Newsletter - 23 February 2013
DNA tests for £30! ENDS THURSDAY
Genes Reunited offers 15% discount ENDS THURSDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 8 February 2013) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, and for a list of articles from 2012-13 click here.
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It may have been an illusion, but I got the impression that there were slightly fewer stands at this year's show - but on the other hand it left more room for the crowds of visitors, and without a doubt it's still an amazing event.
The program of workshops provided an opportunity to hear from dozens of well-known names - and I'm not talking about the so-called celebrities, but the real celebrities of the family history world, people like Else Churchill, Chris Paton, Peter Christian, Audrey Collins, and Peter Higginbotham (the man who has almost single-handedly put workhouses on the genealogical map). Professor Rebecca Probert was also there signing copies of her book, Marriage Law for Genealogists - sadly I hadn't brought my well-thumbed copy with me!
Surprisingly there were no announcements of new or forthcoming data from Ancestry, but there were some very interesting announcements from findmypast, as you'll see from the following articles - plus an amazing offer from Family Tree DNA that you could find extremely hard to refuse.
I had to wait until late in the day to take my photographs, otherwise you would scarcely have seen the stands, which for much of the day were surrounded by crowds of visitors. Rather than fill the newsletter with so many photos that it becomes indistinguishable from a tabloid newspaper I've created a separate web page, which you'll find here.
Over half a million crime-related records, some of which include 'mugshots', became available at findmypast.co.uk on Wednesday - and such was the publicity they attracted that for a time the site was overwhelmed by the demand! The records, held by the National Archives, cover the period 1817-1931 and will be supplemented over the coming months by another 2 million records from 1770-1934.
I've already found one of my distant relatives - he was sentenced to 12 months hard labour in 1898, but it clearly wasn't his last offence because he was in prison again at the time of the 1911 Census. But it's not just criminals that you'll find in the records - another of my distant relatives was a victim of crime.
For more details see this News article. I'm told about 10% of the records currently online include photographs so you might be able to put a face to one of the skeletons in your closet!
When I started writing about DNA testing 5 years ago I warned members not to pay the high prices then being asked for tests which could only ever tell you about your direct paternal line. Then you could have spent hundreds of pounds for a very basic Y-DNA test, and I warned members that prices would be coming down over the coming years.
However even I was surprised, when I arrived at the show, to discover that Family Tree DNA were offering 12-marker Y-DNA tests for just £30. Now there's only one reason why you might not take a DNA test - only males inherit their father's Y-DNA.
Tip: most female researchers are able to persuade a male relative to provide a DNA sample (remember it has to be a relate who has the same surname as your father)
One word of warning: these days 12-marker tests are regarded as fairly basic nowadays - I had a 37-marker test last year, and am wondering whether to upgrade to 67 or 111 markers. So you may find that having received the initial results from your 12-marker test you decide to upgrade, even if only to 37 markers.
But don't let that put you off - it will be entirely up to you whether you upgrade in the future, and the good news is that if you do, it won't be necessary to provide another DNA sample.
Note: the £30 offer is ONLY available at the Show. However until the end of February you can order the same test online for $39 (which is actually slightly cheaper, although I suspect there will be a few dollars extra for postage). Click here for more details.
Genes Reunited offers 15% discount
Another Show offer that runs until the end of the month provides 15% of any new 12 month subscription to Genes Reunited.
Whilst I wouldn't recommend choosing Genes Reunited over findmypast (because, although they are part of the same group, findmypast caters much better for experienced researchers like you and me), it is well worth considering a Standard subscription. For just £20 (less 15% when you use the code WDYTYA13) you'll be able to search for other researchers whose tree is in some way linked to yours.
Whilst the average Genes Reunited user isn't nearly as experienced as the people you'll find at LostCousins, there are an awful lot of them (a figure of 10 million has been quoted in the past), so the chances of finding someone who shares a particular part of your tree are quite good.
Click here to find out more about what is on offer.
Experts from the National Library of Wales were at the Show advising visitors and showcasing their latest project, Welsh Newspapers Online. It will soon - possibly within weeks - be possible to search up to 100 newspapers and periodicals free of charge - the collection is expected to include 2 million page.
If you follow the link above you'll find a list of the publications that will be included.
At the Show findmypast announced a major project involving not one, but SIX archives which hold records relating to Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Digitisation Consortium comprises the East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, the Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), the North Yorkshire County Record Office, Teesside Archives, Sheffield Archives and Local Studies, and Doncaster Archives and Local Studies.
Until now the largest collection of Yorkshire records online has been the 8 million entries from the West Yorkshire parish registers at Ancestry. Yorkshire is the largest county in England, so these new plans are excellent news for family historians. †
In the last newsletter I complained about the delay in putting Hertfordshire parish registers online. Well, someone at findmypast must have taken my words to heart because I discovered yesterday that nearly 2 million parish records are now online - about half of the intended total.
Even though it was very late when I finally got back from the show last night I couldn't resist searching the records in the hope that I might be able to extend some of the Hertfordshire lines in my tree - and thanks to findmypast's excellent wildcard search I was able to find the baptism of my great-great-great-great-great grandmother Mary Elbourne in 1752. When she married in 1770 the spelling was Elbun - but since she made her mark that was probably just the curate's interpretation of the name she gave (and who's to say which spelling, if either, is correct?).
Click here to find out exactly which parishes are covered by this release. I can't promise you'll be as fortunate as I was, and knock down a 'brick wall' with your very first search, but if you have ancestors from Hertfordshire this is a great opportunity to take your research back another generation or two. I'll certainly be very busy of the coming weeks filling in some of the gaps in my tree!
Tip: there are some useful name indexes at Hertfordshire Names Online including marriages, apprentices, wills, and criminal records. †
I don't get much opportunity these days to work on my own family tree, but this week I visited Manor Park Cemetery for the first time to visit the graves of some of my ancestors.
It was only the week before last when Deceased Online added 103,000 records from 1931-2010 that I discovered that three of my direct ancestors were buried at Manor Park, including the grandmother who I never knew. (42,000 cremation records from 1955 onwards were added this week, and the remaining burial records should go online within the next few weeks.)
One side of Manor Park Cemetery is bounded by the main railway lines from London Liverpool Street to Southend, Colchester, and beyond. Back in the 1960s and 1970s I must have travelled on that line thousands of times on my way to or from London, but not once when I gazed out of the carriage window did I realise that I was looking at the final resting place of my ancestors.
My paternal grandmother died just three years before I was born, yet nobody ever mentioned where she was buried - indeed, I had presumed until a fortnight ago that she had been cremated, because I knew she hadn't been buried with my grandfather, who died when I was 4 years old. Sadly, when I did eventually find the plot there was no headstone - I couldn't even find an inscription on the stone surrounding the grave. Was this the result of post-war austerity, I wonder, or perhaps because my grandfather remarried just over four months later and never got round to finalising the arrangements?
Buried in the next grave were her parents and two of her siblings - although only one is commemorated on the headstone. However, the inscription does mention that the five children who died young are buried elsewhere in the same cemetery - hopefully when the earlier records are made available online I'll be able to identify the three who didn't appear on any census, and who up to now I've only known about from the statistics on the 1911 Census return.
It had taken me the best part of half an hour to find my ancestors' graves, even though it was a relatively small plot, because most of the numbers on the graves had worn away or were obscured by weeds - and there was no discernible logic to the layout. However it could have been worse - far worse - because in the same block there were many graves that were almost completely covered by thick brambles which must have been growing for many years.
On a nearby tree there was a notice apologising for the state of the cemetery "Our planned working schedule had been delayed earlier this spring due to the heavy rainfall". I'm not sure why heavy rainfall would have prevented the clearance of the brambles, but in any case some of the stems were so thick that they clearly hadn't sprung up overnight.
To be fair, most of the cemetery was reasonably well-kept, which made it all the more surprising that some of the graves had been allowed to become over-run with brambles and other vegetation. And at least it hasn't been turned into a supermarket or a housing estate - yet.
I dare say some of you think of me as rather wild, but the Peter in this story is a German boy who is said to have been found in a forest in Hanover, unable to speak and walking on all fours.
Brought to England as a curiousity by the future Queen Caroline in 1726, he eventually died in 1785 and was buried at St Mary's in Northchurch, Hertfordshire according a BBC article. There is a picture of his headstone on the BBC website, and the grave has just been Grade II listed by English Heritage - which will ensure that it is well-looked after.
Note: if you want to know more an account of Peter's life written 200 years ago can be read here.
The Durham Mining Museum website is an excellent source for information about mines in the North of England and the miners who risked their lives to dig them. There is a name index with thousands of men and boys who died in mining accidents, some as young as 12 or 13.
I'd like to thank Carole for drawing my attention to this wonderful resource, which also includes links to other sites related to mining - so don't disregard it simply because your relatives were miners in other parts of Britain.
I've written in the past about the archive of The Stage, which is an excellent place to look for information about ancestors who trod the boards, or otherwise entertained the public in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
But I wasn't aware until Yvonne wrote to me that another similar publication, The Era, is included in the British Newspaper Archive collection (which can also be accessed at findmypast if you have a Full or World subscription). The issues online cover the period 1838-1900, and you'll find all sorts of performers from actors and musicians† to circus artistes and showmen.
The solution to my Christmas Challenge - the identity of the owner of a century-old Birthday Book - is still proving elusive, although the members working on the puzzle have done some incredible research.
It's the first time I've set a challenge to which I didn't already know the answer, which makes it a bit of an experiment - indeed, if I'd know how tough a nut it would be to crack I don't think I'd have put it in the newsletter! Ten days ago I came to the conclusion that the only way we would solve the problem is to collaborate, and I set up a 'wiki' where members taking part could post their discoveries and put forward hypotheses or suggestions for further research.
Note: a wiki is a website where multiple users can contribute information and edit the contributions of others without any technical knowledge - Wikipedia is the best-known example.
The wiki has been an amazing success - the cross-fertilisation of ideas has brought us to the point where a solution now seems within grasp. However, the invitation to join the wiki went out only to those members who had written to me with partial solutions - I know that there must be many who have tackled the challenge but not written in. If you're one of them I'd encourage you to follow this link and take a look at the research so far - you may discover that you can fill in some of the remaining gaps.
Note: to edit the wiki you'll need to register, but you can read what other people have written without registering.
Perhaps the most important of the page on the wiki will be the one headed Lessons learned, because ultimately that's what challenges like this are all about. Researching people who aren't in our family tree allows us to be more objective, helping to broaden our vision and create awareness of resources that we might not normally consider using.
Ipswich School seems to be at the heart of the Birthday Book challenge, so I was interested to read on the BBC website about a 'time capsule' that came to light when a car crashed into a Tudor building in Ipswich (you can read the article here).
Have you ever created a time capsule and left it for future generations to discover? I suppose that in a sense the Birthday Book that many of us have been studying so avidly is a time capsule - it has certainly focused our attention on a group of people who are long-dead and might well have been forgotten had that book not turned up.
Talking of Birthday Books and discoveries reminds me that a member wrote in about an amazing coincidence - some while ago his mother went to a nearby market town and walked into a second-hand bookshop that she had never visited before. There, lying open on the counter, was her own grandmother's Birthday Book! She bought it, of course.
I've always been pretty good at reading other peoples' handwriting, but trying to read old handwriting is a lot more challenging than reading bad handwriting - not least because some of the words and abbreviations may be unfamiliar, spelled differently, or used in different contexts from those we're familiar with.
Even if you are researching in the first half of the 19th century you're likely to come across the 'secretary hand' in which wills were generally copied, and this can be quite challenging, especially if you haven't encountered it before.
February has been an amazingly busy month for me - apart from the newsletters I've written and the hundreds of emails I've responded to, I've attended a family funeral and celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary (on the same day), been to the Who Do You Think You Are? show, and set up both my very first wiki and my very first forum.
I've now reached the stage with the forum where I need some help to populate it with key information so that it will be a valuable resource on the very first day it launches. There's nothing complicated - it's simply a matter of sourcing details such as where the records offices are for each county - but if you are an experienced forum user that would be a bonus, especially since I'll be looking for people to help me moderate the forum.
If you'd like to be involved during the pre-launch phase and can spare an hour or two, please drop me an email listing counties where you have particular interests, and - if you're also interested in becoming a moderator - describing your previous experience of forums (whether as a contributor or moderator).†
Note: so far about 4,000 members have indicated their interest in the forum - if you'd like to join them please adjust the 'Join forum' setting which you'll find under Privacy Settings on your My Details page at the LostCousins site.
It seems it's getting more difficult to cancel an Ancestry subscription if you subscribe to their Australian site - until recently it was possible to do it online, but it seems that now you have to telephone them (thanks to Graham for letting me know).
This change has come soon after Ancestry were taken over by a private equity fund - although that may simply be a coincidence. Personally I'd rather Ancestry came up with a more positive way to encourage subscribers to continue, like a loyalty discount (something that findmypast have offered for several years). Instead I've heard tales of substantial discounts being offered to persuade subscribers to change their mind, which seems rather unfair to the loyal members who pay the full price.
Many of us are known by nicknames or diminutive forms of our proper names, so I was interested to come across this web page which not only lists some of them, but also explains how they came about.
The article about cancelling Ancestry subscriptions has been amended to refer specifically to the Australian site..
I hope you've found this newsletter interesting and that you'll make full use of your membership of my site to link with the cousins you don't yet know (your 'lost cousins'). By the way, Peter's Tips will return in the next issue.
© Copyright 2013 Peter Calver
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