BOOKS & DATA DISCS

This month’s fam­ily his­tory in­spi­ra­tion

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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