Book Review: Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Brown

Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Brown

Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Jonathan Brown. Published by Pen & Sword Family History £12.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishing $24.95. Australia Distributor: Gould Genealogy, AUS$32.95 incl GST. 2011. 162 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Half the population of England and Wales lived in the country in 1851 so it is going to be relatively easy to find rural ancestors on the family tree. At the same time this is a big subject with lots of options for the researcher.

Mr. Brown begins by describing the largest group of rural workers, the farm laborer (1.4 million in the1851 census), looking at what they did, who specialized and who did not, and how their role changed with time. He continues examining who were the farmers, which are not easily defined or identified, and their relationships to the workers, along with a look at the landowners, their great houses and estates. Village life was affected by the different businesses, tradesmen and professionals who lived and worked in any given community, but all left different records to be searched. Another chapter looks at rural migrants and the rural poor. In each of these chapters suggestions are made as to what records will assist in the identifying your rural ancestors.

The largest chapter consists of an alphabetical list of records and source for rural research. This annotated list identifies all the major records you would expect, but also highlights others you may not have heard of or thought of before, such as: copyhold records; enclosure records; farmers’ unions; inquisitions post mortem; rate books; terriers and more. The listing is followed by suggestions on how to identify where the records are located and how to access them, in archives, libraries and online.

One word of caution is that the bibliography states that it “lists all books mentioned in the text together with other suggestions for further reading” (p.145) but this is incorrect for numerous books were recommended within the text that were not included in the bibliography.

Rural ancestry is a large, many faceted topic. This book is a good introduction to the subject socially and genealogically, pointing the reader in the direction of where to find the records and more advanced readings.

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