Book Review: Tracing Your Georgian Ancestors 1714-1837: A Guide for Family Historians by John Wintrip

Tracing Your Georgian Ancestors 1714-1837: A Guide for Family Historians

Tracing Your Georgian Ancestors 1714-1837: A Guide for Family Historians. By John Wintrip. 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 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $26.95. 2018. 212 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Many British researchers run into brick walls when they cross into the pre-1837 period, with the quick easy nationwide indexes and resources having gotten them this far. This book is a companion volume to the authors Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians, reviewed here, which focused on the methodology for researching in this period. Readers are encouraged to read and use both books.

This book aims to describe the sources available to researchers in Georgian England, which as here, often includes the short reign of William IV, who died a few days before civil registration was introduced in 1837. The genealogical sources surviving from the Georgian era are essentially the same as they were decades ago but what has changed and has been increasing rapidly is the availability of online search tools and digital images of sources. This can speed up the research process, but this material is only the tip of the iceberg. The amount of material readily available will depend upon the part of the country and the societal and occupational characteristics of the families being sought. Overcoming brick wall before 1837 often requires using resources only available in archives. Mr. Wintrip reminds us that researchers are more likely to be able to find information about their ancestors by first identifying appropriate sources and then establishing how they can access them, rather than the other way around. Focusing ones research only on that which is readily available can result in significant information not being found.

Finding genealogical information requires not only knowing what sources might be relevant, but also knowing how they can be accessed. Many books describe the sources in detail, but only superficially do they discuss how to access them. The book points out that researchers may fail to locate records they know about because they are not where they are expected to be. The custodial and contextual history of records needs to be understood to find elusive information. For example, related sources such as parish registers, bishops’ transcripts, marriage registers and marriage licence documents are discussed in different chapters because of their different custodial history and the effect on where the records are likely to be now located.

The researcher also needs to understand relevant historical themes, because of their impact on research, such as urbanization, population growth, the Industrial Revolution, enclosure of land and long periods of war. The book thus provides a core base of knowledge for understanding administration of the Poor Law, the role of the Church of England in matters relating to probate, and the restrictions imposed on Protestant Nonconformists and Roman Catholics but acknowledges that more in-depth knowledge may be required depending upon the ancestor being researched.

The book, after an introduction on general aspects of research in the period, explores in detail: government; parishes, higher ecclesiastical jurisdictions; religious dissent; education and employment; war and peace; social status and prosperity; poverty; land and property; law and order; migration; and concludes with research methods. No documents are illustrated as examples are usually readily available online or in other publications, but this is not a distraction for the book. The book concludes with a good timeline of the period, a glossary and an excellent bibliography of many how-to books for specific more advanced aspects of research in the period.

This book, along with its companion volume, will make a nice practical addition to any English researcher’s reference collection. You will find yourself returning to this book time and again because of its different approach to the records.

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