Sunday, May 15, 2016

Common people

Subtitled the history of an English family, this book by Alison Light investigates the lives of five generations of her family. She was brought up knowing little or nothing about her ancestors on both sides of the family except for a few family stories about some of the family members. Therefore there was not much else to go on. The book is divided into four sections - two for her father's family and two for her mother's family. Her family are ordinary people often struggling to eke out an existence for themselves and for their family.

Alison Light had little documentation about the lives of family members but she has been able to piece together their stories, taking one piece of of information and then working backwards to investigate where they lived, worked and died. The family primarily consisted of farm labourers, brick layers, seafarers and maids and servants. When she was unable to locate information about a direct ancestor on the family tree she was sometimes able to locate information via brothers and sisters of the person and then work back towards the person being researched. Members of at least one of the families were constantly on the move and she was able to locate records of their new locations. One ancestor was born in a work house and died in an asylum, therefore as well as tracing how and why this happened the author provides detailed information about these establishments and how they operated. There is also information about family members who tried their luck in the sea trading enterprises from Newfoundland to Poole and other destinations. One member of the extended family was sent to Van Diemens Land as a convict while another departed England to live in Western Australia.

The family of Alison Light may have been 'common people' but their stories highlight what life was like for many living in the UK in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century. Much of the information gathered in the book was located investigating parish records and records of organisations (when they still exist) as well as more readily available sources such as the census and birth, death and marriage records. A good book to read by anyone trying to trace the history of their ancestors, particularly in England.

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