Book Review: Tracing Your Irish & British Roots

Tracing Your Irish & British Roots, by W. Daniel Quillen

In retrospect, it may not have been wise for me to read two books by the same author so close together.  While I do read books on genealogy reasonably frequently [1], it is not so common for me to read multiple books by the same author on the subject, and it seems likely that this book fared somewhat poorly by being able to be compared with another book by the same author.  Some writers are very original in their approach and can manage to talk distinctively about the same subjects multiple times, but this book looks extremely similar to the author’s previous writings about genealogical research in Europe in general [2].  This repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing–the information is worthwhile–it just just something that does not really need to be read more than once.  This is a book that would have been more enjoyable had it been the first or the only book by the author I read, and it was at least not irritating the second time.  The fact that this author has written more than half a dozen books on the same topic, though, suggests that this is not an author that has enough value to read his entire body of likely repetitive work.

In terms of its contents, this book totals a bit less than 150 pages, with the author doing his best to recycle content from his previous volume in order to give it a respectable length.  Like before, this book begins with an introduction and some basic information about names and spelling and patronymics and so on.  After that the author has a lengthy chapter on tracing the reader’s presumed Irish roots which is largely familiar but contains a few interesting bits of information about some of the special challenges of Irish immigration, and then the author does the same thing with English ancestors.  Again, most of the information is repeated but some of it is original and the original material is definitely well written.  The book then closes with three appendices that discuss Irish Heritage Centres, the home counties for Irish surnames, and British county record offices, all of which is worthwhile information for many readers.  The author clearly has a passion for genealogy that reads well and some of his advice, like writing letters to those with the same name that one finds in countries one is going to visit for family history, are good advice for the bold and cheeky family historian.

In reading this book I have a few criticisms.  As I have already noted, this book is more than a little bit repetitive for one who has read the author’s previous body of work.  One gets the feeling that this author recycles a lot of his material in order to pad the number of books he has written, not the sort of approach to writing I prefer as someone who reads books at a rather rapid clip and tends to be somewhat repetitive to self-plagiarism.  On the whole, though, this repetition is not offensive.  If this book is somewhat hack work, it is at least hack work with genuine wit and humor that is written by someone who is a skilled family historian who has done a fair amount of research and has something worthwhile to share.  The other criticism I feel it necessary to make is that this work leans heavily on England and Ireland (especially Ireland) and is less useful in providing specific information about Scotland, Wales, and smaller areas of the United Kingdom like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which might offer their own challenges and resources to family historians.  Nevertheless, this is a book that effectively hits the high points.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Tracing Your Irish & British Roots

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Saxons, Vikings, And Celts | Edge Induced Cohesion

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