Newsletter - 16 June 2012
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 1 June 2012) please click here.
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It can be very frustrating when you're up against a 'brick wall' in your research. But before turning to the question of how to get those brick walls tumbling down, it's important to distinguish between real brick walls and the imaginary ones we create for ourselves. For example, if there are sources of information that you haven't searched because you don't have the right subscription or don't live close to the relevant records office, it's not really a brick wall that's blocking your path.
Of course we all have limited time and money, but there are usually routes we can take if only we stop and think for a moment. These might, for example, include free access to subscription services at your local library or LDS Family History Centre. Of course, sometimes the records you want to search are only available at an archive that's thousands of miles away - but even then you've got the option of employing a researcher, or (if you're lucky) contacting a friend or cousin who lives nearby.
But when you've checked all the readily-available records, what next? One approach is to find others who are researching the same line, which is where LostCousins can help: make sure that your My Ancestors page is as complete as possible. Finding relatives who are researching the same families can lead to all sorts of discoveries - even someone who isn't as experienced as you may well have some clues that you don't have.
Sometimes simply starting from a different place on the tree can make all the difference. For example, last year I obtained the will of my great-great-great-great aunt's husband - which referred to the son of his sister-in-law (but didn't name him). I knew that she wasn't married at the time the will was written, so it was obvious that the child was illegitimate - and suddenly I realised who that son must be (and that the name of the father shown on his marriage certificate was a fabrication). It was a fascinating discovery even though it didn't break down any of my own brick walls - but for the descendants of that child (and there are hundreds of them, who are now confirmed as my cousins) it was a wonderful discovery, because starting from where they are on the tree there would have been no reason for them to ever obtain a copy of that will.
That particular find depended on spotting the link between seemingly unrelated information from three different parts of my tree. Making such connections usually requires us to have a very ambivalent attitude towards the information in our tree: in other words, we always have to have in the back of our minds the possibility that what we've been told, or what we've read in a register or on a certificate isn't true - at least until we have found so much supporting evidence that we have to accept its veracity.
Occasionally we know where the information that will break down a particular brick wall is likely to come from. For example, there were a lot of people waiting for the 1911 Census to be released because it was the only way they could find out where their grandfather or grandmother was born. Similarly, I was hoping that the indexing by Ancestry of the London Metropolitan Archives parish registers would enable me to find the baptism of my great-great grandmother - who gave four different birthplaces on the census (sadly it didn't).
Often it's serendipity that leads to the solution - though we still have to be alert to the possibility. For example, the surname of a visitor staying with my great-great-great grandparents at the time of the 1851 Census seemed vaguely familiar, and I eventually realised that it was the name of a marriage witness whose signature I'd had difficulty deciphering some years before. This enabled me to confirm that I'd found the right Smith family on the census (not easy with such a common surname) and take the line back another generation.
Seek out inspiration. Read as many family history magazines as you can, and especially free newsletters - not just mine, but also the blogs of knowledgeable people with lots of connections like Dick Eastman and Chris Paton. The information you glean might not solve the present problem, but it could well solve a problem in the future (it's important to remember that sometimes the solutions arrive before the problems!).
And yet, more often than not, when I'm up against a brick wall I choose the "do nothing" option. That's right, instead of running round like a headless chicken I put that particular problem to one side and focus on another part of my tree. It's amazing how often some small discovery I make elsewhere provides an insight into how I might solve the original problem.
Another reason to focus on a different line is the way that new records are becoming available on the Internet - there's no point dithering over a problem that will be easy to solve next year, much better to work on a different line whole you're waiting. You see, to be really successful we have to be flexible not only in the way we do our research, but also the order in which we do it!
Note: this is a revised version of an article originally published in August 2010.
There's nothing quite like breaking down a 'brick wall' to provide us with the inspiration and enthusiasm to knock down some more. Marilyn in Australia wrote to me earlier this week with a simple question about birth certificates, but one thing led to another, and a couple of hours later Marilyn's 'brick wall' came tumbling down!
How would you like to test your skill and judgment by tackling the same 'brick wall'? All you have to do is find the GRO index entry for the birth of Marilyn's grandfather, starting with the same information that she gave me.
"I am having difficulty locating BMD records for my Long family in London about 1850-1920 - my grandfather, born in 1896, came to Sydney in 1920. I have obtained likely looking [birth] certificates from the GRO only to find it is the wrong person.
"My grandfather was Frederick Leonard Long, born possibly on 31 Oct 1896 (or between Aug 1896 and Aug 1897). His parents were George, a builder (born Kensington), and Emily (born Notting Hill); I'm trying to find her maiden name.
"My grandfather's [Australian] death certificate says he was born at Ealing and it says that on the 1901 census too.
"My grandfather's siblings were George Solomon, Elizabeth, Lillian, John, and Rose. The family may have been Jewish. On my grandfather's death certificate it has his father's name as Emmanuel (but it shows† George on John's death certificate) and John's death certificate also has his forenames as John Levi. In the 1911 census Rose is Rose Annie but I may have found her 1896 birth as Rose Edie.
"It was only in the 1901 Census that I found the whole family... I can only find Lillian and Rose in 1911 - I can't find either parent or the other children. It is very frustrating!"
Knocking down 'brick walls' is fun and rewarding - even when it's someone else's tree - because the experience you gain will lead to even greater achievements in the future!
If you manage to rise to this challenge email the GRO references to me together with at least one other interesting fact you've discovered about Marilyn's grandfather's ancestors - and if you're the member whose entry most impresses me you'll win a unique personalised LostCousins T-shirt printed with the surnames from your family tree!
Tip: if you're not sure where to start, try the example search at the end of my article about the new Index to newsletters
LostCousins member Gill has very kindly indexed my online newsletters for the years 2009 and 2010, and if you are struggling to locate an article it's definitely the best place to start.
You'll find the index here. When you find an article of interest, simply click on the title to go to the relevant newsletter.
Note: some of the articles will inevitably include information or links that are now out of date, so it's always best to refer to the most recent article on a particular topic.
Please bear in mind that there may be more than one article on the same topic, and that there may have been articles published in 2011 or 2012. I use Google to search for articles, for example you might type:
lostcousins newsletter finding birth certificates
WW1 and WW2 PoW records go online
This week findmypast added nearly 8,000 transcribed records relating to British Army officers who were held as prisoners of war between 1914-18, and over 165,000 relating to World War 2 PoWs, including Douglas Bader - whose exploits were memorably recorded in the book Reach for the Sky and the subsequent film. Click here for more information about the records.
Findmypast have also added 70,000 new parish records for Sheffield.
If you joined the Society of Genealogists last year when there was special offer for LostCousins members I hope that you also joined the SOG-UK mailing list at Rootsweb, because the conversations are invariably instructional and often provide invaluable clues.
For example, only today a posting by LostCousins member (and author) Debbie Kennett led me to a publication called Classified and Alphabetical Lists of Occupations which was created in connection with the 1911 Census. Although it doesn't describe exactly what the occupations are, the way in which they are classified and the accompanying notes enabled me to solve two mysteries in my family tree - so I'd certainly commend it to you.
†(This money-saving tip is for members who live outside the UK; if you live in the UK see Peter's Tips below)
If you have Ancestry World Explorer or World Heritage membership I've got some good news for you - you can save over 25% (and possibly as much as 50%) by switching to Worldwide membership through Ancestry's British website, even though all three memberships offer the same features!
Right now the annual cost through Ancestry.com is $299.40, and at Ancestry.com.au it can cost as much as A$449.95; the equivalent cost if you subscribe through Ancestry.co.uk is less than $220 (whether your dollars are US, Canadian, or Australian)!
How can a discrepancy like this exist? It's partly down to fluctuations in exchange rates over the past few years. At one time I used to save money by subscribing to the US site (even though I live in the UK), but now the UK site is much cheaper. I use a free site called XE.com to find out the equivalent cost in different currencies - here's what it showed when I checked earlier today:
If you live outside the European Union, 135.13 British pounds is what you'll be billed when you take out Worldwide membership through Ancestry.co.uk, so you can see that even after allowing for the charges that the bank that issued your credit card will levy there's a saving of about $80. If your current subscription is with Ancestry.com.au the saving could be even higher - although they highlight an introductory rate of $299.88, that only applies to the first year (the renewal price of $449.95 is shown in small print underneath).
Don't be put off if when you go to the Ancestry.co.uk site you're initially shown a higher price. The price of £155.40 includes UK taxes, which you won't have to pay. The price you will actually pay is shown on the page where you enter your credit card details, as shown below:
Tip: Ancestry will try to take you back to your local site: click here to go direct to the right page at the UK site (if you get a message about 'cookies' just click Continue).
Although fluctuating exchange rates mean that the numbers might be slightly different when your Ancestry.com subscription is due for renewal, there will still be a significant saving to be made. I recommend you cancel your Ancestry.com subscription now so that it doesn't renew automatically (you'll still have full access until the expiry date). I suggest you also bookmark this newsletter so that you can run through the details before resubscribing.
Tip: you can use the same user name at all Ancestry sites worldwide, so you'll still have access to your online tree and other information after you move your subscription to the UK site.
According this article on the BBC News website, a housebound woman who was abused by internet 'trolls' has won court backing in her bid to gain the identities of those who targeted her - she has been granted a High Court order asking Facebook to reveal the IP addresses of people who had abused her so she can prosecute them.
Ironically Facebook is usually in the news because of fears that personal information will be inadvertently divulged by users who aren't familiar with the site's policies and settings - so it's good to see an example where the release of personal information is being done for the right reasons, though disturbing that the woman who suffered abuse was forced to take her case to the High Court.
Ancestry.com has been quoted on NASDAQ since 2009, and although stockholders who bought in the IPO are showing a good profit on their investment, anybody who bought at last year's peak is showing a big loss.
Last month the stock fell about 15% when news came through that NBC were cancelling Who Do You Think You Are? after just 3 seasons - but the price has recovered after a Bloomberg story a couple of weeks ago that Ancestry is looking for someone to buy the company.
Some commentators have suggested that Google, or even Facebook, might be interested. Others think that is unlikely. Personally I hope that Facebook don't end up owning Ancestry - the two sites have very different aims, and appeal to very different demographics.
Since Ancestry began preparing for its IPO nearly 4 years ago users have seen the introduction of a new-style search, one that many experienced researchers find harder to use. I've certainly felt that it's aimed more at beginners than people like you and me. Fortunately it's still possible to switch back to the old search - if you know how.....
If, like many experienced researchers, you find the new search that Ancestry introduced 3 or 4 years ago doesn't deliver the results - don't worry, in less than 2 minutes you can restore the old search!
Starting from the Ancestry home page click the Search tab and select Search All Records from the drop-down menu (this isn't something I'd normally recommend, by the way - searching multiple record sets simultaneously rarely delivers the best results).
Almost in the top right corner of the Search page (it may be off the screen - scroll right if necessary) is a text link which reads Go to Old Search. Click the link, then go back to the home page and start using the site as you would normally. And that's it!
When I started researching my family tree, Ancestry and FamilySearch were the two sites I found most useful. FamilySearch was never the easiest site to use, but once you learned how it worked, you could make some great discoveries (I certainly did).
About 3 years ago FamilySearch started building a new site that would offer not only simpler searching but also a much wider range of records. Unfortunately, when it launched some users found that it didn't do everything that the old site offered - and some of the records hadn't been copied over from the old site.
Until a few months ago that wasn't a problem - because the old site was still available. It still is - but when you select certain features you're automatically taken to the new site, which can be very frustrating if the record you're looking for can only be found at the old site. The link to the old site from the home page of the new site has also disappeared, which certainly doesn't help!
Fortunately, if you know how, it is still possible to get to the old site and access the old records....
WARNING - THE OLD FAMILYSEARCH SITE SEEMS TO HAVE DISAPPEARED WITHOUT TRACE (JUNE 19TH) The easy part is getting to the old site - which you can do by clicking here. You'll arrive at the Search page - but don't be tempted to click Home because you'll end up on the home page of the new site.
Normally I wouldn't search more than set of records at a time, especially at the old FamilySearch site - I soon learned that this didn't work very well - but you'll need to do it in order to get to the individual record sets (if you click on IGI, Census etc you'll find yourself at the new site).
Enter a dummy search - search for John Smith, but don't enter any more information. It's not the results that are of interest but the column at the far right of the page that is headed Sources searched.
Click on the entry for the record set that you're interested in - for example, the 1880 US census. Now click the refine search text link in the top right corner of the page, and you'll find yourself on the old census search page.
Tip: you may find that as you use the old Search some of the fields disappear. This was always an occasional problem with the old FamilySearch site (I believe it indicates that the servers are overloaded).
A participant in a discussion on LinkedIn recently wrote "older people find it more difficult to change", and I've seen similar comments many times before - but it is really true? Not according to a research paper from the University of Dundee entitled "Strategies for teaching older people to use the World Wide Web".
That makes sense to me - after all older people like me (and perhaps you) have been through numerous changes in our lifetimes, and we've had to adapt and make the best of the situations we've found ourselves in. The fact that 'young' people embrace the latest fads and fashions doesn't make them more amendable to change - just try getting them to do something they don't want to do!
Dorothy Richards (aged 108) and her sister Marjorie Ruddle (105) are the officially the oldest siblings according to Guinness World Records; Dorothy was born 2 days before the Wright brothers made their historic first flight.
According to an article on the BBC News site Mrs Ruddle's granddaughter's husband, who was interested in the family's history, worked with researchers at Guinness World Records to verify the sisters' record claim. With the Olympics taking place in London this year it's good to know that Team GB already has one World Record in the bag!
In the past it hasn't always been easy to find what you were looking for on the National Archives website, but I think you'll agree with me that this page is a great place to find things of interest to family historians.
The Research Guides are excellent - and they don't just provide information about the records held by TNA, so they are usually my first port of call when a topic comes up with which I'm not completely familiar (or which is very complex).
This article was written by LostCousins member Alison Melville
It occurred to me that, just as we are all the world expert on ourselves, many Lost Cousin members are the experts on at least part of their family.† Sometimes, our knowledge can be worth sharing - and not just with other cousins.
Recently I was digging into the Love family of Crostwight Hall, Norfolk.† (John Love married Martha Hannah Cubitt, the sister of my Great great grandfather George).† I found a reference in Wikipedia to a Valentine card held at Strangers' Hall Museum in Norwich, dated 1862 and addressed to 'Miss Jenny Lowe, query Love, Crostwight Hall, Smallburgh, Norfolk'.
I realised that I had a pretty good idea who the young lady was, and that the Norfolk Museums Service might like to know.† So I emailed them to say that Miss Jenny was very likely the second daughter, Mary Jane Love, who may well have been known as Jane or Jenny. (In 1862 she would have been about 17, which seems exactly the sort of age girls might have been getting Valentines.)
I received a very nice email back from an Assistant Curator who said, 'In the light of the information you have provided, I will amend the name to Miss Jenny Love and add the details of her family to the record'.
Perhaps other LostCousins members have family information on items held in museums.† If you come across a reference to an ancestor, don't be shy about providing your expertise!
An unexpectedly useful feature of the 1911 Census site when it launched in early 2009 was the way that it automatically remembered which records you'd looked at, and allowed you to access them without having to pay all over again.
I'm delighted to say that this feature has now been added to findmypast, but with some useful additional bells and whistles. For example, you can add notes to each entry, and also indicate how certain you are that it's the right entry.
Best of all, you're not starting with a clean slate - you'll find that all the records you've looked at since December 2010 are already listed.
Wouldn't it great if when you joined a website and logged in for the first time there was already some information from your family tree? Strange as it may seem, there is already a website like that - it's called LostCousins!
It's very easy - simply use your My Referrals page when you invite your known cousins to join, and you'll have the opportunity of 'sending' them a copy of the entries on your My Ancestors page for the relatives that you share. This is something that's incredibly easy for you to do - you only have to tick a box - but it will make a big difference to your cousins.
If you're in touch with more than one cousin from the same branch of the family you don't have to go through the process twice - simply click the family tree symbol alongside the earlier referral and all the same boxes will be ticked (though you can edit them if you wish).
A lot of people seem to think that their My Cousins page is only for new cousins - but that seriously undervalues its potential.
For a start, wouldn't it be great to have a list of ALL your living relatives who are researching their family tree? And wouldn't it be handy to be able to make notes under each entry? For new cousins you might note down information that they've given you, but for existing cousins you might use the space to note discoveries that you want to pass on next time you're in touch.
When you're in contact with dozens of cousins it's hard to keep in touch with them all on a regular basis - I find that there's often a quick flurry of emails backwards and forwards, then nothing for a year or two, and this can mean losing touch with a cousin when they move house or change their email address.
Establishing contact through LostCousins provides a safety net - because you can always contact your cousins through the messaging system on your My Cousins page. Even if your cousins have also forgotten to tell me their new address (which obviously happens sometimes), I'll usually have some additional information that I can use to track them down.
Tip: when you use your My Referrals page to invite a known cousin to join they will automatically be added to your My Cousins page when they register.
A number of members wrote in to say how interesting they found Queen Victoria's journals (see my article in the last newsletter) so I thought I'd remind you that in 2006 letters written by the present Queen when she was a princess in the 1930s were published in Queen Elizabeth II: A Birthday Souvenir Album (see this BBC article for photos and more information).
On a lighter note I came across a blog called The Princess Letters Project which tells how the author and her 4 year-old daughter wrote to 20 Princesses - and shows the letters they received in response.
Note: Lorna wrote to tell me that her cousin is descended from John Distin, who was principal trumpeter at Queen Victoria's Coronation: she was delighted to find that he was mentioned in Queen Victoria's journals (on December 14th, 1844).
Overseas members can benefit from the savings on Ancestry Worldwide subscriptions that I detailed above - but what about members in the UK? Currently the cheapest way to get an Ancestry Premium subscription is to buy Family Tree Maker 2011 Platinum Edition (currently available from Amazon.co.uk for just £25.29 including postage). Why? Because it comes with a free 6 month Premium subscription worth over £50.
The recession continues: low interest rates mean low rates for savers as well as borrowers - but there's a big difference between the interest rates on the best and worst savings accounts. And once a bank has your money, they have an annoying habit of reducing the interest rate, often without any prior warning.
It's not often that a banks increase their saving rates to existing customers, so I was surprised to receive an email from Santander (formerly Abbey) this week to say that their instant access eSaver Issue 5 now pays 3.2%, which includes a bonus of 2.7% for the first 12 months after account opening.
(Of course, the trick is to transfer to a new account when the initial 12 months period ends - no doubt there will be an Issue 6 or Issue 7 by then.)
I wonder whether it's a coincidence that this change happened in the same week the European Union announced that they are providing much needed aid to Spanish banks? Fortunately money you deposit with Santander in the UK is safe - because the Financial Services Compensation Scheme covers deposits of up to £85,000.
Is there anything you or I can do about the recession? Amazingly it's not politicians, banks or big companies that can pull us through, but ordinary people like you and me. How? Simply by saving a little less and spending a little more (continuing to tighten our belts in case the situation gets even worse would be a self-fulfilling prophecy). Ideally, spend that little extra locally so that your local economy is the first to benefit.
Finally, I get a lot of email from the addresses of members whose email accounts have been 'hacked' - and one thing I've noticed is that nearly all of them have AOL, Yahoo, or Hotmail email addresses. I don't know whether those email accounts are inherently insecure or whether they're simply more likely to be targeted, but either way I'd recommend you choose a different email address if you can (Gmail seems to be the most reliable of the free Webmail services).
The old FamilySearch site was no longer operational on June 19th - we may now never see it again.
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, and I have included bookmarks so you can - if you wish - link to a specific article by copying the relevant entry in the list of contents at the beginning of the newsletter. However, please email me first if you would like to re-publish any part of the newsletter on your own website or in any other format.