Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Book review: A Dictionary of Family History

A Dictionary of Family History - The Genealogists' ABC, is a new book by Jonathan Scott, published by Pen & Sword Family History. At 247 pages in length, the book is a hefty tome that essentially acts as an encyclopaedia, almanac and directory of topics on a a variety of subjects for those researching their family history.

Quite wisely the author describes it in his preface as 'a dictionary of family history' and not 'the dictionary of family history', with the main criteria for subject selection being what the author has himself found of interest - as honest an approach as you will find anywhere! A huge range of topics are categorised in alphabetical order, although the categorisation is sometimes odd - the 1939 Register, for example, is indexed under R for Register (and not under a category such as 'National Identity'), 'Missing from the census' is in a different part of the book to the rest of the 'Census' categories (would it not have been better to index it as 'Censuses - missing entries'?!), and the miscellaneous Really Useful Websites category should perhaps have been an appendix - bearing in mind that so many other entries contain really useful websites! At times the book also assumes that the reader knows more than perhaps he or she does. If I want to look for a source to help me trace an ancestor who was a Scottish architect, for example, I cannot look up 'Scotland' or 'architects' as a keyword, I need to look for the entry marked 'Dictionary of Scottish Architects' - which is great if I know that such a resource exists, but considerably less accessible if I don't.

From this Scottish based Ulsterman's perspective, the book also in parts has a frustrating habit at times of switching to a default English based perspective on certain subjects without identifying itself as doing so - that in itself is not the issue, it is the fact that the book is inconsistent in its approach. If I look up the 1939 Register entry, for example, it tells me that 'British' returns are online on FindmyPast, but neglects to tell me that these are only for England and Wales, and with no further information available on how to access the Scottish and Northern Irish equivalents (which although not online, certainly exist). Similarly, on topics such as marriage, there is a great exposition on various terms and laws associated with marriage in England, but absolutely nothing on Scotland, where the law has always been completely different to its southern British neighbour (a situation found with other topics such as 'nonconformism'). That is not to say that Scotland and Ireland do not get a good innings in the book - there are various subject headings on counties and localised resources, discussion on subjects such as sasines (land registration records), and more. The separate poor laws for Ireland and Scotland quite rightly warrant and receive separate entries from those for England and Wales, and are given a fair hearing, as do topics such as civil registration in the different countries. It is just a pity that this does not apply consistently throughout the book on all topics.

Nevertheless, wherever you are from in the UK, this is certainly a book worth adding to your genealogy library. Along the way there are some fun facts and figures - I for one will certainly sleep better knowing what a 'nob thatcher' and a 'printer's devil' once did for a living! - and there are a plethora of resources you will certainly have never heard of, which you will find of interest. The author has spent many years working on family history publications such as Family History Monthly and Who Do You Think You Are, and has gathered many unique resources from years of work. It is packed with gems - albeit at times perhaps located in parts of the book where you might least expect them to be recorded.

A Dictionary of Family History - The Genealogists' ABC
by Jonathan Scott
Published by Pen & Sword Family History, £14.99
ISBN: 9781473892521

NB: The book is currently on a promotion at Pen and Sword for just £10.49 - see https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-Dictionary-of-Family-History-Paperback/p/12849 

(With thanks to Pen and Sword)


My next 5 week Scottish Research Online course commences Sept 11th 2017 - details at https://www.pharostutors.com/details.php?coursenumber=102.
For details on my Scottish & Irish genealogy guide books, please visit http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html.
For my genealogy research service, please visit http://www.ScotlandsGreatestStory.co.uk.

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