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Recent Book Reviews

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• • • • Don't forget to read our reviews of recent CD Publications • • • •

cover for Victorian Policing

Victorian Policing by Gaynor Haliday

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781526706126
Price £12.99 (£10.50 from P&S at time of writing)

Gaynor Haliday lives near Holmfirth in Yorkshire and became interested in the history of Victorian policing when researching the life of her great, great grandfather, a police constable in Bradford.

The story begins with a brief description of policing in the middle ages when watchmen were employed to patrol the streets. Progress in law enforcement was haphazard and slow until the 19th century.

Increasing industrialisation led to the rapid growth of towns and cities and there was a corresponding increase in crime rates. Local authorities began to realise that a more formal and efficient approach was needed.  Training, discipline and pay provided by local councils were practically non-existent for the ‘bobby on the beat.’

For the patrolling policeman drunken behaviour was a constant problem and intervention would often lead to serious injury. 

Particular attention is given to the difference between urban and rural criminal felonies. There may be plenty of problems in the towns but poaching on private land could be just as dangerous for the local bobby because animal theft was not only carried out by armed individuals but also armed gangs.

Much of the research is taken from local newspapers, Minutes of Borough Watch meetings,
Police records and registers which are located in local archives or police museums.

Gaynor’s research is methodical and often in great detail. There are moments of humour when the author quotes from a citation written when her ancestor, PC Bottomley claimed he had whispered to a drunk man in the street,’ If tha’ don’t go home to thi’ wife and bairns a s’al ‘av to run thee in.’

A long list of street offences that a local bobby had to bear in mind included ‘Wanton discharge of firearms’ and ‘ kite flying or making slides on ice and snow.’

A policeman’s lot could be often brutal and dangerous in Victorian Britain and I was left wondering

 how this might compare with modern policing.

Reviewed by Ron Pullan, Wakefield & District Family History Society

January 2018

cover for Tracing History through Title Deeds

Tracing History through Title Deeds by Dr N Alcock

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52670 345 3
Price £14.99 (£11.99 from P&S at time of writing)

This is an excellent book for newcomers or those who have researched title deeds before. They are by far the most numerous surviving records but least known or used. One single deed might supply clues to family relationships to be found nowhere else. 

As Dr Alcock says in his introduction this paperback is a direct successor to his previous book ‘Old Title Deeds’.   He refers to the development of the use by researchers of computers, laptops and tablets and the enhanced availability of online catalogues, since his previous book was published.

That book has been my ‘bible’ when it came to trying to understand and interpret title deeds. This new book will supersede it! It seeks to answer three questions in 199 pages –with an additional 18 page index. Why use deeds and what do they contain? Where are they located? How can their ‘evidence be extracted’. The latter chapter goes into detail by using examples –photographic and transcriptions – explaining the various types of deeds used by lawyers over the centuries, their wording and form. It demystifies much of the format and terminology enabling the reader to understand what was previously incomprehensible. 

The 4 appendices are very useful especially the flowcharts on pages 165-167 to enable one to appreciate what type of document is being researched.  If I have any criticism it is that these flowcharts, which are immensely useful, together with some of the examples, are printed in very small font and I found it very hard to read them without a magnifying glass!

So if you ever wondered what a quitclaim looked like or where to find a final concord and what it signified or what an indenture was this book will explain and more besides!  Highly recommended!

Reviewed by David Lambert

January 2018

cover for One Family, Six Names

One Family, Six Names by John and Anne Hercus

Pprivately published ( Christchurch, New Zealand ) 2017
ISBN: 978-0-473-38446-3
Enquiries to Dame Ann Hercus email ann.johnhercus@hotmail.com.

This is a comprehensive study of the origins and history of the Scottish surname Hercus and its variants. Having written two previous books about their family history the authors, New Zealanders by birth and upbringing, decided to explore ‘the world of the medieval origin of our family name’. This book is the product of ‘the last decade of our retirement years’. They describe themselves as  ‘family history detectives’.

Over eight chapters, from How It All Started to DNA, they very thoroughly trace the surname back to its Scottish place of origin in Berwickshire and to distinguished ancestors of the late12th/early 13th centuries. En route they cover the history of the development of surnames, the migration of their own surname from Southeast Scotland up to the Orkneys and Shetland, the evolution of coats of arms and the significance and interpretation of DNA testing.  They identify 101 variations of the name, pinpoint its origin to one geographical location and its meaning to be a ‘grey rock or marker’.  Their industry and enthusiasm are admirable; they advise fellow researchers always to question and doublecheck and to take nothing at its face value. 

The book comes in A4 format, sturdily bound with a double column of print on each page – not the easiest layout to assimilate.  All in all, an impressive achievement.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

January 2018

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Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past by Marian Burk Wood

Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1539124429
Price £7.99

The Author is American who gives talks on genealogy   The Ancestry book is an essential read for those just starting on the path. It uses the PASS code (Prepare, Allocate, Set up, Share) which is used in each chapter. It goes into great detail as to how to present your research which means before you start your research you need to know how you want the end result to look.  The presentation of your findings can vary in its cost.

Marian, in particular, has emphasised in easy “summing up steps” on each chapter what the reader should approach.  She talks about your research and evidence kept in box/folder to be stored either at home or by approaching a local Archive centre.  This is good for when we pass so that we can ensure the future family tree researchers can get access to the trawled research.

Another point which I found crucial is photographs in the form of slides.  She recommends sorting out those not needed such as fields, animals and so on (slides being a rather out-dated form of photograph now) and get them digitised.  The reader should if possible consult with other family members for updates on names to be put on the back of the photograph and also to digitise names and superimpose names to photographs. On page 32/33 she points out one or two pitfalls that can happen to the researcher such as losing data on your computer, so backing up is essential.

Overall, this is an essential must read for anyone starting their Family Tree or as a “check-list” for those already in the middle of their research.

Reviewed by Val Taylor for MFHS

January 2018

cover for Penny Lane

Penny Lane and All That - Memories of Liverpool by Ann Carlton

Published by and available from: Y Lolfa
ISBN: 9781784613693
Price £9.99 + p&p

Ann Carlton was born in Liverpool around the end of World War II, a city that is something of a cultural hotchpotch. Many of its inhabitants can trace their roots back to Ireland, whilst the author’s family had Welsh origins, with large numbers of Welsh people having headed to the city to find work. Liverpool also had significant Chinese and African populations, a diverse mix creating a true multicultural city.

Ms Carlton’s family lived in the city’s Penny Lane neighbourhood, an area that achieved fame because of the Beatles. She had a comfortable, middle class upbringing, with her father earning his living as town clerk of Liverpool, before becoming the first chief executive of Merseyside County Council. The author herself wrote an undergraduate study of the city’s housing department, which highlighted from her personal experiences of the poverty and disadvantage to be found in the squalid city slums. The text attributes these difficulties as one of the reasons for Liverpudlians being passionate about their city.

The sense of humour of many “Scousers” is admired. And the drastic outcomes of the city’s extensive slum clearance programme are recorded. Ms Carlton also deals in the minutiae too - her childhood stays in hospital, the garters of her woollen socks, her mother’s chip pan and her attendance at primary school are all elucidated. 

This social history comprises of 191 pages and is presented in a soft cover. The author’s words are illustrated by the use of facsimile documents and monochrome photographs. The text is not indexed and a bibliography of further reading has not been included. Both of these would have been useful additions to what is otherwise a most engaging and interesting volume that I am happy to commend.

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

January 2018

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Children’s Homes – A history of institutional care for Britain’s young by Peter Higginbotham

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781526701350
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

This book is easy to read, with the majority of the book giving, as the title suggests, a history of child care in Britain from the early days of Christ’s Hospital, London in the 16th century, to the role of today’s Local Authorities.

Reading the book, I was amazed at not only the number of children’s homes over the years, but also the variety of their governing bodies and sponsors. It seems that there was never enough space for children needing care, whatever the number of homes or institutions. Many of which only catered for children over a certain age (around 5 years in most cases). It did leave me wondering what happened to the majority of babies and infants.

I was particularly pleased to have the differences between Industrial Schools, Certified Schools, Approved Schools and Ragged Schools explained. Plus, their merges and transformation over the years to other types of institutions, mainly depending on the various Acts of Parliament and Government Reports. It is important to understand the politics involved in Education, Poor Law and child care over the years, to understand the various institutions and how they changed over time. All is explained in the book.

The chapters of the book are split into different types of children’s homes, whether they were schools (and which type); Charities such as Barnardo’s; or religious organisations. Each chapter then points out the organisations’ principals and lists their main homes - when they were set up, how many children they catered for and what they were named at various times (many changed the names of the homes / schools at regular intervals). All this information is pertinent in finding that one particular home and what may have happened to its residents. What happened to children when they left the homes is also touched upon, especially the emigration schemes to Canada and Australia.

Actual day to day life in the various homes is mentioned in a couple of chapters towards the end of the book, and occasionally when various individual homes are described. Records for the various organisations that may elaborate on this may be available for further research, and there is a chapter devoted to this subject. As there is on child emigration to Canada and Australia, which was used extensively in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There is a great deal of variety of information in the book, and in essence, for someone looking or suspecting that an ancestor was brought up in a Children’s Home, the book combined with Mr. Higginbotham’s complimentary websites www.childrenshome.org.uk and www.workhouses.org.uk is a must read.

Reviewed by Sue Steel

November 2017

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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

cover for Egypt & Palestine

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

Lasham Village – A Chapter in Time 1934 – 76 by V John Batten

Privately published (see below)
Price £5

The author has written an informal and attractive memoir of his childhood in the village of Lasham, outside Alton in Hampshire. It mainly focuses on the period from just before WW2 up to the 1940s although, as the title indicates, later material is included.

It describes a small rural community where life revolved around farming and the seasons. Many fascinating anecdotes and details about farming practice and lore are noted. If you want to know what a ‘Bavin’ is and its connection with The Great Fire of London, you’ll find the answer here. There are photos illustrating farming life during this period.

Not surprisingly the repercussions of the War are important markers in the narrative. The creation of an airfield on what was previously farmland changed the community and brought the war and its personnel to their doorstep. There is a splendid photo of the local Home Guard formally drawn up – and every soldier is identified ( many with their home address ).

For the genealogist the text is full of residents’ names with reminiscences about individuals and village institutions – a treasure trove of information. This is not a professionally written history but ‘on the spot’ account set down by a ‘local boy’. Well illustrated and well presented, it is an invaluable record by one who was there.

It is privately published but copies can be obtained, at a cost of £5+£1p&p, from John Batten, 12 Tanhouse Lane, Alton, GU34 1HR or from Jane Hurst, 82 The Butts, Alton, GU34 1RD.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

July 2017

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Norton of Everest, The Biography of E.F. Norton, soldier and mountaineer by Hugh Norton

Published by: Vertebrate Publishing
Price £12.99

I asked to review this book as it was a biography and hoped it would lead to some tips and ideas on how to write family history. I have no interest in mountaineering nor military history and so was slightly apprehensive when I started reading. But I was very pleasantly surprised and can recommend the book whole heartedly.

Hugh Norton, the son of Edward Felix (Teddy) Norton, the subject of the biography, writes very clearly of his father’s whole life, not just his mountaineering accomplishments on Everest. In doing so, he brings his father to life, showing the reader Teddy’s personality, his likes and dislikes, and most of all his values. The story of E F Norton covers the early 20th century and the turmoil brought by war and foreign policy. But the book doesn’t become bogged down with a technical and military history of First World War battles; nor does it get bogged down with the policies of overseas government of the British Commonwealth of the time. It is a very personal account of one man’s life in the Army, with a side story of his climbs on Everest.

The book is very easy to read and I did so in only a couple of days. The descriptions allowed me to picture the places E F Norton lived and his struggles in the very harsh world of Mount Everest. The photographs, sketches and quotations served to illustrate the commentary and ultimately to show an unbiased view of the man.

The book is not a series of anecdotes used to amuse the reader, but a proper life history. Although, some family stories have been included to lighten the atmosphere and ensure the story is not just a list of places and dates. As a biography, this is a well thought out book, enjoyable and worth reading.

Reviewed by Sue Steel

July 2017

cover for Tracing your nonconformist ancestors

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

From Sailing Ships to Spitfires by Shirley Walker

Published by Borealis Press Ltd, 8 Mohawk Crescent, Ottawa K2H 7G6
ISBN: 0-88887-287-9

This is a well written, well researched and readable book. It is the story of Norwegian brothers Gustav and Olav Roseland and their families and descendants. It tells of their early days at the end of the 19th century on the family farm in Norway, of Gustav’s travels working on sailing ships, their emigration to the United States with the aim of making a good living and then returning to Norway. After failure in America they moved to Canada where life was no better until the 1940s. Although Olav did, Gustav never returned to his Homeland.

The book is arranged in five parts, Life in Norway to 1904, Life in America 1904-11, Life in Canada 1912-27, Life in the great depression in Canada 1927-39 and Life in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War 2 1940-45.

Each of the well-presented chapters details the life of the family members and tells of their efforts to make a success of the move to the USA, as well as their hopes and aspirations. The story relates the successes and the subsequently dashed hopes, the crushing hard work and grinding poverty which they experienced and tells why irrepressibly they were prepared to move on to try again after each failure.

After moving to Canada and establishing a farm with a small degree of success, after two years of economic failure, in 1927 they, in common with hundreds of others, simply had to walk away from their home and livelihood. There is a poignant picture taken in 2000 of the abandoned house still standing.

The title of part 4 ‘We thought it couldn’t get worse’ tells of their settlement in the nearby town of Okotoks, Life here was no easier especially when the family was hit the scourge of TB in the 1930 and jobs were no easier to find.

The poems written by family members whilst in the TB sanatorium are evidence of the family’s spirit and determination.

The last part deals with the experience of Gustav’s son with the RCAF in WW2 and his death in action.

The one thing which is missing and would help the reader, is a family tree.

Although none of the characters have any UK connection this is still a book which has plenty to interest the British genealogist.

Reviewed by John Treby, Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS

June 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 Boer War Ancestors - by Jane Marchese Robinson

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473822429
Price £12.99 (£9.09 + £4 p&p from P&S at time of writing)

I had given up trying to put “meat on the bones” of my Boer War ancestor, Bertram Baldwyn as he died so young but now I have read this book I am inspired to look for more details about his short life. Born at Hidcote Boyce, Cotswolds, son to Bernard Eyres Baldwyn from Ashton under Hill, Worcestershire, Bertram died of Typhoid (enteric) aged 20 years in Pretoria as a volunteer Imperial Yeoman (his memorial is in Chipping Campden School).

The Foreword of the book is so interesting that it willed me to read on. It is well printed and easy reading describing the awful suffering and devastation of that war. The chapter Imperial Yeoman linked to my interest of the very young men and talks about them marching from Evesham through Pershore and Stourbridge and I imagined Bertram’s widowed father and siblings being proud of their young Bertram.

For me, reading through the book was like a valuable history lesson (a map of South Africa to refer to places would have been a bonus). The many sad stories handed down from relatives of those who fought shows us why we shouldn’t go to war. Women and children were killed and their homes destroyed under the “scorched earth” policy adopted in 1901. Young soldiers had to follow “their orders” that were crazy British plans or pay the penalty of being shot. Those soldiers who were fortunate to return home - at the “bitter end” - found life was hard too because a lot of mills had closed down and even the agricultural scene had changed because the men had been at war. Life at home was so bad that Widow Funds had to be set up by charitable gentry such as Rowntree, Charles Booth and The Salvation Army to try to help the growing poverty situation at home. Supposedly the British Empire won the Boer War - but debateable as lessons weren’t learned to take us into The Great War.

Reviewed by Val Taylor on behalf of MFHS

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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Wood’s Radley College Diary (1855-1861)
Edited by Mark Spurrell

ISBN: 978-0-9022500-83-2
Price: £25.00
Oxfordshire Record Society Volume 70 - Published 2016 - 488 pages
To purchase contact the Secretary of Oxfordshire Record Society through their website

This book tells the story of Radley, a minor public college on the outskirts of Abingdon. In two parts consisting of an introduction placing the latter diary section in context and introducing the characters. Revd William Sewell, founder and warden of Radley and fellow of Exeter College, Oxford also played a part in the failings of Radley through financial mismanagement. Radley was re-founded by R J Hubbard, Governor of the Bank of England,who became Lord Addington. This is seen through the diary of Revd William Wood who became a fellow and sub-warden at Radley and a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

The introduction is a product of thorough research, telling the stories of the main protagonists and the events. The methodology of editing and presenting the diary is explained followed by the context of Radley College.

The diaries give an insight of the public school system and day to day life in Radley College. There is a mixture of domestic activity and the problems of disciplining pupils. Here the diaries come into their own, given not only the events but also the emotions and thoughts of Revd Wood. News from the outside world play a role in school life where Crimean war victories and other events are celebrated with holidays. The excessive amount of holidays cause tensions among the Fellows and add to the poor management of Radley.

Revd Wood dines regularly at various Oxford Colleges providing one view of the Gown side of Oxford life. Oxford College events show a system where to be a fellow at University being ordained was a necessity. Movement of the High Church in the Church of England grew out of the thinking of these people and differences on theological grounds are mentioned.

Oxfordshire Record Society, like other record societies throughout England, published records to present them to a wider audience. Without these diaries there would be a gap in any research concerning Radley. Like any diary, there is the minutia of everyday life where walking the five miles to Oxford was not unusual. In this sense anybody wanting a view of life in the Victorian period will find much in this book. Others with an interest about Radley, Church of England and the University will gain much from this book. I recommend this book to all those with an interest in the subjects covered. For family historians wishing to understand more about aspects of the counties of the families they are researching, county record societies provide an underused resource. When I read the first sentence of the forward by the Honorary General Editor Mr William White, ‘Strictly speaking, this is none of our business.’ The book touched my inquisitive nature would be an enjoyable read. It has not disappointed me in any way.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, member of Buckinghamshire FHS

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

cover for Dating Old Photographs

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

cover for Irish Family History

Irish Family History: A Beginners Guide by Stuart A Raymond

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-56-7
Price £5.95 +p&p

Stuart A. Raymond has written a large number of books for Family Historians. They have all been meticulously researched and very informative. This new book is no exception.

Before I started reading this book I knew very little about Ireland’s history. The introduction gives an excellent brief history of Ireland, its troubled past and why the records are in so many different places. He then sets out where to look for the different resources.

Even if you know about Irish history and are someway along in your research into Irish Family History you may still find the book very useful. Just to read the list on the Contents page is to take a tour of a huge variety of repositories and sources. That page is a jumping off point for information on many specific topics. Take page 23 which offers us Monumental Inscriptions and Cemeteries: first a brief introduction to the value of such sources (this is, primarily, a beginner’s book remember) followed by a link to advice on the topic, supplied by the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and then six relevant web sites and a book recommendation.

Other topics are treated similarly and, where relevant and available, there are many web addresses offered. For beginners this is a “must have”; for the more experienced researcher it is a useful tool to add to your box. Do you think you have explored every avenue? Then I recommend this book as a checklist for confirmation or inspiration.

Reviewed by Ann Gynes

January 2017

cover for Mary Green

Mary Green, Bespoke Tailoress by Mary Cunningham

Published by: Ruddington Framework Knitters Museum, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-872044-07-1
Price £3.99

This is a scholarly account of one woman’s life in the textile world in Bolton in the late 19th century and early 20th. As the author says; ‘one ordinary individual ‘s unrecognised actions and attitudes are commemorated’. It is not simply a description of a millgirl’s life but a serious attempt to track one woman’s efforts to expand her skills, educate herself and broaden her horizons. The author traces Mary’s life and the influences upon it in an attractive, well illustrated pamphlet. The main text occupies twenty-eight pages with a brief postscript. Notes and bibliography fill the remaining pages.

Mary’s life is convincingly and sympathetically sketched and the illustrations vividly support the narrative. The background is fully drawn and, overall, an interesting picture of the textile community in the North West emerges. For genealogists with connections with that area and industry it could offer useful background and possible fields of research.

This is an academic study buttressed fully by references and sources. It tells a good story but the prose can be somewhat clogged and convoluted; ‘Faith was accompanied by reasoned, considered thought, flexibility paramount rather than conformity to hierarchically imposed dogma’. But it’s worth persisting to follow Mary’s journey and achievements.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

January 2017

cover for Northern Irish Ancetors

Tracing your Northern Irish Ancestors - 2nd edition
A guide for family and local historians by Ian Maxwell

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473851795
Price £14.99

Ian Maxwell is a former record officer at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and so is an expert well placed to write about the records held there. The book is easy to use, is clearly set out in chapters, and has explanations about the different types of records. It also has a brief overview of the early history of the Province of Ulster and the establishment of Northern Ireland.

Although this is the second edition and the book has been updated, the last few years have seen a very welcome increase in the Irish records now available online so it is very difficult to keep up to date with these new sites, or additions to sites, in a publication.

The website for PRONI is now www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni and for the General Register Office for birth, marriage and death indexes and certificates online is www.nidirect.gov.uk/family-history.

The references given for PRONI documents on their online eCatalogue are also slightly different now. To correct them usually involves leaving out a /. That just means that T/808/14889 should be T808/14889 and MIC/1P/215 should be MIC1P/215 and so on. PRONI also has online now the Valuation Revision books for the years 1864 – 1933.

Any Northern Ireland Roman Catholic Registers which had been microfilmed and were available in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, are also now also online at www.registers.nli.ie These are just the surviving registers up to 1880.

A welcome addition to online records is the collection of the many local Northern Ireland newspapers which are now available and searchable by name and subject. Some of these may be found on the commercial sites The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast and these are continuously being added to.

The appendix to the book has a section called useful addresses. Unfortunately, several of these are out of date, including the address for our own society, the North of Ireland Family History Society.

This book is a very good initial guide to the records for Northern Ireland for anyone starting out on their family history research.

Reviewed by Ann Robinson, member of North of Ireland Family History Society

November 2016

cover for The Spyglass File

The Spyglass File - by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

A Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist Story

Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN-13: 978-1537228532
Price: £7.99

This is the 4th book in the series. It is 277 pages long with additional biographic and historical information.

Morton reluctantly takes up a request to discover who the real parents were of his elderly client who had discovered she had been adopted. Morton, who had discovered that he had been adopted, is endeavouring to locate his own real ancestors. His client’s birth occurred during the course of World War Two. The story concentrates on a young WAAF, whose knowledge of German found her working for Y- Service, who intercepted German wireless messages.

The author once again weaves Morton’s modern research and conclusions, with the history of what really happened, with several twists and turns along the way as well as some dramatic episodes for Morton too . The book is well researched and written, so that the story leaves the reader wanting to find out what happens next like any good thriller or detective story.

It would make a good present for Christmas for a fan of the series or someone who wants a good read especially if they are interested in family history and enjoy mysteries or thrillers.

Reviewed by David Lambert

November 2016

cover for Men of Song

Men of Song by Jeff Campbell

Privately published.
The book can be purchased direct from the author at a cost of £11.00 (inc. P & P):
Jeff Campbell, 12 Fawns Close, Ermington, Ivybridge, Devon PL21 9NB
Telephone 01548831559
Enquiries: menofsong2016@gmail.com

This is an enthusiast’s book. The author is a champion of Male Voice Choirs (MVC) and it is appropriate to be reviewing it when ensemble singing is, via TV and Gareth Malone, enjoying such popularity.

The author sums up his book in one sentence; ‘ I belong to a male Voice Choir and this is my story’. What follows is something of a pot pourri but is unified by his personality and his obsession (as outsiders would see it ) with MVCs.

The first half is an informal mixture of autobiography, jokes and MVC history (including autobiographies of each member of the Tamar Valley Choir – the author’s own). This section is disarmingly unpretentious; the only reservation your reviewer would have is that some paragraphs are printed in a feint Italic typeface – not an attractive or easily readable format. His own autobiography includes details of his family with a touching account of his granddaughter, Skye, ‘ who was born with Down’s Syndrome’.

The second half is a Directory of British MVCs arranged by country and county. There is also a list of Police Choirs. Each entry has a potted history (but unfortunately no contact details) which varies from several pages to a couple of lines.

It’s an intriguing glimpse into another, musical, world which is presented with simplicity and affection.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

November 2016

cover for The Barque of Bulleyn

The Barque of Bulleyn by K C Isted

Published by: Conrad Press
ISBN: 978-1-78301-919-9
Price £11.99 (Also available in Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk priced at £2.99)

This is a fast paced swashbuckling story of one of the author’s ancestors and a vessel he purchased. It is an entertaining book based on real life events with real life characters.

The story centres on the activities, legal and otherwise of Privateer Robert Isted and his crew in 1574 when Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne. England and Spain were at war and part of Holland was allied to Spain and part to Britain The action takes place between Hastings, the North Sea and Scotland.

The story is well researched and has well defined characters. The events are easy to understand.

Without giving away the plot we know that most pirates came to a sticky end and whether Robert Isted did is something to be discovered when the book is read.

A great way to present part of your family history.

Reviewed by John Treby, Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS

October 2016



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