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Recent Book Reviews

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

cover for British & Irish Ancestors

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 That might result in the text rapidly becoming outdated.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

cover for Probate Jurisdictions

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

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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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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