Book Review: Counting People – A DIY Manual for Local and Family Historians by John S. More

Counting People: A DIY Manual for Local and Family Historians by John S. More

Counting People: A DIY Manual for Local and Family Historians. By John S. Moore. Published by Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK ₤17.95. US Distributor: Casemate Academic, 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. $35. xii, 247 pp. Index. Softcover.

The book’s introduction states that it is written for undergraduates and postgraduate students wishing to study local populations, and for those people interested in history who want to know more about the number of people in a particular area at some time in the past, how and why that number changed over time, what jobs these people had, the structure of their society, and its constituent households and families. As family historians this includes us and this book is certainly worth reading and using.

The introduction suggests reading the last chapter first, which I did. This chapter on researching, writing and publishing gets the reader thinking about the research process, with good questions to be asked along the way to get organized and get results. It is also designed to get the reader thinking about what end result is desired – article, monograph or book, for that will help determine where to look, how and why. The questions raised here help the reader focus their reading in the other chapters to meet their specific needs.

The book is targeting English demographers, those who want to work with population numbers, but that should not stop family historians using the same sources, though some will just contain just numerical data, still helpful, most are derived from and use personal or family data, and thus contain names. The first two chapters outline the problems and questions to be addressed in researching a specific geographic area (parish, village, town, or county) and the principal methods and sources to be used in addressing these questions. The remainder of the book is divided into three periods looking at the problems and sources to be used. The first period covers the Middle Ages from 1066 through to 1525. The second period is from 1538 to 1837 when parish registers are the main source for English population history. The final section covers 1801 through the present, when the census returns provide a reliable outline of demographic developments, obviously expanded from 1837 with reports from the Registrar General.

Professor Moore assumes no expertise exists apart from a genuine interest in the subject. This means that the specifics are well explained. This might be how names or numbers are recorded in the records and how they need to be modified to get to population figures, appropriate for a demographer. For the family historian the author explains what it took to get on the list in the first place – specific age or income levels, land ownership, eligibility for military service, etc. The book provides a detailed description of what records were created, why and most importantly where to find the records and whether they may be in print or not. The latter is especially important as many of the original records will be in Latin, and on this side of the Atlantic it is easier to access print materials than to personally go look at the originals – though there are risks with that approach. Each chapter has extensive endnotes providing access to primary and secondary sources. Professor Moore practices what he describes with a case study for Frampton Cotterell in Gloucesterhire, providing estimated population figures from 1086 through 1801. This highlights the many sources that do exist for many communities within England.

The section of book that I really appreciated was the extensive (57 pages) partially annotated bibliography. This in itself is divided into seven numbered sections: 1 – Introduction to local history; 2a – handwriting, 2b – language, 2c – dating, 2d – computing and history; 3 – Anglo-Saxon England; 4 – Domesday England; 5 – Medieval England, 1135-1525; 6 – Early Modern England 1525-1750; 7 – Modern England, 1750-2011. Each of period sections is subdivided into: sources; countryside; towns; population; economic and social developments. The bibliography does not claim to be a comprehensive listing of all printed sources or studies based on these sources, but some of the sections, e.g. local assizes, manorial records, feet of fines, lay subsidy rolls, are quite extensive. I have already been through this bibliography looking for sources I want to find and have ordered through inter-library loan.

This book will expose the family historian to many resources, some of which will be familiar. I will guarantee though that you will find sources here that you have not heard of, or used. This will be especially true for those researchers who have traced back into the Colonial period and are now jumping the Atlantic and wanting to know what records are available to go back into the Early Modern or Medieval period in English research. This is certainly a book worth exploring.

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