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.

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