Quaker Family History Society                   for family historians with Quaker ancestors from the British Isles

Edward H. Milligan’s great Biographical Dictionary

Some Apparent Errors

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Ted Milligan's book

QFHS is proud to have had Ted Milligan as one of just four honorary life members, and he was active in our support in the early years of our society. I was pleased to represent the Society at the book’s official launch in 2008, at Dr Williams Library in London. It may have been on this occasion, or perhaps at a meeting of the Friends Historical Society, when Ted gave a talk on Quaker biographical dictionaries past and present, that someone asked him if he regarded his Biographical Dictionary of Quakers in Commerce and Industry as his magnum opus; Ted was obviously flattered, but at the same time was on the one hand unwilling to say his life’s work was finished but also much too modest to accept that his handiwork was ‘magnum’.

It is indeed a magisterial work, however, and one which has become an essential part of a Quaker family historian’s personal library. I was perhaps unusual in having taken it upon myself to read the entire book from cover to cover, but read it I did. Initially – like many of us, I’m sure – I looked at entries on my own forebears and collateral relations, and realised that in some instances I had discovered new information that Ted wouldn’t have known about. But in reading through the book from start to finish, and checking against my own database, I realised that there were a number of mistakes in even this great work, so began to take notes as I read. These are now collated on a spreadsheet on our website. These are collated on the present spreadsheet.

I should emphasise that many of the errors are quite minor, and it’s wholly understandable that in a work of this scale some errors would have crept in. I suspect, too, that Ted didn’t use genealogical software in his work, which could perhaps have prevented some inconsistencies.

The text of the Biographical Dictionary is clearly going to be viewed as authoritative. This, to my mind, makes it all the more necessary that a record should be publicly available pointing out the comparatively small number of instances in which it falls marginally short of the accuracy Ted generally achieved.

I should add, too, that I am as subject as anyone to human error, and this spreadsheet itself may well contain errors of my own. I would be most grateful for any that are brought to my attention.

Ben Beck