Newsletter - 16 April 2012
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If the proposed new high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham goes ahead the Curzon Street terminal in the Digbeth area of Birmingham will be built on the site of a 19th century graveyard, according to this BBC news article.
Meanwhile in London, Allan Jenkins has been granted exceptional permission for the exhumation and reburial of his mother, who was buried in West Norwood Cemetery last year, so that the grave can be enlarged to make room for him to be buried with her when he dies. According to the Evening Standard report (4th April) the Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark also gave permission for the bodies of Mr Jenkins' grandparents and great aunt to be moved as well, should this prove necessary.
There's an amazing collection of memories in the BBC Archive, including an interview with Eva Hart - who I wrote about in my February newsletter (and who performed on the same bill as my father in 1939).
Coincidentally, when I visited the National Archives impressive online exhibition to mark the centenary of the sinking there was a quotation from Eva Hart at the head of the page:
"She was such a beautiful ship, that's how people should remember her"
There are now indexes to many of the naturalisation records held at the National Archives, covering the period 1789-1980. Unfortunately I didn't find my German ancestors in the indexes, but you may be luckier!
Writing in the August 2009 issue of Family Tree Magazine Geoff Culshaw drew attention to the very high rate of infant mortality in 19th century England. This would have been no surprise for anyone who has studied the parish registers of the era - but I was surprised to see that the peak in infant mortality, 150 deaths per 1000 births, was reached in the 1890s. I suspect that this was a product of the slum conditions in which so many city-dwellers lived, and which are described in the research of Charles Booth and Maud Pember Reeves, and the writings of Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, and Jack London.
Most children who died during infancy were given names, but during the 19th century just over 1% of births in England & Wales were registered simply as male or female - if you search the birth indexes at findmypast you'll see them listed at the end of the Search results. As 6 weeks were allowed for the registration of a birth it seems a reasonable assumption that they were babies who died in their first few hours or days of life.
Rather more than half are recorded as male, which reflects the higher infant mortality amongst boys, and you might expect that for every birth entry there would be a corresponding death entry (and vice versa), but that didn't seem to always be the case in the samples I checked, especially in the first few years of civil registration.
This apparent discrepancy may have been the result of confusion about still-births: until 1927 still-births were not registered - the entries in the birth and death indexes should all relate to live births. Even now there is no publicly available index of still-births, and normally only the father or mother of the child can apply for a copy of the certificate, though if they are both deceased brothers and sisters are also entitled to apply.
The 1911 Census was the first to ask married women how many children they had given birth to during their marriage - and how many of them were still alive. For many researchers this was confirmation of something they'd long suspected - that there were children who, because they had died as infants, never appeared on a census.
Of course, knowing that there are children whose births you weren't aware of, and actually finding those births in the GRO indexes are two different things. Where the surname is a common one the task of finding a missing birth can be very challenging, particularly if the marriage has lasted 40 or 50 years - it wasn't until after the 1911 Census that the GRO started recording the mother's maiden name in the birth indexes.
Tip: although the mother's maiden name isn't recorded in the GRO birth indexes until the 3rd quarter of 1911, some local indexes do include this vital piece of information. Visit UKBMD to find out whether a local index exists for the area(s) of interest to you.
Fortunately a little knowledge of biology can help. Mothers who breastfed their children - the norm in the 19th century - would have been very unlikely to have become fertile (and thus able to conceive) during the 6 months after birth, and in some cases for as long as they continued breastfeeding.
Start by calculating the time in months between consecutive births - the ones that you know about. If you don't know the precise birthdate in a particular case, assume for now that it was the first day of the second month of the quarter in which the birth was registered. †
You'll probably find that there was a gap of 18 to 30 months between consecutive births. If there's a gap that's significantly longer (and which can't be explained by the husband being away at sea etc) then it's quite likely that there was a sad event somewhere in the middle - a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or the live birth of a child who died in infancy. Of course, there could be other explanations - for example, the mother might have been ill following a difficult birth - but if you know from the 1911 Census that's there's a missing birth, it must fit in somewhere!
Suppose that you've identified a gap of 45 months - or 15 quarters. You can be fairly certain that the birth you're looking for didn't take place in the first 5 quarters or the last 3 - so there are only 7 quarters to search. Whilst I'd normally use the BMD indexes at findmypast, this is one of those occasions where FreeBMD comes into its own - because you can search between any two quarters that you specify.
If the two births on either side were recorded in the same registration district, then there's a reasonable chance that the missing birth was also recorded in the same district - and you can also be fairly certainly that the child you're looking for won't have been given the same first name as a surviving sibling - so by now you've probably narrowed down the list of possibles to just a handful.
But don't send off for any certificates just yet - because you can narrow down the list even further! Since the child you're looking for didn't appear on any censuses, you know that he or she must have died before the next census - which means that you can use the information in the death indexes to narrow down the number of possible results. If there is an entry on the shortlist that doesn't have a corresponding entry in the death indexes you can strike it off the list.
You can use a similar strategy to the one I've described in the previous article to analyse baptism register entries. You might wonder why this is necessary considering that the register normally shows the mother's forename (and may also show her maiden name) - but, believe me, there are numerous reasons that I've come across during my research!
Quite often the information recorded in the register varies from one baptism to the next, even when it's the same couple: perhaps the surname is spelled differently, the address or father's occupation has changed, or the wife's forename is different. You might be fairly certain that it's the same couple (it's amazing how often vicars got the mother's name wrong) - but it's always better to test your hypotheses when you can.
Another example from my own tree concerns a couple who had children baptised in two nearby parishes. They had a surname that was very common in the area, which meant it was perfectly feasible that there were two couples with the same names - so I needed to apply logic to the situation.
In each case the first thing I did was write down all of the relevant baptisms in date order, to see whether it was physically possible for one woman to have been the mother of all the children† - it was. Next I looked for duplications in the forenames: there were some forenames that appeared more than once, but in each case I was able to find a burial register entry for the child who was born first.
Tip: in the 18th century and much of the 19th century most people had only one forename - but when parents gave a new baby the same name as a previous child who had died in infancy they were more likely to add a middle name.
There are many problems that we come across in our research that can be solved or minimised simply by the use of common sense. Do you have any similar tips that you'd like me to pass on?
When I'm researching families in the 19th century I generally don't find births to mothers older than 47 or 48, and the mortality rate for these late children seems to be much higher. Even today the risks are higher when the mother is over 40.
But in this week's New Scientist magazine there's an article that suggests that with the help of modern medical science women could routinely become mothers in their 50s or even their early 60s. It's wonderful what technology can achieve, but I wonder how it might affect the children?
Whilst I've read lots of books and articles about DNA testing, and corresponded with many researchers who have been using DNA to supplement more conventional genealogical methods, there's nothing quite like doing something yourself.
I've therefore decided to take advantage of modern technology in an attempt to break down some of the 'brick walls' in my family tree. I'm going for a two-pronged approach: a Y-DNA test in order to kick off a Calver surname study, and a Family Finder test that I hope will reveal some unexpected connections.
I've decided to use Family Tree DNA, as they have been recommended to me by numerous researchers; I shall let you know how my voyage of discovery proceeds!
Until now it hasn't been possible to browse parish registers at findmypast - but that has changed with addition of 'Previous page' and 'Next page' buttons. Findmypast currently has digitised parish registers from Cheshire, parts of Wales, Plymouth, and parts of the City of Westminster; during 2012 they will be adding the remaining parts of Wales, West Devon, and Westminster, also part of Kent.
Note: there are many more parish records online at findmypast than the above list implies - records from most counties are currently available only as transcriptions.
According to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine (March 2012) findmypast are also working on a new system for transcription errors which will allow suggested alternatives to be attached to records. Both of these features will bring findmypast closer into line with Ancestry; findmypast already allows browsing of the England & Wales censuses.
Research carried out in New South Wales and published in 2006 found that the average age at death of people who made a will was 81.2 years, whereas people who died intestate were, on average, only 60 years old. (Thanks to LostCousins member John for drawing my attention to the report.)
It would be nice to think that making a will would add 20 years to one's life expectancy, but of course there's an obvious flaw in this line of argument (which I'm sure you've already spotted).
Nevertheless this example serves as a handy reminder of how statistics can be misused - and not always intentionally: journalists frequently quote statistics in a misleading way, and often it's only by going back to the source that we can discern what the research really tells us (if anything!).
The same applies to family history research - unless you can find the source records
There was a very interesting post on the National Archives blog recently, in which Audrey Collins reminded readers that some of the documents held at the National Archives are fakes or forgeries, and also pointed out how easy it was to obtain a death certificate prior to 1874.
Not everybody wants to find other researchers who share their ancestors, so here are my top tips for avoiding your cousins:
(1) Don't enter any relatives on your My Ancestors page - this works really well, and is my No.1 tip.
(2) Focus on just one or two lines - that way your cousins from other lines are very unlikely to find you.
(3) Remember that most of your living relatives don't share the ancestors who were alive in 1881 - they are connected through an earlier generation. This means you can avoid most of them by ignoring your ancestors' extended families.
(4) If all else fails, and one of your relatives tries to get in touch, don't reply.
These tips are proven to work!
Marriage Bonds and Allegations recently added to Ancestry cover 750,000 marriages in the Surrey area between 1597 and 1921.
Nearly 700,000 parish records have been added at findmypast, including more than 400,000 Northamptonshire burials. For more details of the new records, which also cover Yorkshire, Dorset and north-west Kent, or to search them, click here.
Last time I gave some examples of double-counting in the censuses, which led to some interesting correspondence with members. For example, Barbara wrote to tell me that in 2011 she and her husband were recorded on two censuses in different countries: as UK residents in March, then as visitors to Australia in August.
Ann's tale of the 2011 Census was a sad one - her mother was taken to hospital and died two days before the census, but being very efficient had already submitted her census form. I wonder what the family historians of the future will make of that? Keith told me of a similar error in the 1911 Census - his grandparents listed 4 children, even though their answers to the 'fertility' questions indicated that one of them had died. Further research showed that George Reeve had been born in October 1909, but died in June 1910 aged 8 months - the age that was shown on the next year's census form. Keith's grandparents weren't the only ones to make a mistake like that - my great-great uncle listed his youngest child on the 1911 census form, even though she died (aged 1 year) before the day of the census. However, in this case he realised his mistake and struck out the entry.
Janet discovered an entire household of 14 people that appears twice in the 1861 Census of Liverpool, at two completely different addresses. How did this happen? Looking at the map the two streets run parallel before eventually crossing over - so it's likely that the building where they lived and worked had entrances in both streets. Interestingly, although the same 14 people are listed in each entry, there are several differences in spelling and age, so I suspect that one form was filled in by the householder and the other by his wife (perhaps neither knew what the other had done until it was too late?).
I can't finish this article without mentioning the 1911 Census schedule that Den spotted: it was written out by the enumerator, who noted that it had been "Recopied because of strong smell of fried fish"!
Since writing about the cost of England & Wales certificates I've had a number of emails from Australian members asking what we've got to complain about, since Australian certificates cost far more than ours (for example, they cost $37 in Queensland, equivalent to £24).
My answer was a simple one - if Scotland can provide the information online for less than £2, then other countries should be able to do the same.
Family historians in Australia are going to have to fight their own battle - I can't do it for them, though I can tell them that the best way to start is to use Freedom of Information legislation to obtain both a detailed breakdown of the cost of producing certificates, and an explanation of the way in which certificate prices are currently set.
But it's not just certificates that Australian members have been overpaying for....
In my tips column in the last issue I reminded overseas members that they could save a fortune by buying subscriptions from Ancestry.co.uk, rather than from their local Ancestry website.
Brian in Canada saved $115 by switching his Ancestry subscription to the UK site. But the savings are even greater for members in Australia: Valerie wrote to tell me that she'd bought a Worldwide subscription, the best Ancestry offer, for just £135.13 ($208.93); previously she'd been paying almost as much for the lowest-level subscription from Ancestry's Australian site. Similarly, Cathy saved well over $200 by switching her Worldwide subscription to the UK site - and she didn't even have to change her sign-in or re-enter her credit card details.
Cathy went on to tell me that her only problem now is deciding how to spend all the money she has saved - though she generously spent £10 on a LostCousins subscription as a way of thanking me for the tip.
No matter which Ancestry site you currently subscribe through, you'll find that the cheapest place to buy a Worldwide subscription is Ancestry.co.uk! In some cases you'll find that you can get a Worldwide subscription for less than you're currently paying for an inferior subscription.
Tip: Ancestry will try to send you to your local website; click here to go direct to the UK site.
I expect many LostCousins members who followed my advice to buy 1st and 2nd class stamps ahead of the price increase were feeling smug when they heard on the news about the present shortage - some retailers will be out of stock until next month, by which time the prices will have gone up.
However, it's still possible to buy stamps online from Royal Mail, and whilst there's a postage and packing charge of £1.45 that's more than covered by the saving you make on the first book of stamps you buy (they're going up by an amazing 14p on 30th April). And when you buy online from Royal Mail you're not limited to the range of stamps that you'd find in your local post office - for example there are some new 1st Class stamps being issued on 24th April that will be on sale at the old price for just 6 days (you'll find the details here). You can even buy last year's Christmas stamps, both 1st and 2nd class, at the old prices - why not use them to send out this year's Christmas cards?
My personal favourite is this beautiful miniature sheet of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee stamps. At just £2.76 it costs no more than you'd pay for 6 ordinary 1st Class stamps (which in 2 weeks' time will set you back £3.60).†
After my article about scams in the last issue LostCousins member Nicky wrote to tell me about Action Fraud UK, run by the National Fraud Authority, which encourages members of the public to report online scams even if they themselves haven't† been victims. They are currently running a campaign called The Devil's in your Details, which alerts the public to the dangers of giving out information to people who may not be who they say they are.† It's well worth visiting the site just to read about the myriad different techniques and scams that criminals use to get their hands on other peoples' money!
Very few people have realised that budget airline Ryanair now offers the option of reserved seating in the front 2 rows or the exit rows over the wings. True, there's a charge of £10 per seat, but when you're as tall as I am it's well worth paying extra for the privilege of sitting in an exit row, especially since priority boarding is included in the price. It's good reason to check-in the full 15 days ahead while the seats are still available.
Finally, I've been watching the price of Family Tree Maker Platinum at Amazon, and at last it has come down again! You can currently buy the 2012 edition for just under £30, which considering that it comes with a 6 months Premium subscription to Ancestry (worth £53.70) is a bargain, but if - like me - you don't intend to use the software the 2011 edition is an even bigger bargain at £23.98 (£27.27 including postage), saving you nearly 50%.
Family Tree Maker World Edition comes with a 6 month Worldwide subscription, though the saving on the 2012 version isn't that great. However, at £49.99 (£53.28 including postage) the 2011 version offers UK subscribers a saving of just over 30% - which is well worth taking.
This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.
Please keep sending in your news and tips - many of the articles in this newsletter result from suggestions from readers like you!
© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver
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