Newsletter - 1st June 2013

 

 

The future of the UK Census EXCLUSIVE

How would you improve the National Archives website?

1895 Valuation Rolls live at Scotlandspeople

Good news! Findmypast offer extended EXCLUSIVE

450,000 new parish records at findmypast

The bells are ringing....

Who did your relative marry?

Ancestry errors: latest

Early colour movie shows London in 1927

Reprobate relative reportedly rides round recklessly

Austerity and our ancestors

Researching your military ancestors GUEST AUTHOR

Childhood memories

Knocking down 'brick walls'

Using logic to solve puzzles

Peter's Tips

Stop Press

 

The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 23 May 2013) 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.
 

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The future of the UK Census EXCLUSIVE

Almost exactly three years ago family historians were shocked to learn that the future of the Census was in doubt (you'll find my news article here), but as this issue hasn't been hitting the headlines recently you might have assumed that the storm had blown over. However, a lot has been happening behind the scenes...

 

In October 2011 I alerted readers of this newsletter to the publication of a consultation document, and I was heartened to see that whilst they were primarily seeking responses from users of statistics, rather than from people like us who use the raw data, family historians were the second-largest group of respondents (after local authorities). You can download the consultation report here (it is in PDF format).

 

Following the consultation a list of 6 options has been set out, only one of which would involve the continuation of the census as we know it (but with greater use of the Internet). Other options include a rolling census, where up to 10% of the population is surveyed each year (a similar approach is currently used in France), and a short-form census every 10 years with an annual survey of around 4% of the population (as in the US). There's an explanation of each of the options on pages 14-17 of this report (PDF format).

 

Although the consultation 18 months ago wasn't intended for family historians, the report acknowledged that this had been a mistake, and there was even a mention for this newsletter on page 63!

 

 

There is likely to be a further consultation later this year - this time let's ensure that genealogists are the largest group of respondents!

 

How would you improve the National Archives website?

There have been lots of improvements to the National Archives website, so it's very much to their credit that they are open to the idea that it could be made even better.

 

On Thursday 13th June there will be a workshop at Kew, and they are aiming to attract a representative sample of website users. If you'd like to be considered, follow this link to the TNA Forum, and if you're lucky enough to be invited do let me know how it goes (unfortunately I have a prior engagement)..

 

1895 Valuation Rolls live at Scotlandspeople

Scotlandspeople have just launched these new records, comprising 2,095,707 indexed names and 75,565 digital images, which cover every kind of building, structure or dwelling that was assessed in 1895 as having a rateable value, and provide a fascinating picture of Scottish society during the late Victorian era. You can learn more about the records here.

 

Good news! Findmypast offer extended EXCLUSIVE

I've managed to persuade findmypast to extend the exclusive discount offer for readers of this newsletter that was due to expire on Friday 31st May - not by a day, or even a week, but by a whole month!

 

In view of findmypast's generosity I'm going to match them by extending my own offer of a free LostCousins subscription. I won't repeat all the details - you can find them here - but please make sure that you read them through first, then follow them exactly.

 

450,000 new parish records at findmypast

Findmypast have added 450,000 new parish records, mainly Suffolk and Wiltshire baptisms (you'll find full details here).

 

As I've got several 'brick walls' in Suffolk those were the records I looked at most closely - and thanks to the new records I've just brought one, possibly two, of my 'brick walls' tumbling down after 10 years. I can only hope you're as fortunate!

 

The bells are ringing....

I've written recently about the Rector of Runwell in Essex who patented an electrical system for ringing the bells in his church, and this prompted an email from Philippa in France who tells me that in her local church they have an electrical system with a control box that is a labelled with all the different bell changes.

 

My first thought was that in this digital age they might simply blast out a recorded bell using loudspeakers, but after further investigation Philippa was able to confirm that the bells actually swing under the control of the system.

 

Yet another British invention that has been exploited by foreigners!

 

Who did your relative marry?

Prior to 1912 the GRO marriage indexes for England & Wales don't show the spouse's surname - and until the FreeBMD project began to transcribe the GRO indexes it was virtually impossible to find out who someone married without ordering the certificate.

 

Even now it's not always straightforward. FreeBMD, Ancestry, and findmypast will all show you possible spouses - people whose marriages are recorded on the same page of the register - but usually there will be four people in all, two male and two female, which typically gives you a choice of two spouses (with luck you'll be able to work out which your relative married from census records).

 

However, sometimes there will be 3 names - or 5. When there's an extra name this indicates that the index references for one of them has been mistranscribed, so it's simply a matter of looking up the index pages for each and correcting the one that's wrong. But what if there are only 3 - where do you start looking?

 

Some of the transcription errors from 1865 onwards aren't really errors by the transcribe, but a result of misprints in the indexes - typically one of the digits in the page number is only partially printed. Almost any of the digits, but especially the rounded ones such as 0, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, can be mistaken for one of the others if a little bit of ink is missing.

 

At FreeBMD you can search for entries on a specific page in a specific quarter, but you can also search by registration district. If you search for marriages (say) in the relevant registration district you'll get a relatively short list - I selected at random St George in the East, March 1900 quarter, which has 88 marriages.

 

The next step is to copy the data into a spreadsheet so that you can sort it by page number (use Paste Special and choose 'Text'). Here are the last 18 entries:

 

Dunn

Alice

St. Geo. East

1c

394

Girling

Florence Mary

St. Geo. East

1c

394

Murphy

Patrick Michael

St. Geo. East

1c

394

WEST

William

St. Geo. East

1c

394

Driscoll

Mary

St. Geo. East

1c

395

Guinness

William Patrick

St. Geo. East

1c

395

McCarthy

Mary

St. Geo. East

1c

395

O'Callaghan

William

St. Geo. East

1c

395

BAILEY

Ann

St Geo.East

1c

396

Donovan

Hannah

St. Geo. East

1c

396

Purcell

Michael

St. Geo. East

1c

396

Tracey

Michael

St. Geo. East

1c

396

Black

Joseph

St. Geo. East

1c

397

Leary

Johanna

St. Geo. East

1c

397

McDonough

Margaret

St. Geo. East

1c

397

Sullivan

Edward

St. Geo. East

1c

397

Dodgson

Arthur

St. Geo. East

1c

587

Mill

John

St. Geo. East

1c

636

 

The two at the end have obviously been mistranscribed, because they're on their own. When I looked up Arthur Dodgson's marriage in the indexes I discovered that the page number was correct but he'd actually married in the district of St George Hanover Square (on the other side of London); the John Mill entry had two errors - it should be volume 1b and St Giles registration district.

 

(Note that even though the volunteers who compile the FreeBMD transcriptions are family historians themselves, they still make mistakes.)

 

Let's take a look at some of the other entries:

 

Byrman

Ferdinand

St. Geo. East

1c

385

Fischer

John William L

St. Geo. East

1c

385

Oelers

Emilie Josephine J

St. Geo. East

1c

385

Oelers

Emily Juliane J

St. Geo. East

1c

385

Von Der Horst

Maria A A

St. Geo. East

1c

385

Ambur

Betsy

St. Geo. East

1c

386

Amdur

Betsy

St. Geo. East

1c

386

Baldock

Louisa

St.Geo. East

1c

386

Cawstan

John

St. Geo. East

1c

386

WASSERMAN

David Aaron

St. Geo. East

1c

386

Bocater

Elizabeth

St. Geo. East

1c

387

Bomze

Bertha

St. Geo. East

1c

387

Gr„ser

Johann

St. Geo.East

1c

387

Tobaben

Meta

St Geo.East

1c

387

Trief

Davis

St. Geo. East

1c

387

Fuchs

Katharina

St. Geo. East

1c

388

Putterfuss

Minnie

St. Geo. East

1c

388

Rosenberg

Abram Solomon

St. Geo. East

1c

388

Singer

Katharina

St. Geo. East

1c

388

Timm

Edward Georg F

St. Geo. East

1c

388

 

You'll see that there are 5 entries for each of pages 385, 386, 387, and 388. In the case of pages 385 and 386 this is clearly because one entry has been transcribed twice with slightly different names, but it's not so obvious why pages 387 and 388 have an extra entry.

 

I suspect that Katharina Fuchs and Katharina Singer were one and the same - in other words, she had an alias which was shown in the register (the unusual forename is a clue, and all of the entries appear to have been transcribed correctly). But the page 387 entry for Elizabeth Bocater was a transcription error - the correct page number is 381.

 

In this particular case the entry for Elizabeth Bocater had been transcribed twice by different transcribers, so was also shown at FreeBMD with the correct page number - but she might not have been, and this spreadsheet analysis might have been the only way to find the entry.

 

I say "might have been" because, of course, there's more than one site that has transcribed the GRO registers. Ancestry use the FreeBMD data up to 1915, so there would be little point checking there, but findmypast have transcribed the data independently.

 

Ancestry errors: latest

So far Ancestry haven't fixed the 1.2 million errors in the GRO birth and death indexes which I highlighted in my last newsletter (remember that these systematic errors are in addition to any transcription errors).

 

I've also had reports coming in from members of other errors, some of which I knew about and some of which I didn't. Patricia pointed out that there are a lot of parish register entries, particularly baptisms, where the surname is given as 'Sarah' - and, as youíd expect, in nearly every case this was actually a forename. Thanks also to Patricia for reminding me of one of my oldest tips - to try swapping the names around and searching for "Smith John" instead of "John Smith".

 

Robert also complained about Ancestry's 'hints', which some users of their site seem to accept as 'facts' by including them in their tree - I suspect they're mostly beginners who assume that Ancestry's algorithm is cleverer than it really is.

 

Several members have commented that Ancestry's new map feature for the 1911 Census comes up with the wrong maps far too often - sometimes it isn't even the right county! I remember that Genes Reunited had a similar system at one time (perhaps they still do) but it was also not very precise. There's even talk that findmypast are considering integrating maps into their site, but hopefully they won't waste their time unless they can produce better results than have been achieved so far!

 

Early colour movie shows London in 1927

Marilyn in Australia told me about some rare colour footage which shows what London looked like almost a century ago - you can view it here.

 

Claude Friese-Greene, who shot the film using the Biocolour process invented by his late father William, also made a 1924 colour film of the 1000 mile road trip from Land's End to John O'Groats. The Open Road has been restored by the British Film Institute and is now available on DVD.

 

Reprobate relative reportedly rides round recklessly

Mel told me about an incident in 1897 when his great grandfather was arrested for reckless riding of a motorised tricycle, and I found the newspaper article so amusing that I decided to share it with you!

 

Note: the clipping is reproduced with the kind permission of the British Newspaper Archive; the image was created courtesy of the British Library Board. You can get 15 free credits when you register for the first time at the British Newspaper Archive.

 

In 1897 the very concept of a motorised vehicle must have been quite alien - there were few cars on the streets of London, but I did come across this entry on the Science Museum blog about the first electric taxi, which appeared on London's streets in the same year and apparently had a top speed of between 9-12 mph (faster than the average speed of London traffic in the 21st century). Note that prior to November 1896 it was compulsory for a man with a red flag to walk in from of any vehicle that was other than horse-drawn!

 

Tip: over 6 million newspaper pages from the British Newspaper Archives can be searched and viewed at findmypast if you have a Full or World subscription.

 

Austerity and our ancestors

Most developed nations have been going through a period of austerity since the recession began 5 years ago, and we're all looking forward to GDP growth rates of 2% or even 3% resuming in due course. However, it's sobering to reflect that for our ancestors low growth was a fact of life.

 

It has been estimated (The Economist, 12th January 2013, p22) that in Britain annual growth in GDP per person averaged only 0.2% until 1700 (so that over the course of an entire generation the total growth would have been just 7%, on average), and even when the Industrial Revolution began it was little more than 0.3%. During the second half of the 19th century it was still below 1%.

 

Of course, the economy of the country grew faster than this, but that's because the population was growing - between 1841 and 1881 the number of people recorded on the England & Wales census rose from just under 16 million to nearly 26 million.

 

The 20th century was very different - per capita GDP in Britain has virtually doubled over the past generation - so we've become accustomed not just to a higher standard of living, but also a higher rate of growth. What has taken a single generation for us would have taken 10 generations for our ancestors! Back in July 1957 Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister, uttered the famous (and often misquoted words) "most of our people have never had it so good", yet GDP per head has risen more than 3 times since then.

 

I've no idea whether we can expect slow growth in the future, or whether we'll go back to the historically high rates of the late 20th century - but I do know that we're a darn sight better off than our ancestors were in the "good old days"! Perhaps if our expectations were as moderate as those of our ancestors we'd all be a lot happier?

 

Researching your military ancestors

Simon Fowler worked for the Public Record Office, now the National Archives, for almost 30 years. He was also editor of Family History Monthly and later of Ancestors, the family history magazine formerly published by the National Archives. I was therefore delighted to be able to persuade Simon to write a short article exclusively for LostCousins members:

 

Fowlerís laws of military genealogy

 

1.†††††††† The closer your ancestor was to the fighting the more there is likely to be about him. If he was in the front line there should be operational as well as personnel records which provide more background

 

2.†††††††† There is likely to be more for officers than for other ranks.The only exception to this rule is service records - officersí records are disappointing - but this gap can largely be made up by tracing officers through published Army/Navy lists and the London Gazettes.

 

3.†††††††† The more recent your ancestorís military experience the better the chance of finding something. Although you may have a manís service record it can be surprising frustrating to work out exactly where he fought and what he experienced during his time in the Army. During the Napoleonic wars, for example, where records survive they usually relate to officers.

 

4.†††††††† Military records can be divided into three types: personnel (such as service and pension records, court martial registers etc); operational (war diaries and planning) and logistical (supplying provisions and equipment to the forces). As family historians we largely interested in personnel and operational records.

 

5.†††††††† Records of individuals largely relate to how much they were paid and how much pension they were entitled to. However, promotions and demotions, disciplinary offences and the award of good conduct and long service medals affected pay and pension and should be recorded in the appropriate place.And in theory every day of a manís service should be recorded in some way. But in the heat of battle it was often difficult for the clerks at the base depot to work exactly where a man was serving and for whom. And this uncertainty can affect our understanding of these records. This seems particularly true for the Burma campaign of 1942-45, where service records seem to bear little resemblance to a manís actual service.

 

6.†††††††† If you want fully to understand an ancestorís experiences of war it is best to start by reading campaign and regimental histories before using the operational records which can be difficult to interpret and even misleading. As with all research it is best to start with the general before moving onto the specific.

 

6.†††††††† The records are only as good as the clerks and adjutants who completed them.So names are misspelt, initials are used rather than full names (my great uncle Stanley Crozierís medal index card, for example, is indexed as HPS Crozier) and so.War diaries may just record official visitors (particular the case in WW2) rather provide a proper account of the unitís activities. Even the award of a Victoria Cross in a man in the unit may not be recorded.

 

8.†††††††† There are many more records than are available online.Most of these, like muster rolls, will never be digitised.So to get a full picture of your ancestorís military service you should plan to visit The National Archives or the appropriate service and regimental museums.

 

9.†††††††† The services were (and are) very bureaucratic.This means if one set of records no longer survives there may be other records which may contain much the same information. This is particularly true for the eighteenth and nineteenth century army. So if a manís service documents no longer survive, you may be able to build up a picture from the muster rolls (c1760-1898) and description books (c1780-1870) or, for the First World War, medal index cards.

 

10.†††††† Although regimental and the national military museums do not have personnel records they may have other records which can help you build a picture of your ancestorís service, such as personnel papers, diaries and photographs.Remember, however, that most regimental museums are understaffed or rely on volunteers, so be prepared for a long wait for a reply and they may expect you to make a donation to the museumís funds.

 

10.†††††† There are always exceptions!There may be nothing about a war hero, but by chance a mass of stuff may survive for an ordinary soldier or sailor.You never know what you are going to find.Happy hunting!

 

Simon Fowler is a professional researcher and writer with decades of experience in researching soldiers, sailors and airmen. Find out more at http://www.history-man.co.uk

 

Note: Simon has recently published an excellent ebook entitled Ancestors In Arms: Tracing Your Family Military History which is available in Kindle format from Amazon (and having read it myself, I reckon he should be charging more for it!). Remember, you don't need to own a Kindle to read books in Kindle format - you can read them on your PC, tablet, or most smartphones.

 

Childhood memories

Scientists have discovered the reason why we remember so little from our early years - it seems that our brains aren't geared up to establish long-term memories until we're 4 years old. You'll find more on this topic in this BBC news article.

 

Knocking down 'brick walls'

I mentioned earlier in this newsletter that, thanks to findmypast's new Suffolk baptism records, I'd managed to knock down at least one of my 'brick walls'.

 

But what we think of as a 'brick wall' often isn't anything of the sort. Indeed, in the case of the 'brick wall' that I've just knocked down, the clue could easily have been found if I'd spent a few hundred hours scouring the parish registers at the Suffolk Record Office. Of course, I'm using the word 'easily' ironically - because few of us have the time and the determination to do something like that (which is why it's so important that more and more parish registers are transcribed and made available online).

 

An email I received this week from a member faced with a 'brick wall' included the words "it may be that, after 13 years, I've more or less flogged each obvious possibility to death!". We all feel like that at times, but it's at those moments that we need to remember that if the answer was obvious, it wouldn't be a 'brick wall' - often when we can't knock down a 'brick wall' it's because we're looking in the obvious places, rather than carrying out a systematic search.

 

What if the father's name on the marriage certificate was wrong? What if an incorrect birthplace is shown on every census? What if they didn't marry at all? It's questions like these that we need to ask ourselves, so that we're continually challenging the evidence as if we were cross-examining our ancestors in a court of law!

 

Using logic to solve puzzles

I recently presented a challenge involving three doors which created a lot of controversy because the intuitively obvious solution isn't the right one (in fact, I'm still getting emails from readers who can't believe the answer I published). Yet in our research we're frequently called upon to make judgement calls - so how can we know when to trust our intuition and when that would be a mistake? There is no simple answer - but I do know that the more we exercise our skills and judgement, the better we get.

 

So I'm going to share with you a challenge that was presented in the latest issue of Significance magazine, a publication of the Royal Statistical Society (many thanks to Julian Champkin, the editor, for allowing me to reproduce it here).

 

Phoney data

 

A policeman in France stops and questions the occupants of a British-registered car. One of them gives his name, his home town - Nottingham - and a mobile phone number. He is allowed to proceed. It subsequently transpires that the mobile phone number is made up.

 

Some months later, an unknown individual in Nottingham goes into a bank and tries to arrange a transfer of money. He gives a false name and a mobile phone number. The number is the same as the one given in France.

 

The police suspect that the two individuals are the same person. How likely is this on the evidence given?

 

The question the police actually asked was: "What are the odds of two separate individuals in Nottingham making up the same mobile phone number?" Is this the question they should be asking? Does it give the same answer as the other question? Is Nottingham relevant to the answer? (The population of Nottingham is 300,000, that of Britain is 60 million.) Can one answer the first question at all? All mobile phone numbers in Britain are 11-digit numbers, and all begin with 07. The third digit can be 4, 5, 7, 8 or 9. The number given by the car occupant obeyed these rules.

 

This is based on a request made recently to the RSS. Some details have been changed. Readers are invited to send their responses and explanations - in less than 400 words - to significance@rss.org.uk

 

This puzzle reminded me of something that I came across recently when helping a member with their research. There was a man who married twice under different names (the second marriage was bigamous), yet on each occasion he gave the same information in respect of his father (ie the same forename, and the same occupation).

 

Even at the best of times we have to look sceptically at the information on marriage certificates, because there are often errors, some of which are clearly deliberate - and in this case we know that the man was a liar who broke the law. But given that he gave the same information on both occasions, is it likely that he was telling the truth about his father, even though he wasn't telling the truth about himself?

 

I think I've identified the key questions in the 'Phoney challenge' - but what about you? I wonder whether any readers of this newsletter will be brave enough to compete with the professionals of the RSS?

 

Peter's Tips

The very first hard drive I ever used looked like a futuristic spin dryer. There were two of them in the computer room of the company where I was working 35 years ago, and it was my responsibility to make backups. This involved attaching a handle and very carefully removing the platters from one drive so that I could copy the data from the other drive across to a spare set.

 

I can't remember what the capacity of those drives was, but I do remember that the very first hard drive I owned 30 years ago had a capacity of just 5 Megabytes. Mind you, there were bigger capacities available - in 1980 IBM produced a hard drive with a capacity of 2.5 Gigabytes, though it cost $40,000, weighed a quarter of a ton, and was the size of a refrigerator.

 

These days even laptop computers have hard drives with 500 Gigabytes capacity, and my current desktop has a 1 Terabyte drive, which means it can hold 200,000 times as much data as my first hard drive (even though it cost a lot less). And if you compare it with my first floppy disk drive (capacity a mere 100k), it's 10 million times as much!

 

Anyway, I was musing on this when I encountered one of the largest hard disk drives I've ever seen - a massive 3 Terabyte. A quick calculation suggests that there's enough room to make a copy of every hard drive on every computer I've ever owned and still have room for the hundreds of DVD backup disks I've made over the years. It's an external drive with its own power supply, so you don't need any technical knowledge - just plug it into a USB port. However, the most amazing thing is the price - just £90 including delivery! Click here to find out more. I should stress that I haven't bought one, but two-thirds of the hundreds of reviewers on Amazon have awarded 5 stars, and two-thirds of the remainder have given 4 stars, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

 

The first computer I ever owned was a Commodore PET with a massive 8k of memory - it cost me nearly £700 in 1978, which was an enormous sum in those days.How times have changed - the 32Gb memory card in my phone has 4 million times as much memory, yet cost less than £20 and is the size of the nail on my little finger. I wouldn't be surprised if there are readers of this newsletter who once owned a Commodore PET - some of you may even have bought programs from Supersoft, the company I founded (not to be confused with a similarly-named firm in Chicago).

 

Enough nostalgia! Next issue I promise to have some more of my usual tips.

 

Stop Press

This where any late updates will be posted, so it's worth checking back after a few days.

 

Hopefully it won't be long now before the LostCousins forum opens to everyone - in the meantime if you've received an invitation from me I'd encourage you to register at the forum right away!

 

Description: Description: peter_signature

 

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins

 

© Copyright 2013 Peter Calver

 

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