Case Study

How we got a footnote in history

Peter Ostle explains how he traced the lives of two London booksellers with the help of two cousins, a friend and an Oxford professor

My family have been farmers in north Cumbria for 500 years. But recently, I was amazed to discover one of them had lived a very different life - he had been a member of a prominent literary circle in Regency London!

I run the Ostle/Ostell Family History website. This includes a brief note on one Thomas Ostell who became a bookseller in London during the 1830s. Then a few months ago, I received an email from Duncan Wu, a professor of English Literature at St Catherine's College, Oxford. He asked if I had any more information on the bookseller and told me he thought I had the man's dates wrong.

Professor Wu is writing a biography of the essayist, William Hazlitt (17781830). He told me that Hazlitt's The Eloquence of the British Senate had been published by Thomas Ostell in 1807. According to the dates I had, my Thomas would have been only three years old at that time. He thought I must have made a mistake - but I knew that I hadn't. Thomas was born a Quaker and their record keeping was

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