The popularity of family history can be gauged by the number of websites and publications about the subject. So why produce yet another book about tracing your roots?
As the Who Do You Think You Are? BBC TV series has shown, modern genealogy is far more than collecting names - it's a journey into one's personal heritage. Consequently, it's not sufficient to simply identify who your forebears were - the real excitement lies in tracking down where they lived, what jobs they did, how local and national events affected their lives - or, in some cases, how their actions affected events.
The Who Do You Think You Are? Encyclopedia of Genealogy has been written with this fresh perspective in mind, and shows that we can find out far more about our ancestors than their name and vital statistics of birth, marriage and death. Consequently, it differs in its approach from other titles on genealogy by tackling real subjects that people discover lurking in their family backgrounds - military heroes, illegitimate ancestors, criminals and bigamists - and then placing these topics in their historical context, so that you can fully understand why your ancestors were doing what they did, such as disappearing around the world to fight one of Queen Victoria's many wars. The historical background is then linked to a description of the main sources you'll need to consult to learn about these subjects, and where they can be found, whilst providing practical guidance that allows you to extract the most from your research; all drawn from over 5 years experience working on the series, and for nearly 20 years as a professional historian.
By spending time sifting through records within the family and in archives, libraries and museums around the country and even overseas, we can rediscover the lost world of the past, viewed through the eyes of our relatives. In many instances, we can bring their words and deeds back to life through these records, and give a fresh perspective to the `bigger picture' history that we often take for granted.
At school, history runs the risk of becoming a procession of dates, events and `famous' people. For example, textbooks on the First World War focus on the campaigns, battles, tactics and outcomes. Yet our ancestors served on the front line amidst the mud and blood, facing the horror of going over the top. Their service records detail this; their letters and photographs to loved ones back home tell of their hopes and fears; and their perspective of events make them seem all too real. It is this level of history - gritty, real and personal - that the encyclopaedia takes you to.
Indeed, the case studies, drawn from the celebrities featured in the TV series, show what can be done with some patient research; but it's important to stress that anyone can put together the sort of findings that make the Who Do You Think You Are? show so fascinating to watch. There's no mystery, no secret - it is simply painstaking detective work that people are doing around the country every day. By picking up this book you can join their ranks, bring your past back to life and see the world around you from a new perspective.