In the 1840s, a young cowkeeper and his wife arrive in London, England, having walked from coastal Wales with their cattle. They hope to escape poverty, but instead they plunge deeper into it, and the family, ensconced in one of London’s “black holes,” remains mired there for generations. The Cowkeeper’s Wish follows the couple’s descendants in and out of slum housing, bleak workhouses and insane asylums, through tragic deaths, marital strife and war. Nearly a hundred years later, their great-granddaughter finds herself in an altogether different London, in southern Ontario.
In The Cowkeeper’s Wish, Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski trace their ancestors’ path to Canada, using a single family’s saga to give meaningful context to a fascinating period in history—Victorian and then Edwardian England, the First World War and the Depression. Beginning with little more than enthusiasm, a collection of yellowed photographs and a family tree, the sisters scoured archives and old newspapers, tracked down streets, pubs and factories that no longer exist, and searched out secrets buried in crumbling ledgers, building on the fragments that remained of family tales.
While this family story is distinct, it is also typical, and so all the more worth telling. As a working-class chronicle stitched into history, The Cowkeeper’s Wish offers a vibrant, absorbing look at the past that will captivate genealogy enthusiasts and readers of history alike.
“The Cowkeeper’s Wish is the story of a family but it is so much more. It is also the history of the times they lived through, a complex revelation of politics, music, food, fashion, and profound social changes. The lives of women are especially vividly described, their tastes, their pursuits (both at work and at home) and their struggles. With lively prose and keen eyes for details, the authors take us to cramped slums where women raised families and did piecework, to the workhouses and asylums where some of them languished, through war factory work, across the Atlantic on steamships, and finally to a more open society where the cowkeeper’s great-granddaughters could dare to dream of better lives.”
“The Cowkeeper’s Wish is like a camera panning across decades of change, the rise and fall of families and the way fate and fortune conspire to create the present and the future . . . these fascinating family stories inspire us to ponder the many upstream tributaries that have transformed the rivers of our own lives.”