The Spyglass File is the fourth book from Kent-based author Nathan Dylan Goodwin to feature ‘forensic genealogist’ Morton Farrier. Goodwin likes to use genuine historical events and locations in his books and this story, set during WW11, revolves concurrently around the life of a young, unhappily married, WAAF (Elsie Finch) and the modern-day search to discover the true father of Morton’s latest client. The book provides some interesting historical background to the war and also to the locations in which the story is set; in particular the Kent/East Sussex border and Malta.
Reading this as a professional genealogist working in the same part of the country as the fictional Morton, I couldn’t help making a comparison with Morton Farrier’s world of professional genealogy and my own! Morton appears to be in the unusual position of only having one case to work on at any one time – but he does admit his career is on a downturn! If my own cases were beset with as much danger as Morton’s, then I guess that one case at a time might be all I could cope with too! Goodwin’s description of the ill-disposed record office staff member at The Keep made me smile, as I remembered the early days of my own research, when archivists were not always well-disposed towards visitors! Thank goodness things are not really like this anymore.
Goodwin is clearly familiar with searching online family history databases and using local sources in Kent and East Sussex. I was pleased to see mention of more unusual sources such as the Mass Observation Archive, held at The Keep record office near Brighton. As a family historian, however, I couldn’t help sigh at what is becoming an all too common habit – that of referring to standard genealogical sources by the names attributed to them by commercial companies, rather than names reflecting their true origins. Morton slipped up too when he thought a child whose birth was registered in the General Register Office (GRO) index for 1942 could have been a still birth. Still births were not registered in the standard GRO birth index, but in an especially dedicated index not open to the general public. Apart from these points, this was an enjoyable read and will be of particular interest to those people (like me) who grew up or who are familiar with the environs of Capel, Hawkinge, or Rye all of which feature heavily in the book.
Finally, the question which many of you will be asking is ‘What exactly is a forensic genealogist’ as opposed to a ‘genealogist’? The definition of a forensic genealogist is, in my opinion, not yet clear cut, but the best explanation I have found so far is Dick Eastman’s blog post of 15 June 2014 which can be found here.