Monday, 19 September 2011

Review - Tracing Your Channel Islands Ancestors

Pen and Sword's "Tracing Your..." series regularly produces great authoritative guides on a whole range of subjects - but occasionally it comes up with some absolute crackers.

I am currently reading Tracing Your Channel Islands Ancestors by Marie Louise Backhurst, which most definitely falls into that category. The first thing to point out is that I have absolutely no connection to the islands at all, save for the fact that twenty years ago my father and brother once crewed a yacht there from Northern Ireland on behalf of a vice-admiral to allow him to go on holiday! So I am most definitely coming to this as a beginner.

The Channel Islands are Crown Dependencies with a long standing connection with the United Kingdom, despite not being a part of it. As such they have their own legal traditions, much of it Norman French in origin. From a family history point of view some of their procedures for doing research seem familiar, though there is a whole new list of terms to learn such as 'vingtaine' and 'canton' (divisions of a parish on Jersey and Guernsey), and more.

Based here in Scotland, some things come across as being particularly similar to our situation here - for example, women in the islands don't seem to lose their maiden names in legal documents, as is the case here, and when it comes to probate matters, land and property was devised by the laws of succession, rather than through wills, until the mid 19th century - again, not a million miles away from the Scottish system. There are obviously a lot more connections with the establishment in England, just 80 miles north of the islands, and some nice peculiar customs based on their geographic situation - such as marriages happening at 6am so that couples could then get the ferry for their honeymoon!

The Channel Islands are nevertheless very much their own entity, with enough differences in approach required for the reader from the British mainland to be constantly fascinated throughout the book. Amongst the islands there are also many differences - civil registration in Alderney, for example, commenced in 1842, but 1840 in Guernsey, and not until 1925 in Sark. Jersey, Sark and Alderney have dedicated chapters dealing with their own individual histories and records, whilst Guernsey, Herm and Brecqhou are treated together. At 184 pages the book is absolutely packed, and is a truly superb guide.

Priced at £12.99, Tracing Your Channel Islands Ancestors can be ordered from Pen and Sword Books Limited at


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