Newsletter - 11 August 2012
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Team GB has had a wonderful Olympics - it's amazing what a difference it makes to have your home crowd cheering you on!
Last week Kate wrote to tell me that Chris Hoy - who has won yet another gold medal to add to the FIVE he already has - is a cousin of hers. Inspired by Kate's email and by watching the fantastic efforts of the British competitors, I've decided to offer a free one-year LostCousins subscription to the first 100 members who can prove that one of the 2012 Team GB gold medal winners is a cousin of theirs - plus a free four-year subscription to the gold medallists themselves, should they decide to join.
Since 30 July the National Archives have been charging £80 per hour for research, a substantial increase. It's an example of how 'overheads' can drive up costs - even the Chief Executive of the National Archives doesn't earn £80 an hour!
Yet top commercial firms like Sticks Research Agency (founded by former TNA expert Nick Barratt, best-known for his involvement with Who Do You Think You Are?) manage to stay in business even though they charge less than half as much for their services.
Several eagle-eyed members spotted a recent update on the Home Office website a few days ago which makes it clear that the project to digitise and index the remaining BMD registers for England & Wales has been put on hold indefinitely.
The statement refers to the "significant investment" required to finish the job, the clear implication being that it is unjustifiable. How strange that only last month the GRO in Northern Ireland decided to adopt the Scotlandspeople model, and provide online access to indexes and scanned copies of the registers!
I have submitted a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to find out more about the GRO's decision (perhaps 'indecision' would be a more appropriate word in the circumstances) - and will report back to members when a response is received.
In my last newsletter I wrote about one of the most common causes of confusion for researchers - wrong information on the marriage certificate about the bride or groom's father. Not surprisingly I was inundated with examples from members' own trees!
I shall return to this topic in a future newsletter and illustrate it with some of the examples that members have submitted.
Next month the Society of Genealogists is running Genealogy Getaway 2012, a 5-day intensive course which costs just £150 - an absolute bargain if you live near London and can get there without spending a fortune on fares. It includes a sandwich lunch on each of the 5 days, plus tea or coffee each morning and afternoon. The course begins with a session entitled I'm Stuck: some common themes and techniques that can help break down brick walls so it follow on perfectly from the challenges I ran in June and July.
But it's not all lectures - every day there's an opportunity to use the SoG Library to research your own family tree, and you can even have a personal consultation with the SoG help and advice team. It could be the best chance you'll ever have to break down those 'brick walls'!
For more details visit the SoG website.
99.9% of the people reading this newsletter won't be able to attend the SoG course, yet it's clear from the responses to my recent challenges that many of you have yet to acquire the skills necessary to break down your own 'brick walls'.
Some people found the challenges very easy - others found them virtually impossible, despite spending many hours puzzling over them. What makes the difference? As with so many things in life it's all down to experience. The more 'brick walls' you knock down the better you'll get at doing it, which is why so many members have found that tackling my challenges has given them new insight into the problems in their own family tree.
I don't intend to publish solutions to the Frederick Long and Gifford Few challenges because they will continue to provide an excellent opportunity for researchers to test their skills (one thing you can be certain of is that until you can solve them your chances of cracking the puzzles in your own tree are small!).
What I'm going to do instead is show you how other 'brick walls' were knocked down - using techniques and insights that you'll need to employ if you tackle my challenges. And when you do eventually manage to solve the challenges you'll know that you're ready to knock down your own 'brick walls'.
When Pat's grandfather William Fletcher died in 1962 he was 72 years old (he celebrated his birthday on 17 August). He lived in the Ancoats district of Manchester and worked on the railways; during the Great War he had served in the Royal Marines, as you can see from his marriage certificate:
The only William Fletcher that Pat could find who fitted the 'facts' was a William Henry Fletcher, who was born in the Ardwick district of Manchester - just a short walk from Ancoats. But eventually she realised that he couldn't be her grandfather - so where to look next?
Her first thought was that perhaps her grandfather's birth had been omitted from the GRO indexes, so she contacted most of the local registrars Lancashire, to find out whether a William Fletcher had been born in their area at around the right time - but she drew a blank.
In his army record William had given his next-of-kin as his sister, Emily Beverly. Since one of the witnesses to his marriage was a Thomas William Beverley, the obvious next step was to look for marriages between someone called Beverl(e)y and someone called Fletcher - but there weren't any in the right timeframe.
When all the evidence suggests that the person you're looking for doesn't exist it's time to question whether you're looking for the right person. Was Pat's grandfather born William Fletcher, or did he adopt that name for some reason? And if he wasn't called William Fletcher, what was he called?
If it's difficult to find someone whose name you do know, surely it must be virtually impossible to find someone whose name you don't know? And yet, Pat didn't give up - she continued searching!
Clearly if her grandfather wasn't really William Fletcher it was quite likely that his father wasn't called William Fletcher either - so the information on the marriage certificate was worse than useless. Except, perhaps, for the witness Thomas William Beverley - surely it couldn't be a coincidence that he had the same surname as William's next-of-kin?
In the 1911 Census there are just two people who are recorded with the name Thomas William Beverley, one in Yorkshire and one in Gorton, Manchester - the same parish where William Fletcher was to marry five years later. Here's a transcription of the latter household from findmypast:
Looking at the members of the household there's not only an Emily Beverley, but also a boarder called William Walker who is about the same age as William Fletcher would have been. Probably a coincidence, but when you're trying to knock down a 'brick wall' every crack is worth examining closely, so an obvious next step is to look for William Walker in the 1901 Census.
There are quite a few William Walkers of about the right age in the Manchester area. The first household I looked at has two elder sons who are working on the railways, which looks promising - but otherwise there's no obvious link. The second household I looked at was in Chorlton Registration District, which includes Gorton:
At last - a possible connection between William Walker and someone called Fletcher! At this point Pat had been searching for over a year, so she decided to send off for William Walker's birth certificate:
This revealed that William Walker's birthday was 17 August, the same as for William Fletcher! Research at Manchester Central Library showed that in 1898 and 1901 a William Fletcher whose parent or guardian was Mary Fletcher had been admitted to local schools - and the address given in 1901 was the one shown for William Walker in the census, which proved beyond reasonable doubt that William Fletcher and William Walker were one and the same.
Of course, whenever you knock down one 'brick wall' there are often two more behind it, and this was no exception - Pat is still trying to track down her great-grandparents.
Tip: write down all the things you've learned by working through this example - not just the techniques, but also the insights - and keep them handy. You never know when they're going to come in useful!
Nicola told me of a mystery she'd solved in her own family tree which I think you'll find instructive. In the 1901 Census a lad named Adolphus Carpenter was staying with her great-great grandmother, Rhoda Bearder (nee Greenhough) and her husband - but whilst he was described as their nephew, it wasn't clear exactly how they were related, because Nicola hadn't come across any Carpenters in her researches. Furthermore, there was no sign of an Adolphus Carpenter in the GRO birth indexes.
When you come across a rare forename or a rare combination of forenames it's often feasible to search the birth indexes without using a surname. I prefer to use FreeBMD for this as you can specify a precise range of quarters and registration districts.
Tip: you can find out which registration district a town or village is (or was) in using the GENUKI website. I have found that I can usually get to the right page in seconds using Google: when you search for 'GENUKI placename' (where placename is the name of town or village) you'll typically see the magic words registration district in one of the first few results.
When Nicola searched for Adolphus one of the results stood out: Adolphus Henry Dawe. Rhoda's husband's mother had left her husband and taken up with a James Dawes, and it seemed likely that Adolphus was a relative of his. (Whilst that wouldn't make Adolphus Rhoda's nephew in modern-day terms the word was used much more broadly in the past.)
This hypothesis was very plausible - but also completely wrong! It underlines how important it is to find proof, rather than rely on circumstantial evidence. I remember how as a child if I was struggling to complete a jigsaw puzzle I'd convince myself that a particular piece fitted, even though in reality it didn't. I wanted it to fit so much that I'd make it fit!
However, because Nicola is a very experienced researcher she kept looking - and came across an 1891 Census entry that told a different tale:
Note: you might think that the transcriber has done a bad job here - but you should see the enumerator's handwriting!!!!
Lucy Greenhough was Rhoda's mother - if Adolphus was her grandson he surely couldn't be a relative of William Bearder, Rhoda's husband. It was time to look for Greenhough-Dawe marriages.
In the 19th century the spelling of surnames could vary enormously. Fortunately the 'include variants' option at findmypast is pretty good at picking up near matches, and leads straight to the marriage of Joseph Dawe and Elizabeth Greenhaugh, Rhoda's sister. A search of baptisms at the free Forest of Dean site confirmed that Adolphus Dawe was the son of Joseph Dawe and his wife Elizabeth.
Tip: there are many excellent free sites that provide transcriptions of local parish registers - and often they can be the only online source for a particular parish.
If Adolphus Carpenter was born Adolphus Dawe, when and why did his surname change? First let's take a look at the Dawe family on the 1881 Census, three years before Adolphus was born:
Sadly Elizabeth died when Adolphus was a baby, and as we've already seen, in 1891 he was living with his grandmother. However, his elder brothers and sisters were living with their father, who had remarried in 1887, and now had two children by his second wife:
The ages aren't consistent with the 1881 Census, nor are the birthplaces - so without the vital clue provided by Adolphus on the 1901 Census Nicola might have had great difficulty untangling this web of intrigue.
However there is another clue. According to the transcription at the Forest of Dean site, when Joseph married for the first time in 1873 he gave the name of his father as Hannah Carpenter! He did the same when he remarried in 1887.
I've never come across a man called Hannah, nor have I ever seen someone give their mother's name instead of their father's name - but that seems to have been what happened in this case.
To cut a long story short, Hannah Daw(e) married William Carpenter in September 1852, a few months after Joseph had been born out of wedlock. Joseph was baptised Joseph Dawe Carpenter, but his birth was registered as Joseph Daw. Why he decided after his second marriage to begin using Carpenter as his surname, rather than Dawe, the name he'd used for the first 30-odd years of his life is still a mystery - but I'm sure that one day Nicola will find the answer!
A lot of members have written to express their dissatisfaction with Genes Reunited's new online tree - a whole range of problems have been reported.
Whilst I don't have my own tree at Genes Reunited - readers will be aware of my thoughts about online trees - I do have access to some of my cousins' trees. I have to say that in my tests I couldn't find any problems - but having recently replaced my computer I've got a much faster PC than most people, and this may explain the difference.
I'm also told that it might make a difference which browser you use - these days I normally use Chrome. If you only have one browser on your computer it's about time you downloaded another one - they're free!
One thing that really surprised me as I worked through the correspondence was how many members rely on Genes Reunited's online tree, rather than having a family tree program on their own computer.
I appreciate that it's superficially attractive to use a free online tree, but no online tree can be as fast, powerful, or easy to use as one that runs on your own computer. Time and time again I get emails complaining that Genes Reunited's tree doesn't do this, Ancestry's doesn't do that - and they're all things that the simple program I've been using for the past 10 years can handle without blinking.
If you really must upload your tree to the Internet, despite all my warnings, at least make sure that you have a copy (in Gedcom format) on your own computer. Ideally buy a family tree program that does what you want and make it the primary repository of your tree, so that the most up to date and detailed version of your tree is the one on your own hard drive (but make sure you keep copies elsewhere too, for example on a USB drive or CD ROM). Whatever family tree program you decide to buy, make sure you try it first - all the best programs offer free trial versions.
Tip: last year I wrote an article about the family tree program I use which included a demonstration of how simple and intuitive it is - you'll find the article here (the discount I arranged then should still be valid).
In my last newsletter I reported that Ancestry had just released a collection of parish registers for Lancashire, and as I had had very little time to check them for accuracy and completeness I invited members to pass on their comments.
Unfortunately there weren't many compliments amongst the emails I received: Julia reported that of the six results she got with her first search four were obvious mistranscriptions, and one baptism had the father's name transcribed as Amelia (it should have been Ambrose). Gerard was pleased with the quality of the images, but surprised at the number of times the word 'sepultus' in early burial registers was transcribed as the person's surname (the benefits of a Classical education are often under-rated).
Mary was fuming when she wrote to me:
"You wanted feedback on the Lancashire records on Ancestry - it's diabolical. Looks like it's been transcribed by a machine, and no-one has checked it. I've just been through two pages of the Samlesbury register, and changed nearly every single entry.
And there are no surnames on some of the entries, the wives.† "Elizabeth wife of John Smith" is simply indexed as "Elizabeth". And "Mary wife of Richard Wadsworth" is just "Mary". So I wouldn't bank on finding anything!
"Might as well regard it as unindexed for all practical purposes. I don't think they've checked anything - and then expect us who have paid their enormous subs to do their checking for them!! Highly unprofessional."
Other members found, as I did, that the parts of Lancashire where their ancestors lived were missing from the collection, presumably because many of the towns and cities that were once part of Lancashire are now metropolitan boroughs with their own records offices, or have moved over the county border into Cheshire. The only way to find out which parishes are included is to display the drop-down menu under Browse this collection which confirms that parishes in Manchester, Salford, Oldham, Warrington, and Rochdale aren't included.
Tip: several members reminded me that the Lancashire Online Parish Clerks project has transcribed over 6 million register entries, more than twice as many as are included in Ancestry's collection - and it's free!
Just over two years ago I wrote an article in this newsletter titled Findmypast challenge Ancestry head-on. At the time I was referring to Ancestry.co.uk, but now findmypast are challenging Ancestry.com!
Findmypast.com not only offers access to all of the US censuses, but also most of findmypast's worldwide records. A subscription to all of the records will cost $250, but a limited number of Pioneer subscriptions are on offer for just $59.40, and I bought one to review the site on behalf of LostCousins members.
My first thought was that at that low price they're competing with their UK site - but I soon discovered how much harder it is to find UK records through the US site. If you're familiar with the new FamilySearch site you'll know how filtering can be simultaneously empowering and frustrating, and the experience at findmypast.com is much the same. It certainly isn't findmypast.co.uk with overseas records added!
So, if findmypast.com isn't a substitute for findmypast.co.uk, who will it appeal to? At this early stage I think it will primarily be of interest to researchers whose ancestors were British and/or Irish, but who migrated to Australia and/or the US. In other words, it could attract some people for whom the only option up to now has been an Ancestry Worldwide subscription.
My advice is to try the site out before making a decision: make sure that you're familiar with how the site works as well as the datasets that it includes. And if you do decide to buy a Pioneer subscription let me know how you get on!
The 1940 US Census is available free at many sites, but when I last checked only Ancestry had a complete indexed transcription covering every state. You can access Ancestry's worldwide records through any of their sites - you don't have to go to Ancestry.com to search the US censuses - and this link will take you to the 1940 Census at the Ancestry.co.uk site.
Note: you may be asked to register, but access to the 1940 Census is free - not just the transcription, but also the images.
I found several of my relatives on the 1940 Census - maybe you will too!
Janis in the US wrote to tell me that by following my advice she'd saved $80.89 on her Ancestry subscription, while Lin in Australia saved over $100. I could go on - so many of you have made big savings - but I think it's more important to remind other members how they can save!
Here are the facts: Ancestry offers Worldwide subscriptions through each of its sites around the world, but charges different prices, even though what's on offer is exactly the same! By far the cheapest site is Ancestry.co.uk, where - if you don't live in Europe - you can buy a Worldwide subscription for about $200. See my June article for more details, but note that thanks to changing exchange rates the savings are currently slightly greater than shown in that article!
Recently I took my wife out for a birthday meal (that's right, 21 again!). We decided that we would go somewhere that we hadn't been to before, so I went straight to TripAdvisor - because I don't like to go to any hotel or restaurant for the first time without first reading about the experiences of others. Of course, as with any review sites (Amazon is my other favourite) there are people who have a grudge or a hidden agenda, but so long as you ignore the outliers you'll get a pretty good idea of what to expect.
We eventually decided to go to The Cricketers, the pub-restaurant owned by Jamie Oliver's parents. Despite living in the area for 20 years (5 of them in the same road as the pub!), we'd avoided going there - fearing that it wouldn't live up to its reputation - but I'm glad to say that we had a very good meal, so I'll be posting a positive review at TripAdvisor shortly!
Anyway, the reason I mentioned this is that in the course of investigating local restaurants I discovered a site called Scores on the Doors - which publishes food hygiene ratings based on local authority inspections. I was amazed to discover that a pub/restaurant just a couple of miles from where we live has a rating of only 1 out of 5 ("major improvement necessary"), so we certainly won't be making a visit any time soon!
Talking of food hygiene, I recently bought some "fresh" sardines that had been reduced for quick sale. When I opened the bag less than 30 minutes later I discovered that they were unfit for human consumption - indeed, they weren't even fit for the cat, so I put them straight in the dustbin. Of course, when on my next visit I took my receipt to Customer Services to claim a refund they asked to see the fish - and refused to give me my money back when I said I'd thrown them away (did they really expect me to put them back in the fridge!). Fortunately the amount involved was trivial, but there was a principle at stake: no wonder the supermarket concerned has been losing market share....
That experience left a nasty taste in my mouth - so let's talk about something that tastes a lot sweeter! A month ago I briefly mentioned that I was planning to make blueberry jam, and I did - but I added an extra ingredient which imparted a touch of magic. Regular blueberry jam has a delicate flavour which some find quite bland, but the juice and zest of an orange enhanced the fragrance and turned it into something really special - do try it!
Other preserves I've made recently using fruit bought for a sixth or a tenth of the normal price have included peaches in (Spanish) brandy and my all-time favourite jam, tomato with lemon and ginger. Currently I'm trying to decide what to do with all the elderberries when they ripen (any suggestions?).
This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.
I hope you have enjoyed the newsletter: do please keep sending in your stories, especially if you had a 'brick wall' in your tree that has now been knocked down, and which might make an interesting challenge for members.
© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver
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