The Cowkeeper’s Wish is, by far, one of the best-written family histories I have seen. The vast majority of family histories are written by folks with good intentions, but lacking in the skills to make the story broadly interesting to anyone other than the descendants and relatives. This is not the case with The Cowkeeper’s Wish. The volume is written by Tracy Kasaboski & Kristen Den Hartog. The authors are sisters, and both have written award-winning books in the past. The 448-page book is family history at its best. The story of the family is interwoven with the social history of the places and times in which the characters lived. It starts out in the 1840s, with the young cowkeeper, Benjamin Jones, and his wife, Margaret Davies, walking from their rural home in coastal Wales to the city of London, England – herding their cows the entire way. They settled in on Red Cross Street in the Borough of Southwerk. This was a miserable slum, a “black hole,” made up of the very worst of housing, bleak workhouses, and insane asylums. Crime, as well as notorious & enticing pubs were everywhere. The family was caught in the worst of situations, living and dying in wretched poverty – with some spending much of their lives in the workhouses and asylums. Sickness and death was a common occurrence in the Borough – often touching the family. But in spite of the grinding poverty, over time family members clawed their way out and escaped.
The Cowkeeper’s Wish goes on to follow the family through history – Victorian, and Edwardian England, World War I, and the depression. It is told in a wonderfully written narrative covering nearly one hundred years – and follows the family from London, England to London, Ontario, Canada.
Starting with yellowed photographs and family trees, the sisters searched archives, newspapers, and histories. They tracked down the long-forgotten London streets, pubs and factories that had such an affect on their ancestor’s lives. Then they pieced it all together with the wider history – the social history, telling a compelling story that is of interest to far more than just “family.”
Those interested in history will find The Cowkeeper’s Wish to be of great interest. It’s a “good read.” The book is also one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to write a compelling family history. I was impressed with the “Notes” portion of the book, found at the end. It goes on for many pages of fine print – listing the sources used in the writing. Good genealogists love sources!
The Cowkeeper’s Wish – A Genealogical Journey, by Tracy Kasaboski & Kristen Den Hartog; 2019; Published by Douglas & McIntrye; Distributed in USA by Publishers Group West; Cloth Volume with Jacket; 448 pp; 30 B&W photographs; ISBM 978-1-77162-202-8; $32.95 USD; Available at Amazon with Prime free shipping.