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New Book Reviews

If you would like to submit a new publication for review on the New Books page, or are interested in joining the Book & CD Review Club please email Philippa McCray, Administrator


The “Price” shown for each book reviewed may be the list price. Readers may be able to find lower prices by shopping around. For instance, the Bookprice24 site compares prices for a range of new and used books,  drawn from a number of online suppliers.

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

cover for Cholera

Cholera, The Victorian Plague by Amanda J Thomas

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78346 350 3
Price £19.99

This book is a very readable account of the story of the cholera epidemics of the Victorian age. It talks about the spread of the disease, where it came from and the way it was transmitted.

There are some scientific details but these are easily picked up as the reader progresses through the book.

Treatments were primitive and ineffective. Brandy and laudanum although prescribed were never going to cure the disease but the patient was probably unware of his illness!!

Although the book is concentrated on cholera in London and gives us lots of detail about how the authorities tried to provide cleaner air and water and in many cases failed, it does include other cities, Liverpool and Bristol in particular. The Bristol physician Dr William Budd was one of the pioneers proposing clean water.

When the cholera pandemic of 1881 started in the Baltic region, and ports were concerned about the disease arriving on ships, Cardiff and Barry built an isolation hospital on Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel. The hospital only ever treated seven potential cholera patients before it was finally closed in 1934.

Although this hospital is are not discussed, this book gives the reasons why that hospital was thought necessary and why in the end it had such little use.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s efforts to provide London with a proper sewage system are described in some detail and provide a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the authorities of the time.

The notes and bibliography are extensive and give the reader much scope for further research.

For social historians this is an interesting account of public health in the 1800s.

For family historians there are many names especially amongst the great and the good.

A word of warning however, some passages should not be read just before lunch!  

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

June 2016

cover for

Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors
A Guide for Family & Local Historians by Rachel Bellerby

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473828001
Price £14.99

This title is a welcome edition to the Pen & Sword series of handbooks for those of us who have Leeds ancestry. It is an engaging and well-written book.

It gives an interesting history of Leeds, from its beginnings as a settlement in the kingdom of Elmet through to medieval times. Bellerby then turns to the dual catastrophes of Civil War and the Black Death, which between them decimated the population of Leeds in the 17th century.

The book continues into the era of expansion of this 'city of 1000 trades'.

In the 19th century the need to mechanise Leeds' well-establish textile trade stimulated an engineering industry in the city. Railways arrived in 1811, which all culminated in 'one of the most vibrant and memorable eras in the history of Leeds' to quote Bellerby: the Victorian age. The population expanded through Victorian times from 150,000 to half a million - which means of course that many will have ancestors that were born in or migrated to Leeds during those times. This brings me to one shortcoming: Bellerby's descriptions of the areas of the city would be enhanced by including relevant maps, especially for those who are not so familiar with the city's districts and landmarks.

Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors gives a very good overview of how to get started with research, as well as giving pointers to other records for those who want to dig deeper into their families' lives. It gives a comprehensive list of archives and their key holdings, such as World War records, as well as suggesting online resources, including one of my own favourites, Leodis. This website at www.leodis.net is a searchable visual archive of Leeds.

Bellerby also highlights the West Yorkshire Archive Service's key partnership with Ancestry, which means that many of the key records are now digitised and available to subscribers - or visitors to libraries that offer Ancestry access. These include parish records such as marriage certificates, and criminal and school records.

All-in-all, a very informative and easy read for family historians who have links with Leeds, whether they are just starting their research or already have made some progress.

Reviewed by Emma Waltham

May 2016

cover for My Family History

My Family History Record Book
by Robert Boyd and Terry Walsh

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Emma Waltham

April 2016

cover for Tracing Your Welsh Ancestors

Tracing your Welsh Ancestors, a guide for Family Historians
by Beryl Evans

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781848843592
Price £14.99 (£11.99 from P&S at time of writing)

This book is a valuable read for beginners and more experienced researchers alike. It guides one through the basics with suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. For me, it complements John and Sheila Rowlands’ 2 Volume ‘Welsh Family History – a Guide to Research’ (1993/4) which still has so much valuable information despite the advances in internet sources etc.

 Beryl Evan’s book will be a sort of ‘Bible’ for us family history enthusiasts, for many years to come. I only wish it had been around when I was starting out!

It is practical, concise and yet gives plenty of background information. When one comes up against that inevitable ‘brickwall’ it will be there to provide suggestions of where to go next or how to ‘go around it’ and solve things in another way.  I found the chapter entitled ‘the Parish Chest’ yet another example of a source not usually discussed and there are many other such resources explored in the book.

Perhaps a greater emphasis on what information that can be gleaned from Newspapers might be helpful, and one omission is Cemetery records – all burials are recorded there including stillbirths, unlike Parish Registers. Cemetery memorials provide more information than just names, dates and addresses. This is, of course what our Society is doing at present with our MI booklets, which only goes to show how important Family History Societies are!

The Appendices at the end provide useful information quickly and will prevent wasting time searching for material which has been lost or helping to solve problems which crop up during our research – such as what bits of which census have been destroyed or interpreting Welsh bits and pieces.

An excellent addition to your bookshelf!

Reviewed by Delyth Wilson, Cardiganshire FHS

January 2016

cover for Family First

Family First – Tracing Relationships in the Past
by Ruth Alexandra Symes

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 47383 388 3
Price £19.99 (£15.99 from P&S at time of writing)

This is certainly an interesting book that will grab and hold the reader’s attention from the onset.  Ruth Alexandra Symes looks at and discusses many aspects of the many relationships that structured and stereotyped family life in Victorian and Edwardian England.  Symes provides a comprehensive and well explained introduction to the structure of her book which is split into seven chapters organised around particular roles within the family: husbands and fathers; wives and mothers; infants; sons and daughters; adult siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins; and grandparents and great-grandparents.  The last chapter looks further into the families interaction within social circles through various friendships, club associations and neighbourliness.  The topic of the book has been well researched and a great deal of thought has gone into the presentation and aim of it.  The reader will be focused on those resources and issues which interest and engage them from family photographs to censuses, certificates and other written genealogical records.  The author looked at the social side of what constituted ‘a family’ not often obvious just from vital records.  By understanding why and how our ancestors conformed to a particular ideal of what was then understood to mean ‘a father’ or ‘a mother’ or ‘a brother’ etc, the book shows how each role was significant within family living.  But the author takes this further, looking at the social and economic developments that arose from the Great War and the Second World War, the emancipation of women and the continual transforming and reshaping of the structure of families during that period and the effects of the rise of the Welfare State.  It is without doubt based extensively on the social evidence of families from the photographs that have survived from that time and remain within private family collections.  Symes looks at the factors that influenced the size of our ancestor’s families, how poorer families often had up to 15 children while more well off families had 2 to 4 children (this often highlighted the social divide between the classes) where those well off could afford private or home education, whilst those on the poverty line had to rely on older children to assisting with bringing home a wage.  The increase in single parent families or blended families and the decrease in children being born in subsequent generations - are also discussed.  As a genealogist, this book provides an alternative approach to writing an historical account of our ancestors by analysing the social backgrounds to families that is not obviously found from vital records.  The author looks at the power of photographs in creating Victorian ideals of family roles, and this provides a good theme throughout the book where photographs have provided images and visual evidence of our ancestors experiences.  Symes shows through the use of these photographs (collectively placed in the centre of the book which covers all seven chapters) that Edwardian photographs often showed couples standing apart, yet the father stood predominantly behind the wife usually with a protective arm around or near children or the wives.  Any touching in that era therefore indicated ‘possession or belonging to’ rather than anything romantic or sexual attraction.  The author has certainly researched well the many factors that might have influenced the size of a family and whether the order in which children were born mattered and how families coped with multiple births, stillbirths, abortions and infanticides and how these were recorded or not recorded within vital records.  As a guide to understanding how roles within families worked between 1800 and 1950 and the changes that took place, this book is excellent.  As a social history of the period, it is again excellent.  This is certainly a book that the reader will consult many times during their journey to understanding all they can about their Victorian and Edwardian ancestors in England.

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird, PGDip, FSA Scot of Dunedin Links Genealogy (Edinburgh)

January 2016

cover for The America Ground

The America Ground - a genealogical crime mystery by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1517170042
Price £7.99

The history of part of Hastings known as ‘the America Ground’ forms the background to this interesting murder mystery story. The America Ground really existed. It comprised an eight acre no-man’s land outside the town boundary, occupied by a thousand inhabitants by the 1820s. Hastings tried to exert control over the area to the resentment of the residents, who declared themselves to be an Independent State of the USA. The Crown successfully claimed ownership of the land so eventually the residents were forced to leave.

Morton is persuaded to discover who murdered (180 years ago) a woman, resident on the America Ground, whose portrait is to be the auctioned shortly. He embarks on the case and discovers more than he bargained for!

This is the third novel, readers of the previous two novels involving Morton Farrier ‘the forensic genealogist ‘ will know what to expect and will not be disappointed.

The author’s skilful juxtaposition of Morton’s research in the archives and online and what actually happened to the families being researched, makes for interesting reading. He has some narrow escapes from persons who do not want him to succeed in his research, whilst at the same time he furthers his personal family history search for his real father. Well written and an enjoyable ‘whodunit’ and thriller.

Reviewed by David Lambert FHS of Cheshire & Metcalfe Society

January 2016

cover for The Family History Web Directory

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

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

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

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

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


Reviewed by Jane Tunesi (Hertfordshire FHS)

January 2016

cover for Irish Family History

Irish Family History On The Web
by Stuart A Raymond

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978 1 906280 51 2
Price £7.95

This is the Fourth Edition of a comprehensive and well-organised listing of Irish Family History sites on the web. It is not – and doesn’t aspire to be – a step by step guide to the process of tracing your Irish forebears but it is a remarkable compilation, with brief descriptions, of many (I almost said innumerable) sites to which you can go for information and/or guidance.

At the heart of the book are two long sections; Births, Marriages and Deaths (covering over forty pages in double columns) and Other Sources (fifty pages, also double columns ). The former is self explanatory in terms of subject but lists sites both thematically and geographically. Most entries are short with brief descriptions of contents but some are helpfully treated at greater length. ‘Other Sources’ covers a wide range from Admiralty Examinations to Witness Statements. Some of these entries are generic but many, again, are set under geographical headings.

The reader will need to comb carefully through these lists since the variety of resources is rich, not to say almost bewildering, in its range. The only criticism I would have of these two sections is about the layout. Key subject headings should have been set in block capitals to enable them to stand out and be more quickly identified. The present layout doesn’t adequately distinguish them from their subheadings which can make locating them difficult.

Elsewhere in the book there are useful sections on Gateways, Libraries and record Offices, Family History societies, Discussion groups, Surnames and Occupational Records. In addition there are three indices; by subject, by place and by Institution.

This is a densely packed and authoritative survey of currently available sites. The author acknowledges that this is an ever changing scene that needs continually updating but it is difficult to imagine anyone presenting a better picture of today’s resources. A book to be thoroughly recommended to any researcher into the Hibernian genealogical hinterland

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

January 2016

cover for The Justice Women

The Justice Women, The female presence in the criminal justice system 1800-1970 by Stephen Wade

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 47384 365 3
Price £12.99 (£10.00 from P&S at time of writing)

Who were Edith Smith and Ivy Williams? Both were pioneers in their chosen professions and this book recording the rise of women in the Justice System tells us they were the first woman police officer and the first woman barrister.

The Justice System is defined by the author as the Courts, lawyers and legal executives, police, prisons, High Sheriffs, Lords Lieutenant and coroners.

There were virtually no roles for women in this field until the Great War. This means that for a large part of the period of the title there is limited information available to the author so this becomes a book showing how the rise of women in this field mirrors the rise of women in society.

This is well researched but as it covers a very narrow subject, it results in a book for a limited market. It would have benefitted from better editing. The lack of material has resulted in sections of padding and the topic could easily be an add-on chapter to other books about the rise of women in public life and would have been more effective that way.

There is a bibliography and a good index.

It is a book which is of more interest to social historians than to genealogists.

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

December 2015

cover for The Inheritor's Powder

The Inheritor's Powder by Sandra Hempel

Published by: Pheonix, an imprint of Orion Books
ISBN: 978-1-7802-2222-6 paperback
Price £8.99

The in depth research for this book has turned it away from a macabre look at murder by poison to an interesting study of Georgian and Victorian law surrounding unlawful death. By following one case from newspaper reports and branching out to tell the history of poisons an interesting story is told. Other cases are used to illustrate the progress of the law and medical science in the field of pharmacology and how the coroner system evolved. The book presents arguments by defence lawyers that lead to more effective ways to prove the existence of poison and consequent changes of scientific practice. The inquest of the main case is reported in detail and through the testimony of the witnesses the scene is illustrated.

For those who are unsure about their relatives dying in suspicious circumstances, the cases discussed will complete a picture of what is involved. The descriptions can be a touch graphic and detailed, but they are essential to the social history. Proof is given that the legal system was on trial as it tried to cope with the new scientific thinking concerning poisons. This comprehensive guide is worth the read and a great addition to the bookshelves of anybody interested in crime or the Victorian Period.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant of Buckinghamshire FHS

December 2015

cover for What's In A Name

What’s In A Name? by Ian Murray Tough

Published by: Austin Macauley
Price £7.99

In What’s In A Name? Elgin-based author Ian Murray Tough examines the roots of etymology, with particular focus on surnames and their socio-geographical context.

 “A name is not only important in its own right, but it is the conduit of many subjects of history, science, inspirations and oblique associations”. Ian goes on to say that “the book itself is aimed at those who have not as yet experienced exploring Family History, and in the event encourage them to do so. I hope that those devotees in Family History Societies will also find some elements of interest in the book”.

The theme of the book is to explore the diverse nature of names, and their place in family history research. There are three chapters of special interest to the Family History researcher; Family Research, Genealogy and Surnames, but sections on Dialect and on the early British languages also make informative reading. In addition there are other chapters which discuss the relationships between names and other symbols and logos which are in general use, and with the wider world in general.

This book will be of interest to any reader with an interest in the wider concepts and names and symbols.

Reviewed byBruce B Bishop FSA Scot, ASGRA

December 2015



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