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Cover for 'Who Do I Think You Were?® A Victorian's inheritance'



Anxiety. Addiction. Depression.

We associate these words with the challenges of modern life.

Rarely do we consider how these conditions shaped past generations.


Using archival sources, testimonies, and her grandfather Walter Parker’s experiences, the author not only paints a vivid picture of life in an English Victorian village, but she also draws upon psychological theory to explore the lives of her working-class ancestors


What did your forebears inherit from their parents?

Which psychological characteristics did your ancestors hand down?

A Victorian’s Inheritance can help you find answers.




Helen is a former counsellor, turned geneatherapist. Her mission is to share historical and current theories of mental health, psychology, and neuroscience to help you answer your question, ‘Who Do I Think You Were?’ so you can deepen your understanding of your ancestors for the benefit of present and future generations.



To read the first two chapters, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

A Victorian’s Inheritance is available to buy here

(or you can support an independent author by ordering here. Which means more of the profit goes to the author instead of a third party seller.)


"I've always tried to think of my ancestors in relation to what was happening at the time, but your book is helping me to see them as real people with highs and lows in their own lives, and how this impacted on subsequent generations. We are not *just* a product of our parents, are we? So much more to consider."

— Helen B, UK
"I found A Victorian's Inheritance fascinating. I love the rich detail of life in a rural area in Victorian England. "
"This easy-to-read ground-breaking book changed the way I think about my ancestors and living family. "
"If you find yourself opening any cupboards this week, be careful. There could be a skeleton inside.

On the face of it, Helen's book is a straightforward write-up of a meticulously researched family history, but that's only half the story.

As a qualified counsellor, she was able to analyse how our ancestors' character traits might be handed down to us, and how we, in turn pass them on. This provides several points in the book when the questions asked and the observations made make you think again about the way we interpret history in general and family history in particular.

She pulls no punches on awkward subjects that crop up in her own family, including alcoholism, plus the story of her grandfather (and now my hero), who changed the course of family history when he refused to doff his cap to the local lord of the manor's estate manager.

If anyone who has tried to dig up their family tree and NOT found a skeleton in a cupboard, there is only one possible explanation for it: they haven't opened enough doors."

"Find Graham's full article at the ThisIsWiltshire website."
"This thought-provoking book is recommended as a model for family historians who would go beyond a standard presentation to include speculative but intriguing questions of personal subjective experience.

The Parker family history is presented within a rich and detailed historical context that includes Upwell, Norfolk, England, but focuses on the model agricultural village of Thorney, Cambridgeshire, England.

Even without its extended foray into many aspects of Victorian village life, the family history is well-sourced with letters, postcards, family stories, written records, and photographs.
By expanding the historical context to reveal the local history and typical social roles ranging from the duties of a housewife to the obligations of an estate manager or agricultural worker, the author invites the reader to consider how each of the Parkers might have felt about the life-choices open to them within the village.

Contemporary and more recent psychological theories are introduced to provide a framework though which to consider the author's questions. Why did Walter's mother become an alcoholic? What psychological inheritance did Walter recieve? How did his mother's addiction, anxiety and depression affect Walter and his sister's mental health? Why did young Walter refuse to "doff his cap" to the Duke of Bedford's senior man? Why did Walter choose to emigrate? Possible answers are suggested based on the theories presented and the author's training as a counselor."
"I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author's understanding of mental health issues and her interest in epigenetics shines through and helps us to understand where the main character (Walter) is coming from and what forms him. I have immense compassion for his mother - who, had she been born in more recent times, may have received better support.

The book clearly illustrates the Victorian attitudes towards women and the general culture The author has obviously spent much time researching her subject but has also written from the heart.
The book contains lots of lovely photographs and copies of documents which further enrich the reader experience.

I highly recommend this, even if you have never thought of reading this kind of book before now. You won't be disappointed."
"This book has given me a fascinating insight into the lives of my ancestors. A whole new side to genealogy that I had not considered has inspired me to look at some of my own ancestors in a new light. I did need to work out the family tree a bit before I got too far into the book, but I found it all interesting and thought provoking. "
"A family story of pain and insight

A fascinating journey into a previous age when the accident of birth and an impromptu action can have such a momentous effect on life. This well-researched book has encouraged me to search for the secrets of my family history and perhaps help me discover why I am as I am! A great read - I highly recommend it."
"This book was easy to read and filled with context and specific historical points that are of great interest to genealogists like me.

I particularly enjoyed the references to epigenetics and psychological and intergenerational inheritance since this is something I am researching. These are, i feel, aspects of genealogy that are becoming increasingly important.

Many thanks to the author, Helen Parker-Drabble for including complex topics into her work with such clarity."
"Worthy of your attention

This is an interesting book, beautifully presented with an excellent selection of illustrations. One of the positive side-effects of the restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus has been the upsurge in interest in family history research. For some it means the resumption of earlier investigations, perhaps set aside when brick walls were encountered. For others, it means a blank canvas and a journey into the unknown or - more accurately - the partially known.

The temptation early on in genealogy research is to focus on unearthing more and more members of the family, collecting and recording them like an obsessed trainspotter. Whilst it is necessary to unearth family groups, the important thing is to tell the stories and the anecdotes that bring the family members in that part of the tree to life.

In that respect, this book shows comprehensively what can be achieved. It sets the bar very high, but hopefully it will encourage all those currently undertaking family history research to leave an accurate and interesting legacy for the generations of their own family that will succeed them. Some aspects may not appeal but this is a fascinating book, easy to read and dip into, with lots of interesting historical context. It is worthy of your time and attention."
"I enjoyed this book. The family was not mine, but I found the psychological context and historical detail of great interest. "
"I very much enjoyed reading your most informative book and found it interesting the whole way through."
Excellent, very interesting, a revelation.
"A Fascinating and Thought-Provoking Read

Helen's book works on many levels. It's a moving, true family story and a fascinating observation of social history. But it's also an exploration of who we are, and to what extent that is predetermined by our 'psychological inheritance'.

The book is thought-provoking, well-written, meticulously researched and packed with intriguing revelations and photographs. Whether you have an interest in Helen's family (and I did not, at the outset) there is much to discover and enjoy.
I'm looking forward to the next two parts. Thoroughly recommended."
"Engaging and accessible

A Victorian’s Inheritance tells the story of the author’s grandfather Walter and great grandparents, Stephen and Ann, but it is so much more than a genealogical account.

Beginning with the question of why young Walter Parker refused to doff his cap to the Duke of Bedford’s senior man - thus irrevocably altering his family’s destiny – the book explores 19th and 20th century attitudes and behaviours in order to enrich our understanding of the context in which Walter lived and how his motives might have been shaped. We are treated to a vivid picture of the lives of Helen’s ancestors in their ‘ideal’ community of Thorney, set up by the Duke of Bedford for his workers. We hear about the medical practices of the time, leisure pursuits, expectations regarding parenting, housewifery and the working day of the family breadwinner.

It was fascinating to me to learn that so many of the attitudes, values and practices described were similar to those I grew up with as an Australian child in the 1940s and 50s, as did my mother some 30 years previously. We played the same games, got involved with the church fetes, wore camphor bags round our necks to ward off colds and expected our mothers to be home when we arrived home from school. But entrenched as we were in British ways, cap doffing would never have become an issue in our less class-conscious society.

Helen Parker-Drabble takes her analysis even further, going beyond discussion of social and historical context to draw on psychological theory and research as a way of examining the motives and feelings of her ancestors. Was it grief that motivated her great grandmother Ann to abuse alcohol? How did the parenting practices of Walter’s mother and father impact on his own expression of emotion (or lack of it)?

Speculations based on theories of human behaviour give us new ways of understanding Stephen, Ann and Walter. They also give us cause to reflect on the motives of our own ancestors – potentially a therapeutic exercise, especially in cases where we look back on the past with some dismay or censure of our forebears. How would we have acted in similar circumstances?

The author notes that she set out to write a book about her family history that was both “engaging and accessible”, and she has certainly succeeded in this aim.

Thoroughly researched Helen presents the information with a light touch. Those who love family history will enjoy this book and take from it some excellent ideas about how they might present their own family stories. I recommend it with pleasure."
"A Slice of Victorian England

Helen Parker Drabble is a counselor by profession and in ‘Who Do I Think You Were - A Victorian's Inheritance’ she does something counselors rarely do. She goes to work analysing her own ancestors. The author is the first to admit that such analysis on those long gone is, of course, totally impossible, but it provides an added dimension to the picture of this family.

The bugaboos of life that burden us today were all alive and well established in this group of people, alcoholism, mental illness, poverty, anxiety, depression.

In other writings there is much about royalty, nobility, prominent religious leaders, writers, inventors, artists and scientists, but we are usually left to Dickens or Orwell or their contemporaries of fiction to learn of ordinary working people. No fictional people here. In ‘A Victorian's Inheritance’ the people are all very real.

There are many wonderful colour photos of where the Parker worked and lived. We see over generations the Parkers and other families who live in the age of agriculture and service being cajoled into the age of Industry.

In this case the agriculture is on the fertile fenland area of eastern England and the service is to the generations of the Dukes of Bedford. We are introduced to one of the Duke's of Bedford who clearly had his workers' welfare in mind providing their cottages in Thorney with running water by building the famous 'Tank Yard'.

Like a devoted archaeologist, Ms Parker Drabble dusts off the ravages of time to uncover every aspect of the people's lives. Everything is examined, their housing, health care, education and recreation are all unwrapped. It includes government and politics of the time. The well-intentioned acts of Parliament often had mixed results. For example, some laws concerning liquor and brewing production and licencing had both disastrous and comical results.

The focus of this work is Helen Parker Drabble's grandfather Walter. He was born toward the end of the Victorian era and profoundly shaped by it. Despite his silence, he was the spark of curiosity for Helen that led to her journey of research and finally to ‘Who Do I Think You Were - A Victorian's Inheritance.’

For me, this publication is a fascinating slice of life in Victorian England with actual people in a real place. I believe anyone with an interest in such a time and place will find this book equally enjoyable, and thus I highly recommend it."
"I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this unique approach to the telling of your family history. If you have ever wondered why an ancestor reacted in a certain way to an event then this book is just for you. Written in a thoughtful and instructive way it will satisfy many readers in their pursuit for their family history."
"A definite keeper for both genealogists and psychologists

This book covers two great topics, genealogy research and mental health in a manner that provides the reader insights on tackling both areas well. Often the past can provide a look at circumstances and events in a new light.

Genealogy research can find a descendant wondering why a particular ancestor left a family, landed in prison, or became a deserter in a war. Helen Parker Drabble tackles these kinds of situations in such a way as to say, "Oh, I get it, I understand." Adding the context surrounding a persons' life is not an easy task and Helen has done this very well.

I highly recommended this book for anyone who had crossed paths with wondering why about an ancestor! The clues and guidance provided in this book will help the reader learn how to find those answers. Enjoy!"
"Details and photos galore!

The author goes into minute details about all aspects of family life on the Norfolk border and Cambridgeshire in Victorian times. The book is beautifully illustrated, with many family and other photographs.

Not only do we get the facts, we also get the benefit of the author’s skills as a counsellor and her knowledge of psychology; she shows us that anxiety, depression and addiction were as much part of our ancestors’ lives and affected the whole family just as they do today. "
"A must read for budding genealogists

A fascinating insight into the lives of Walter and his family, the book is a tribute to the passion for and detailed research of family history by its author. Her blend of professional counselling experience and commitment to detailed research produces an engrossing and entertaining book.

It demonstrates what can be done to those of us who have simple marriage, birth and death dates in our family trees. This book fills in the gaps using a range of historical sources, family archives, and marvellous photographs."

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