23 August 2011

Book Review: Tracing Your East End Ancestors

Tracing Your East End Ancestors: a guide for family historians, by Jane Cox, 2011. Published by Pen and Sword Books Limited, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS.
ISBN 9781848841604. Paperback, 256pp, illustrations, index. £12.99

Consult this guide if you're struggling researching ancestors who lived in Aldgate, Artillery Liberty, Bethnal Green, Bishopsgate, Blackwall, Bow, Bromley, East Smithfield, Limehouse, Mile End, Mile End New Town, Milwall, Norton Foldgate, Old Ford, Portsoken, Poplar, Ratcliff, St Katherine's, Spitalfield's Stepney, The Isle of Dogs, Tower Liberty, Wapping or Whitechapel, all now within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The book comprises an introduction and list of abbreviations, nine chapters, the last three very short, eight appendices, and a comprehensive 19 page index.

Chapter 1, a summary history of Tower Hamlets, considers the area's evolution from pasture, forest and marsh, a home to farmers, fishermen and suburban gentry, to a center for maritime and related activities, a magnet for migrants to, by 1850, "a seething boil of poverty and overcrowding on the side of the richest city in the world," to today's redevelopment.

Chapter 2, Research, is an outline of the archives, websites, together with advice on researching your family history, much of which is more generally applicable than just to the East End.

Chapter 3, The Prime Sources, deals with civil registration, the census, and parish records for baptisms, marriages and burials, mainly in the established church. there are sections on marriage indexes, irregular marriages, and marriage licenses.

Chapter 4, Other Major Sources, starts with a good discussion on probate, moves on to more locally oriented records: cemeteries, schools, directories, voters lists, hospitals, newspapers and magazines and a variety of tax records, and ending with mention of manorial records mainly of interest for the earliest period.

Chapter 5, Records of Groups, covers nonconformists, immigrants  such as Irish Catholics, Huguenots, Jews and others. An extended section on paupers and orphans (Poor Law) includes brief mention of home children.  Criminals are briefly mentioned.

Chapter 6, Occupational Groups, includes  dockers, seamen, waterman and lightermen, soldiers, the policeman, shipbuilders, match girls, clergy, prostitutes and railway workers.

Chapter 7 and 8, are brief treatments of The Second World War – the Blitz and The Street/House They Lived In.

Chapter 9, less than a page in length, is on maps. A website at www.mernick.co.uk/elhs/mapgallert.htm described as "a wonderful online source" no longer leads to such wonders, but is worth recovering from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Eight maps in the book helpfully show various aspects of organization and settlement.

The appendices are a trove of detailed information on the local records that exist and where to find them.

Jane Cox, whose East End ancestry can be traced back many generations, was formerly with the Public Record Office and for more than 20 years since has been an author and private genealogical researcher specializing in Tower Hamlets. Her long experience with these records, and familiarity with the area shines through. While there is mention of her own ancestry in the area it illustrates rather than detracts from this comprehensive presentation.

Some technical issues which should have been rectified by the publisher do detract from the book. The first map is entirely out of focus; another showing London Poor Law boundaries would have been better presented in a whole page format to allow adequate discrimination of the East End jurisdictions.

While I only tried a few of the web addresses several were incorrect owing to misspelling or bad punctuation. It was usually possible to find the site with some searching.  

Tracing Your East End Ancestors is listed at $18.99 on Amazon.ca although not presently available. It is in stock at GlobalGenealogy.com and there will be copies available at the BIFHSGO conference.

This review is based on a copy received from the publisher.

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