Anthony Adolph’s “Tracing Your Family History” an Excellent Guide for British Research

Review by James Pylant

British genealogist Anthony Adolph, also a writer and broadcaster, is well-known for his television appearances on Extraordinary Ancestors, Antiques Ghostshow and Ancestor Hunters. Adolph’s first book, Collins Tracing Your Family History, is a beautifully-printed, fascinating how-to guide. The photographs and other illustrations are stunning.

Following the first steps, namely gleaning data from relatives and then recording the information, the author gives a quick overview of websites, discusses societies, magazines, and a section called “Genealogy Survival Kit,” which has tips about old handwriting, old and new style dates, common abbreviations and acronyms and some commonly used Latin words.

Adolph shares important advice about evaluating the data in vital registers. For birth certificates, for instance, a child’s name may be altered for up to a year after registration, and the occupational status for the child’s father may have been embellished. A marriage certificate may have misleading information about place of residence for grooms, who often had to take temporary local residence before they could be married in the parish church. The author’s chapter on registration is excellent; his remarks on births, marriages and deaths may prevent family historians from jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Other chapters of equal depth cover census records, parish registers, wills, gravestones and memorials, newspapers and magazines, land records, maps and local histories, military, tax and other financial records, legal accounts, education, immigration and emigration, legal records, religious denominations, name origins, royalty and nobility, and heraldry.

Tracing Your Family History is punctuated with sidebar examples or brief case studies. (The census chapter has a chart for calculating ages from enumerations.) Then there are chapters for special research problems, many not always found in how-to guides. In one, entitled “Lives Less Ordinary,” we find advice when encountering illegitimacy, adoption, missing people, change of name, and divorce. Other topics are manorial records, loyalty oaths, occupational records, genetics, hospitals and workhouses, election records, the parish chest, and slave ancestry. The concluding chapter is on the use of psychic investigations, a topic Anthony Adolph encountered when working on the television series, Antiques Ghostshow.

Tracing Your Family History was nominated Runner Up in the 2004—2005 Family History Book of the Year Readers Competition of Ancestorsmagazine.

Collins Tracing Your Family History. By Anthony Adolph. Hardbound; also available in softcover (2005), 320 pp., indexed. Published by Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, London.

Tracing Your Family History (Collins S.) is available from Amazon.com (affiliate link).

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