Janet Few

Janet FewThe Jesuits say ‘give me a child until they are seven and I will show you the man’, or woman of course. When Janet was seven she spent her time making up impossibly large families in ‘my famerley book’ (spelling was not a strong point). She also wrote long stories or played complicated, extended games of schools. Although she enjoyed ‘dressing up’, she hadn’t yet started donning period costume but most other aspects of her current life were there in embryonic form.

Although she has a reputation as an academic historian, she believes that good history is for everyone. As The History Interpreter she aims to bring history alive in a variety of ways. Janet is passionate about encouraging young people to become interested in the past, especially through living history or family history. Many of her ideas are shared in the booklet Harnessing the Facebook  Generation:  ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage. She spends part of her time as her alter ego, Mistress Agnes, living in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, managing the Swords and Spindles team of historical interpreters. Her social history book Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors, emerged out of this experience.  Janet is particularly interested in the role of women in the past and recently helped eighty ladies recall their memories of the pivotal period 1946-1969. These have been merged together in Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own.

Janet enjoys dissecting small, rural communities and trying to understand how they functioned in the past. In this respect, she maintains her own one place studies for the North Devon villages of Buckland Brewer, Bucks Mills and Bulkworthy. She is the chair of the Society for One-Place Studies and has written Putting Your Ancestors in their Place, a guide to that peculiar blend of local and family history that is one-place studies. She also researches her own family history, with an emphasis on putting the lives of her ancestors into a wider context. Janet is responsible for the latest edition of the classic family history handbook Family Historian’s Enquire Within. A qualified family historian, Janet holds the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies’ Higher Certificate. She teaches family and local history classes and is a tutor for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd.  who offer a range of distance genealogical courses. She has appeared on television several times, including playing a part in an episode of BBC TV’s Who Do You Think You Are?

Recently, she has been persuaded to return to fiction writing. Unsurprisingly, the prospective novel does have an historical slant and is based on a true story of a mother accused of killing her child. It also unravels the psychological twists to characters who struggle with surprisingly modern anxieties.

Janet works closely with historical organisations in her home county of Devon and is the leader of the North Devon group of Devon Family History Society.  She is also vice-president of The Isle of Wight Family History Society and a long-standing member of the Guild of One-Name Studies.

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Go In-Depth with Janet:

What is one tip you would give a newbie genealogist?
Don’t rush backwards too quickly; especially don’t graft whole branches on to your family tree from the online trees of others without checking the facts in original sources. Enjoy doing your own research and make the effort to set your ancestors in the social, national and local historical context of their time.

What is your favorite blog post from your personal website?
It is really hard to choose just one. I wrote special posts for the births of each of my grandchildren which I was particularly proud of but it wouldn’t be fair to pick one of those. I think it has to be the account of when I broke down a family history brick wall of 37 years’ standing https://thehistoryinterpreter.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/a-genealogical-detective-story-family-history-brick-wall-of-thirty-seven-years-standing-starts-to-crumble/

What is the most creative way you have shared your ancestor stories?
Creativity is what I do. With my one name society we repopulated an ancestral village with thirty costumed characters who were representing past residents. They spent three days sharing the biographies of the people they were representing with the visiting public.

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Janet’s Reprint Policy:

You have permission to reprint articles that have been written by Janet Few  appearing in The In-Depth Genealogist, except any articles published in Going In-Depth, providing the following requirements are met:

  • The article must be reprinted in full with no changes.
  • You must include the following bio with links for each article reprinted.
  • You must link back to the original article through the statement included below.


© 2016 Janet Few

Janet Few is a family, social and community historian who writes and lectures on these topics throughout the English speaking world. For further information see http://thehistoryinterpreter.wordpress.com

Janet is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Ladies First. This article originally appeared on The In-Depth Genealogist and can be found here. [insert original link]