Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Time Traveller's Handbook by Althea Douglas

In this technological era, information as well as the way we retrieve it have changed greatly. Much of what used to be “common knowledge” is fading away as we attempt to grasp the facts and realities that arise. This is a challenge to genealogists who are dealing with historical documents that contain obsolete terms and details.

What is “green sickness?” How long did it take our ancestors to sail across the Atlantic Ocean? These answers aren’t easily attained today because they are part of the information of the past. As genealogists, we still need those “old” facts. Where do we find them?

Enter The Time Traveller’s Handbook: A Guide to the Past, by Althea Douglas (affiliate link). The author is a noted genealogist who has written extensively on Canadian local history and heritage. This latest endeavor is billed as a “guide for family historians working in Canada,” though the subject matter often pertains to readers in other countries as well.

The book is divided into sixteen chapters as well as an appendix, notes section, bibliography and index. The subjects covered in the chapters include historical documents, family traditions, education, money, travel, trades, home, health and heritage. The chapters flow easily and include many photos, tables and timelines to help readers process the information.

Douglas utilizes a conversational writing style that allows readers to learn more about her personal life and that of her ancestors during various eras in time. These anecdotes peppered throughout the chapter are entertaining, though sometimes draw attention away from the facts at hand and purpose of the book.

The biggest assets of The Time Traveller’s Handbook are its extensive reading lists. Douglas clearly is a well-read historian. This book includes numerous titles utilized in the manuscript, as well as a sizable bibliography. Readers will be pleased with the helpful published suggestions on both lists. Those looking for online resources will find only a couple recommended websites however, as the author focuses almost exclusively on printed resources.

Though the book is written by a Canadian for Canadians, it really is useful for genealogists in other countries as well. Much of the historical information contained in the book is relevant to British and U.S. research interests. Even the final chapters, which deal with Canadian heritage, are interesting and helpful from my American perspective.

According to the book’s introduction, this guide is “an attempt to bring together a lot of facts our ancestors once knew, took for granted and used regularly.” Douglas succeeds in packing a ton of information on numerous subjects into one soft-cover guide. The Time Traveller’s Handbook is a handy tool for assisting genealogists in understanding their ancestors’ every day lives.

The Time Traveller's Handbook by Althea Douglas
ISBN 976-1-55488-784-2


  1. Thanks for the review Amy! As an editor working with people who are writing family histories I am always advising people to look for ways to provide more historical context for their ancestors’ lives. That usually means drawing upon local and social history. It looks like Althea Douglas’ book will be a great tool to help them.

  2. I'll look for this book, because I'm really interested in the historical and social background of the time in which my ancestors came to North America (both Canada and the US). So glad you reviewed it!