05 November 2012

Book Review: The Surnames Handbook

The Surnames Handbook: A Guide to Family Name Research in the 21st Century
Debbie Kennett
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: The History Press (Nov 1 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-0752468624
Cover price: 14.99 UKP

As we progress in exploring our family history we learn to exploit every piece of evidence to its utmost. That's no less true of names which are often about the only information we have as we progress back to earlier periods. Many North Americans have found a surname study can help them localize their search where previously they only had the family folklore that their ancestor came from England, or Scotland, Ireland, or sometimes Wales.

Debbie Kennett is the author of DNA and Social Networking, a book I keep on a ready reference shelf. In the ten chapters and end material of her latest book Debbie helps you squeeze the most out of the British surname evidence you're researching. The chapters are:
1 The History of Surnames
2 The Classification of Surnames
3 Variants and Deviants
4 Surname Mapping
5 Surname Frequency
6 Has it Been Done Before?
7 Laying the Foundations: the Key Datasets
8 Surname Origins: Pre-1600 Resources
9 DNA and Surnames
10 One-Name Studies
The chapter Variants and Deviants merits close reading. If you find yourself stymied with a name perhaps it has changed, or was spelled differently by a clerk struggling to interpret what your illiterate ancestor was saying. The book inspired me to again take up the search for the origins of my Marmon ancestor - was it perhaps Maranon, Mariian, Murnane, or Marnarn.

Another British book on surnames, Surnames, DNA and Family History by George Redmonds, Turi King, and David Hey appeared in 2011. I wondered about the overlap and why another book was needed so soon.

Although they cover quite a bit of the same ground the former has more emphasis on DNA and is more academic. Turn to it if you want a clearly written discourse on the topic. The Surnames Handbook is very much a practitioners guide. This is signaled, if not by the title, by the preface written by Derek A. Palgrave, President, Guild of One-Name Studies and Vice-President, Federation of Family History Societies, two organizations very much in the mainstream of British family history. That orientation came home to me as I found myself frequently turning from the book to explore one of the many websites mentioned to see what it might have for my research.

Overall The Surname Handbook is as comprehensive and up to date treatment of the topic as most genealogists with British interests would wish to find.

1 comment:

MHD said...

Thank you for comparing it to the Redmond-King-Hey book (which I found very interesting and useful theoretically). It sounds like this new book is indeed different and useful in a more day-to-day way. I'll look for it!