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Recent Book Reviews

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

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 Unfortunately, several of these are out of date, including the address for our own society, the North of Ireland Family History Society.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

cover for British Newspapers

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

cover for Writing your family history

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

cover for Wayward Women

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

cover for Traciing your ancestors in county records

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

cover for Unearthing ...

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

cover for Remember Then

Remember Then by Janet Few

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-53-6
Price £12.95

The hefty bright green book is attractive with its collage of old photos of children from a by-gone period in the 20th century – giving picture credits at the rear of the book. Paper is white and clear and reading is easy (despite a few grammar and printing errors). The ten chapters are well titled and it is easy to refer to a particular section. The book contains a chronological timeline of major events happening worldwide for this period which had some effect on changes occurring in the UK. I would advise the reader to go through the very useful pages at the rear of each chapter regarding the questions that each volunteer (who are also named at the back of the book) was posed by the author and particularly the “Chapter Footnotes” which give a research explanation by the author on certain words/phrases used. For example: I didn’t know that a “crock with isinglass” (last line of page 94) was relating to preserving eggs but the footnote explained. The book contains two sections on general advertisement photographs and group photos.

The volunteers are recalling their respective experiences on how their life panned out during the period 1946 – 1969. I was born in 1949 and am familiar with many descriptions given.

As mentioned in the summary by the author, the time period remembered by her volunteers was a huge changing time in so many aspects from relationships, surroundings, attitudes and the behaviour from many differing sectors of life. Expectations on a daily life were uplifted in ways for an easier workload, some openness allowing women to have an opinion and their say in matters. Perhaps the book should have included reflections from male volunteers too which would in my opinion give a broader outlook on living from both genders. However, for younger folk reading this book it would give a very good insight on growing up during this time to compare it with times more recent.

Reviewed by Valerie Ann Taylor, member of Malvern Family History Society

July 2016

cover for Kent Ancetors

Tracing your Kent Ancestors
A guide for family and local historians by David Wright.

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473833456
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

This book starts with an overview of Kent’s history and then moves on to discuss the genealogical resources available. It is a large county with a long and varied history. Its records are spread over many locations but are wide and quite comprehensive. However these can be difficult to find because of this.

The first section is a good introduction to the research of Kent records. It gives many practical tips on how to avoid difficulties and what to do if encountered.

It then goes on the talk about the basic sources, census, parish registers, BMD etc and how they relate to the Kent records.

The next chapter relates specifically to Kent records from Borough records all the way through to Voters records via Church Courts and Poor Law and many more besides.

The final chapter is all about National records. This includes such topics as Manorial, Military and Tax records.

There is a bibliography at the end of each chapter and each section in each chapter has an extensive list of relevant resources.

The index is well thought out and helpful as is the general bibliography at the end.

The appendices of Kent parishes and Directory of Archives Libraries and Societies are helpful pointers for your research.

A very useful reference for all those with Kent ancestors.

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

July 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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Victorians in Camera. The world of 19th Century Studio Photography by Robert Pols.

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473823341
Price £12.99

The author, Robert Pols, details the social history of Victorian portrait photography. He describes the process of being photographed from the customer's point of view giving the reader an insight into the choices available.

With licensing and limitations of the early photographic processes affecting the spread of studios across the country, only larger towns supported a studio. Pols discusses the construction of studios and suppliers of photographic equipment as well as the sales techniques used by the photographers and their employment of women for the sensibilities of the female client.

The photographer's manipulation of the scene enhances what can be inferred from the image. Setting, dress and positioning of the sitter(s) all contribute towards presenting the ideal result. The considerations of the sitter are fully discussed and the book is illustrated throughout.

For collectors of Victorian photographs, this book makes an interesting read. Family historians with collections of images will gain from understanding the processes and reasoning behind the production of photographs. The book shows how the quality of the photograph can give insights to the life of the sitter and a town.

A very enjoyable and informative book.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, member of Buckinghamshire FHS

July 2016



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