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Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors by…
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Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors (original 2014; edition 2015)

by Alison Light (Author)

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1409157,861 (4.1)31
Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times, but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond. Needlemakers, sailors, servants, bricklayers - how is the historian to understand the lives of those forebears who left few traces except the barest record - no diaries, letters, or possessions, and sometimes not even a grave? Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common Peopleis a family history but also a new kind of public history, following the lives of the migrants who travelled the country looking for work. Original and eloquent, it is a timely rethinking of who the English were - but ultimately it reflects on history itself and on our constant need to know who went before us and what we owe them.… (more)
Member:MissKito
Title:Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors
Authors:Alison Light (Author)
Info:University of Chicago Press (2015), Edition: Illustrated, 352 pages
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Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors by Alison Light (2014)

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» See also 31 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Alison Light's genealogical explorations of her grandparents and their worlds, which is handled really quite superbly. More books like this, please! ( )
  JBD1 | Jul 20, 2021 |
I would love to be able to bring my ancestors to life in the way Alison Light has done here. She says herself that she hopes to have inspired her readers to do just that but I think few of us would have the talent to do so in such an entertaining, sympathetic and scholarly way. But I might try.....
She has managed to turn the lives of the type of ancestors we all have; the labourers the farm workers, the builders, the industrial workers, the paupers and sadly even those confined to the asylum into several fascinating 'stories'. It was even more interesting in my case as my several of my ancestors lived in Portsmouth-I learnt a lot about the city. There is a crucial section at the end of the book which help to explain how the author went about her research- the sort of books and records she consulted and where they were found-very, very useful to us family historians.
Not quite 5 stars just because it's so tricky trying to keep track of who is who and how they are related, despite the family trees at the beginning of the book. I'm not sure how this can be avoided in any family tree, which I know from experience, quickly turn into giant spider's web. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Patsmith139 | Mar 15, 2021 |
I nearly discarded this until I realised that it focussed its genealogical lens on those at the lower end of the social spectrum, those who don't make the headlines, who live in poverty and strive to make ends meet against all odds. Also a large part of the book is set in Portsmouth and provides an excellent analysis of the town's history, in its time the most densely populated town in the UK. Page 207 points to the conditions in which people lived in the late 1840s: 'The island of Portsea 'was one huge cesspool', daily permitting 30,000 gallons of urine to penetrate the soil, making its way 'with a host of other abominations' into the well water'. ( )
  jon1lambert | Apr 20, 2018 |
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2882781.html

This is a great work of social and personal history. Light has taken her four grandparents and traced the genealogy of each as far back as she can go. None of them were from the well-chronicled upper or middle classes; she remarks that if anywhere can claim to be her ancestral home, it is the workhouse, as someone from every generation ended up there. She gradually zooms in on Portsmouth as the focal point of the story, but not before travelling around the middle and south of England in general. Where there may be personal data lacking, she diverges into intense history of the disruptive effect of the Industrial Revolution on society, the precise details of needle-making, the life prospects of the building labourer, the reality of the Navy in the tweentieth century; and she humanises these sweeping sources of data with moving empathy for her own ancestors and their fellow citizens. It's a tremendous piece of work, both sad and uplifting, demonstrating that historical writing can almost completely avoid the great and the good and still be really memorable. Strongly recommended. ( )
  nwhyte | Nov 4, 2017 |
Historian Alison Light provides an excellent and readable venture into her own family's history, deftly demonstrating how one incorporates social history, local history, religious history, and more, to make ancestors come alive. She provides several very quotable phrases scattered thoughout the volume, certain to resonate with researchers adhering to the genealogical proof standard. My biggest complaint pertains to the "invisible endnotes" system employed by the editors. Readers deserve to know when something is being cited. The acceptable way of doing this is to provide a numbered footnote or endnote. I find the method employed by the editors lacking. In some places the author's aversion to religion manifested itself through condescending remarks. In other places where the opportunity presented itself, she refrained from such comments. This restraint maintained a bias-free environment in those portions of the narrative. Overall the book provided a commendable example in family history writing. Highly recommended. ( )
  thornton37814 | Sep 14, 2017 |
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For my mother, Barbara Light, with love and gratitude, and in memory of my father, Rob (Sid) Light, who first taught me that

'No man is an island'
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I began this book because I realised I had no idea where my family came from.
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If anywhere can claim to be my ancestral home it is the workhouse. Somebody in every generation fetched up there.
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Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times, but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond. Needlemakers, sailors, servants, bricklayers - how is the historian to understand the lives of those forebears who left few traces except the barest record - no diaries, letters, or possessions, and sometimes not even a grave? Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common Peopleis a family history but also a new kind of public history, following the lives of the migrants who travelled the country looking for work. Original and eloquent, it is a timely rethinking of who the English were - but ultimately it reflects on history itself and on our constant need to know who went before us and what we owe them.

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Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past, in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond. Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common People is a family history but also a new kind of public history, following the lives of the migrants who travelled the country looking for work. Original and eloquent, it is a timely rethinking of who the English were - but ultimately it reflects on history itself, and on our constant need to know who went before us and what we owe them.
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