Newsletter - 15 January 2012

 

The future of certificates

Memo to the Registrar General

Have you been approached by an 'Heir Hunter'?

FamilySearch add index to Norfolk registers

East Anglian Film Archive

London electoral rolls at Ancestry

Genes Reunited offers new route to newspaper archive

Did you miss out on a free subscription?

Getting more information from the 1911 Census

Still celebrating New Year's Eve on 13 January!

Save on printed family trees

BBC radio programme solves mystery for member

A right Royal round-robin

Predictions come true a century later

Do you have Viking DNA?

Family Tree Maker warning

Stop Press

 

The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 2 January 2012) please click here.

 

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The future of certificates

Before Christmas I speculated about the changes I'd make if I was running the General Register Office, and I'm going to continue that theme with my vision of the ideal future for birth, marriage, and death certificates. If the Registrar General would like to adopt them as her New Year Resolutions I'd only be too delighted.

 

The General Register Office for Scotland has put its registers online at the Scotlandspeople site. To protect the privacy of the living the most recent registers available online cover births in 1911, marriages in 1936, and deaths in 1961 - but it's still a wonderful resource for family historians. I don't have any Scottish ancestry, but I can still imagine how wonderful it must be to obtain vital information instantly, and at a modest cost (typically about £2, compared to the £9.25 we pay in England & Wales).

 

But not only do the GRO at Southport not have any plans to put their registers online, they claim that it would be illegal to allow members of the public to view pages from registers. In their letter of 28 April 2010 in response to my Freedom of Information request they wrote:

 

"Under our current legislation, GRO can only release information in the form of a certified copy. Amendments to primary legislation would be needed to change this position, which is a matter for Parliament".

 

I can appreciate that it is very convenient for them to take that view - it protects the status quo. But it seems that they have forgotten how things used to work in the 19th century, when by all accounts members of the public did have access to the registers. Here's an excerpt from the Registrar General's 22nd Annual Report, published in the late 1850s:

 

"The original registers are lodged in the country with the Superintendent Registrars, and certified copies are sent up every three months to the General Register Office, where they are arranged so as to be readily accessible to the public, who have the right to search the indexes, and to find out any particular entry, by paying one shilling, as well as to procure for two shillings and sixpence a certified stamped copy...."

 

Note those words - "readily accessible to the public". How is it that with all the technology available in the 21st Century the GRO is unable to maintain the level of customer service it offered in the 19th Century? It throws a recent statement by Sarah Rapson, the Registrar General and Chief Executive of the Identity and Passport Service into stark relief:

 

"But it is not just about producing passports and certificates. IPS is consistently in the top tier of public sector organisations when it comes to delivering excellent customer service, whilst delivering more value for money for the fee payer and taxpayer." IPS Matters, November 2011

 

It's true that the GRO is providing certificates very quickly these days, but given the low level of orders it would be amazing were it to be otherwise. It's also true that it's now possible to order certificates by post, telephone, or even over the Internet, options that understandably weren't available in 1837 - but on the other hand, it's no longer possible to go along to the GRO and get a certificate the same day, nor will they allow access to the registers.

 

In the 19th century you could go along to Somerset House, pay a shilling (about £3.80 in today's money) and see the register entry there and then - indeed for 20 shillings you could spend all day there looking up events in the indexes and viewing the entries in the registers.

 

These days the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh charges just £15 per day, plus just 30p for each register entry or census image saved to a USB memory stick. True, you have to provide your own memory stick, but goodness me - what a contrast with the GRO's offering!

 

Ms Rapson, if you want to see what value for money is all about, get on a plane to Edinburgh!

 

Memo to the Registrar General

On the face of it, the ScotlandsPeople solution is the ideal one - but in actuality there's an even better option available, one that doesn't even seem to be on the GRO's radar, let alone in their plans. Sarah Rapson, if you're reading this, here's how the GRO could provide a valuable service that goes far beyond anything that the GROS currently offers....

 

Remember that quote from the Registrar General in the 1850s?

 

"The original registers are lodged in the country with the Superintendent Registrars, and certified copies are sent up every three months to the General Register Office"

 

In other words, the registers held by the GRO are copies made by vicars and registrars - just like my 'original' marriage certificate, which was handwritten by the registrar who performed the ceremony (even though my wife and I, and the witnesses, were all there, and so would willingly have signed our own names, given the chance).

 

But whilst it would be preferable to order certificates from the local register office, it usually isn't as convenient, especially for those living overseas, nor are there always indexes available to pinpoint the date of the event. The GRO indexes are invaluable because they cover the whole of England & Wales (albeit with some errors and omissions, as Michael Whitfield Foster pointed out in his masterwork The Marriage Records of England & Wales 1837-1899).

 

What I'd like to be able to do is order local certificates, but through the GRO - that way I'd have the best of both worlds. It would be wonderful way for the GRO to demonstrate that they really mean what they say about "delivering excellent customer service and "delivering more value for money for the fee payer".

 

Do you agree?

 

Have you been approached by an 'Heir Hunter'?

Just under two years ago I received a letter which began:

 

"We are a firm of genealogists specialising in tracing missing heirs and it appears from our research that you would stand to benefit from an estate on which we are currently working."

 

I am going to be writing about my experiences in a future article, but rather than base the article entirely on one person's experience, I'd like to hear from any other members who have been approached in a similar way.

 

FamilySearch add index to Norfolk registers

The new FamilySearch site has long had images of Norfolk parish registers, but until now there hasn't been any way of finding entries other than browsing through the images - a lengthy task unless you know the precise parish you should be looking in.

 

Just before the end of December an index to nearly 200,000 entries was added. It's far from complete (there are nearly 300,000 images, some of which include dozens of entries), but if the entry you're looking for happens to be in the index it could save you hours.

 

Tip: the most complete index to Norfolk registers is at FreeREG - it's one of the counties which for which they have the best coverage, with nearly 4 million entries.

 

East Anglian Film Archive

Last week I had an email from one of my cousins (well, she's not really a cousin, but our mothers were best friends, and so we've known each other our whole lives). Chris told me about the East Anglian Film Archive, which has 200 hours of film footage that you can view online, some of it going back to 1896.

 

I was fascinated by a short 1938 film of Romford Market, complete with sheep and cattle - in the 1950s my mother would often take me there on market day, but whilst the pens were still there, I don't remember seeing many animals. If you grew up in East Anglia, or have family connections, the site is well worth a visit.

 

728x90: Iím, your Nan

 

London electoral rolls at Ancestry

During 2012 findmypast will be adding Electoral Rolls covering the period 1832-1928, a project that they are embarking on in partnership with the British Library, which has by far the largest collection of Electoral Rolls.

 

But, as if to steal their thunder, Ancestry have just launched a collection of Electoral Rolls covering the old counties of London and Middlesex. There are over 150 million names in the collection, although of course many of them are duplicates - as with the phone directory, the same names appear year after year. Nevertheless it's one of the easiest ways to track an ancestor's movements in the 10 years between censuses.

 

Remember that not everyone was entitled to vote - it was only in 1928 that universal suffrage was introduced, although you will find many women listed in the rolls before this date because the requirements for voting in local elections were different. In 1780 only 3% of the population of England & Wales were able to vote. I was even more surprised to discover that in 1831 only 4,500 out of a population of more than 2.6 million in Scotland were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections!

 

Tip: modern day electoral rolls can be searched at many sites, including 192.com; although it is one of the more expensive sites I find the free search can be very useful when I already have an address, and want to know who else was living there (or whether it is still valid).

 

 

Genes Reunited offers new route to newspaper archive

Late last year I reported the launch of the British Newspaper Archive, a joint venture between the British Library and BrightSolid, owner of findmypast and Genes Reunited.

 

However, I didn't immediately take out a subscription because the only unlimited package is a 12 month package costing £79.95 - and even though there are already over 3 million pages, with (I would estimate) tens of millions of articles, and hundreds of millions of names, it's an expensive luxury compared to what I pay findmypast and Ancestry.

 

728x90_Genes Reunited

 

I was therefore delighted when I received an email from Susan, a Canadian member, who told me that Genes Reunited are now offering access to the British Newspaper Archive as an add-on to their Platinum subscription. The cost for a full year is £39.95 on top of a Platinum subscription, but if you are part way through your subscription year the cost is pro-rated (so, for example, I only paid £30.98).

 

One potential downside is that Genes Reunited doesn't have an Advanced Search option, so that if I search for my Wells ancestors I'm overwhelmed by matches with 'Tunbridge Wells' and the like. However I've figured out that if necessary I can identify the articles using a free search at the British Newspaper Archive site, then go back to Genes Reunited to look at them.

 

Tip: Genes Reunited also offers other add-ons, such as military records, passenger lists, and parish records - but these appear to be the same datasets that are already available at findmypast (on the whole I find it easier to search at findmypast, and I think you will too).

 

Did you miss out on a free subscription?

Quite a few members took advantage of the exclusive discount offer I arranged with findmypast and collected a free LostCousins subscription as a bonus.

 

Nevertheless, I still have a limited number of LostCousins subscriptions to give away, so if you might consider taking out a new subscription to findmypast in the next couple of weeks contact me now, so that I can earmark one of those LostCousins subscriptions for you.

 

Note: if you are already a findmypast subscriber I'm afraid the offer won't apply unless you are intending to upgrade your subscription.

 

Getting more information from the 1911 Census

I mentioned in my Christmas Day newsletter that findmypast are the first site to reveal the information in the final column of the 1911 Census schedule (the one relating to Infirmity) - and that still seems to be the case.

 

However, it can be quite tedious looking up every household all over again, so you might find this clue useful....

 

The only schedule (so far) where I have found something written in this column had a larger than usual white space - there was a little extra bit added on, because the comments didn't fit within the narrow column.

 

Still celebrating New Year's Eve on 13 January!

When, in 1752, Britain changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar 11 days were cut from September (2nd September was followed by 14th Setember), and as a result many people believed they were losing 11 days of their lifespan. Nevertheless, I was amazed to discover from a BBC news article that in the Gwaun Valley of Wales they still abide by the old calendar when it comes to celebrating the arrival of the New Year, and as a result they celebrated New Year's Eve on 13th January this year!

 

Until 1752 the first day of the legal year in England and the Colonies was 25th March - though, according to Samuel Pepys, it was still 31st December when New Year's Eve was celebrated. In Scotland it was slightly different - from 1600 onwards the legal year began on 1st January, although Scotland continued on the Julian calendar until 1752 (some sources claim that they adopted the new calendar in 1600, but this seems to be an error).

 

Save on printed family trees

Genealogy Printers will print family trees of almost any size and ship them almost anywhere in the world! You'll get a 10% discount when you give your LostCousins membership number (it's shown on your My Summary page and begins with the letters 'LC') when you ask for a quote.

 

BBC radio programme solves mystery for member

LostCousins member Val McFarlane wrote recently with some great news! I'll leave it to her to tell the tale:

 

"In your newsletter dated 28th August 2011 one of the articles was 'Do you have Scottish ancestors?' Having read that the producers of "Digging Up Your Roots" on BBC Radio Scotland were looking for people with interesting ancestors for the next series starting in January 2012 I emailed the team.

 

"My email was entitled 'Was Thomas Telford an ancestor of my husband Ian?' and I explained the possible, but yet to be confirmed, family connection. The story is that when he was a young boy my father-in-law was told by his maternal grandmother that her grandmother's cousin was Thomas Telford, who was born in Scotland in 1757.

 

"The following day I received a phone call from one of the production team to say that they were very interested in my story and would I be prepared to do a 10-15 minute interview about my family history and Thomas Telford if they decided to include it in the new series. Of course I agreed and sent the family tree details as far as I had researched. A few weeks later it was confirmed that they were going ahead with my story and I went to the Radio Shropshire studios in Shrewsbury to make the recording!

 

"They have genealogists researching the supposed family link and my story and the actual outcome will be part of the programme to be broadcast on Sunday 22nd January at 12.05 pm on BBC Radio Scotland. This can be heard in the UK if you have access to Sky on channel 0116 or Virgin Media on channel 930. It can also be listened to on-line via BBC i-player either live or for the following 7 days.

 

"Finally I can tell you that I do not know the outcome myself so I am really looking forward to hearing what has been found out."

 

Well, Val, I think I speak for the whole LostCousins membership when I say that we'll all be looking forward to finding out the answer!

 

A right Royal round-robin

LostCousins member Edward Kendall wrote to me recently about the amazing collection of round-robins written by members of his family and held by the Royal Institution of Cornwall on long-term loan from his family.

 

Having recently watched the BBC documentary about King George V and Queen Mary, in which their visit to India soon after the Coronation featured prominently, I was fascinated to read what Herbert Kendall had written about them in 1911:

 

"On Sunday the 3rd their Mís went to church in the Cathedral and studied the monument to our great-grandfather, also the inscription to our grandfather, with marked interest.George is a dapper undersized little man with no shoulders, a longish sheep nose and a nervous manner; his wife is large and imperious with quantities of fair hair and a vulgar mouth.I sat two seats behind them in church, and saw splendidly, including how much each put in the plate... He seems to have done quite well since leaving here, notably by shifting the Capital of India to Delhi..."

 

Edward tells me that he hopes that one day the round-robins will be published - so if there are any publishers or editors out there who might be interested, please get in touch and I'll pass your details to Edward.

 

Note: the term round-robin is these days most often used for the notes that some of us circulate with our Christmas cards, but according to Wikipedia it was originally used to describe a document signed in a circle to make it more difficult to determine who the ringleader was.

 

Predictions come true a century later

I spotted an interesting article on the BBC website this week. In 1900 an American engineer named John Elfreth Watkins made various predictions about what life would be like in the year 2000 - and apparently a surprisingly large number have come true. If you share my fascination you'll find the article here.

 

Do you have Viking DNA?

The University of Leicester are looking for men who have old local surnames from the north of England as part of a study to investigate whether there are traces of Viking genes in the modern-day population. There are recruitment events being held next weekend in York, Harrogate, Lancaster, and Keswick so if you feel you might qualify, visit the project website now!

 

Family Tree Maker warning

I know that a lot of members have bought Family Tree Maker to get the free Ancestry subscription that comes with it - indeed, I've done it myself. Follow this link to Amazon where you'll find it for sale at a bargain price!

 

However Sylvia wrote recently to warn me that after installing the 2012 edition she lost the data she'd created with the 2011 edition. Whilst she got it back in the end, and it could well be an isolated incident, if you're also upgrading from an earlier version I'd recommend making a backup copy of your family tree data first (not just an online backup, but also a backup on your hard drive).

 

Tip: you may have to install Family Tree Maker to take advantage of the free Ancestry subscription that comes with it, but you don't have to use the program - I've never used mine, and have no plans to do so.

 

Stop Press

This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.

 

I hope you've enjoyed this newsletter - remember that many of the articles are inspired by members!

 

peter_signature

 

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins

 

© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver

 

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