Newsletter - 26 February 2012
LostCousins members scoop top prizes!
Irish court records now online
More merchant seamen records at findmypast
Bill saves $250 on his Ancestry subscription!
Old FamilySearch link bounces back
Hertfordshire registers to be digitised
Pictures from an exhibition
Doing things the old way....
The simple way to check or update an entry
Interviewing older relatives - useful guidelines
Wearable camera jogs failing memories
How to get the most from this newsletter
Finding the answers through DNA
Can you succeed where MI5 failed?
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 12 February 2012) please 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 you convenience, when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open (so that you donít lose your place in the newsletter) - if nothing seems to happen then you need to enable pop-ups in your browser.
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!
Last year I encouraged members to enter the Federation of Family History Societies competition, which invited entrants to write an essay of up to 1000 words about the most interesting person in their family tree.
I'm delighted to announce that at the Awards Ceremony yesterday at Who Do You Think You Are? Live the 1st prize was presented to LostCousins member Tony Martin, whose tale of the relative who inspired the character of Eliza Doolittle was published for the very first time in this newsletter (click here if you'd like to read it again).
But that's not all - the 2nd prize also went to a LostCousins member, Chris Pavett!
I've always believed that LostCousins members were a cut above the average - they're certainly more experienced than the people you'll meet on other sites - but it's good to have this independent confirmation. Apart from the glittering prizes showered on them by the FFHS Tony and Chris have also received prizes from me of a 3-year subscription and a 2-year subscription to LostCousins - and I'm sure that all of you will wish to join me in congratulating them on their fantastic achievements.
For a long time researchers with Irish ancestors have struggled to find 19th century records online, but now findmypast Ireland has made available 1.2 million Irish Petty Sessions records from the period 1850-1910 (the original records are held at the National Archives of Ireland). Most records have comprehensive details of the case including the name of the complainant, the name of the defendant, the names of witnesses, the cause of complaint, and details of the judgement, including the fine or sentence handed down. You'll find more detailed information on the records if you follow this link.
In conjunction with the National Archives, findmypast.co.uk has added a further 359,000 records to their collection of records for merchant seamen. The latest batch covers the period 1835-57 and whilst the information given in individual records varies, it can include name, age, place of birth, physical description, ship names and dates of voyages.
Findmypast already has records covering the period 1918-41. Wondering whether some of the relatives you can't find on the census may have been at sea? Why not carry out a free search and see whether there are any names that you recognise - where available the year and place of birth are shown, even in the free search results!
Another nautical collection recently added is the Thames Watermen and Lightermen records, which run from the 17th century to the 20th.
Following my article in the last newsletter Bill in Australia decided not to renew his Worldwide subscription through Ancestry.com.au, but to subscribe through Ancestry.co.uk instead - net saving $250, or enough to pay his LostCousins subscription for the next 16 years! Instead of paying $449.95 he paid just £135.13 (which is just under $200 at the current exchange rate). Even the Special Introductory Price for new subscribers of $299.88 represents a 50% premium compared to the UK price.
How on earth does Ancestry manage to charge some members more than twice as much for the same subscription? By giving it slightly different names in different territories, and pricing it in different currencies (the latter is understandable, but the former is questionable).
Tip:† a few members have asked where they could find out about exchange rates - I recommend XE.com, a free site that will convert any sum from one currency to another instantly. Always allow 2-3% extra for the commission that your bank adds on.
Ancestry currently charges more in Australia than anywhere else, but there are also useful savings to be made if you currently have either a World Explorer subscription at Ancestry.com or a World Deluxe subscription to Ancestry.ca - indeed, having heard how little some members have paid, it seems the savings are even bigger than I anticipated in my previous article (still, it's better to have a pleasant surprise than an unpleasant one, isn't it!).
Ancestry may try to redirect you to the site in your country, but as long as you use the links I provide this shouldn't happen.
Tip: once you have a Worldwide subscription you can log-in at any of the Ancestry sites worldwide and get access to the same datasets - so switching your subscription to the UK site doesn't mean you have change your research habits. Thanks to Dianne in Canada for reminding me of this important point.
I'm delighted to say that following my last newsletter FamilySearch reinstated the home page link from the new site to the old one. However, OldFamilySearch.com, the site I set up to fill the gap isn't going away - I'll be adding more information, more links, and more articles just as soon as I have time.
One of my great-great grandfathers came from Hertfordshire, so I was delighted by yesterday's announcement at Who Do You Think You Are? Live that findmypast will be digitising the parish registers and making them available online. In the early days of my research I spent many, many days at Hertfordshire Archives poring over microfilmed register pages, and whilst I know that I can't possibly have looked at all of the 3.5 to 4 million records that findmypast are putting online, at the time it certainly felt like it!
Findmypast aim to have the records online during 2012 - so hopefully I'll soon be able to knock down some of the 'brick walls' in that part of my tree. Another major dataset due for release at findmypast during 2012 is the Welsh parish registers - and I'm looking forward to that release too, as they'll be very useful for dealing with the 'brick walls' in my wife's tree. If you have Welsh ancestry and want to know more you'll find the original announcement here.
I took a few photos while I was at Who Do You Think You Are? Live on Friday, and thought that those of you who aren't able to be there might like to see them (I've put them on a separate web page to avoid cluttering up the newsletter): click here to see them.
I couldn't resist including this picture, however - it's the Missing Persons board from the Genes Reunited stand. When I first started researching my family tree it was a real challenge to find people researching the same ancestors, and that board reminds me of the books at the Family Records Centre where visitors would note their surname interests and contact details (not many email addresses in those days).
The other option at that time was the surname interests lists maintained by family history societies, most of which weren't online (or were only accessible by members).
Then came along came Genes Reunited in 2002, which offered a much more practical solution to the problem by putting the information online and covering the whole country, rather than doing it county by county. But even that wasn't a perfect solution, since you had to keep repeating the same searches in case someone had posted new information since you last checked. This problem was later partially solved with the introduction of 'hot matches', though this also created new problems, since the matching system was wrong most of the time, resulting in extra work and eventual disappointment. Like many others, I'm sure, I wondered whether there might be a better way? There was....
LostCousins launched in 2004 - providing 100% accurate automated matching and allowing a much higher degree of privacy and confidentiality than any site before or since. It's still not a perfect solution, because it requires members to spend a little time entering their data from the 1881 Census - but remember that it's something that only needs to be done once (from then on everything is automatic).
Isn't it worth an hour of your time to find a new cousin?
Want to amend an entry on your My Ancestors page? It couldn't be easier - simply click on the person's name, make the changes, and click Confirm to save them. Don't make a second entry then delete the first one - it takes a lot longer.
Want to add someone new to an existing household? That's easy too - just click on the name of one of the other members of the household (preferably one with the same surname), and most of the information will be filled in automatically - usually you'll only need to enter the forename(s) and age.
Tip: although there are three ways that your My Ancestors entries can be sorted, the Household option is by far the most useful. Simply click the button next to Household at the top of the page.
Want to check whether the entries you've made are correct? That's also very easy to do if they are from the 1881 or 1911 England & Wales census. Simply go to findmypast and choose the census reference search (or click here).
Note: you don't need a subscription, if fact you don't even need to register or log-in to check most of the data.
Choose the appropriate census from the drop-down menu and enter the piece number in the first box. Then, if you're checking a household from 1881 fill in the folio and page number boxes; for 1911 simply enter the schedule number in the final box - all the rest can be left blank.
When you click Search you'll see a list of all the individuals on that census page or schedule, and you can quickly an easily check that the names match your entries. A common error is to enter middle names and initials that aren't shown on the census form, so that's the main thing to look out for.
Tip: if you don't get any results, or if the results don't include your relatives, then this suggests that one or more of the census references you have entered is wrong.
If you want to see the ages of the members of the household click View in the Household Transcript column - it usually doesn't matter which member of the household you pick, but it is good practice to choose the head of household. At this point you will need to log-in, and - if it's 1911 Census you're interested in - you'll also need to be a findmypast subscriber.
Tip: if necessary you can check your relatives' ages free by switching to the 1911 Census site, which shows both names and ages when you carry out a free search. Choose the Full person search and click the Show advanced fields button.
If you're an Ancestry user you may discover that they don't always give the Schedule Number. In the case of institutions the Schedule Number is usually 9999, and you can check this by carrying out a free census reference search at findmypast.
In the last newsletter I asked whether any members had family links with the Titanic, since the centenary of the disaster is fast approaching. Mary in the US directed me to Encyclopedia Titanica, a site that collects information about all of the passengers and crew who were aboard that fateful April night.
Bill told me about his great uncle, John Lovell, who was a 3rd class grill cook on the Titanic. Sadly his body was never identified - one of many, I'm afraid. John was born in the workhouse, and whilst he never married he supported his widowed sister Elizabeth, who had a young son. After the disaster she claimed from the Titanic Fund, and was awarded 31 shillings a week, a sum roughly equivalent to John's wages of £6 10s a month (plus 3 guineas to pay for false teeth).
Dave in Canada related an interesting tale about his 2nd cousin twice removed Harry Bartram Faunthorpe, who travelled with his wife Lizzie - or rather, he travelled with Elizabeth Anne Wilkinson, who he passed off as his wife. Whether they were planning to marry isn't known, but it seems that after the disaster she reverted to her maiden name, though not before claiming the money and jewellery that was found about Harry's person when his body was recovered. Dave tells me that she also attempted to sue the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic for $10,000 as compensation for the loss of her husband - though nobody seems to know whether the suit was successful. I wonder whether she stayed in the USA (she had an aunt in Philadelphia) or returned to Manchester, where her family lived?
At the National Archives website I found a podcast focusing on the crew of the Titanic, and what it must have been like for the families they left behind - you might find it interesting.
A month ago LostCousins member William Turner reminded us how important it is to talk to our relatives while they are still with us, and this prompted Catherine Stewart, another member, to submit an article of her own - one which deals with the important issue of interviewing techniques.
In family history, the oldest relatives we have are a treasure chest of gold and jewels, but just like Long John Silver, you can lose it all if you fail to follow the treasure map properly. Fortunately, accessing the treasure trove of elderly relatives' family history knowledge is actually quite easy, as long as you follow five basic principles: Patience is the Virtue; 'what' you ask is never as important 'how' you ask; your silence is golden, sincerity and sensitivity are your watchwords, and plan it as a marathon, not a sprint!
When seeking the help of elderly relatives, you can eliminate most issues by thinking ahead. Think about your relative Ė are they active or infirm? Make an appointment (no matter how silly this seems) at least a fortnight in advance and be clear about why you are calling and then ALWAYS follow this up with a letter (no text or email).
The letter should clearly state day, date, time and venue; it should reiterate exactly why you are visiting. Specifically ask him or her to 'write down any stories (not 'anecdotes') you remember being told when you were young' and then, as a bullet-point list, (not paragraph), ask your relative to 'look out' any photographs, birth, marriage, or death certificates, baptism certificates, obituaries, postcards, letters, medals, ration books, schoolbooks, report cards, wills, deeds, knick-knacks, keepsakes, lockets, cufflinks, rings, etc. Do NOT use terms that - whilst familiar to seasoned researchers - might not be intelligible to others, for example 'genealogy', 'educational', 'BMD', 'ephemera', and 'memorabilia'. Be specific not vague: after all, your relative may have 70, 80 or even 90 years of memories to sift through!
Make contact a couple of times beforehand and, if you have to postpone the appointment, make a definite rearrangement of date and time. If you think your relative will need a bit of support, you might take someone with you - ideally someone in their age bracket and if possible their sibling or relative. But remember, you have to note down the information they are giving you, so having more than two people talking away is going to be difficult to follow.
Do your pre-preparation. A4 pad and pen is ideal. A laptop can intimidate and distract your relative; however, a camera phone can be a handy aid. You could also take a Dictaphone, but you should explain to your relative what you are doing then put it out of sight, so it doesn't put them off.
Family history isn't just about the sort of things that can be found in official records. To really understand someone's life it's helpful to know about their hobbies, favourite foods (and dislikes or allergies), health and physical characteristics, skills and ineptitudes. I find that Rudyard Kipling's '6 honest serving men' Ė who, what, where, when, why and how - cannot be beaten for covering all the bases.
When you arrive, you must be organised but also relaxed - remember you are there to interview not to interrogate. Once you've got your 'starting cuppa', ask them to show you anything they've been able to find out and jotted down. These will focus your relative's mind.
How you ask your questions is crucial in two ways. First, wording: 'Birthdate', 'siblings', ''occupation', 'denomination' will cause your relative's brain to concentrate on the construction of the question instead of what you want, the content. E.g., 'Have you any siblings? What is your birth date/occupation?' versus 'Have you got any brothers and sisters? When's your birthday? What was your job?'
Second: context. We're all egocentric; We to remember events in the context of how they impacted on 'me', rather than other people, so you get the 97 year old who can clearly remember stubbing his big toe at six, but isn't sure when his brother had his arm amputated in a farm machinery accident. As far as possible relate all of your questions to your relative: How old were you... Where were you... What did you do... Did you use Brylcreem, Did you like liquorice?
If you've done your preparation correctly, you will have memorised or have to hand a timeline of key dates which you can use to help you fix your relative's memories 'in time'. So, for example, 'you were six in 1926 when the General Strike was on, do you remember it?' 'Oh yes, no rubbish was collected, everything stopped'. Had your older sister Bette got married by then or did it stop her wedding?'
The strongest memory triggers are not
sight and hearing but smell and taste - if you can take with you a bag of
'proper' old fashioned mint humbugs or carry a hankie with Olbas
oil because your great-granddad always smelled of it your relative's memories
will receive powerful stimuli. Getting your relative to reminisce about Charles
Boyer or Joyce Grenfell may unlock relevant personal
memories. The conversation may meander and double back, but you can always
it back on course.
Having asked a question, LISTEN! Silence doesn't mean that your relative didn't understand the question - it usually means they are accessing their memory banks. Do not interrupt as this will break their concentration - when they have finished you can go back over it. For example, if you ask "Did you have any your brothers and sisters?" and the response begins "There's our Jack, Bert, Betty..." wait until your relative has finished speaking before trying to clarify with questions like "Was he Jack or John".
Ask related supplementary questions. For example, "Did he have a middle name?" might lead to the discovery that Bert was really George Bertram.† A great question is: "Were you/your brother/sister named after anybody?", or, "Why did your mum and dad name you.......?". If you're lucky you'll find yourself being told information and stories about ancestors several generations before your relative's. My grandmother's name came from Megan Lloyd George, highlighting her father's politics.
Tie in the memorabilia they have and use it with your non-standard' questions: if you get responses like "our Alice could sing like an angel but, by heck, she'd got three left feet" then you are doing your interview properly. It should be a voyage of discovery.
Lastly, stay but don't over-stay. Ideally arrive shortly after lunch, and stay till tea-time/early evening, but no longer. You want an enjoyable afternoon of reminiscing not 'mental exhaustion'. Emphasise the long-term nature of your project and offer to pop back now and then and keep them up to date. This opens the door for more visits to clarify and find new information - it is unlikely they will remember everything at the first attempt, no matter how alert and sharp they are.
That's it, except for one caveat which I think is important enough to emphasise: sensitivity, not just by you, but shown towards you.
I started to research my family history aged 12 and my sincere enthusiasm combined with my age meant I was 'forgiven' my unwitting tactlessness. I was vocally astonished that my great-grandmother gave birth to four children (including twins) in just under two years; I did not initially realise that 60 years later her reticence was her grief Ė one twin died aged 6 weeks, the other of the same cause at 3 months; Nan was just 25 years old when she lost her children.†
Remember who you are may colour your relative's answers and disclosures. As a teenager I was often told 'more than intended' because of my enthusiasm and youth, but being female meant that some less salubrious facts were not disclosed (it took me several years to discover my great-great-grandfather died indirectly due to alcoholism). Your status as the granddaughter of their favourite brother or the sister they'd never gotten along with also has an impact.
You also need to factor this into your dealings with other relatives. Often adult children, or a spouse, can take umbrage because they believe that "if that were true I would have known'. Sometimes how one person in the family remembers an event may not be how someone else does, and you can get caught in the middle of their historic relationship issues. I was given sensitive details of a marriage breakdown by a 95-year-old relative whose 65 year old daughter (unaware of my source) irately declared it 'nonsense'; I had to fudge the issue of who'd told me, but when I checked back, she was 6 years old, so I was safe in discarding her immature memories and accepting those of her mother, who'd lived through it as an adult. It's easy to forget that the adult you may be talking to today might only have been a young child unable to grasp the full import of events taking place.
What a great idea! Microsoft have developed a wearable camera to help people with Alzheimer's or other forms of short-term memory loss to recall what they've been doing. It can be set to take pictures at regular intervals, or when somebody approaches - or even when the wearer moves from one room to another. It's not cheap at £299 plus VAT (although some will be able to claim a VAT exemption), but when you consider that's no more than the cost of 4 days' stay in a nursing home, it could turn out to be a remarkably good investment. You'll find more details here.
Through corresponding with members I've discovered that even the most regular readers of this newsletter don't always know how to get the best from it. First and foremost, whilst you may find it easier to read the newsletter on paper, when you do that you can't click on the links - and if you don't you're missing out on an awful lot! So make sure that you have the newsletter up on the screen as well.
Did you realise that you can control the type size and the line length? Changing the line length is very, very easy - all you need to do is change the size of the browser window (hold the mouse pointer over the right-hand edge until it turns to a double-ended arrow, then press the left mouse button). How you change the font size depends on which browser you're using, but in the latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome itís simply a matter of holding down the Ctrl key and using the scroll button on the mouse to zoom in or out.
Would you prefer it if my newsletter was provided as a PDF file? There's a simple solution - use this free online converter. Simply copy the address of my newsletter and paste it in the URL box, choose your preferred paper size, then click Convert.
When all else fails, sometimes DNA testing provides the only chance of breaking down 'brick walls'. Of course, DNA testing is used for all sorts of purposes - medical and criminal as well as genealogical - but the one company whose name keeps coming to the fore is Family Tree DNA, who were once again at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. They claim that 90% of genealogists chose them, and certainly from my discussions with people who know far more about this topic then I do, that statement seems to be justified.
In recent years a lot of rubbish has been talked about DNA testing: after all, the two main tests only provide information about two of our lines - the ones that go up the edges of our family tree. Calling them paternal and maternal tests can make it sound as if they are comprehensive - after all, we only have one mother and one father - but you have to look behind the marketing blurb at the reality of what the tests can achieve.
However, there are much more intriguing possibilities from the latest tests. Hereís a quote from the Family Tree DNA website:
"Family Finder uses autosomal DNA (inherited from both the mother and father, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.) to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations."
Autosomal DNA comes from the 22 chromosomes that we inherit from both our mother and our father, not just from the X and Y chromosomes. It presents the intriguing possibility of finding people who are our 3rd or 4th cousins no matter which ancestors we share, whereas conventional Y-DNA and mtDNA tests can only find relatives who direct male or female line connects with ours (for the male line this is the equivalent of only finding cousins who have the same surname as we do). If - like me - you have one or more direct ancestors within the past 5 generations who were illegitimate or adopted, then tests of this type could be the only way of finding the vital clues that enable us to knock down those seemingly impenetrable 'brick walls'.
Documents recently released show that MI5, the British intelligence agency, tried to trace Charlie Chaplin's birth, but could find no evidence that it had ever been registered, even though by 1889 there was a large fine for failing to register a birth. You'll find more details here on the BBC website.
Wouldn't it be a great achievement if a LostCousins member was able to succeed where MI5 failed? You might even find my Masterclass article on finding elusive births useful!
When is a bargain not a bargain? Surprisingly often! Wandering round the show yesterday I noticed the Ancestry were selling Family Tree Maker 2012 Platinum for the 'show offer' price of £39.95, yet last time I checked Amazon were selling it for £38.99 with free shipping (and until recently it was even cheaper). Mind you, even at that price it was still cheaper to buy two copies, each offering 6 month's free Premium subscription, than to take advantage of one of Ancestry's other show offers - 20% off a 12 month Premium subscription.
Similarly, there have been many occasions when I've noticed large packs of fruit or other food in the supermarket marked as 'better value' or 'best value' when in reality a smaller pack was cheaper because it was on special offer. Another trick is to make the Value range look less appetizing, as a way of encouraging shoppers to trade-up, and it's not just done with tawdry packaging - a few weeks ago I was buying 1kg packs of 'soft citrus' in Tesco for just 92p, whereas smaller packs labelled as satsumas or tangerines were selling for double the price, though the quality was no better. (It reminds me of the way Ancestry use different names for the same subscription in order to charge different prices for the same thing - see the article above.)
It's Sunday morning as I write this, and I've just enjoyed a delicious breakfast! You can't beat freshly-squeezed orange juice for breakfast - or can you? After many years of squeezing oranges I one day remembered how in my soccer-playing youth we used to be handed orange quarters at half-time (and jolly good they were, too). Ever since we've been quartering oranges - far quicker, easier, and healthier than squeezing them.
Talking of breakfast, when it comes to porridge (or porage) I insist on using jumbo oats (there are several brands - you may need to buy Organic, but it is well worth paying the extra, believe me!). I never use the recipe on the pack - one cup or mug of oats to three of water or milk is so much quicker and easier. Confession: I frugally use water rather than milk, then indulge myself by adding soft dark brown sugar and cream when it's in the bowl. Mmmmm!
When you're buying a major item such as a fridge, a washing machine, or a vacuum cleaner - you want it to last for years, so there's no point buying a cheap model that's going to fall apart. That's why for most of the past 50 years I've been a reader of Which? magazine, published by the Consumer's Association - and why you should take up their offer of a trial issue for just £1 (subscribers to the magazine also get access to the reviews online, so you don't have to keep the copies that come through the post once you've read them). Which? also has a separate free service called Which? Switch for people who want to cut their gas and electricity bills - I use it every time the prices change to make sure that I'm still with the cheapest supplier. Have you checked recently? You don't need to be a Which? subscriber to take advantage of the Which? Switch service.
I was surprised to see that The Oldie had a stand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Why? Because a couple of years ago one of their columnists made disparaging comments about family historians. Mind you, they make disparaging comments about just about everything - it's that sort of magazine! I've been a subscriber for many years, but would probably have started earlier had they been running as good an offer as the one that's on now: 3 issues for just £3. Click here to find out more.....
Are you researching your spouse's ancestry? Or are you both family historians? I'm constantly surprised how few members take advantage of the discounted LostCousins subscription for husband and wife. A joint subscription, covering two accounts, costs £12.50 - just £2.50 more than a single subscription - but you'll only be offered this option if you have linked the accounts together. Even if you're not intending to subscribe now, it's a good idea to link your accounts together now - simply copy your partner's membership number (shown on their My Summary page) and enter it in the appropriate box on your My Details page.
Finally, a useful tip for Ancestry subscribers. Did you know that if you cancel your subscription (to avoid it being renewed automatically) the cancellation doesn't take effect until your existing subscription runs out? In fact, I often cancel the same day I take out a subscription - after all, since they don't offer any form of Loyalty Discount, why should I commit myself to renewing?
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
You may link to this newsletter, but please email me first if you would like to re-publish any part of it.