Book Review: Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians by Paul Blake

Bankrupt Ancestors, Bankruptcy
Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians by Paul Blake

Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Paul Blake. 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: Casemate Publishers 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2019. 223 pp. Illustrations. Softcover.

This is not a book for the new researcher or beginner. This is an excellent, very detailed deep dive into a voluminous set of records about which little has been written. Debtors’ prisons are infamous – Charles Dickens father was in one, and many of his characters spent time there. Many people were often incarcerated following misfortune or mismanagement rather than criminal intent. The time spent there varied from a few days to years and stories this far back may not have survived within the family.

In reading this detailed book I wondered how one would even know the ancestor was a debtor. The clue came on page 193 where Mr. Blake suggests that “Reports in local or national newspapers can often be the first indication of a debtor or bankrupt ancestor, which can lead to surviving official records” 

Mr. Blake introduces his subject by highlighting the difference between insolvent debt and bankruptcy, the latter prior to 1842 being limited to traders owing more than £100, with the emphasis on traders. This distinction eliminated most skilled craftsmen and farmers.  The Stature of Merchants in 1283 made it possible for creditors to register major debts and use imprisonment to enforce them. In 1351 the use of immediate imprisonment was extended to civil debt in general. The ability to imprison someone for debt did not end until 1869. Thus, there are over 500 years of records for debtors.

After providing some background on insolvent debtors, the book addresses the machinery of justice and the many courts in which debtors can be found, followed by a chapter on charities and the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors. The next five chapters examine different aspects for insolvent debtors: courts and court records; imprisonment; common law, central prisons and their records; London courts and their records; London prisons and their records. The final three chapters examine: county debtors, i.e. those outside London; bankruptcy; and newspapers. Throughout there are mini case studies, with examples of what the records look like, and how to use the finding aids.

The book concludes with a surprising long list of Acts of Parliament in chronological order concerning debtors, imprisonment, sanctuary and bankruptcy in England from 1275 to 1901, plus a list of Regnal years.

If you have found an ancestor, probably in a newspaper, who is identified as an insolvent debtor or bankrupt then this is the book to which you must turn. This is the only book available that guides the reader step-by-step through these voluminous sets of records to find the details of misfortune that family historians so love to find. This book is highly recommended.

Book Review: Scotland – Mapping the Islands

Scotland – Mapping the Islands

Scotland Mapping the Islands. By Christopher Fleet, Margaret Wilkes and Charles W.J. Withers. Published in association with the National Library of Scotland by Birlinn Ltd. West Newington House, 10 Newington Road, Edinburgh, EH9 1QS. www.birlinn.co.uk. £30.00. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $42.99. 2016. 244 pp. Illustrations, index. Hardcover.

Islands fascinate us. This book looks at the history and geography behind the many maps of Scotland’s islands. The focus is on understanding the history and geography of the islands but also in showing how that history and geography has been realized in and produced through art, the artifice, and the authority of maps. This is the first book to take the maps of Scotland’s islands as its central focus.

A modern expectation is that maps accurately depict size, shape and relationships. Especially with the case of islands surrounded by water, researchers need to know where the islands are in relationship to one another, how big they are, and what their coasts look like.  That information has not always been available on the maps of islands of Scotland. Some islands are even transient, appearing twice a day depending upon the tide. For the map makers and their users distinguishing sea from land, one island from another, what is an island and what is not is vital.

This book is not an A-Z gazetteer of islands and island maps, from Arran and Barra to Zetland, showing maps of each. Rather the book has a narrative focus that is thematic, following a broadly chronological order. Each chapter addresses the ways in which an island’s history and geography have been captured in maps over time. The chapters reflect the sequence in which islands have not only appeared but also have come to exert their force and ‘pull.’ The sequencing of chapters reflects the processes by which the islands were peopled, then named, then navigated to and from (or avoided as hazards), defended, improved, exploited, pictured and escaped from or to.

The book has lavish color illustrations of numerous maps, from all time periods, many as two-page spreads. All supplement the detailed text of the chapter. At a minimum the detailed captions provide the source of the maps. More often the caption draws reader attention to features on the map – e.g. the island being in the wrong location, the wrong shape, the wrong size, the fact it is missing, who copied the map from whom, and how the map is different from its predecessors.  These captions thus extend the story of the main text and embellish the history ‘behind’ the maps in question.

The book can be read in the conventional fashion, from front to back, like I did, with each chapter building upon its predecessors. Alternatively, using the index, one can look at a particular island, or group, and see how the narrative of that place changed across time, and how it evolved through the different types of maps over time.   

The Highlands and islands are the center of the use of Gaelic in Scotland and its use is supported by governmental acts and policies. In this book many of the place names are written in both English and Gaelic, so readers will see examples within the text like: Western Isles / Na h-Eileanan an Iar; Lewis / Leòdhas. This is appropriate but makes the text in places harder to read.

The knowledgeable authors present the rich and diverse story of Scottish islands from the earliest maps to the most up-to-date digital mapping in engaging and imaginative ways. This book is an informative delight to read and view. It makes a great companion volume to Scotland: Mapping the Nation from the same publisher.

Book Review: Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Stuart A. Raymond. 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. $29.95. 2017. 232 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Until the late seventeenth century, every man and woman in England was a member of the Church of England. Legally, that continued to be the case for several centuries, although in practice Non-Conformists and Roman Catholics denied their membership. Even today Anglican priests recognize they have an obligation to serve everyone within their parish. Thus, everyone, at least into the nineteenth century and earlier, can claim Anglican ancestors.

The Church of England is the established church of England and Wales, plus Ireland, but not Scotland. The records of Ireland and Scotland are not included here. This book focusses on the records created within the dioceses and parishes of England and Wales, although other records are mentioned when appropriate.

The first section in the book provides context of the institution. It provides a brief outline of the history of Anglicanism; describes the structure of the church, how clergy and laity operate within it, and why the records that we use were created. There is also a chapter on the preliminaries of research regarding the use of record offices, books, libraries and the internet. This is a good introduction to English research methods and sources.

The following two chapters examine what researchers are most commonly seeking, that is references to the baptism, marriage and burial of their ancestors.  The first looks in detail at the registers themselves, while the second looks at alternative records for the same information such as bishops’ transcripts, banns registers, marriage licence [MELISSA – correct English Spelling for record] records, monumental inscriptions, etc. The next two chapters examine additional records produced by the parish and diocese, such as: churchwarden accounts; vestry minutes; seating plans; tithe records; confirmation registers; visitation records; diocesan courts; records of loyalty; and more, introducing lots of lessor known or utilized records.

The next three chapters take a more in-depth look at specific topics. The church ran the English probate system until 1858, which is explained, along with guidance on how to find what is needed. This is followed by a discussion of Anglican charities, missions and religious orders. Then, for those with Anglican clergy in the family, there is a good chapter on the numerous sources that make tracing these individuals easier than tracing lay family members.

The books final chapter looks at additional sources that might provide clues or information about the clergy or church members, such as: Charles Booth’s interviews; diaries; Compton Census; 1851 ecclesiastical census; Glynne’s church notes; newspapers; Queen Anne churches; school records; and more.

Numerous bibliographic and web link references are included throughout the book, to take the researcher to more in-depth resources. Multiple indexes arranged by place, name and subject also simplify the location of material. This book is up to Mr. Raymond’s usual high standards of a practical, comprehensive, clearly written research guide. It is highly recommended.

Book Review: How to Read Scottish Buildings by Daniel MacCannell.

How to Read Scottish Buildings. By Daniel MacCannell. Published by Birlinn Ltd., West Newington House, 10 Newington Road, Edinburgh EH9 1QS, UK. www.birlinnco.uk. £9.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $14.99. 2015, reprinted with corrections 2017. 224 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This is a practical book, sized to fit in one’s pocket or purse, unlike many books on architecture. I wish I’d had it with me on my recent trip to Scotland when I was taking photographs of many buildings because I would have been able to take better photographs of many of the features mentioned in the book. In the meantime, I can use the book to more accurately analyze the photographs I have. This is where researchers will benefit when examining family photographs that include buildings.

This is not a book about the famous buildings: cathedrals, palaces or royal castles, which are only mentioned in passing. It is a guide to the curious, attractive, sometimes even beautiful old Scottish buildings for which there are no plaques, no websites, no costumed guides or colorful pamphlets or ‘ancient monument’ designations. The book “is intended to provide travelers and residents with an impartial, brief, clearly illustrated guide that allows them to place Scottish buildings and groups of buildings with regard to their ages, styles, influences and functions, as well as the messages that their builders, owners and occupants intended to convey” (p.9). In this it succeeds. It will help you determine if you are looking at an outstanding, typical or inferior example of a building feature, a style, or a period building. The book is designed to teach a deductive approach that can be applied equally well to Scottish buildings in any setting, in any region, or originating in any  time period. The author acknowledges that there may be regional variations, and some are touched upon, but the overall principles apply everywhere.  

Mr. MacCannell divides Scottish architecture into six style periods, which are explained and illustrated. The six style periods are: Style before 1540 – Middle Ages into the Renaissance; Style 1540-1660 – Baronial glory days and the overthrow of the church; Style 1660-1750 – de-fortification, symmetry and the emergence of architecture as a profession; Style 1750-1840 – Pan British Neo-Classical style consolidated, amid increasing scale and the first stirrings of ‘retro’; Style 1840-1920 – ‘retro’, diversity, mechanization and unparalleled prosperity; Style after 1920 – ‘retro’ perfected, Art Deco, Brutalism and green architecture.

The following section examines the cross-period issues that may create problems for the observer, but may, with some knowledge and understanding, aid in narrowing down dates, such as: dated stones; arms; marks of quality that transcend periods; symmetry and the notion of ‘Georgian style’; ownership; and how to read a house built in multiple periods.

The next section looks at the individual external features of a building starting at the roof, and working down looking at windows, walls, doors and all their multiple variations. You will understand what to look for and how to distinguish between original and ‘retro’ versions of features after reading this section.

The book concludes with a table, designed for quick onsite estimation of time period. It looks at the observable features and describes what to look for in each period, knowing that some features go across multiple styles. The style periods go across the table and the features described like the buildings start at the top and work down. The table is not a summary of the prior section but contains significant information not mentioned elsewhere.

This is a practical book well worth looking at by anyone interested in Scottish architecture and the everyday buildings in which our ancestors lived. Users will come away with better understanding of how designs changed over time.

Boring Speakers Talk For Longer

As I prepare for my talk – “Tips for Improving Your Genealogical Lecturing Skills” to be given at the Professional Management Conference of the Association of Professional Genealogists held over the next three days in Kansas City, a letter caught my attention. The piece of correspondence is in the 27 September 2018 issue of Nature (Volume 561. Page 464) and was brought to my attention in John Reid’s excellent blog Anglo-Celtic Connections (citing my sources 😊)

The correspondent, Robert M. Ewers, of Imperial College, London wanted to address an observation that at conferences boring talks often feel interminable but are they actually longer. I am going to quote from his letter, used with the author’s permission.

“I investigated this idea at a meeting where speakers were given 12-minute slots. I sat in on 50 talks for which I recorded the start and end time. I decided whether the talk was boring after 4 minutes, long before it became apparent whether the speaker would run overtime. The 34 interesting talks lasted, on average, a punctual 11 minutes and 42 seconds. The 16 boring ones dragged on for 13 minutes and 12 seconds (thereby wasting a statistically significant 1.5 min; …) For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on, the odds that their talk had been boring doubled. For the audience this is exciting news. Boring talks that seem interminable actually do go on for longer.”

I will be encouraging all my fellow speakers to not be boring and will be providing tips on how to improve their speaking skills. Heaven forbid that we would fall into this category, of being boring. But only the audience will be able to answer that question.

Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors Through the Equity Courts by Susan T. Moore

Tracing Your Ancestors Through the Equity Courts
Tracing Your Ancestors Through the Equity Courts by Susan T. Moore

Tracing Your Ancestors Through the Equity Courts: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Susan T. Moore. 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. 2017. 211 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

These voluminous records of the equity courts contain a wealth of family details, both in terms of relationships and character. Was your ancestor kind, compassionate, giving or rather cruel, belligerent and miserly? What was their day-to-day life like? The equity court records often reveal the answers to questions like these.  They are also valuable for the local historian seeking information on the social networks, land ownership and the economics of a given locality.

The numerous courts of equity include: Chancery; Star Chamber; Requests; Exchequer; Duchy Chamber for Duchy of Lancaster; Palatinate of Durham; Exchequer of Chester; and Welsh Courts of Equity. “The principal difference between the common law courts and the equity courts was that the equity courts were based on what is right morally, whereas the common law courts relied on the law” (p.3).  From the researcher’s perspective, the principal difference is that the equity court records are all in one location at The National Archives (except the Welsh courts); and are in English rather than Latin as for criminal records until 1733.

The Court of Chancery is the most voluminous record collection originating in 1377 and running through 1876. It is from this court that the bulk of the examples originate. Lots of cases here refer to the possession or the occupation of land, rather than legal ownership as would be in under common law, because so much land was held in trust or mortgaged. The other equity courts are explained and illustrated to a lessor extent. Furthermore, the book provides additional background on items that will be useful to the researcher, such as paleography, understanding of wills, deeds and legal terms. It also provides a broad overview of the types of documents to be found and where they come in the process, but these are more fully described later.

The second chapter answers the question, “Why look at the courts of equity?” It provides examples of: the type of information to be found in bills and answers, explains relationships in detail, often across multiple generations, tells  how and why women and children can be parties to a case, quotes other records such as wills, deeds, leases, and mortgages, and  details where and how a family may have lived even in terms of details of the house or land, and finally, details business transactions. The records can also be of value in proving immigrant origins or business ties.

Chapter three starts by examining the paleography of records. and continues by describing what the various types of documents are likely to contain. In this context, it covers records such as: pleadings, bills and answers; interrogatories and depositions; decrees and orders; Chancery masters’ reports; Chancery masters’ exhibitions; masters’ documents; cause books; affidavits; petitions; and account books. The chapter concludes by looking at the key phrases that will help identify specific types of documents.

Chapter four addressing indexes is important as so much has changed and continues to change regarding what is online, in print, or only available through calendars at TNA. There are tables for each of the courts explaining what indexes are available where, and in some cases digital images of the records themselves. The up-to-date tables alone make the edition worth buying, even for researchers who may have an earlier edition.

Throughout these first four chapters, extensive use is made of transcripts and case summaries to highlight the value of the records. Chapter five uses sample cases to go into more depth, illustrating the more common reasons for using the records. , Even, so these samples still only provide a snapshot of the detail that can be found for: loans and debts; probate disputes; marriage settlements and annuities; management of property from afar; merchants and mariners; trades and tradesmen; American connections; field names; and former monastic lands. The final chapter is an interesting though voluminous case study of the Lefroy family and its connections with Jane Austen’s family. The book concludes with a glossary and bibliography.

Chancery records are an underutilized record group which can be very valuable for reconstructing families and their characters. This book provides a clear guide into how to access and use these records. It is thus highly recommended for any English/Welsh researcher and all types of genealogical collections.

Book Review: Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650

Lost Lives New Voices
Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the Stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650 by Christopher Gerrard, Pam Graves, Andrew Millard, Richard Annis and Anwen Caffell

LostLives, New Voices: Unlocking the stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650. Christopher Gerrad, Pam Graves, Andrew Millard, Richard Annis and ANwen Caffell. Published by Oxbow Books, The Old Music Hall, Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 IJE, UK  www.oxbowbooks.com. £20. And Oxbow Books, 1950 Lawrence Rd, Havertown, PA 19083. www.casemateacademic.com/ oxbow. $35.00. 2018. xvi, 368 pp. Color and B&W Illustrations, index. Softcover. Also available as an eBook.

Though this book has a broad context in the stories of all soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, its Appendix A will likely be of most interest to the American researcher seeking Scottish ancestors. This is because no passenger list for the Unity that arrived late in 1650 carrying Dunbar prisoners exists, The appendix is divided into four sections: (1) Definite – men who appear in association with the Saugus Ironworks and are not on the John and Sara list: (2) Probable – men who first appear in records shortly after the likely end of indentures, or who have strong associations with groups of Scots in Oyster River, NH, York, ME, or Block Island, RI, or who are founders of the Scots Charitable Society, and who are not on the John and Sara list; (3) Possible – men with weaker associations, with slightly later appearance in the records, who possibly appear on the John and Sara list or where the team has failed to find evidence suggestive of their status as Scots and/or prisoners; (4) Doubtful – men who have been named as Dunbar prisoners in the past, mostly by George S. Stewart, but for whom no evidence seems to show they arrive in New England other than on the Unity, mostly because they appear on the John and Sarah list or they first appear well after 1660. Entries for each individual in the four alphabetical lists provide surnames (with known spelling variations) and forenames, residences listed by state, date of first known appearance in New England records, years of birth and death based on evidence contemporary with the name, and brief notes justifying the categorization or offering other items of interest, followed by sources.

Chapters 7 and 8 will also interest American researchers. They provide context and describe the experience of the approximately 150 Scottish Dunbar prisoners transported to New England in 1650. The majority were destined to serve five to eight-year indentures working in the iron works at Braintree and Hammersmith and in the northern timberlands on the frontiers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, though others were sold off to local farmers, merchants and craftsmen. The study shows that prisoners’ lives were very different from their former lives in Scotland. Descriptions illustrate, using both archeological and documentary evidence for personal living and working conditions and industrial context of the time. This information is applicable to anyone living in the area at the time, not just the Scots, though they are used as examples.

To get a stronger sense of the people involved and their lives, mini biographies are provided for James Warren, William Furbusch, Peter Grant, William Cahoon, and William Paul. Appendix B, also provides transcripts of New England wills and inventories for Nyven Agnew, Arsbell Anderson, John Berbeene, Alexander Bow, Alexander Bravender, John Clarke, Alexander Cooper, Patrick Fassett, Peter Grant, George Gray, Robert Junkins, John Maccoon, Robert Mackclafflin, Alister Mackmallen, Alexander Maxwell, Micom McIntire, Henry Merrow, James Moore, Finaly Ross, John Taylor, John Upton, and James Warren. These men, and the other Dunbar prisoners, are tied together through family, marriage, and mutual support networks, each illustrated. The men also have an impact on the naming of the places where they settled throughout New England.

The impetus for this book was an archaeological find. In November 2013 two mass burials were discovered unexpectedly while excavating the foundations of a new café at the Palace Green Library, part of Durham cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thirty bodies were excavated, with other bodies left undisturbed, under the walls of the surrounding buildings. The goal was then to identify these men. One option, later confirmed, was that they were some of the thousands of soldiers taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar in Scotland in September 1650, marched south to Durham Cathedral and held prisoner. In putting this event in context, the book provides context for the battle and its results.

The book also describes in detail the archaeological dig to unearth the prisoners who died in Durham. It makes fascinating reading in explaining why this was a mass grave rather than an old cemetery and examining old maps and construction sites around the cathedral. The discussion of skeleton science showing which bones survived for which skeletons, identifying their preservation, fragmentation and completeness, whether young or mature adults, their dental health, and skeletal pathology (scars, inflammation, sinusitis, hollows, nodes, etc). For a non-archaeologist reader, this was in places technical, but clear and understandable. The scientific analysis of the teeth and bones provided impressive clues about where in Scotland many grew up, but also showed that a significant number had spent time in continental Europe, all under differing living conditions.

The book continues by describing the battle and then what happened to the survivors, of which the New England soldiers were a very small number, though the only group individually identified by name. Other survivors worked in the coal mines and salt pans in the Northeast of England, others were sent as laborers to drain the Fens, as soldiers to France, along with discussion of other places considered but apparently not acted upon – Crete, Virginia, West Indies – mainly because of political leanings.

The book is heavily footnoted, with an extensive bibliography, providing lots of additional options for further research. Certainly, for anyone with known or possible Scots ancestry in New England this book is a must read, but it is also of value to others wanting to understand life in New England. This book combines archaeology, modern DNA studies, and documentary research, illustrating life during the English Civil War, in the context of European and North Atlantic trade.