Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

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  1. Reading up on the ancestors

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    Over the last week I have been teaching students about the various routes to Continuing Professional Development in professional genealogy and it made me think about the increasing pile of books I’ve been accumulating, but still haven’t found time to read. Is it just me? I’m a self confessed book buying addict, if I don’t have a copy I need one. Perhaps it’s a genealogist thing.


    A selection of my reading material


    I decided to take some time out and have some dedicated reading time. As this was a luxury in itself I went a step further and picked a couple of titles relevant to my own research! I was born in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham, so many of my recent ancestors came from the Birmingham area. Ah, I have a book about that.



    My maternal grandfather, George Hollings Jenkins, was born in Hunslet, Leeds in 1908. George is shown pictured centre in the photograph below, with his younger brothers Alfred (left) and Tom (right). Tom Jenkins was a violinist, famed for his position as leader of the BBC Palm Court Orchestra in the radio programme “Grand Hotel”. By the mid 1930s George had moved down to Birmingham.


    Albert, George and Tom Jenkins c.1917


    It therefore made sense to focus on Tracing Your Birmingham Ancestors and Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors together and I thought I would share my views of these two titles with you*.

    The Tracing Your… series is a popular series from publishers Pen and Sword. The difficulty with reading two books from the same publisher about tracing ancestors in cities is that you do notice more the similarities, a formula starts to shine through. However, there were some definite differences in style and content.


    Tracing Your Birmingham Ancestors (Michael Sharpe)



    This is a very well written and thoroughly enjoyable account of the unique nature of Birmingham and the surrounding areas, including Solihull and Sutton Coldfield (where I was born). Mike Sharpe describes the growth of Birmingham from its days as a rather insignificant parish compared to its neighbouring, more wealthy, Aston to the modern conurbation we see today. The complexity of changes in boundaries and jurisdictions is explained: “Where is Birmingham?”, “It depends” and put into context with the search for genealogical records. The history of Birmingham is followed by a description of the major genealogical sources and where to find them. Rather than attempt to teach the basics of family history, not appropriate in a volume of this type, the descriptions are focused on the records available for Birmingham. Areas of focus include religion, trades, education, health, transport, crime and housing. I found the section on industry particularly interesting as a number of my ancestors were in the trades: brass workers, wire drawers, gunmakers and even a brass bedstead maker.

    The major repositories in the Midlands area are described, references provided for the major classes of records and details given of many indexes and paper catalogues not available through the online catalogues. However, Mike doesn’t just focus on archives in Birmingham but also tells you where else to get access to Birmingham records. There are many references to specialist websites and museums and the BMSGH (Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry) and the Midlands Historical Data website feature repeatedly.

    Thoroughly recommended for anyone with ancestors from Birmingham and the Midlands.


    Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors (Rachel Bellerby)



    A very specific title but useful to those, like myself, with ancestors from Leeds. Whilst the scope of the book is quite small an attempt is made to cover a vast array of material. There are excellent chapters on the history and development of the city and the rest of the book is broken down into themes, e.g. trades, education, poverty. Records and repositories relevant to Leeds are described in detail and information included about where to find different record types (not as straightforward as you might believe).

    However, I wonder whether an attempt has not been made to cover too much in one volume. Whilst the majority of the book is written with Leeds specific research in mind there are some areas, e.g. Basic Resources, when an attempt is made to generalise and this is not always successful. The description of general family history resources is too brief and a referral to a general family history text would have been better placed. House history, a significant subject in it own right, gets only a page and a half of coverage.

    Overall though, well worth a read if you have ancestors from Leeds.

    * Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors in exchange for a review, though this was such a long time ago they may not even remember!

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