Tom’s Black Book

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Tom (SG 30 – Thomas John Edmund Anstey) is one of the chief researchers of this Anstey project. During the latter stages of his ‘Anstey’ surname and family research, he drew some quite extraordinary pedigrees into a huge black scrapbook that he had bought for the purpose, known today as the ‘Black Book’. In our co-authored book ‘ANSTEY: The Stoke Gifford Branch‘, I (Gary) wrote the following regarding my great granduncle Tom‘s amazing ancestral heirloom.

Tom’s Black Book 1913/14

Over the past century, Tom’s Black Book has become the oracle to turn to in order to answer various genealogical questions raised about the Stoke Gifford Ansteys. For example in 1946, when John Saunders[1] and his family were visiting Tom’s brother Ted (then guardian of the Black Book), John noted that he and Ted “reviewed the Black Book on numerous occasions during [his] visit in 1946. Several meals were disrupted as Ted got up to recheck an ancestor under discussion.”[2]

There are a couple of myths surrounding Tom’s Black Book that I should dispel. The first is that somehow the entirety of Tom’s research lies within its pages. This is simply not the case – in fact, not even the entirety of Tom’s Stoke Gifford research lies within its pages.[3] The second myth is that Tom’s Black Book is somehow the same thing as Nigel A. Anstey’s 1997 electronic document summarising his South Gloucestershire research findings. Even though Nigel’s document does include many details of the contents of Tom’s Black Book, they are not at all the same thing.

So what precisely is the Black Book? Put simply, it is a monster of a hard-backed, scrapbook-style, extremely heavy book (the cover being, of course, black) containing well over a hundred cream white pages. It was bought by Tom in 1913 to serve as his ‘display cabinet’ for exhibiting his completed ancestral findings and pedigrees.[4] Probably beginning in the latter half of 1913, Tom drew a series of quite exquisite pedigrees into the Black Book, each page focusing on a particular sub-branch of Ansteys (both Stoke Gifford Ansteys and ‘non-family’ Ansteys).

In total, Tom completed about fifteen sets of pedigrees, which means therefore that the vast bulk of the Black Book is blank. It is obvious that Tom’s intention was to eventually fill those empty pages because he had written in the top left hand corner in pencil on many of them an indication as to their future purpose (“Webb” and “Rowland” for example). On average, each pedigree in the Black Book contains about forty individuals’ names, and underneath well over half of them, Tom added some extra detail, which varied quite substantially from a mini ‘biography’ of a few lines right down to a simple one line note. So it is clear that from the entries that Tom made into his Black Book much can be gleaned, though they represented but a fraction of the totality of his knowledge on each individual.

There is much more in Tom’s Black Book than the snippets he himself wrote, because overlaid onto his carefully drawn pedigrees by subsequent guardians of the Black Book in the hundred years since his passing are various newspaper cuttings and additional notes, with certain of the pedigrees having been extended to incorporate more recent additions to the family.[5] So over the years the Black Book has morphed from the unfinished ‘display cabinet’ of Tom’s pedigree charts in 1913/14 to a mishmash of ancestral snippets today.

[1] Son of Audrey, daughter of William Daniel Anstey of Iowa, USA

[2] This quote appeared in a 1985 letter from John Saunders to Ted’s son Winter.

[3] I would estimate that only 10% of Tom’s research is contained within his Black Book.

[4] We have numerous clues that the Black Book was bought in 1913. Firstly, on 13 September 1912, Tom wrote to a book publisher (The Arden Press) stating “I have been engaged for some time past in collecting material for a history of my family & have been urged to put the matter into book form. I shall be glad if you will kindly let me have such advice as you advertise in order that I may get some idea of the work and expense involved in the proposal. The material I have includes pedigrees, extracts from historical records & topographical works, photographs and engravings, but beyond having all the matter conveniently arranged I have not attempted to throw it into book form at all”. Tom evidently decided after examining the publisher’s proposal that a published book of all of his work was not feasible and so he plumped for the Black Book to display his pedigrees instead. Secondly, the pedigrees of certain of the Devon Ansteys must have been drawn in the Black Book in 1913 or later because Tom was still corresponding with gentlemen trying to establish the various ancestral connections well into 1912.

[5] Some of these additions have proved to be very useful. For example, I only know the date of the Commemoration Service held for Tom at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam to be 22 April 1921 because of a newspaper clipping that his Aunt Kate stuck underneath Tom’s Black Book entry.

Photos of Tom’s Black Book Pedigrees

Because the pages of Tom‘s Black Book are so large, most of the photos that we have in our possession of the pedigrees in their entirety are slightly blurred; however we do have better quality photos of portions of many of the pedigrees. If anybody would like to know the details written underneath any individual in the below pedigrees, feel free to contact us at

(Click the book icons to view each page of Tom’s Black Book in a new tab)

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