although some of the accessible on-line information is free of charge, the researcher will need to watch their wallet carefully. Quite a few websites insist on 'pay per view' or subscription fees. These must be paid up front before any access to databases, photographs, newspaper cuttings etc is permitted. In some instances, when quoting a particular website, the author has been kind enough to list estimated costs involved, thereby assisting the researcher with discerning their expected project overheads.

There are 161 pages in total … comprising a detailed contents list, Appendices and Index, each chapter is clearly laid out so the reader is able to dip in and out as their research challenges dictate. The book's author has clearly done a tremendous amount of meticulous research, both on the ground and via the internet, enabling the die-hard enthusiast to sit comfortably at their desk and let their fingers do the walking!

All aspects of the First World War are covered : tracing causalities, locating and using service records, war diaries, pension record cards … the list is endless and thorough. All three services (the Army, Royal Navy and RAF) are covered in good detail with a chapter dedicated to Women and Civilians. The last chapter houses information pertaining to The Dominions - Australia, Canada, India, and various other countries are listed too.

With four appendices covering everything from useful addresses, key websites and battlefield tourism, there is also an informative section on how the army was organised. Interestingly, In Chapter 3 under the heading 'Service Records - other ranks and non-commissioned officers', the author has made a cautionary note where he elaborates on the loss of documents. These papers were unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1940. However, Simon does give detailed descriptions on how to trace any surviving records.

With the centenary of the First World War approaching, I am sure that there will be a lot of interest from all generations in finding out about the lives of their parents, grandparents and other family members during the early part of the last century. Priced competitively at £12.99, 'Tracing Your First World War Ancestors' therefore, in my humble opinion, is likely to become the First World War researcher's "Bible of Choice".

Reviewed by Stephanie Turner

August 2013

cover for How to Read Houses

How to read houses: a crash course in domestic architecture - by Will Jones

Published by The Bloomsbury Press 2013
ISBN 978-1-4081-8162-1
Price £9.99

This book offers a useful and very interesting perspective on the domestic architecture not just of the UK but also the USA and Europe, from where there are examples from the Low Countries, France, Italy and Switzerland.

It has two main sections, House Types, covering materials (straw, adobe, etc ) and components (windows, balconies, etc), and House Styles from Tudor to Kit, via Arts and Crafts and Prairie. Each section is illustrated with black and white line drawings and colour photos.

There is a short but helpful glossary and an index. The book is very attractively produced as a small softback with double flaps, and on good quality paper with clear print. One quibble is that the section headings are printed in grey and thus hidden behind the sub-headings: this does not really work and I am surprised the publisher did not pick this up. However it is a helpful introduction to the subject, and everyone would gain something new from reading it. It can be picked up and put down, dipped into and consulted, and would make an ideal read for a long plane journey.

Many of the examples are of the grander sort of houses and perhaps the next book in the series of which it is part should be 'How to read Humbler Homes ', the sort where most of our ancestors lived!

Reviewed by Gill Draper, Events and Development Officer, the British Association for Local History

August 2013

cover for Understanding Documents

Understanding Documents for Genealogy & Local History
by Bruce Durie

Published by The History Press
ISBN 9780752464640
Price £20

I felt a bit overwhelmed when I received this book for review. Understanding Documents for Genealogy & Local History is not an easy book to read. Weighing in at 2.2 lbs and 448 pages and measuring 24.1 x 16.8 x 3 cm it is a weighty book in size and content.

The good news is the book is crammed with information to help researchers work with a variety of old records. Although the primary focus is on documents from Great Britain the techniques will help with old documents from about the 1560s to 1860s in any of the countries that were once part of the British Empire.

I was a surprised by the claim in the Introduction and on the blurb that “Genealogists and local historians have probably seen every birth, marriage, death and census record available, and are adept at using the internet for research” because in my experience it is simply not true. I've met quite a few researchers (and not just beginners) who haven't a clue with regards computers and the Internet - but more of that another day.

It is true that considerably more images of original records are now available online. This has brought a new emphasis on being able to read and understand these documents, which makes this book so invaluable.

The first chapter goes into great detail about transcribing and palaeography. After reviewing the best practices for transcriptions, the rest of the chapter deals with handwriting. From hands to letters, abbreviations, to numbers, the book explains concepts and provides numerous examples for each to help users read documents. The biggest part of the first section, however, is dedicated to Latin. Many early documents are written in Latin. The obvious ones are church records, but many legal documents were also written in Latin. Those who learned classical Latin in school may have an edge, but the early-modern Latin in which the documents genealogists use are written is very different from classical Latin. This section provides everything you need as a genealogist to understand the language.

Additional chapters explain more fundamentals of records: Dates and Calendars; Money, Coinage, Weight and Measure; Inscriptions and Gravestones; Heraldic Documents and Artefacts; and Gaelic Words in Scots and English. Finally nearly half the book is taken up with Part III: Glossaries which is additional reference material.

Although this is a book for the serious or would-be serious genealogist, I can safely declare that any UK genealogist will find this book helpful and useful as a work of reference.

Reviewed by David Gilligan, North Cheshire FHS

June 2013

cover for Welsh Genealogy

Welsh Genealogy by Bruce Durie

Published by The History Press
ISBN 978 0 7527 6599 9
Price £17.99

When I discovered that one of my g/g/g grandfathers was a David Davies from south Wales, I panicked. With a name like that, from a parish of uncertain name, location and spelling, and a birth date before general registration, what chance did I have? Consequently, I leapt upon this book with glee.

First, let me say that the book is aimed at those of us in the earlier stages of family history. As Dr Durie says himself, he does not wade into the murky water of Wills, Manorial records and so on.  It is also probably of greater use to those of us who are not Welsh, but have Welsh ancestry. Perhaps three-quarters of the book could profitably be read by anyone interested in family history – Welsh or not. He addresses statutory registration, census records and parish registers clearly and he tells the reader where the relevant records are held. He is particularly helpful with historical banana skins like calendar changes and regnal years.

The meat of the book, though, lies in the differences between England and Wales. Welsh administrative areas have been tossed into the pot and more thoroughly stirred than English ones.  Despite several English administrative reorganisations, we still think in terms of ‘one county, one county record office’. Wales doesn’t work like that and Dr Durie guides us helpfully through the swamp, as he does through the Anglican diocese arrangement (there are six and we are told which parish lies in which diocese).  There is a chapter on Welsh surnames (I was right to be terrified – 40 surnames account for 95% of the Welsh) plus chapters on Welsh heraldry, Welsh emigration and the Welsh language (insofar as it is relevant to genealogy).

Dr Durie has a light and engaging style, making the book a pleasure to read. There is a good index and examples of the records you may encounter plus maps and drawings, particularly in the Heraldry chapter.

Do I now know where to find David Davies, born 1765, somewhere in south Wales ? No – but the book has given me the courage to go and look.

Reviewed by Mike Whitaker, of Cornwall FHS; Devon FHS; Wiltshire FHS; Somerset & Dorset FHS; Dyfed FHS; Norfolk FHS

May 2013

Tracing Your Army Ancestors (2nd Edition) – by Simon Fowler

cover for Army Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 9781844154104
Price £12.99

This is the second edition of Simon Fowler’s guide, first published in 2006 and fully updated to include online resources and information on major archives and museums.

It is what I call a ‘dip into’ book, for each chapter is packed with information some of which may be of immediate use whilst other information may not be relevant to your particular line of research.

A complete beginner to family history? You are exhorted by the author to read Chapter 1 and this I would fully endorse, beginner or not,  to ensure that you have covered all that can and could be done before embarking on the quest of tracing your army ancestor.  Having read Chapter 1 then follow your heart to the Chapter that would seem to echo your needs into army research.  Most of the chapters are followed by lists of books to provide further reading and scattered throughout the book are references to 'Further Information'. The appendices covering such items as army service numbers and army ranks are a welcome addition.

Yes, there are other books on army ancestry but I found this book both readable and informative, however, as an avid reader of indexes, I must confess to being disappointed by the brevity of the index for there are things within the text that you will only find by reading the actual section. To have included them within the index would have encouraged the reader to that section, perhaps a section which they may not otherwise have thought of reading.

Reviewed by Dominic Johnson, of Nottinghamshire FHS

26 April 2013

Tracing Your Ancestors through Death Records – by Celia Heritage

cover for Death Records

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978 1 84884 784 2
Price £12.99

Family historians search avidly for their ancestor's tombstones but often neglect to search for burial records and other records which will help them to go beyond a chronicle of dates to a more complete picture of how their family lived and of the effect of a family death on the surviving members.

Celia Heritage has attempted to help the beginning genealogist by identifying the places to look for information, useful websites, and summaries of English laws and regulations that help one understand the information found in various records. Her focus on historical context makes the book an interesting read. Also the "Introduction" contains a checklist of tips for research which will be useful for framing subsequent searches. The book is illustrated with copies of documents found during the author's hunt for her own family history. On-line searching is emphasized, accompanied by lists of useful websites. But also described are books that help locate and interpret data.

The information in this book will be most useful to those searching for antecedents in England but sources of data in Scotland, Ireland and Wales are discussed where those differ from English laws and documents. She includes sources for North America but these are not presented with the same depth.

Reviewed by Ardis D. Kamra, Ed. D. member of Alberta Genealogical Society

11 April 2013

Tracing Your West Country Ancestors – by Kirsty Gray

cover for West Country Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 1848847831
Price £14.99

As a West Country man, I enjoyed reading this book, although I am not sure that it lives up to its title. It provides a short introduction to the history of the West Country (here defined as consisting of the counties of Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, and the City of Bristol), written with family historians in mind. It offers many suggestions of sources to consult.

However, the coverage is far from being either comprehensive or totally accurate. Some important institutions, such as the West Country Studies Library, and the Royal Institution of Cornwall, are completely ignored. There are a number of mis-understandings; for example, we are told that there was no consistency in the way that parish registers (sometimes referred to here, confusingly, as parish records) were kept until 1812. This is only partially true, since Hardwicke’s Marriage Act established the use of a printed form to record marriages in 1754. We are also told that most parishes had several parish constables. In fact, they usually only had one. Admittedly vestries could make multiple nominations to the local JP, but the latter would only choose one. Churchwardens and overseers were never appointed by manorial courts, despite the assertion to the contrary.

Many references which ought to have been given are ignored; for example, the important county volumes of the National Index of Parish Registers are omitted. I was even more surprised that Ian Maxted’s In pursuit of Devon’s history: a guide for local historians in Devon (Devon Books, 1997) is not mentioned –although it provides a more comprehensive overview of Devon sources than this book. Researchers in Somerset should have been told that most Somerset wills were in the Exeter Probate Registry when it was bombed during the Second World War.

Despite these failings, Tracing your West Country ancestors will help you to place the history of your West Country family in its social and economic context. Anyone researching in Cornwall needs to know something about tin mining, whether or no their ancestors were miners. It is good to see the importance of roads, canals and railways mentioned in a book for family historians. We also need to be reminded that demography is relevant to our research. Topics such as these had important implications for all of our ancestors, and sometimes also for our research.  If you want to put flesh on the bones of bare pedigrees, and to get a feel for the society in which your ancestors lived, then read this book. But use it with caution.

Reviewed by Stuart A Raymond

3 April 2013

cover of Easy Family History

Easy Family History - by David Annal

Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408175705
Price: £9.89 from the National Archives Bookshop

As soon as I saw this book I was hoping for something comprehensive and understandable, hopefully to take new family historians from the absolute basics through to fairly advanced family research. It did not disappoint.

The book takes the reader, step by step, through the processes. It starts with the  fundamentals - talking to family to collect your oral history, then looking at birth, marriage, death and census records. These, obviously, are the basic tools we need to look into the family tree. Then, David Annal instructs the reader in the murky waters of probate, pre-1837 records, military service, pictures, newspapers, immigration and the world wide web. It's a comprehensive guide and if you follow it all, I think you'd be beyond the realms of what I'd call easy - but it's all done in a clear and accessible way.

This is, incidentally, a completely new edition, bang up-to-date and thoroughly revised. That's so important with family history books because the resources are changing literally every year. This book compares well with other current favourites such as 'Teach Yourself Tracing Your Family History' by Stella Colwell(which is an equally good book but offers very little help with regard to immigrants and emigrants) or 'Tracing Your Family Tree' by Kathy Chater (which is very good with lovely illustrations, but more expensive and a bit more elementary in content - great for school projects).

Suitable for readers who are complete beginners in family research; intermediate enthusiasts who have gaps in their knowledge; advanced hobbyists as an up-to-date reference. Nicely bound and well-produced, important since this book should become much-loved and well-thumbed. The text is not large but the general layout is clear and, incidentally,  quite well adapted to those with a visual difficulty.

Reviewed by Jennifer Pittam Member of East of London FHS & Romany & Traveller FHS

March 2013

Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors - A Guide for Family and Local Historians
By Anthony Adolph

cover for Wills of our Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 9781781591642
Price £11.99

This comprehensive, but heavy in places, guide to researching and interpreting aristocratic records covers history, heraldry, genetics and royalty.

The author, Anthony Adolph, has made a study of the history of aristocracy in the United Kingdom and across the world. His book covers the story of aristocracy from its early origins in Mesopotamia, Greece, through European royal houses to our own British orders.

If you have any British ancestry then it is virtually impossible not to have a small dose of blue blood in your veins and this book will guide you through the processes of proving descent from blue blooded forebears.

Going back through your own family tree, the number of your ancestors doubles in each generation, producing over 33 million ancestors by the time you reach 1200AD! The population in Britain in 1200AD was only about 2 million. Thus these figures do not appear to add up, because we are all terribly inbred over the years where cousins have intermarried.

Aristocrats tended, as a class, to marry within their own social group. In Britain families usually practiced primogeniture where the eldest son inherited the estate undivided, leaving younger siblings to drop into a class termed The Gentry. These then married into other “lower” classes and so the aristocracy became diluted. Many families have ancestors born as a result of a liaison between an aristocrat and someone of a lower class. Tracing back your family tree may produce such links through this way to aristocratic bloodlines.

Before starting to research a family line it is worth finding the origin and meaning of a surname, and where it was distributed in the country, e.g. Folkard was in Suffolk. There are surnames specific to Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. There are also five categories of surnames, namely locative, topographical, patronymic, nicknames and jobs.

Heraldry, and the right to have a coat of arms, is closely connected to aristocratic ancestry. Discovering a coat of arms amongst family heirlooms or on gravestones can provide valuable clues. The history of heraldry and the visitation of Heralds are clearly described in several chapters. In one chapter the lineage of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge is traced back through various lines to Edward IV, although immediate ancestors were Durham coalminers.

Who were the aristocrats? They range from Emperors, through Kings, Princes, the English Peerage to Knights. The Gentry are not aristocrats, though they tended to behave as if they were. The author gives extensive records of pedigrees of noble and gentry families, all of which are easy to find as they are in print in various publications. However, early versions of Burke’s Peerage gave apparently family myths within the derivations of family trees. These were eliminated in modern editions.

Further chapters give links to overseas royalty, Clans and Kings of Scotland and Ireland, and to Welsh and Ancient British royal and noble roots. Many people can find links to these back through English Gateway Ancestors to Rhodri Mawr (Roderick the Great) who extended his rule across all of Wales.

Genetics and DNA is the new science of genealogy and may be used to prove aristocratic ancestry. It can often be used to prove connections to aristocrats, or to anyone, that could never be proved using paper-based research.

Reviewed by Malcolm Shearwood, a member of Suffolk FHS & Glamorgan FHS

March 2013

cover of My Ancestor was a Gentleman

My Ancestor Was A Gentleman
by Stuart Raymond

Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd., 2012
ISBN: 9781907199165
Price: £8.99

My Ancestor Was A Gentlemen: A Guide to Sources for Family Historians by Stuart Raymond provides a thorough framework for research into the lives and families of English and Welsh gentry from the 16th to the nineteenth century.

As Raymond says a "mountain of paper" relating to the gentry is available to be read and analyzed, but finding these records may take time. Documents and books could be anywhere in the world. There are no comprehensive listings for published family histories, biographies and pedigrees. Family papers held in archives may not easily found either, if they are among the many collections not yet described and included in national catalogues. On the other hand, many records, for instance, heraldic visitation returns and hearth tax lists, have been published, indexed and abstracted, and some collections are already digitized.

After a short history of the gentry to World War I, Raymond points out the importance of reviewing genealogical research from the past. English genealogy began with the gentry, so for many families, there will be good material.

In the next chapters, he outlines the most valuable sources with examples from heraldry, the law, land and estate records, personal and government records, including the variety of taxes and local offices for instance, Justices of the Peace. Last, he offers a look at 'gentlemanly' professions, like law and the army.

For each topic, published, Internet and archival resources are listed, with more detailed discussions of particularly relevant records, as for strict settlement and marriage settlements, meant to ensure the security and continuity of family assets and land ownership by preventing the sale or seizure of land when family assets were threatened by bankruptcy or even treason.

Readers will appreciate Raymond's clear, well organized style, his annotated references and his book's indexes of personal names, places, and subjects. For those researching gentlemen and their families, this would be an indispensable guide.

Reviewed by M. Diane Rogers, British Columbia Genealogical Society

11 March 2013

The Wills of our Ancestors - A Guide for Family and Local Historians
By Stuart A Raymond

cover for Wills of our Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978-1-84884-785-9
Price £12.99

This book is written for people just starting out on their Family History and also for those who are much more experienced.  It takes the reader through the different ages, times and complexities of the legal system.  It explains the different courts, why they came about, and who ran them.  The writing is clear and concise, with many examples of wills from many different parts of England and Wales.

The author has contributed a good deal to Family Historians through his many excellent publications.  This one is of the high standard we have come to expect from his hand.  He has concentrated on England and Wales but offers information for those searching the in the UK at large, including the Channel Islands.

He has a wealth of knowledge.  This he uses to good effect.  Ample illustrations are supplied, which are both relevant and informative. Below the picture he gives a translation of any Latin used.

I found I was able to enjoy reading it while I learnt a lot about Probate, Inventories, Prerogative Court Archives etc. and how and why they changed over the years.

All through the book there are a number of web sites, some are pay to view and some free.  I tried several and found some useful information.  One mentioned early in the book, the National Archives ‘Documents on line’ site, has now been integrated into ‘Discovery’.  Use: discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

There is an impressive list of further reading, a comprehensive Appendix of where wills are likely to be held (which may not be where one would expect them to be), a Latin Glossary, an appendix of terms used in probate record and another of legislation affecting Probate.

This book is a good read and is also a good reference book for Family Historians as well as Local Historians.

Reviewed by Ann Gynes, Publicity Officer Dorset Family History Society

11 February 2013

Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors – by Sue Wilkes

cover for Lancashire Ancestors

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 184884744-1
Price £12.99

I particularly chose this book to review because of my Lancashire ancestors, and I have not been disappointed.

I was fascinated with the opening story of Lancashire and its people even though I am Yorkshire by birth. It must have been dreadful to live in those times when the lands were continually being either given or taken back by the King, Earls and landed gentry being beheaded or stripped of goods, not to mention the humble folk having ruinous taxes when the frequent wars were being raged.

The ‘Matter of Religion’ is colourfully dealt with. It includes details of the trial of 19 people from the Pendle and Samlesbury areas being tried as witches, and this section also touches on parish registers, church records and marriage bonds etc

A chapter on ‘rags to riches’ follows showing how the new industries made fortunes for the mill owners.  It also highlights the dreadful living and working conditions of those working in them and in particular the children and how Sir Robert Peel campaigned tirelessly for better conditions.

This section led neatly into the chapter on transport and industry, in which I was particularly interested myself. My grandfather worked on the railways in Manchester and had an accident at work in which he lost an arm.  I have had difficulty finding the details for this but I found clues and websites in this chapter which I am hoping will lead me to answers.

The last part of the book deals with how to search, which leads into a research guide and archive directory. Useful addresses in alphabetical order and two separate lists on free on line resources and subscription ones make this book an invaluable companion.  I am working my way through all the sites mentioned, many of which I knew but there are a lot which I did not know about.

Reviewed by Marcia Kemp of HDHFS

7 February 2013

cover of Westmeath Ancestors

Tracing your Westmeath Ancestors by Gretta Connell

ISBN: 978-1-907990-03-8
Price: Euro 13.00

The credentials of the author of this book are that she is a senior librarian in the County of Westmeath, and her interest and knowledge of the area is very much evident in this well thought  out book.  It begins with a short history of the County, which left me wanting to know more about the area of Westmeath, my Irish ancestors coming from a different part of Ireland. 

There are chapters on most of the usual subjects, i.e. Census, Civil Registration, Church Records, and Wills etc.  Of particular interest was information given pertaining to Land Records.  As well as Tithe Applotment Books and Griffiths Valuation, Field Books, Tenure Books and House Books are described, records I have not seen mention of before.

Westmeath seems to be particularly lucky in having quite a large number of Census Substitutes, the earliest being1640, though the majority are from 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.  An interesting fact was that a lot of Westmeath residents emigrated to Argentina, but the author didn’t tell us why.

Further sources of research covered include newspapers, memorial inscriptions, education records and occupation sources, together with a chapter on family names and histories in Westmeath.  Finally there is a list of useful resources and an index.

This is a well written book, easy to read and use.  I was pleased to see that a very clear typeface had been used and all tables, maps and illustrations, of which there are many, were very clear.   Throughout, pitfalls and possible errors are pointed out, as is the need to find proof of family connections.  I feel confident it will prove a useful aide to research.

Reviewed by Pam Richardson, Ormskirk & District FHS

29 January 2013

cover of Marriage Law

Tracing Your Caribbean Ancestors by Guy Grannum

Publication – September 2012, (3rd Edition) 208 pages
Published by National Archives Guide, Bloomsbury Press
ISBN: 9781408175699
Price: £14.99

A few months ago I was given the chance to review this book. I do not have any direct ancestral links to the Caribbean or West Indies, but in recent years I have established that an individual that slots into my One Place Study migrated with one of his children to Jamaica. Bearing this in mind I was interested to read the latest edition of Guy’s book, and I was not disappointed.

Firstly, this is not a how do you research your ancestry type book. It is a guide which really does provide a solid foundation on which to establish your research or interest.

The book is laid out into a series of 11 chapters. Starting with how to get going, then progresses the records of the Colonial Office, Migration, Life Cycle records (Isn't that a nice way of putting Birth, Marriages and Deaths?), Land and Property records, Military Records, Slave and Slave Holder Records, Civil Servant Records. The final chapter that deals with the life in the Caribbean looks at migration from the region and then the final two chapters of the book feature each individual country of the British West Indies and records of the Non West Indies such as the influence on the region of Countries such as Cuba, Denmark and France just to name a few.

The book contains illustrations, details on where records are located, in many cases providing the classification number and then steers readers to further sources such as books, websites and societies. The final pages of the book provide a very detailed Bibliography, Name and Addresses section and a comprehensive index.

This is a great resource to those researching their Caribbean roots, and for those interested in general researching the region and for those interested in the social, and economic development of the Caribbean.

This is a revised edition and takes into account recent changes in access to documents and research in the region.

Disclaimer - I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed by Julie Goucher

3 January 2013

 

IMPORTANT NOTE:

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.

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