Book Review: Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip

Genealogy Research Methods - British Perspective - English Perspective
Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by Jon Wintrip

Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians. By John Wintrip. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. $24.95. 2017. x + 214 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This book caught me by surprise for it looks like all the other books in the series and has a similar title. However, the subtle change in the subtitle is important. Usually it is a “guide for family historians” while here it is a “guide to research methods for family historian.” Usually these guides focus on the records and the contextual history. Here the author focusses on the methodology for doing research, thus the book is a well written complement to all the other books in the series.

Mr. Wintrip, a professional genealogist, started his career as a research science librarian in universities so understands research methodology. He points out that these days it is generally easy to get your English ancestral research back to the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign because of the large national online indexes (census, civil registration, church and cemetery burial records). But more care is needed in earlier research because the content of the records often doesn’t provide the information needed to prove the links between individuals and generations. He rightfully states that “this book is not intended for complete beginners but for researchers who already have some experience of genealogical research, so comprehensive descriptions of sources are not included, but specific aspects of sources that affect the outcome of research are discussed” (p.ix).

Mr. Wintrip describes his required competencies for genealogical research as: (1) knowledge of sources; (2) searching skills; (3) analytical and problem-solving skills; (4) external knowledge. A fifth skill involving the recording of information, citation of sources and good record keeping is acknowledged but is not covered in this book. Chapter 2 outlines these 4 competencies, giving a excellent case study of how external knowledge (general and specific) solved a problem of how apparently geographically unrelated events were actually for the same family members.

As researchers would expect, there is rightfully an emphasis on knowledge of the sources, thus the many books that address sources. But here in chapter 3 we get a framework for understanding the sources themselves in terms of how and why the sources are created, what an individual record is within a source, and how to analyze derivative sources, copies, transcripts, authored works, etc. In addition, there is a discussion on methods to find what records have survived and where they might be located now.

Following chapters discuss information used to uniquely identify individuals being researched. These include: names; social status, religion, occupation and how these may be made more complicated by relocation. These topics need to be addressed in any family research but are particularly important and need to be understood in an English context.

The final seven chapters in the book cover: searching for information; archives and libraries; evidence and proof; family reconstruction; missing ancestors; mistaken identity; and help from others. Mr. Wintrip is current with American methodological ideas found in the Genealogical Proof Standard, and works by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Robert Anderson. He puts these ideas into an English context, expanding and explaining through English examples.

Throughout the book, short examples and case studies illustrate well-research problems that do occur and how to overcome them through expansion of one’s knowledge of the records themselves, their history, and external knowledge that puts the results into context. Success also requires a careful research process that can be followed, and this is well illustrated through decision (Venn) diagrams.

This book is highly recommended, especially for researchers wanting a thorough framework by which to do their English research, or those North American researchers wanting to better understand how English research processes are different.

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