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May 20, 2011

Book Review: Time Traveller's Handbook

Time Traveller's Handbook:A Guide to the Past
Author: Althea Douglas
Published by Dundurn Press, Toronto. March 2011
341 pages
16 Chapters plus Introduction, Notes, Index, Bibliography, Appendix

Time Traveller's Handbook is chock full of interesting facts and details that affected our ancestors' lives. If you have ever wondered how long it took your ancestor to sail across the ocean to their new home, you'll find the answer in this book. Perhaps you found a record of land ownership for your ancestor but you don't understand the currency or the measurement unit. This book has your answer to such questions - questions about terms or items used in every day life by our ancestors but not used or understood now.

 But Time Traveller's Handbook is not just a list of dry facts. Ms. Douglas explains how researchers need to take a close look at family lore, and how to analyse documents.

In Time Traveller's Handbook we learn about such things as changes in technology. Once we know when electric lights were first used, or when running water first appeared in homes, we can set our ancestors in that time and understand what their daily lives were like.

Checking such facts as how long it took an ancestor to travel by horse or by carriage from one place to another can provide clues which enable researchers to look for more information. Such information also helps researchers develop a timeline for each individual in their family tree.
 I love this type of detail as it helps me to imagine my own ancestor Joseph McGinnis on a wagon with his wife and year old daughter making his way from York (Toronto) to the wilderness area near what would become the city of Guelph, in 1847. Such a difficult journey and with the help of Time Traveller's Handbook, I can get a much better sense of how many days the family had to suffer in the heat of Ontario with blackflies surrounding them.

One item I found particularly interesting was an early photograph of a young child in what appears to be a dress. As a collector of CDVs (mid 1800s photographs) I know that young boys wore dresses and are often mistaken for girls. The usual way to tell boys from girls is through the hair - centre part is a girl, side part is a boy. But I never knew the reason behind parents dressing boys and girls alike in certain cultures and time periods until I read Time Traveller's Handbook.

Ms. Douglas explains that these youngsters were "in petticoats" meaning they were still in diapers. Suddenly it al made sense - it was simply easier to change a young child, whether boy or girl, if they wore a dress or skirt rather than long pants. But what is even more exciting to me is that this new information gives researchers a very good way to establish an age for an individual.

Although Ms. Douglas states that the book is intended for "family historians working in Canada whose ancestors originated somewhere else" I believe most genealogists or historians would find information in its pages that would be of interest and use.  The author points out that  much of the information she has provided might be found on the Internet. But the sheer volume of what the author has compiled and the ease of finding the wanted information at your fingertips makes this book an invaluable addition to any historian or genealogist bookshelf. It has a place front and centre on mine and I'm eager to use it even more as I discover new ancestors!

1 comment:

The Grandmother Here said...

Thank you for posting this book review. I'll have to get myself a copy.