Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records by Jonathan Oates

Review of Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records by Jonathan Oates
Tracing Your Ancestors Through Local History Records: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Oates

Tracing Your Ancestors through Local History Records: A Guide for Family Historians.  By Jonathan Oates. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2016. xv, 148 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This book is not for the beginner who is looking for ideas on how to trace their ancestors. Rather it is the for the individual who has already been researching their ancestors, possibly for years, and has names, dates and places, but does not know a lot about their ancestors. This book is for those wanting to flesh out their ancestors, learning more about their lives and times by exploring local history, not just family history. The book encourages and guides the individual to study the history of the locality; whether that is a county, city, town or parish. All of our ancestors were influenced by the immediate society in which they lived, worked, played, traveled and worshipped and by the friends and neighbors who surrounded and supported them. This book is designed to guide you to learning more about the lives of our ancestors and the society in which they lived.

Interestingly, the book begins in a great place with a brief overview of English history, noting especially how the relationships between the crown, government, church, society and industry were changing over time. It is a good framework on which to add your own increasing knowledge about the locality on which you choose to focus. The next four chapters focus through broad categories on some of the types of record that will be encountered: books and journals; photographs and illustrations; maps and plans; and newspapers. These records are covered in broad strokes, but it is enough to get the reader thinking about where to look and what to be looking for in their locality. The next two chapters address where to be looking for these records – local archives and libraries, plus national and regional repositories. Here a researcher will find the expected suggestions, but it the less than obvious that adds value here, such as the records of the town clerks; parish vestries; parish councils; quarter sessions; county councils; committee minutes; civil defense; school records; clubs; businesses; property records; parliament; ecclesiastical organizations; and many more.

Not all local history can be found in books, libraries or archives. The researcher is encouraged to visit the area and see the place for one’s self. However, it is better to have gotten some of the guidebooks first so that you know what you are looking for and at when one finds the things that make the place unique or the same as other places. The following two chapters highlight the value of other sources such as oral history and ephemera, plus outline what may be found in museums, local and thematic.

The book concludes with an overview of the origins and development of local history, highlighting the movers and shakers over the centuries that have shaped this fascinating field.

The book does not deal with any group or type of record in depth, but does get you thinking about what might exist for your locality and provides guidance about how and where to go looking for the records. If you want more depth on a specific aspect of local history that resource is likely to be included in the good but select bibliography. This book does a good job of thinking how and where to go next, to get beyond the names, dates and places of family history.

Book Review: Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills.

Review of Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors
Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills

Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Simon Wills. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. 2012. x, 180 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover $29.95

Pen & Sword continues its excellent Family History book series with this guide to researching your Merchant Navy ancestors, a common occupation for many British ancestors, yet they can be difficult to trace. This guide book puts your ancestors into social context and provides guidance on where to find specifics on the men, and the ships on which they sailed.

The book is divided into nine chapters: Britain’s Merchant Fleet; life in the Merchant Service; finding and following a ship; tracing seamen and non-officers; captains and other officers; disaster and bravery; Merchant Navy in wartime; places to visit; case histories.

The book is full of fascinating helpful facts that put your ancestors and the research issues into context. For example, in 1899 there are 10,998 British-registered steam and sailing ships over 100 tons, dwarfing the closest rival the USA which had only 2,739 seagoing ships, while other countries went down from there. The ships are also not necessarily where you might expect them to be for in 1835 a list of the top ten ports where ships are registered includes, not surprisingly in the number one position London with 2,663 ships, Newcastle in number two with 987 ships, but how about Whitehaven, Cumbria in the number 7 slot with 496 ships, and Southampton a well- known port does not make the list.

One of the keys to Merchant Navy research is understanding where and when your ancestor was likely to have been as sea. The records, and thus where and how to search vary greatly by time period. In additional many of the record collections have been broken up and disseminated to archives scatted around the British Isles, with a large collection to the Maritime History Archive at the University of Newfoundland. Luckily the book does provide suggestions on when the records are centrally located, plus where and how to search when they are not.

The book is not just for those who served as ships masters, mates and seamen, but also includes all the other occupations you may find at sea such as carpenters, cooks, donkeymen, engineers, firemen, greasers, gunners, medical officers, pursers, stewards, storekeepers, telegraphers, and trimmers. The role of women is also highlighted.

Each chapter has numerous illustrations of ships, crew and the documents they used or those created by officials. There are numerous finding aids, and references suggested and where you may also find material online the web addresses are provided. I was actually surprised at how much may now be online, making the search process from outside the British Isles a little easier.

If you have Merchant Navy ancestors you will certainly want to have a look at this up to date research guide.