Twentieth Century Family History

105372A copy of Karen Bali’s Tracing your Twentieth Century Ancestors (Pen and Sword 2016) has just arrived on my door mat for review. In the light of my recent blog post for the In-Depth Genealogist and as my ‘Discovering your British Family and the Local Community in the early C20th’ course for Pharos has just commenced, this was very timely. As someone who not only teaches courses that focus on the recent past but also as the author of a book on C20th social history [Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own] Karen’s book was bound to appeal. Like me, she stresses the importance of capturing our own personal history and memories; these are part of our family’s history.

Chapter one looks briefly at the social history of the twentieth century, providing a springboard for discovering the context for the lives of our nearest ancestors. The next five chapters describe different types of record that can be used in the process of C20th research: civil records, censuses, directories, wills and newspapers. The latter chapter also covers photographs and film. These are clear accounts of the sources and their use, helpful for those who are just starting on their family history journey and for more experienced researchers who have decided that now is the time to re-examine the generations closest to them. Family history is a fast-changing world, so although this book was only published in 2016, the scope for C20th research has expanded since then. This means, for example, that the very useful C20th source, the 1939 Register, which was newly released at the time the book was written, is covered only briefly.

Chapter 7 examines the theme of conflict and defence, considering sources that will help with discovering more about those who fought in wars from the Boer War to the Kosovo War and all the conflicts that occurred between these two wars that provide bookends for the C20th. A variety of trades and occupations form the content of Chapter 8 including: railwaymen, policemen, merchant seamen and publicans. In another important chapter, Karen encourages us to research the homes and communities in which our ancestors lived; something that I would certainly advocate. Here you will find information about one of my all time favourite sources, the Valuation Office records, as well as school records. It was a shame that one of my other favourites, the National Farm Survey was not covered. Karen then moves on to helping the reader through the maze of records that have resulted from the wave of C20th emigrations, primarily to the colonies. There is also an emphasis on tracing living relatives, a topic on which the author has written in greater depth elsewhere [New Cousins: How to Trace the Living Descendants of your Ancestors (Family History Partnership 2nd edition 2012) and The People Finder: reuniting relatives, finding friends (Nicholas Brealey 2007)]. Always a key part of family history research, this aspect has assumed a new significance as genealogists seek to establish how they are related to potential DNA matches.

Case studies, which are scattered throughout the book, help the reader to see how the information given could be applied. There is a handy chart that helps to sort third cousins once removed, from second cousins twice removed. The book finishes with suggestions of ways of preserving family printed and photographic ephemera. All in all this is an excellent book, which encourages researchers to examine a period in their family’s past that is often neglected. Even better, it is currently being offered at 20% off the cover price.


3 comments on “Twentieth Century Family History

  1. Brenda Turner says:

    INTERESTING Janet! I have love/hate relationship with ancestry. I hate that if one uploads one’s tree they own its data forever, and your family need to pay for subscriptions to see it. On the other hand, I love that people do upload their trees, and in checking family trees for information about an individual, one can make contact with whoever uploaded that information, who may well be a relation. I have recently found two new cousins I had never heard of before, who are researching the same people I am! Cheers! BT

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