Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History is perhaps the most definitive guide to British genealogy ever written. In the nine years since its release, Mark Herber's book has won awards and accolades from many organizations. Now Mr. Herber has even improved on his original work by releasing a Second Edition, containing thousands of updates and new material. I had a chance to review the Second Edition this week and must say that I am very impressed with it.
The first and most obvious thing I noticed was the bulk of this book. It is heavy! Ancestral Trails is an 896-page, 6-inch-by-9-inch paperback. Upon opening it, I found that it is jam-packed with genealogical research guidance. It also has many black-and-white images to illustrate the information presented within the text.
Ancestral Trails is not a simple list of "where to find information." In fact, it is a blend of a history book and a "how to" manual. The book gives background information about past generations by describing virtually every class of record in every repository and library in Britain. In order to find the correct repositories, you often have to first understand why a particular record would be found there. Herber does this well, describing historical settings and the purpose of each repository.
The early chapters of Ancestral Trails describe the basics of British genealogy: obtaining information from living relatives, drawing family trees, and starting research in the records of birth, marriage, and death, or in census records. The later chapters are devoted to finding primary sources of information: wills, parish records, civil and ecclesiastical court records, poll books, and property records.
Here is a list of the chapters and appendices found in Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, Second Edition:
- An introduction to genealogical research
- Personal recollections and memorabilia
- Organization of your research material
- Problems encountered by researchers
- Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths
- Census returns
- Parish registers
- Churchyards and cemeteries
- Combining sources of information
- Archives, libraries, and family history societies
- Wills and administrations
- Catholic, Non-Conformist, and Jewish records
- Marriage and divorce
- Maps, land registration, and property records
- Local and social history
- Newspapers and elections
- Parish and town records
- Records of the Army, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force
- Records of shipping and seamen
- Records of trades, professions, and business
- Oaths, taxation, and insurance records
- Records of the civil and ecclesiastical courts
- Records of the criminal courts and criminals
- Peerages, the gentry, famous people, and heraldry
- Tracing migrants and living relatives
- Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands
- Immigration, emigration, and investigation abroad
- National Archives' information leaflets
- County record offices and other archives
- Wills and administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury
- Web sites for family historians
As I read various sections of Ancestral Trails, I was impressed with Mark Herber's writing style. He writes in a conversational tone that is easy to understand and yet filled with factual information. I found it to be an "easy read" even though the book packs a lot of information into each page.
The 147 images found within this book tend to be like the writing style: simple but full of information. One that I especially appreciate is illustration #8: "Letters of the alphabet: handwriting styles of the 16th and 17th centuries." This shows many different methods by which letters were formed in old handwritten documents. That one page alone can save many hours when trying to read old documents! I plan to carry a photocopy of that page on any trip where I expect to encounter 16th and 17th century English documents.
Ancestral Trails provides detailed explanations of census records, parish registers, marriage records, wills and much, much more. The Second Edition includes thousands of updates with the most noticeable change being the new appendix on "Web sites for family historians." Herber lists the names and URLs (addresses) of several hundred web sites that can be useful for British genealogy research although he does not describe any of them in detail.
A 34-page bibliography is followed by a 36-page index.
Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, Second Edition continues to earn the title of "the Bible of British genealogy." If you can purchase only one book about British genealogy research, I'd suggest this one. Ancestral Trails will aid the beginner and the experienced researcher alike.
The version of Ancestral Trails that I read this week is published by Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore, Maryland, in association with the Society of Genealogists (London). As a special introductory offer, this new edition of Ancestral Trails will be available at the reduced price of $29.95 until August 15, 2006. After that time the price reverts to its normal list price of $34.95.
You can order Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, Second Edition, via a safe and secure online shopping cart system at http://tinyurl.com/phu6v.