Newsletter - 25 October 2012
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After months of speculation, Ancestry this week accepted a $1.6 billion buy-out offer from funds run by the European private equity group Permira. You can read the press release here.
Since the announcement a number of Ancestry subscribers have contacted me to ask how this sale might affect the way that Ancestry operates - according to one "the consensus is that the subs will go up because making money is the reason it was sold".
The simple fact is that Ancestry has been owned by investors for many years - even before the company listed on NASDAQ in 2009 it was controlled by Spectrum Equity, a US-based venture capital company. The change in Ancestry's focus happened long ago - in August 2009 I wrote in this newsletter:
"Ancestry has filed a document with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in preparation for a public offering. According to this document they have almost 1 million subscribers, who on average pay $16 a month (about £10), and in the first half of 2009 they earned over $8 million in profits - a considerable increase on the previous year, possibly because of the big increase in subscription prices."
The focus on financial performance has continued since then: in the first half of 2012 Ancestry reported profits of $33.5 million, a user base of just over 2 million subscribers, and (in the 3rd quarter) an average revenue per subscriber of $18.68, and taken together these statistics suggest that most of the profit increase has come from selling more subscriptions, rather than from raising prices.
Another concern on the blogs is that users of the Ancestry site have uploaded personal details to a website that is now owned by 'foreigners'. This is groundless scaremongering - in reality privacy laws in the EU are much tougher than in the US - as you can see here.
As a public company Ancestry had to report its results quarterly, a regime which puts pressure on management to produce short-term profits, often at the expense of long-term performance. I strongly suspect that this may have contributed to some of the quality issues of the past few years, and hope that under new ownership Ancestry will restore the balance between quantity and quality.
Tip: in my last newsletter I demonstrated how Ancestry subscribers who live outside the UK can make big savings - click here to see the article. Everyone who has followed my advice has saved money, and some have saved hundreds of dollars!
Just after I published my last newsletter I discovered that findmypast.co.uk was - at long last - offering a World subscription. World subscriptions have been available at other findmypast sites for some time, but I've found it hard to recommend them to members because the Search facility uses the same filtering approach that you'll find at the new FamilySearch site, and which has come in for quite a lot of criticism from experienced researchers.
Findmypast.co.uk now offers the best of both worlds - if you buy (or upgrade to) a World subscription you can continue to search UK records in the same way that you've always done - the filtering approach is only used for records outside the UK. This is great news for those of us with British ancestry!
There's an Introductory Discount of £20 off a 12 month World subscription, and £10 off a 6 month World subscription - but I've no idea how long those discounts will last. Click here to see the current prices.
Tip: you can search the World records even if you don't have a World subscription - indeed you can try out the search even if you don't have ANY subscription. It's worth noting that the US 1940 census is currently free.
The existing findmypast.co.uk subscriptions have been renamed to British Foundation and British Full - not the snappiest of names, but no doubt they'll come up with something better in time (any suggestions?).
Note: There's also an introductory discount at findmypast.com.au and findmypast.ie which makes World subscriptions at those sites slightly cheaper - but if you have British ancestry it's well worth paying a fraction more to get the far better access to British records that the UK site offers.
Until 18 November you can view 1911 England & Wales Census transcripts free at findmypast.co.uk, so it's a great opportunity to add more relatives to your My Ancestors page.
Tip: if you've got images of the census schedules, but didn't make a note of the census references, now would be a great time to retrieve that information.
The cost of viewing images from the 1911 Census has been permanently reduced from 30 credits to 5 credits, the same as for other England & Wales censuses - but remember that it's almost always a lot cheaper in the long-run to buy a subscription, as well as being less restrictive (let's face it - when you have to pay for each record that you view you're far less likely to find the records you're looking for).
Since writing about the 'Wilkinson finger' in my last newsletter I've received numerous emails from members who share this trait - some who have Wilkinson connections, such as Simon (who didn't realise that his little finger was different until he saw the article), and some who don't. One email came from Edward who reported that this trait is also claimed by the Reid family, many members of which have the same crooked little finger.
But what I find most intriguing is that whilst this trait is apparently associated with particular surnames, which - if you have been reading my articles on DNA - would suggest that it is passed through the Y-chromosome, it seems to be passed to both male and female descendants. Are there any DNA experts out there who can explain that conundrum?
Michael wrote about a trait that appears to run in his family, since it affects both him and his daughter - they are both missing an incisor on each side of their upper jaw. Unfortunately he was unable to ascertain whether either of his parents had the same trait, so he doesn't know which side of his family it comes from.
The trait that runs in Julia's family, and which is believed to come from her Cornish ancestors, is for the second and third toes on each foot to be connected by skin, almost as if they were webbed (as I imagine they would have been tens of millions of years ago).
I mentioned in my last newsletter that there's also a genetic trait in my own family, one that I believe comes from my mother's side. When I was young she pointed out that I had a tiny hole in the fleshy part of each ear, not in the lobe but at the top. Apparently I was the only person in the family to have a hole in each ear - others only had a hole in one ear.
I wonder whether anybody reading this article shares any of these traits?
Did you know that many people have traces of DNA that belongs to other people? During pregnancy cells from the unborn child can pass into the mother's body, and survive for decades - indeed cells can also pass the other way.
A recent article in New Scientist reported that nearly two-thirds of female brains autopsied by researchers in Seattle contained Y-chromosomes - which are only inherited by males, and therefore must have belonged to somebody else. In most cases it's likely that the foreign DNA was the result of pregnancy, although it's also possible that the DNA belonged to an older brother, and arrived via the mother.
A more puzzling case was reported in the same magazine in 2003: this involved a woman who five years previously had been told that according to DNA tests she wasn't the mother of two of her three sons - and it took two years for researchers to discover the solution. It transpired that she was a chimera, a mixture of two individuals - the result of the eggs of two non-identical sisters fusing in her own mother's womb. However, although another 30 cases had come to light by 2003 it is such a rare phenomenon that for genealogical purposes we can ignore it - although if your eyes are different colours it might just be worth looking into!
Could a blood transfusion change your DNA? No, but according to this article on the Scientific American site the foreign DNA could persist for a week or more (it's worth noting, by the way, that red blood cells don't have any DNA - though white blood cells do).
The situation is different when it comes to bone marrow transplants, however - the transplanted marrow includes blood stem cells, which produce new blood. You'll find a brief article on this topic here.
This year, and especially in the past couple of newsletters, I've written a lot about DNA and how it can be used to enhance your genealogical research. (If you missed the recent articles use the link near the top of this newsletter to go back to the previous issue - then click the link near the top of that one to get to the one before.)
I know from the response to those articles that for many readers DNA tests have been demystified - but I still get emails asking which DNA testing company I'd recommend.
Both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe claim to have the largest database of DNA results for genealogical purposes, but I'm more inclined to believe Family Tree DNA because they actually publish the numbers. They're also the company that most other researchers have recommended to me over the years, and the company I chose when I had my DNA tested a few months ago.
Why does the size of the database matter? Because in isolation your DNA results tell you next to nothing - it's only when someone else whose results match (or, rather, nearly match) is identified that you'll have any clues to help you unravel the mysteries in your tree.
Of course, sometimes you may be checking a specific hypothesis - perhaps verifying whether two supposed cousins are in fact related - and you'll be primarily interested in whether the two samples suggest that the hypothesis is correct. But what if it isn't? The larger the database, the greater the chance of being able to develop new theories, so the fact that Family Tree DNA have almost 250,000 Y-DNA results in their database is crucially important.
LostCousins member Sue recently received an email from findmypast.co.uk which suggests that anyone with a Full subscription (or, presumably, a World subscription) will soon able to search the British Newspaper Archive for no extra charge.
I haven't received the email myself, but if this comes about it will be very good news indeed - local newspapers are such a wonderful source of unexpected detail about our ancestors' lives. Furthermore, it is "the gift that keeps on giving" - so far less than 6m of the projected 40m pages are online!
Tip: your local library almost certainly offers access to older newspaper archives; typically this will include The Times from 1785-2006 and may also include a small collection of 19th century local and regional newspapers held by the British Library (usually access is possible from home using a library card number).
Marriage Law for Genealogists is a phenomenal new book from Professor Rebecca Probert of Warwick University, which proves that much of the assumptions and assertions that have been made about marriage and related topics such as illegitimacy are plain wrong! Even Ancestral Trails, the book that taught me much of what I know about genealogy, and which was written by a lawyer, isn't completely absolved of blame.
Admittedly some of the myths that are debunked were new to me - such as the belief that it was possible to marry by jumping over a broomstick - but Google revealed plenty of forum discussions where well-meaning people were propagating the myths.
If you've ever wondered about the status of clandestine marriages, then all will be revealed in the book - it really is a goldmine of fascinating information! And whilst I knew that divorce was very rare until the 20th century the discovery that there were only about 300 divorces up to 1857 (the first being in the 1660s) certainly puts it into perspective.
I'm only one-third of the way through the book, but already I've learned enough to justify the £8.99 I paid at Amazon - and I can't wait to read the rest. Highly recommended.
Note: if you think you already know the answers, try this quiz!
If you're old enough to remember the BBC radio programme Round the Horne you'll almost certainly know the follow up, which is "...or should one of them be a girl?".
Not very-PC these days, but I couldn't help be reminded of this old chestnut when I came across an entry in the parish registers for Hillingdon which purported to show that the parents of Edward James Hazael, baptised on 12 November 1865 were James and Henry.
My guess - and it is just a guess - is that the entry was written up from notes made on the day, but that the curate misread his own writing, and wrote Henry instead of Mary.
Scottish birth certificates always show the time of birth, but when this information appears on an English, Welsh, or Irish birth certificate it usually indicates a multiple birth. However, as the genealogist Paul Blake points out in the latest edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, this isn't always the case.
Sometimes when no other birth can be found this may be because the twin was stillborn (stillbirths were not registered until 1927, and even now are not included in the GRO birth indexes). But Paul also suggests that some registrars were over-zealous, or that times were entered for clarification - for example, if a birth occurred just before, or just after, midnight.
Note: if you want to obtain a birth certificate for a relative who was stillborn you'll need to telephone the GRO for advice - you can't apply online.
These days there are so many passwords and pin codes to remember that it's not surprising that most people pick passwords that are easy to remember. Unfortunately such passwords are usually easy to guess, and that's why so many people find - to their horror - that their email account has been hacked, and also why banks usually insist on two or three levels of security.
Earlier this year an article in The Economist examined how it might be possible to create passwords that are easy to remember but hard to guess (remember, by the way, that the guessing is done by computers that can run through millions of possibilities in the blink of an eye).
The best option for mere mortals seems to be a password based on a phrase that's easy to remember (though choosing a film title, or a phrase from a song isn't a good idea - what you want is a phrase that only you will know). If you take the first letter of each word, capitalise some, and turn others into numbers (eg '5' for 'S', or '8' instead of 'B') you'll create a password that looks impenetrable, but is almost as easy to remember as 'John12345' or whatever you use at the moment.
Tip: if your email account is ever hacked but you keep the same address (ie after changing the password) be sure to let me know. When I receive spam from a member's email address I remove that address from my mailing list!
One of the questions I'm asked regularly is "how can I find details of an adoption?".
Adoption records are, for obvious reasons, confidential - but in recognition of the fact that many adoptees want to get in touch with their birth relatives (and vice versa) the General Register Office operates the Adoption Contact Register. †It costs just £15 to add your name to the register if you are an adoptee, or £30 if you're the birth relative of an adoptee (or if you're an adoptee looking for siblings who were also adopted).
There are also intermediary agencies that put people in touch. Barnardo's - which ran children's homes and orphanages from the 1870s until the 1970s - operates a family history service which costs from £15 (to establish if a relative †was ever a Barnardo's child) to £100.
Some children were sent abroad, and in these cases the best sources of information are often in the destination country. You'll find articles about child migration in my 2010 newsletters (see the 2009/10 index for links).
Tip: there was no formal adoption in England until 1927 - but occasionally private contracts for adoption have survived, having been passed down within the family.
Findmypast have added 56 million new records to their Australia & New Zealand collection, available either through findmypast.com.au or - if you have a World subscription - through their other sites.
They include electoral rolls from both countries, births, deaths, and marriages for South Australia, and a wide range of directories and other publications. For a full list of the records in findmypast's Australia and New Zealand collection click here.
A quick search of the electoral rolls using some of the rarer surnames in my tree threw up several records that I'll need to look into more closely when I have time - it looks as if I may have discovered some new Antipodean branches of my tree!
Jefferson Tayte will be back in December!
If, like me, you've become addicted to the genealogical crime novels penned by Steve Robinson you'll be delighted to know that it won't be necessary to wait until 2013 for the third novel - it will be available for Kindle in December! Although the print version won't be out until March next year, you don't have to wait that long even if that Kindle you've been hoping for isn't in Santa's sack - because there are free Kindle apps for PCs and handheld devices.
You'll find information about the new title on the author's website - and if you're wondering what all the fuss is about, I suggest you read the first book in the series, In the Blood, which you can buy as a paperback or in Kindle format - 141 out of 181 Amazon reviewers have given it five stars, the maximum rating!
Note: if you missed my exclusive interview with the author last month you'll find it here.
With all the excitement at Ancestry and findmypast it's easy to forget that FamilySearch is continuing to add records to its massive database. A quick way to check what has been added recently is to visit this page.
In 1978 I discovered a wonderful programme on the radio - cleverly scripted and brilliantly voiced - but I only heard snippets when I was in my car, and it wasn't until later that I discovered that The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy had been written by Douglas Adams, who I had been at school with just a decade earlier.
The radio series became a book, the book became a computer game, a TV series, and a film - but for me nothing could match the charm of the original. I don't know who first said that "the pictures are better on the radio", but it's something that has been brought home to me time and time again.
I was therefore absolutely delighted to discover that The Book People, whose main business is selling books at amazing discount, are offering the complete radio series on 12 CDs for just £15, a saving of £65 (this link will take you straight to the offer page).
Of course, there are always enticements to spend a little bit more than you first intended: free delivery when you spend over £25, a free gift when you spend over £40. Another offering in their catalogue took me right back to my childhood - the complete set of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven books (15 in all) for just £15.99 - though I doubt that if I read them again they'd have quite the same magic. Still, with Christmas coming up I don't think I'll have much trouble getting the order up to £40 so that I can get that free RHS Diary!
When I was a child the ONLY time I'd be able to eat potato crisps was at Christmas - we'd buy a box of Smith's crisps to share. Do you remember the salt wrapped in blue paper?
When I was last in Norfolk I bought a packet of crisps - and I kept the emply packet so that I could tell you about them. Why? Because they're not only the best potato crisps I've ever tasted, they are also the healthiest (or rather the least unhealthy). The name of the manufacturer is Pipers Crisps, and they're based in Lincolnshire. You won't find their crisps in supermarkets, but if you do come across them they really are worth trying.
Finally, a reminder that you've only got a couple of days to take advantage of the Tesco offer that I mentioned last time (you'll find the original article here). It's the only way I know that you can buy a Kindle in the UK for under £60! Or you can do what I did, and buy two copies of the Windows 8 upgrade for a total of just £92.94 (including shipping) and get 1000 extra Clubcard points worth up to £30.
Good news - I've just heard that the Tesco offer has been extended until 4 November. I've also discovered that you can get 10% off an order from The Book People when you spend £20 or more between 26 October and 31 October and enter the code AFPRESENT at the checkout.
I hope you've found this newsletter interesting. Many of the articles are inspired by members, so do please keep writing in with your tips, comments, and questions!
And if you are seeking inspiration yourself, you could do worse than take a look at the online article that LostCousins member Ian has written about his great-grandfather's life - it's beautifully crafted.
© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver
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