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Tuesday, 21 June 2016


Published by  Pen & Sword

Also available from Colourpoint

Internet search engines are all very well. They are brilliant channels into all sorts of weird, wonderful and enlightening stuff, of course. But sometimes an actual reference book that you can hold in your hands is just the perfect companion.

I have been researching my father’s life story and delving into the backgrounds of his parents and grandparents. We are going back a bit here. He was born in 1925 and so, off we go into the 19th century to try to discover where he came from, what made him the man he was and what parts of him influenced my personality.

He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and I have gathered some information and documents to add pieces to this jigsaw but family research cannot be done without the assistance of others and I want to draw your attention to a terrific book – Tracing Your Northern Irish Ancestors – A Guide For Family Historians by Ian Maxwell.

I tried to do as much as I could with the obvious stuff – birth, marriage and death certificates – but I had little or no idea of the vast amounts of other material available to researchers and the book has opened my eyes and mind to the sheer volume of archive material that might help me in my quest – scratch that, WILL help me in my quest.

There are chapters on how to begin, on census records, surveys, church and school registers, property ownership, wills and testaments, local government files, military records and much, much more, from physical journals and ledgers to online resources.. From my relatively shambolic approach to my father’s story, I can now shape a more focused plan of action thanks to the book.

One thing that worried me about a book like this was that it would be texty and stuffy and a tad self-important but not a bit of it. It is written well in a very accessible style that is both reassuring and immensely encouraging to both the amateur and professional historian.

On a recent trip home to Belfast, I spent a couple of hours in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, a brilliant building with very helpful staff and masses of material to browse.  I wasn’t sure what I was really looking for but when I revisit, my trusty companion – this book – will help me enormously to ask the right questions, locate relevant archives and add more pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is my father’s story.

It is clear to me that Ian Maxwell’s book is essential reading if anyone out there is interested in tracing their Northern Irish ancestors.

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