Newsletter - 12th July 2014
The LostCousins newsletter is
usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 28th
June) click here, for an index to articles
from 2009-10 click here, for
a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a
list of articles from 2012-13 click here.
Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them).For your convenience, when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open (so that you don’t lose your place in the newsletter) - if nothing seems to happen then you need to enable pop-ups in your browser or change the settings in your security software.
To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!
The British Newspaper Archive is the latest site to offer a £1 trial subscription. Until Sunday 20th July the discount code SUMMER01 gives you one month's access to more than 8 million pages from historic newspapers - that's 8 million pages for the price of a single daily newspaper!
Please bear in mind that your subscription will renew automatically at the end of the month at the full price of £9.95 unless you change the settings in the My Account section of the website - but it's easy to do and no phone calls are necessary. When you go to My Account click on Personal Details (or choose Edit Details from the dropdown menu) - you'll see "Auto-renew my subscription" right down the bottom.
Even if you've already got a findmypast subscription which includes the newspaper collection it's well worth taking advantage of this offer because the search at the British Newspaper Archive is much more powerful (that's why I've just bought a subscription myself - and why not, at only £1?). And if you don't have a findmypast subscription then you definitely mustn't miss out - because you'll be amazed how much you can discover about your ancestors from newspapers. Incidentally, whilst at one time there were relative few pages from the past century there are now more from 1930-39 than any other decade.
You may receive similar offers from other sources, but only by using the link above will you be supporting LostCousins. Don't forget to enter the code, though - otherwise you'll be charged full price.
Note: "Read all about it" was a common cry of newspaper vendors in my youth, but I haven't heard it for many years.
Let me start by saying that this article has nothing to do with cricket - so don't skip it simply because you don't like or understand the game! The moral of this story is that you can't believe everything you read.....
If you follow this link to the British Newspaper Archive blog (you don't need to be a subscriber or even a registered user) you'll find a recent posting about a 13 year-old boy who achieved an amazing cricketing feat in 1899.
Amazing it may have been to statisticians and cricket fans but the main topic of the blog posting is more mundane - though of far more interest to family historians. It investigates whether or not the teenager, Arthur Edward Jeune Collins, was really an orphan, as stated in the newspaper report. The blog writer comes to the conclusion that the Blackburn Standard was incorrect to call the boy an orphan, but I beg to differ.
Can you tell me why?
Note: please don't give the game away by posting the answer on the blog.
The price of birth, marriage, and death certificates in England & Wales was fixed at £9.25 in April 2010, a substantial increase from the previous price of £7 - but sadly it seems that a further increase could be in the pipeline.
The 2013-14 Annual Report & Accounts of the Home Office, which were published last month, show that the income from certificate services was only 68% of the break-even target, compared with 85% the year before - a deterioration which reflects slightly lower income, presumably because of a further drop in the number of orders, and significantly higher costs.
According to figures published by the Cabinet Office the actual cost per certificate averaged £11.05 in 2013, whereas the current price is just £9.25 for the normal service (or £23.40 for the priority service).
Of course, if the GRO had taken more seriously the suggestions that I and many others have made for the historic registers to be handed over to the National Archives and made available online they'd be looking at falling costs and - I suspect - increasing income. As it is, I predict a further collapse in orders if they increase the price again.
While England & Wales remain resolutely stuck in the 19th century, offering only paper certificates, the BMD registers for Scotland have been online for many years, and earlier this year it became possible to download birth, marriage, and death entries for Northern Ireland.
Recently I learned that the Republic of Ireland is also headed in the same direction. Claire Santry, who writes the Irish Genealogy News blog, summarised it for me as follows:
"A new and improved set of Irish civil registration indexes has been launched on IrishGenealogy, the state-run website best known for its church records microsite. These free indexes differ from those currently available via FamilySearch, Ancestry and findmypast by including births, marriages, and deaths right up to 2013 - as well as a certain amount of additional detail to aid identification.
"The Births Index, which dates from 1864, includes the mother's maiden surname from 1900. Additionally, the actual date of birth is included from 1900 to 1927 and from 1966 to current. The Marriages index, which dates from 1845 for non-Catholic marriages and from 1864 for all marriages, includes the names of both bride and groom for all marriages from 1913, and for some marriages from 1900 to 1912. The Deaths Index, which starts in 1864, includes the age at death from 1924 and the marital status of the deceased from 1966.
"As with the pre-existing online database, the new GRO Indexes cover the entire island up to and including 1921. Thereafter, it includes only those events registered in the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland.
"Give or take some foibles, the new database has been well-received and it's expected to quickly become the preferred option for family historians searching civil registration records."
But this was the revelation that really caught my eye:
The formal launch of the database in Dublin also delivered some unexpected and very welcome news. Joan Burton, the Minister responsible for the Republic's GRO, announced that the soon-to-be-published Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 would include plans for Ireland's civil registration registers to make their way online. There's no more on this yet.
Isn't it about time that we heard a similar announcement from England & Wales? It's ironic that having been the first countries in the British Isles to introduce civil registration, they will be the last to put their registers online.
Note: there's more information about the new Irish indexes here on Claire's blog.
I spoke to my MP again last week about the GRO's lamentable failure to bring the systems for England & Wales into the 21st century - for me it's more shameful than England's performance in the World Cup!
As long ago as 1910, when the GRO had been in existence for just 73 years, Winston Churchill commissioned a Royal Commission to report on the state of public records, and their final report in 1919 recommended the "readjustment of the regulations of the General Register Office.... to enable searchers to consult the original registers".
A century later, in 2010, Else Churchill - the Genealogist at the Society of Genealogists, and one of the most influential people in the world of family history - wrote that "Historical certificates... shouldn't have to be issued as expensive official certificates. They should be made available in digital form".
Else went on to say that "If the law can't make that happen, then we must change it. It'll make the GRO money and satisfy customers, which is what good government is supposed to be about."
I couldn't agree more. And whilst I don't believe that a change in the law is absolutely necessary, it may be the only way to force the GRO to provide a public service that meets the expectations of the 21st century. Even the government agrees with us about the need for change - as I mentioned last month, the Civil Service Reform Plan states that:
"Central government where possible must become a digital organisation. These days the best service organisations deliver online everything that can be delivered online. This cuts their costs dramatically and allows access to information and services at times and in ways convenient to the users rather than the providers."
Now is a great time to contact your MP about historical certificates because last week there were questions asked in the House of Commons about marriage certificates, and whilst the particular issues raised related to equality there's no reason why everything couldn't be dealt with in a single bill.
The City of London Cemetery is one of the biggest in Europe: around 600,000 people have been interred there and with the remains from over 30 London churchyards also placed on the site, the total is approaching one million.
Last year I reported on the plans to re-cycle 205 graves as part of an ongoing programme that had already encompassed 1800 graves, and criticised the cemetery for failing to provide sufficient information to alert interested relatives. Relatively few people know the cemeteries in which their ancestors were buried, let alone the plot numbers!
Cemeteries are regulated by the Ministry of Justice, so last week when I met Shailesh Vara, who is shown on GOV.UK as the minister responsible for coroners and burial policy, I raised the matter with him. In particular I expressed my concern that the present system is failing relatives - surely names and dates should be published before gravestones are removed or destroyed?
Of course, family historians would like to know where all their ancestors are buried, not just those whose eternal peace is about to be disrupted - and as many of my relatives must have been buried in the City of London cemetery I used the Freedom of Information Act to find out what plans there were to make their registers available online.
Here's what they said: "We plan to place the scanned images of our historic public registers on the City of London Website. In preparation for this, we have had all images of the registers scanned and indexed. The timetable for this project has not, however, been defined."
That was in March; there's still no sign of the registers or indexes going online (apart from unindexed images of the registers for 1856-61, which have been online for several years). Why?
Our ancestors didn't always stay in one place - they often moved to find work or to get married. If we focus our search on just one parish we're often going to be disappointed - but without a map it can be difficult to know which other parishes are nearby.
Last month Ancestry added a collection of parish maps which cover England, Wales and Scotland - an added bonus is that the date of the earliest surviving registers is also shown. The parish boundaries are as they were prior to 1832 - for maps of English and Welsh parishes in 1851 see FamilySearch.
When I read on the BBC website that people all over the world are being invited to write letters to the Unknown Soldier whose statue can be found at London's Paddington Station, it got me thinking - what would I put in a letter to my ancestors?
I'm not thinking specifically about ancestors who fought in battle - after all, for most of our ancestors life would have been a constant battle against poverty and disease. The statistics are quite horrifying, even when you look back less than 150 years - if you search the death indexes for 1866 (the first year when ages at death are shown) you'll discover that nearly 24% of all the deaths recorded were of children less than 12 months old; another 16% were of children under 5 years old.
Our ancestors were survivors - otherwise we wouldn't be here today - but that doesn't mean that life for them was easy. They'd be amazed that we have running water and inside toilets, that over half of us own our homes, and that many of us eat meat every day of the week. They'd also be surprised to learn that most people work less than 8 hours a day and get Saturdays and Sundays off - and that many children continue in full-time education until their early 20s.
But perhaps what would amaze them most is the fact that we're so interested in them - because even if they'd had the time to research their own ancestors' lives they probably wouldn't have been able to read the records (it was only in the second half of the 19th century that a majority of the British population was able to read and write). But don't let that put you off the idea of writing a letter to them - our ancestors were nothing if not resourceful. If they couldn't read a letter that they received they'd find someone who could.
What would you write in a letter to your ancestor? There's a free LostCousins subscription for the writer of every letter that I publish.
Margaret wrote to me recently to point out that quite a few records she found at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and findmypast had been mistranscribed, with the long 's' erroneously recorded as an 'f'. Whilst the errors are obvious once you find the entry, it's something to bear in mind when searching otherwise you may never find the entries you're looking for!
Another source of difficulty is thorn, the Old English character which has now been replaced by 'th'. Originally written like a 'p' but with an ascender, over time it came to be written more like a 'y', and in print a 'y' was often the only character available in the font. This led to the common misreading in modern times of 'the' as 'ye', even though contemporary readers would always have read it correctly.
Note: the first printing of the King James Bible in 1611 used a 'y' with a superscript 'e' for 'the' and you'll often see a similar form in parish registers, especially when referring to dates.
You can see examples of the thorn character in its Wikipedia entry.
Y-DNA testing is the easiest to understand and also the most likely to deliver specific results, as this story from John demonstrates (the surname has been changed to protect third parties):
"I had failed (for the 30 years I have been researching my ancestry) to identify my biological father, who was an American sailor in WW2. I knew roughly when he was born (1922) and his name (John Knight). My aunt, who had also met him, told me that his parents had emigrated from England (possibly from Manchester) to the USA, and that she had a photo of him somewhere. She also said that his mother was a schoolteacher in California. It wasn't until my aunt died that we were able to find the photo. A request to the US Military to trace his records was unsuccessful. Using the US censuses online I was able to identify about 70 families which might be correct, but had no way of proving anything.
"So, this year I decided to take a Y-DNA (male line) 37-site test with Family Tree DNA, quoting the surname KNIGHT. Even when only the results for 12 sites were available, I had an email from a Tom Knight in Georgia, USA, saying that we must be related. By the time the full 37-site result was available, it was 90% certain that this man and I were related within 6 generations. I told him the remaining details about John Knight, and sent him a copy of the photograph. Within 3 days he emailed me to say that he thought he had found the correct family, with my grandmother a teacher in California before she was married. That enabled me to identify the correct family in the censuses, and to build a male-line family tree. And indeed, 6 generations back, my ancestor and Tom's ancestor were both in Georgia, and it seems extremely likely that they were brothers. In the meantime, Tom had made further investigations into my living family and located them. When he sent them the photo they confirmed that he had the correct family. So, at the age of 68 I have at last located my biological father's family!"
John's tale is exceptional, but discoveries like this are not unusual, especially when you test through Family Tree DNA - because they have such an enormous database of previous results. But always remember that Y-DNA is passed from father to son - it cannot be inherited by daughters or passed on by mothers - and that's why people with similar Y-DNA often have the same surname.
My good friend Bob in California sent me a link to this site which has some interesting 'then and now' photos of D-Day. I hope you like it as much as I did.
Several members who are readers of The Times or the Sunday Times have written to tell me that many of the newspaper subscriptions now include a free findmypast Britain subscription - well worth considering if you're already a regular reader of the newspapers.
I'm sure that everyone reading this is familiar with the WW1 Medal Roll Index Cards which have been online at Ancestry for several years, but what you may not have realised is that there is significantly more information in the original medal rolls and that these are still held by the National Archives in WO101, WO326, and WO329.
Graham wrote from Australia to tell me that for the first time a transcription of the WO329 medal rolls is being published - not online, but on DVD-ROM. Whilst it won't be released until next month, there is a reduced price of £250 plus VAT for 'early bird' orders (the full price will be £350 plus VAT). You can read all about it here on the publisher's website.
My guess is that at some point in the future this information will also be available online (see the Stop Press), but I'd be surprised if there wasn't an exclusivity period of a couple of years (or more), and with the centenary fast approaching I'm sure there will be some who feel they can't wait.
I'm not an expert on military records, but Graham tells me that "whilst the medal index cards survived complete, they don’t tell you the battalion number/s of infantrymen, vital if one is to research their WW1 service from alternate sources (such as the WW1 battalion War Diaries) but the medal rolls in WO 329 do provide this information, plus often providing dates in/out of each battalion if more than one was served in." This may be a little optimistic - others have subsequently told me that their experience of using the medal rolls has been less rewarding.
Note: about 60% of the personnel files for those who served in the Great War were destroyed by enemy action in 1940; it's worth checking both findmypast and Ancestry to see whether your ancestor's army records have survived as there are differences between the two sites.
A LostCousins member who is also my half 4th cousin recently wrote to me about her cousin - my half 3rd cousin once removed - who sadly passed away last year. I felt that her story was worth re-telling to a larger audience, and Sue very kindly sent me these few words, which arrived just as I was finalising this newsletter:
"Some years ago my Aunt mentioned that she had an Uncle who moved to Nottingham when he married, and that they had a son in the late 1920’s who could still be alive. So, with Notts not being far away from where I live I decided to see if this 'cousin' could possibly be in the phone book.
"Luckily my maiden name is not a particularly common one, especially the way it is spelt in my family line and to my surprise I found Michael. With some trepidation I dialled the number but I am so glad I did, he knew my father's name immediately and was very pleased to have contact with a family member. Over the next few years we met occasionally and he was able to supply me with information pertaining to my family history that I would never have discovered on my own - and I was able to discover unknown facts for him. Sadly Michael died last year but because of my interest in all aspects of our family he so kindly left me all of his father's collection of memorabilia from WW1 including many photos, much paperwork, and his collection of medals including his Military Medal for bravery in the field.
"I am so pleased that I made that phone call and to know that my Great Uncle’s life & war effort will stay in our family for years to come."
I'm sure you'll agree that it's a lovely story. Sue is just one of many new cousins I've found since I began researching my family tree, and whilst some of you might think that a half 4th cousin is so distant as to be irrelevant I've probably collaborated more with Sue than anyone else (we've exchanged more than 2000 emails).
Are you wondering what a half 4th cousin is? 4th cousins share the same great-great-great grandparents - but our great-great-great grandfather married twice, and I'm descended from his second wife, whereas my cousin Sue is descended from the first.
Calculating relationships is very simple when you know how - once you've identified the common ancestor just count how many generations there are between you the common ancestor, then do the same for your cousin. Subtract 1 from the lowest number and that tells you whether you're 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc cousins; the difference in the two numbers (if any) tells you how many times removed you are.
There are, of course, tables that will save you the arduous effort of counting up to 4 or 5 and subtracting 1, but working it yourself is so much better because it forces you to look at your family tree - knowing that someone is an Xth cousin Y times removed is pretty meaningless out of context. After all, when it comes down to it we're all cousins - it's figuring out how we're related that makes what we do so challenging!
The Discovery catalogue at the National Archives website is changing and you can review the new version, which is currently in beta testing, if you follow this link.
Over the past week there has been an interesting discussion on the Society of Genealogists mailing list about the origins of NHS numbers. When the NHS was founded in 1948 the National Register created at the outbreak of war in 1939 was used as the basis of the NHS register, and it continued to have a dual role until identity cards were abolished in 1952.
As a result there are some numbers which were allocated in 1939 and others that were allocated to those who were born subsequently - and the latter will usually include the sequential number shown in the first column of the individual's birth certificate, ie the number of the entry in the birth register.
In 1939 numbers were allocated by family, and usually end with a suffix which indicates the position within the family, typically /1 for the father, /2 for the mother, /3 for the eldest child and so on.
Following the article in my last newsletter LostCousins member Andy wrote to me commenting that:
"Unfortunately, I have become convinced that there is a proportion of people who say that they are interested in Family History. But in reality all that they are interested in is amassing as many people in their trees as possible. All they do is "Copy" and "Paste" blindly and are not really interested in the content - just the additional number of names that they can add."
He gave me this example from his own tree - I'm sure that many of you will have similar stories based on your own experiences:
"I was searching trees on Ancestry for a relative of mine who I knew had spent his entire life living in North Lincolnshire and had half a dozen children. The result of my search revealed that somebody else was researching the same family and I clicked on the link to see if they had any additional information. Imagine my surprise when my search revealed that instead of 6 children they had nearly 30 children!!
"On further inspection these children seemed to have been born randomly in either Lincolnshire, Somerset, or the USA!! All of this information was neatly backed up by census searches and BDM searches.
"Digging deeper it was immediately apparent that in fact this 'one' family was actually THREE families and the only thing that linked them was the very common name of the father and the Christian names of the three mothers. The three husbands were all born in wildly different locations and years as were the three wives. The census information, used to back up the tree, clearly suggested that they lived in different places on the same day.
"I am not perfect and I can make mistakes as easily as anyone - but I was able to find these obvious errors within 5 minutes - what really surprised me though was that I found this wrong information replicated on several other trees."
Some researchers feel that by publishing their own accurate and well-researched trees online they're helping to redress the balance, but in my opinion they're wrong - any information you or I publish is likely to be merged with other less-accurate trees, and so lose its authenticity. It's a bit like taking an expensive bottle to a wild party - some idiot is going to add ginger ale to your single malt, or tip your bottle of Chateau d'Yquem into the punchbowl.
There are plenty of ways to share information with your cousins without publishing your tree online - so there's no need to cast your pearls before swine, to use a Biblical analogy. LostCousins is obviously the safest and most accurate option, but a private tree at Ancestor is also safe provided you don't give access to people who are selfish, uncaring, or simply incompetent!
Genealogy in the Sunshine - 2015
I'm starting to plan next year's course, and because of the timing of Easter and the new dates for Who Do You Think You Are? Live there are only two weeks that really work: March 14 to March 21 and April 25 to May 2.
Rocha Brava, on Portugal's Algarve coast, is a lovely venue and after reading the feedback forms completed by this year's attendees there was no reason to look elsewhere.
The earlier date is almost exactly the same as this year's course, and whilst the accommodation prices would be a little higher than this year, the difference wouldn't be enormous (and for UK residents they'll probably be about the same, as the Pound has appreciated against the Euro). For a one-bedroom apartment that sleeps up to 3 people the cost would be under £30 per night at current exchange rates; for a two-bedroom apartment that sleeps up to 4 it would be around £36 a night.
We were very lucky with the weather this March - we had glorious sunshine and no rain at all - but the end of April is obviously a safer bet, weather-wise. It also offers those who are coming from far afield the chance of visiting Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, then continuing on to the Algarve for Genealogy in the Sunshine.
However, the accommodation would be roughly twice as expensive as in March, and the air fares are also likely to be more expensive, although for someone flying from North America or Australia to attend Who Do You Think You Are? Live it would be a relatively cheap add-on. Of course, many of the other costs such as food and drink are likely to the same, whichever week we opt for.
I know from the feedback forms and the emails I've received since the course that almost all of the attendees at this year's course would like to come back in 2015 (as would our wonderful and highly knowledgeable speakers), so I've got a larger room lined up should we need it. Another improvement we're anticipating to be in place for March 2015 will be the new covered heated swimming pool - whilst the fact that the existing heated pool is uncovered didn't stop the attendees using it this year, a covered pool will be very handy if the weather lets us down.
If you are at all interested in attending Genealogy in the Sunshine in 2015 please let me know which of the two dates you would prefer, and how many places on the course you think you might need for your party (I don't need to know at this stage about companions who will not be on the course). Of course, if you want to come on your own that's fine - this year I organised an afternoon tea and a Safari Supper to help people get to know each other, and I'm planning more events for next year.
Whether you email me or use the Contact Us form to express interest please use "Genealogy in the Sunshine" as the subject.
Would you like 25% off your groceries? Tesco are offering a £15 discount to anyone placing their first online order for groceries, just so long as the total comes to £60 or more (use the code XX3FP6 when you checkout). If you follow this link when you place your order you'll not only be helping yourself to cheap groceries you'll also be supporting LostCousins!
Tip: if you order groceries that are already reduced you'll get a double benefit!
Tesco have just started selling their version of one of my favourite and most used gadgets, a double-walled stainless steel cafetiére. I've bought two of the one that Amazon sell - I find them just as good for tea as coffee, and it's wonderful how long the drinks stay hot. And having broken two glass cafetiéres so far this year it's great to have something that's as strong as steel.
By the way, I've virtually given up on the pan in which I burnt my fudge - the only thing I haven't tried out of all the suggestions both from members is soaking it in nappy bleach, and the only suggestion found online that I haven't yet tried is burying it in the garden. As it is I'll probably ask my wife if she can use it for plants....
* I understand that the Medal Roll transcription will be available later this year at a new subscription site set up by the publishers of the DVD.
** 2.8 million Staffordshire parish records have just gone online - there will be an article in the next newsletter, but in the meantime you'll find more details here.
Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter - I hope you find it useful.
© Copyright 2014 Peter Calver
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