The editor of this aid to researchers of local and family history, which one wishes one had had long ago, is professor of local and family history at the University of Sheffield. Of course family history is local history. Successful family history depends upon extensive local history. Suppose a long-established family in, say, Dumfriesshire, is found to have disappeared from the area - one should check its occupations. If one of these was shipbuilding, one should have a look across the Solway Firth to the records in Silloth or Parton and look for new arrivals. It was incredible how tiny rivulets could support this craft, but when they silted up, it was driven southwards.
The Companion, arranged alphabetically, includes an entry for "ship". The entries that follow give some idea of the book's range and diversity: shires, shops, shot/shutt, shows (agricultural), shrines, Shrove Tuesday, shrunken settlements, sickles, silk, silver, simony, single-family surnames.
Under "achievement of arms", we find: "The complete representation of the heraldic insignia of a family, including the coat of arms, crest, helmet, mantling, torse and motto." It is a pity that this does not make clear that an achievement is the property of one individual and does not belong to a family or even a surname. I have often received requests from American correspondents as to which arms they are "entitled", once their right to a surname is confirmed.
Hiring fairs, according to the book, "rarely" survived beyond the Great War. Quite a few did. Postwar agricultural workers had a longer list of requirements than prewar ones, number one being proximity of the work to a picture palace. Their occupational symbols, such as the whip of a would-be carter, were replaced with, for example, a spanner.
The book rightly deals with the genealogical contribution of the Mormons. But it must be borne in mind that the famous Mormon computer print-outs contain neither burials nor the address of the individual in question. At one time in the parish of Stanhope there were three Mormon families of the same surname with a husband John and a wife Mary, each family having many children. All the children were erroneously credited to the same parents by many budding genealogists.
The record offices n the book's appendix are a formidable list. For many years after this writer began his research, there were no records offices. One had to be prepared to travel and study tombstones -which luckily were always available and always rewarding, though it was (and is) surprising how many researchers are averse to spending time on them.
In local history, personal reminiscences are invaluable. But we need to bear in mind that the human memory can play strange tricks, even with a trained observer reliving the past. There seems to be no way of eliminating this, as the editor of this extremely attractive book is fully aware.
Alfred J. Coulthard is a local and family historian based in Dorset.
The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History
Editor - David Hey
ISBN - 0 19 211688 6
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £25.00
Pages - 517