BOOKS & DATA DISCS
This month’s family history inspiration
by Simon Wills
( Pen & Sword Books, 175 pages, £19.99)
This book covers a huge and fascinating subject in a manageable style and clear format. Its major strength is in introducing a range of important historical sources in an accessible way.
These sources are records kept by passengers travelling by sea, written over a period of more than 300 years, from 1599 to 1937. Dr Wills has made a selection of accounts, including some wonderful passenger diaries from the 19th century, to illustrate some of the ways in which sea travel has changed. Be warned: the experience of a long sea voyage was often hugely challenging, both physically and mentally, and some of these passengers’ stories make harrowing reading. For example, descriptions of the living conditions endured by families aboard the famous Mayflower are almost shocking – and this was a sound ship, run by a competent captain. On other ships there were even greater threats to passengers’ survival, including typhus and other diseases; the risk of meeting ships from hostile powers; and, of course, the hazard of bad weather. To make matters worse, the unscrupulous captains of poorly maintained vessels did little to mitigate the risks for their passengers.
This isn’t a ‘ how-to’ book, and it doesn’t set out to support research into passenger lists or other related records, which are important resources for family historians. However, its readable style and faithfulness to real personal stories make it a good complement to more practical advice available in print and online. For family historians who want to get a flavour of what their forebears may have experienced ono board, there is muchh to reflectfl on in these stories.
This is a book that whets the appetite, and the clearly structured bibliography will be useful for readers who want to become more familiar with the sources that Wills has chosen.
Dr Kate Rambridge works for the ss Great Britain Trust
Conditions on long sea voyages were often challenging for the passengers