Last week I was sent a copy of a new handbook from Pen & Sword publishing. This new guide to researching ancestors before 1837 is aimed at advanced researchers and is the first book by John Wintrip, an established professional genealogist, AGRA member, and holder of the Diploma in Genealogy from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS).
Although few at the time may have realized, 1837 would become a key year in the research of family history. Not only was it the year that Victoria became Queen, but it also saw the beginning of civil registration in England and Wales. Four years later, the first national census to record full names, occupations and ages took place. Throughout the Victorian period, administrators in hospitals, schools, businesses, politics and social policy created and carefully stored records that genealogists use in their research today. Many documents from this period have now been digitised and can be searched easily online.
Before the Victorian era, however, records were often produced and stored in a less efficient manner and usually on a regional, rather than national, basis. This can lead to researchers finding pre-1837 research more challenging. As a result, Wintrip was inspired to write this guide to meet the challenges and complexity presented by pre-Victorian research. He emphasizes that, “Although sound genealogical research is more demanding than many people realize, it can be made slightly easier with appropriate guidance.”
In Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors, Wintrip breaks down the advice into fourteen detailed chapters, covering:
- challenges of research
- knowledge and skills
- social status
- religion and occupation
- searching for information
- archives and libraries
- evidence and proof
- family reconstitution
- missing ancestors
- mistaken identity
- help from others.
Among the strengths of the guide is its focus on methods as well as sources. It does not simply present a list of specific records, but instead focuses on understanding sources better in order to use them correctly. Throughout, Wintrip emphasizes historical context and its importance in family history research of all forms. I also liked the way he identifies why a search may have failed, using case studies, and his explanations on how to improve search methods, indicating practical steps with online services, archives and their catalogues.
Overall, I am pleased to welcome this book to my family history shelves. Even the most experienced genealogist should agree that in his new work, Wintrip proffers valuable advice for all of us in breaking down our pre-Victorian brickwalls.