Book review: Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors by Sue Wilkes

Lancashire’s rich social, cultural and industrial history has made the hunt for our ancestors an increasingly popular and addictive pastime.

But family history novices often don’t know where to start, particularly with the bewildering array of records and archives now available, so finding a trusty guide is an invaluable first step.

Sue Wilkes, an established expert on industrial heritage and a well-known family historian, has put together this invaluable handbook packed with practical advice and information as well as an excellent background to Lancashire’s history for those tracking down ancestors who lived or worked in the county.

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As well as helping you to trace when and where your ancestors were born, married and died, it gives an insight into the world they knew and a chance to explore their lives at work and at home.

In the first part of the book, Wilkes describes the origins of Lancashire’s major industries – the cotton, coal, transport, engineering, shipbuilding and other trades which helped to forge Britain’s great empire.

She looks at the stories of important Lancashire families such as the Stanleys, Peels and Egertons, and famous entrepreneurs such as Richard Arkwright, the Preston barber who developed the water-frame, in order to illustrate aspects of Lancashire life and to show how the many sources available for family and local history research can be used.

But the ancestors of ordinary Lancashire folk also played their part in the county’s history whether they fought for Britain, spun cotton, hewed coal, tended a steam engine, tilled the fields or waved a Chartist or suffragette banner in pursuit of electoral reform.

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The second part of the book is a directory of the most important ‘tools’ for tracing family history. Relevant documents, specialist archives, libraries, background reading and other sources are recommended, as well as databases of family history societies, useful genealogy websites and places to visit which bring Lancashire’s past to life.

Even those seeking family history before 1837, the advent of civil registration, can break through this ‘barrier’ through the use of records from medieval courts, government, church, trade and industries.

No stone is left unturned in this fascinating and essential companion for anyone seeking out their Lancashire roots.

(Pen & Sword, paperback, £12.99)