Monday, 11 February 2019

Review: The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy by Kenyatta D. Berry

The Family Tree Toolkit:  A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy. By Kenyatta D. Berry, Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, 267 p. 

Genealogy Roadshow host, Kenyatta D. Berry has written a new guidebook focussing primarily on American genealogy for the beginner. Berry has divided the guide into the following chapters:

1) Starting Your Family History
2) United States Records Research
3) Other Records
4) Immigration and Naturalization
5) US Military Research
6) Ethnic Ancestry
7) European Research
8) Adoption Research
9) DNA

Each American state is featured on its own page with a chart detailing state birth, marriage, and death registrations, their beginnings and availability, and which online databases currently have those documents in digitized form. The book does a good job describing the contents of state records and how these records might benefit the genealogist.

Some of the topics in this book are examined briefly. The eight-page chapter on European research skims the surface of this area of study, mentioning only select countries and would benefit the researcher who has just discovered they are of English, Irish, German, Italian or Jewish heritage. The chapter on DNA is also short, only six pages long, and presents a general overview of the benefits of DNA testing for genealogists.

The chapters on US military research and Ethnic Ancestry, which covers African American and Native American research, are more detailed and provide timelines of key events, as well as tips for researching in these specialized subject areas.

The text is simply written, and is presented in large font, which may be of benefit to individuals who have difficulty reading small print. The author focusses almost exclusively on online records such as those available through,, and on other online databases, with very little discussion about in-person research at archives and local history repositories. It is likely this guide will require regular updating to keep it current because of its focus on digital records.

The Family Tree Toolkit provides researchers with a quick tool to determine which U.S. records are available online and where. For the genealogist looking for a more comprehensive guide to US records, Alice Eicholz’s classic The Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, or The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking will provide greater detail about in-person research in archives and other repositories.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Review: Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip

Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors:  A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians.
By John Wintrip, Pen & Sword, 2017, 214 p. 

For genealogists researching British ancestors, 1837 was a pivotal year. It was the year of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, which coincided with the beginning of civil registration in England. Civil registration introduced a mandatory standard of reporting for births, marriages and deaths, making these records invaluable for post-1837 genealogical research. Censuses that recorded all members of the household did not come about until 1841. John Wintrip effectively argues that research in the Pre-Victorian era is far more complex and challenging than is required for post-Victorian British research, and that family historian needs to apply more skill and acquire more knowledge when researching in this period. It is important to note that the information in this book can also be applied to research in Wales.

The author divides his book, not by source materials as most guides tend to do, but by topics that best help the researcher decide which records might be available for their particular ancestor, as well as by topics related to research methodology. The guide begins with a discussion around the unique challenges of researching in the pre-Victorian period, and how it differs from the post period.  The author then sets out his view that there are four major competencies required of a genealogist:  1) knowledge of sources 2) searching skills 3) analytical and problem-solving skills and 4) external knowledge. Examples of external knowledge include generic knowledge such as types of land tenure and the manorial system, and specific external knowledge, such as the history of a specific geographical region.

Chapter Three, “Sources,” is an excellent primer centring on the definitions of original and derivative sources and the differences between primary and secondary information. These concepts allow genealogists to assess the usefulness of the records and information they find, enabling them to adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard. The concepts surrounding evidence and proof are addressed in a later chapter.

Wintrip stresses the importance of historical context to determine the best research strategy. He clearly shows how an ancestor’s social standing, religion, occupation and their relocations can point to useful sources and be used to differentiate your ancestors from others with similar names. Detailed case studies regarding mistaken identities in research help show research pitfalls and how to avoid them in your own research. An entire chapter is devoted to the subject of names (both Christian and surnames) and the importance of naming patterns in genealogy. The discussion on naming practices and the evolution of surnames is fascinating and informative.

Intended for the advanced genealogist, this book focusses on the methodology required to conduct proper research in pre-Victorian England and will be of interest to anyone who has had difficulty taking their research back to pre-civil registration times. Even though the author clearly states that this book is intended for those with British ancestry, it has much to offer anyone with an interest in learning about sound genealogical research practices and methodology.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review: The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Germanic Ancestry in Europe by James M. Beidler

The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide:  How to Trace Your Germanic Ancestry in Europe by James M. Beidler, Family Tree Books, 2014, 239 p. 

            Tracing Germanic roots can be tricky. An abundance of surname variations, a foreign language, an unfamiliar cursive script, and frequently changing boundaries within Germany are just a few of the difficulties associated with researching in this area. For the non-German-speaking genealogist, gleaning information from German parish records and documents might seem like a daunting, if not impossible task. For anyone just beginning to research their German ancestors, a good reference book that addresses the unique challenges specific to Germanic research is essential.

            James Beidler has divided his book into three parts. The first part, “Linking Your Family Tree to German-Speaking Nations” looks at German immigrants to North America and how to determine their place of origin using records found in the new country.   Beidler’s focus is on German-American immigrants and, unfortunately, not much is said about those who came to Canada.  Part two, “Getting to Know the Old Country,” provides necessary information about Germany’s geography and the German language, including surnames and their variations, along with given-naming patterns. Part three, “Tracing Your Family in German-Speaking Nations” systematically details civil registration, parish records, census and court records, military documents and other printed records that are available to the researcher. The author also includes research information for Austria and Switzerland, as well as for the German-speaking micro-states of Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. The final section, “Advanced Sources and Strategies,” contains case studies for various types of research problems as well as methodologies for breaking through genealogical brick walls.

            Beidler has provided several useful appendices including a German alphabet chart covering modern script, fraktur, sütterlin, kurrent, and old handwriting styles. He also includes a list of commonly found genealogical terms, numbers, and months spelled out in each of these handwriting styles. Also included are sample letters in German to request civil and parish records, a comprehensive bibliography for further reading, and contact information for the various archives, libraries and societies relating to Germanic research.

            Researching ancestors in German-speaking countries does present unique challenges for the English-speaking genealogist.  The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide should enable those new to German research to overcome these challenges.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Review: Inheritance in Ontario : Wills and Other Records for Family Historians by Jane E. MacNamara

Inheritance in Ontario : Wills and Other Records for Family Historians by Jane E. MacNamara, Dundurn, 2013, 138 p.

            Part of the Dundurn Press’ Genealogist’s Reference Shelf series, this book by Jane E. MacNamara examines estate files in Ontario.  Wills, probate records and other estate files can provide a wealth of information for the genealogist, not found in other sources.  Sometimes these documents will include details concerning the personal holdings of an individual.  If you are lucky, they might clearly define the relationships within a family, and bring to light the state of these relationships at the time of an individual’s death.  But finding these documents can present a challenge, and this is where this guide proves most useful.  The author helps readers discover if their ancestor even had a will and to locate the court in which these records were likely to have been handled.
            MacNamara presents a concise history of court records of Ontario starting in 1763, and goes on to discuss the various court documents and processes up to the current day.  She presents information regarding the Court of Probate (1763-1858), the Surrogate Courts (1793-1989), Records of Inheritance in the Land Registry Office, as well as other records of inheritance that may have been produced outside of the courts.
            Included in the book is a glossary of basic terms found in estate records, a detailed listing of repositories in which these records may be kept, and numerous case studies illustrative of specific situations found in estate records.  Also provided are two helpful appendices.  The first Surrogate Courts Archival Series Numbers , lists numbers designated by the Archives of Ontario for each county.  The second appendix, Published Indexes to Ontario Estate Records, also arranged by country, directs readers to indexes that were compiled by historical or genealogical societies, and private citizens to aid in locating various estate records.  A good index, along with helpful illustrations, boosts reader-friendliness.
            This well-researched, comprehensive overview of estate records provides the Ontario researcher with the required knowledge to locate those elusive, but genealogically valuable wills and probate records.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Review: Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? by Rebecca Probert

Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? by Rebecca Probert, Takeaway, 2015, 209 p.

             A follow-up to the author’s earlier work, “Marriage Law For Genealogists,” this book takes a closer look the end of marriages, and at remarriage, from 17th  to the 20th century in England and Wales.  During this period, marriage most commonly ended with the death of spouse as obtaining a divorce could be difficult, and in some cases, impossible to obtain.
            Probert’s study is broken into five chapters:  1) Divorced  2) Separated 3) Bigamist 4) Bereaved 5) Remarriage to the Same Person.  In each of the chapters the author uses case studies from her own research to illustrate the sets of circumstances that could exist when encountering these various states of marriage endings in one’s own research.  She provides the information required to understand the rules and expectations that society had for marriage in general, and for its dissolution.  In her chapter on divorce, for example, the author discusses the strict divorce laws in place in England throughout the years, what had to be proven in order to obtain a divorce, what the chances of a successful marriage dissolution were, who was most likely to be able to obtain a divorce, and the rules around divorcees and remarriage.
            Included in the introduction is a brief glossary of terms found in records pertaining to marriage law.  Also provided is a detailed table of contents, an index and a bibliography.  Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? is a thoroughly interesting, accessible read that imparts important background information that will foster a better understanding of the marriage and the course of its endings for family historians.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Review: Planters, Paupers and Pioneers: English Settlers in Atlantic Canada by Lucille H. Campey

Planters, Paupers and Pioneers:  English Settlers in Atlantic Canada. By Lucille H. Campey, Natural Heritage Books [Dundurn Group], 2010, 470 p.

 Book one of a three book series by Lucille Campey on English migration to Canada, Planters, Paupers and Pioneers focuses on the experience of English settlers to the New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from the late 1670s to the 1860s.

Campey examines the reasons for English emigration to Atlantic Canada and details the geographic origins of these emigrants. For example, the author has devoted a whole chapter to the Yorkshire settlers who came to the Chignecto Isthmus in Nova Scotia in the 1770s, and another to the Loyalist influx from the south.  She also discusses other emigrating groups, such as the Home Children from Liverpool to Nova Scotia. In addition to the who, what, when and why of English emigration, the author has also researched “the how” of it, and provides detailed information about the sea voyages themselves and the experiences of the settlers after arriving at their destinations.

This is a thoroughly-researched book that comes with many helpful maps, tables and charts. The author has included a complete list of placements of Louisa Birt’s 347 Home Children in Nova Scotia, a list of Middlemore Home Children, and a number of relevant passenger lists and ship crossing lists.  Appendices include Yorkshire Passenger Lists, 1774-75 and Ship Crossings from England to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. A bibliography is provided, as is a name-place-subject index.  If you would like to add context to your English-Canadian research, Campey’s book will supply a wealth of information and insight into the English settler’s life in Atlantic Canada.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Review: Tracing your trade and craftsman ancestors : a guide for family historians by Adele Emm

Tracing your trade and craftsman ancestors : a guide for family historians. By Adele Emm, Pen and Sword, 2015, 214 p.           
          While some genealogists secretly harbour hope that they are descended from nobility, most of us have found that our family line contains a predominance of working class folk. Adele Emm’s guidebook focuses on the records left behind by ancestors engaged “in trade.” Knowing and understanding the work your ancestors did is imperative to understanding the structure and rhythm of their lives.

            Emm describes the records that provide clues to our ancestors’ occupations: censuses records, vital records, parish records, wills and immigration records. These records are good starting points, but there are other documents, as Emm explains, that provide information about our ancestors’ working lives. She discusses the availability and location of guild and apprenticeship records, and how they might add missing information to your ancestor’s narrative.

            The author also provides valuable information about the use of occupational surnames in England, and how street names can even point to your ancestor’s choice of employment. Obsolete occupations, such as “higgler” or “dudder,” can be a puzzlement to today’s genealogists. Emm points readers to free online resources that explain these unfamiliar occupations.

Most interesting are the chapters devoted entirely to specific types of trade and their allied occupations including, merchants, shopkeepers, builders, smiths, shoemakers, and clothiers. Emm also includes a miscellaneous chapter that covers coopers, printmakers, wheelwrights and saddle-makers. The author discusses the definitions of each occupation and the related jobs associated with it, the requirements in terms of apprenticeship and training, and the working conditions of the job throughout the years.

This guide will be of benefit to anyone researching their trade ancestors in England. Those who are researching in other countries may find interesting information here that also applies to their ancestor’s work life in other places, but the primary focus is on apprenticeship requirements and guilds, as well as working conditions, in England.