Most helpful critical review
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Poor presentation and errors detract from what could potentially be a useful book
on 19 February 2013
This book is a rather weighty paperback containing a lot of material, and a book of this nature that is likely to be used both for learning and future reference would have been better in hardback. The size of the book is also not ideal, as the content of each page is approximately A5 size, but the book contains many images of documents, which are difficult or impossible to read without the aid of a magnifying glass. Books that cover palaeography (such as 'Palaeography for Family and Local Historians' by Hilary Marshall) need to be larger, ideally A4 size. Therefore what would have worked as an A4 sized hardback (as is the case with the aforementioned book by Marshall) does not really work with this book.
It is also the case with this book, which is a criticism of History Press books in general, that although the font size of normal text is acceptable, extracts are printed in a very small font, which is difficult to read. This is very apparent when comparing this book with the book by Marshall, which is very easy to read.
The book contains a lot of information, and the author is clearly very knowledgeable. However, I feel that the author has not really got it right. In particular the chapter on Latin tries to summarise the whole of Latin grammar in about 50 pages, which does not really work. There are also errors, such as the present and imperfect subjunctive conjugations of capere and audire (which the author describes as audere at the top of the table: audere actually means to dare, not to hear) on page 80. I do not think that such a condensed summary of Latin grammar is helpful. The reader wishing to learn Latin would be advised to obtain a Latin textbook and a reference grammar, or primer, such as Kennedy. It would have been far better in a book of this nature for the author to restrict himself to outlining the basic features of the Latin language and then provide copious examples of Latin found in relevant documents, leaving it up to the reader who wishes to learn or improve their knowledge of Latin to find relevant resources elsewhere. The book 'Reading Latin Epitaphs' by John Parker provides a good example of how this could have been done, in which a very brief introduction to Latin is followed by examples, in which specific features of Latin encountered in each example are highlighted.
There are a few minor factual errors. For example, on page 213, the author states: "Before 1733, the main body of the text of wills, as well as sentences ... and probate clauses were in Latin" which is incorrect. Sentences and probate clauses were in Latin before 1733, but not the main body of wills, which were in English, at least from the sixteenth century.
The author makes some rather sweeping (literally, in the following example) statements such as on page 129, referring to parish registers: "Statutory registration in England and Wales in 1837 and in Scotland in 1855 swept away such records, although churches did not stop keeping them". This would seem to reflect the Scottish perspective of the author. In Scotland, civil registration records can be accessed fairly cheaply online, but in England and Wales, at the time of writing, each birth, marriage and death certificate costs £9.25, making carrying out research using civil registration records an expensive option. Much progress can often be made in family history research in England after 1837 by using parish registers, particularly when researching people who were not nonconformists or catholics and continued in most cases to be baptised and married in the Church of England. Family history researchers in England having access to parish registers and time on their hands may be able to save considerable amounts of money by carrying our research in parish registers after 1837. In particular, if a couple married in the Church of England, and the parish can be easily identified, the relevant entry can be viewed at no cost in a parish register that would cost £9.25 to order from the General Register Office. The author's sweeping statement does not reflect the reality of the situation in England.
My feeling after reading through this book was one of disappointment, as it could have been much better, both regarding presentation and content.