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Goldmine or Waste of Shelf-Space?
on 21 February 2011
This is a review of the third and, at the time of writing, latest edition of 2003. Given its price of around £30, I was unsure whether it would be worth my while purchasing it but was persuaded by the glowing reviews it seemed to attract. Was I right to do so?
In his introduction, the editor states that his new edition includes a map of the whole British Isles showing the pre-1830 county boundaries; except that this reprint is not of a modern map with the boundaries imprinted thereon, but a reprint of an antique map whose boundary lines are so light as to be virtually invisible. I started then to realise that this book may not after all be so brilliant as to merit the five stars many have given it. My suspicions that this was not the brilliant purchase that I thought were confirmed when upon arrival I immediately tried to access details for the county of Montgomery. One would have thought that a book based on counties would list Montgomeryshire as such, but it took me a while to find it listed curiously under `Central Wales'.
Looking at the county maps themselves, one often requires the use of a magnifying glass. Some, such as Lincolnshire, thankfully appear on double-pages, but most do not. Some, such as Anglesey and Somerset, are, frankly, a chaotic mess.
Finally, one wonders how useful this book is in the age of the internet, with apparently innumerable websites offering information on parish registers online through pay-for-view sites, local family history societies, county record offices or through such brilliant concepts as OPCs (online parish clerks) or in CD formats. Strangely, only postal addresses are given for further information: not one website is offered to the researcher!
So, I'm still unsure as to whether I have wasted my money on this tome. It's certainly a handsome book, of good proportions, of decent weight, and of good-quality paper. For myself, at the level of my sixth generation, I have ancestors scattered over ten counties. Having almost exhausted the gathering of post-1837 certificates of birth, marriage, and death, and having exhausted the information available through post-1841 censuses, the time will soon come to roll up my sleeves and get stuck into the parish registers themselves. Time will tell as to whether this book becomes a gold mine of information, or remains dust-laden on the shelf.