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Review – Tracing your Ancestors through Local History Records by Jonathan Oates

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

What is it about?

Family history should reveal more than facts & dates, lists of names & places – it should bring ancestors alive in the context of their times & the surroundings they knew, research into local history records is one of the most rewarding ways of gaining this kind of insight into their world. That is why Jonathan Oates’s detailed introduction to these records is such a useful tool for anyone who is trying to piece together a portrait of family members from the past.

In a series of concise and informative chapters he looks at the origins and importance of local history from the sixteenth century onwards & at the principal archives – national & local, those kept by government, councils, boroughs, museums, parishes, schools and clubs. He also explains how books, photographs & other illustrations, newspapers, maps, directories & a range of other resources can be accessed & interpreted & how they can help to fill a gap in your knowledge.

As well as describing how these records were compiled, he highlights their limitations & the possible pitfalls of using them & he suggests how they can be combined to build up a picture of an individual, a family & the place and time in which they lived.

Our Review

I was excited to read this book & I did so with 3 hats on…that of the Genealogist, Local Historian & One Place Studier.

The book starts out by providing the reader with a brief history of England & does so by working through the various time periods. It should be noted that the writer does point out early on that as he is more familiar with records in England therefore a lot of the examples provided focus in this area. Despite most of my own research taking part north of the border I was more than happy to read on as I thought that the book may inspire the reader to think outside the box when it comes to research & I was not wrong!

The section on Books & Journals, explains how that these perhaps may not feature your ancestor or your person of interest but should shed some light on the place they lived & how they lived their lives. This is followed by a brief history of photographs & illustrations detailing the various types of photographs, how to date them, where to find them & how to look for clues within them.

Maps & Plans are a must for any researcher & in this section the writer starts by explaining the history of maps & provides examples of some of the earliest national map collections. He then goes on to explain the various types of maps available, how these can be accessed & used in our research.

Newspapers are another resource not to be overlooked. This chapter details a short history of Newspapers, where to find them, early examples of newspapers, what kind of information you might find in one & even provides some case studies.

The next couple of chapters focus on Local & National Archives & Repositories. The Archives Chapter covers a wide range including Local Government, Business, Clubs, Personal & Religious Archives. The National Repositories Chapter details some of the more well-known Repositories such as the National Archives, the Parliamentary Archives, The British Library & University Archives. In both cases information is provided on the type of holdings you might find in each of these establishments with several examples being given.

The Fieldwork section was particularly good as it inspires the reader to get out & about & to take a look at the area of research, how has the area or buildings changed through time, how do they compare to maps & what can a visit to a historic property nearby tell us? A further section named ‘other sources’ challenges us to search out oral histories, ephemera, films & to search the internet to learn more.

Museums are not to be forgotten & are something I just love! This chapter challenges the reader to seek out museums not just in the local area but relating to industry & trade, social history etc. It also prompts us to think of them as not just a visitor attraction but as a holder of Artefacts, just as the Archive holds paperwork & documentation the Museum holds items that may be relevant to our research. He reminds us too that not all items may be on display & that is it is worth discussing your particular interest with the curators.

In the final section the writer talks about the Origins & Development of Local History, surprisingly this may go back further than you think! Some interesting examples are given of early Local History Projects & it was amazing to hear how these topics have changed through time.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, it definitely inspires the reader to think outside the box when it comes to research. If you are a relatively new to Genealogy or Local History then this book will definitely prompt you to visit your local studies centre to see what might be on offer, it will also explain how to interpret this information. I really liked how the book provided a lot of interesting case studies showing what could be achieved from consulting some of these records.

Published in 2016 the book runs to 148 pages.

You can purchase this book via the Pen & Sword Website via this link


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