How the LostCousins site works

I've just joined - what now?
Where is the Search button?
How do I search?
How soon can I expect results?
How many relatives do I have to enter to find a cousin?
How can I improve my chances?
How can I find people researching the same surnames?
Where can I see the relatives that other people have entered?

Your password and email address

I've forgotten my password - what should I do?
How can I choose my own password?
I've changed my email address - what do I do now?
Where is the information I entered?

Registration and confidentiality

Why do I have to register before I can use this site?
Is it really free?
Who will see my personal information? Who can see my tree?

Just beginning your research?

I'm a beginner to family history - where do I start?
What is a Lost Cousin?
Why might I want to find my Lost Cousins?
How can I find my Lost Cousins?
What is a Second Cousin...?
...Once Removed?

Been researching your family tree for years?

I've been researching my family tree for years - how can LostCousins help?
My tree extends back to the 16th century - how can 19th century censuses be relevant?
I have found all my cousins - why get involved?
My tree has over 30,000 people on it - is it worth me entering data?

Entering information about your ancestors

What information can I enter from my family tree?
Which censuses does LostCousins support?
Why can't I enter relatives from other censuses?
Where do I find the census references? What do they all mean?
Where can I find the 1841 census references?
I'm using the Scotland 1881 census - where can I find the references?
I'm using the Ireland 1911 census - where are the references?
How should I enter relatives from the England & Wales 1911 census?
Can the same relative be listed more than once?
How can I save time entering my relatives? Can I upload a GEDCOM file?

"Houston, we have a problem"

Two families appear as a single household - what have I done wrong?
What do the ticks and exclamation marks mean?
How can I contact someone I've been matched with?

Your relationship to the people you enter

What is a direct ancestor?
What is a blood relative?
When is someone related by marriage?
What is a 'possible relative'?
Can I enter my spouse's ancestors?
What are Ancestor numbers (or Ahnentafel numbers)?
Where can I see the information I have entered?
How can I amend or add to information already entered?

Searching for people who are connected in other ways

Why might I want to find someone who is unrelated to me?
Who can I enter?
Who is considered a neighbour?
Who can I enter as related by employment?
What is a One-Place Study?
What is a One-Name Study?
What is Historical Research?

When you make a new contact....

How do I know when a new contact has been found?
How do I make contact?
Do I have to reveal my email address?
My cousin hasn't replied - what can I do now?
What happens if my lost cousin turns out not to be a cousin at all?

Closing your account, deleting your entries

How can I close my LostCousins account?
How can I delete all of the entries I've made?

Why do I have to register before I can use this site?

The LostCousins site exists to put you in contact with people to whom you are related - so we need to know who you are, and where to contact you. We also recommend that you provide a second email address in case we're unable to contact you at your primary email address.

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Is it really free?

Registration at LostCousins is free, and so is standard membership, which allows you to enter and edit information about your ancestors and search for cousins. All members are also entitled to free one-to-one help and advice - see the Help & Advice page for more details.

Once you're familiar with LostCousins you may wish to consider becoming a subscriber, paying a small subscription that will contribute to the costs of operating the site. See the Subscribe page for details of the extra benefits available to subscribers. Note that whilst only subscribers can initiate contact with another member, all members can respond to messages - so if you are prepared to wait for your cousins to contact you, there's no need to become a subscriber.

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Who will see my personal information? Who can see my tree?

We don't display your personal information for all to see - only you can see the information you enter on your personal My Ancestors page. We will not disclose your postal address to anyone, and we will only disclose your email address to another member if you ask us to (see our Privacy Policy for full details).

LostCousins is the ONLY website that can match you with a living relative without either of you publishing information on the Internet.

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How can I choose my own password?

You can change your password on your My Details page (you'll need to know your existing password). Type your new password in the boxes labelled Password and Confirm password, then click Submit to make the change.

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I've forgotten my password - what should I do?

You can get an instant email reminder of your password. Just click Password reminder in the menu and enter your email address (this must be the address that is registered to your account). If you have changed your email address, and the old address no longer accepts mail please contact us for further advice.

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I've changed my email address - what do I do now?

Even if your old email address no longer works, you can still log-in so long as you know your password. To change the email address registered to your account just log-in using your old email address, then go to your My Details page.

Whilst updating your email address please check the other information shown there - some may be out of date, and there may be new boxes on the form that weren't there when you registered. Note: you'll need to know your password, so it is a good idea to request a password reminder before you lose access to your old email address (automated password reminders are sent to the address in our records).

If you can't remember your password and no longer have access to your old email address, please contact us so that we can verify your identity before sending a reminder to your new address.

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Where is the information I entered?

If you open a new account when your email address changes you won't have access to any of the information that you have entered previously, and if you re-enter the data you'll be matched with yourself, causing all sorts of confusion!

If you have opened a second account in your own name, whether it's at the same email address or a different one, please contact LostCousins so that we can close the account you don't need.

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I'm a beginner to family history - where do I start?

Check out the Beginner's Guide - it not only tells you where to find information, but also highlights which resources are free.

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What is a Lost Cousin?

We use the term 'lost cousin' for any relative with whom you are not currently in contact, either because you lost touch over the years, or because you never knew they existed. We typically share our great-great-great grandparents with over 500 other living relatives, and if you go back another generation there are literally thousands of cousins out there!

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Why might I want to find my Lost Cousins?

If you're researching your family history, it makes sense to contact people who share the same ancestors. They may have inherited photographs or other memorabilia, perhaps even a family Bible in which the line of descent has been recorded. And they will almost certainly have memories that will fill some of the gaps in your own knowledge, some from their own experience, others from stories they heard from their parents and grandparents.

However, one of the greatest benefits of finding a 'lost cousin' is the opportunity it provides to collaborate on future research. This is especially valuable if, as often happens, the two of you live in a different country.

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How can I find my Lost Cousins?

Once you have registered you can start entering the details of the relatives that you've found on the censuses that we have selected. In most cases there's just one census year for each country - this cuts down the amount of information you need to enter, and increases the chances of a match (because if two cousins entered data from different censuses, we wouldn't be able to match them up). The more relatives you enter, the more 'lost cousins' you are likely to find. Whilst it makes sense to start with your 'direct ancestors' and their immediate families, most of your living relatives are actually descended from their brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own at the time of the census - so make sure you include them too.

It is important that you enter the information exactly as it appears in the census transcript, even if you know it to be wrong or incomplete - otherwise the matching process won't work as well as it should, and connections are likely to be missed. The transcript was chosen because different people might interpret the handwritten census in different ways, and for most of the censuses we support there is only one transcription.

Exception: when entering relatives from the 1841 or 1911 censuses do NOT use the transcription - take your data from the handwritten census. Always enter precisely what is written, even when you know it to be wrong or incomplete.

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What is a direct ancestor?

A direct ancestor is someone from whom you are directly descended, so this would include your parents, your 4 grandparents, your 8 great-grandparents, your 16 great-great grandparents, your 32 great-great-great grandparents and so on. If any one of those people had never existed you wouldn't be here today.

The blank Ancestor Chart that you can download from this site has spaces for 5 generations of direct ancestors. It's a good idea to print it out and fill in the names of your ancestors before you start entering them. It will also highlight gaps in your knowledge, enabling you to focus your attention on those parts of your tree.

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What are Ancestor numbers (or Ahnentafel numbers)?

Ancestor, or Ahnentafel numbers are a way of numbering the direct ancestors in a family tree. There's a simple rule for working out the numbers - take the number of anybody in the tree and double it to find the number for their father, or double it and add 1 to give the number of their mother.

However you don't need to work out the numbers - we've drawn for you a blank Ancestor Chart which shows the numbers against each ancestor. All you need to do is print it out and write in the names of your ancestors.

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What is a blood relative?

A blood relative is anyone with whom you share an ancestor (which means that you'll share some of the same genes); another word for blood relative is 'cousin'. Most people on your family tree are your blood relatives. So long as you have proved that there is a connection, it doesn't matter whether the common ancestor (the one who connects you and your relative) was still alive at the time of the census.

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When is someone related by marriage?

This category is for people who don't share any ancestors with you, and who appear on your family tree only because they married someone who was already on it. Note, however, that whilst the spouse of a blood relative is related to you only by marriage, the children of the union are your blood relatives.

Once you have established that somebody is related to you by marriage then in theory everybody on their family tree is also related to you by marriage but, if you decide to enter someone who is more distant than a spouse, make sure you have a good reason for doing so.

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What is a 'possible relative'?

There are times when it is impossible to be certain whether the person shown on the census is your relative, or merely somebody else with the same name. This can be a particular problem when somebody is in service, or in lodgings, as the information given to the enumerator is likely to have been incorrect.

Where there are no relationships shown on the census (for example, England & Wales 1841) it is especially difficult to be certain whether somebody in the same household is related or not, expecially if the surname is a common one. You can make inferences based on the order of the entries on the page, but this will not always provide a clear pointer.

The primary aim of entering somebody as a 'possible relative' is to find somebody who has more information about the person or household. If you discover that the person you've entered is not a relative, then you must delete them from your My Ancestors page immediately.

IMPORTANT: the 'possible relative' classification is not a substitute for research; it is an extra tool that you should use only as a last resort.

Can I enter my spouse's ancestors?

No - it will confuse other members if you enter them on the same account, and you won't get the best results. Even if one person is doing all of the work, you should each have a separate LostCousins account.

If you have been widowed, and you wish to continue researching the family of your late spouse please contact us for advice. One solution is to open an account in the name of a child or grandchild.

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Why might I want to find someone who is unrelated to me?

Just because someone isn't related to you doesn't mean that they won't share your research interests. For example, if your ancestors were neighbours or worked together it's quite likely you'd be searching the same records.

Whatever the connection is, the chances are that you'll each have information that could help the other - and there could well be opportunities to co-operate in the future.

Finding the descendants of your relative's employer could be particularly useful - they may have inherited records that mention your relative (or know where they can be found).

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Who can I enter?

You can enter unrelated people who were neighbours of your relatives, who were visiting at the time of the census, who were boarding or lodging with your relatives, who were servants in the same household, or who employed your relative.

See below for details of other circumstances in which you might enter unrelated people, such as a One-Name Study; you'll find more detailed guidance on the Help & Advice page.

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Who is considered a neighbour?

A neighbour could be anyone living in the same community, although you'll probably choose those who were living nearest to your relatives - or who had the same occupation.

It will usually be sufficient to enter the head of each neighbouring household, though if there are people living in the household who are unrelated to the head you might want to enter them too. For example, if your ancestor was a farm labourer then you might not only enter the farmer who lived next door, but also any employees who were living there.

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Who can I enter as related by employment?

You can enter anyone who worked in a household where your relative lived, or who lived in a household where your relative worked. You can also enter someone who you know was your relative's employer, employee, or co-worker even if they weren't living in the same household at the time of the census, provided you have reasonable evidence of the connection.

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What is a One-Place Study?

A One-Place Study is a comprehensive study of a community which encompasses all of the inhabitants irrespective of their surname or family connection.

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What is a One-Name Study?

A One-Name Study is a comprehensive study of people who share a particular surname (usually a variety of spellings are included); many of the LostCousins members who are conducting such research belong to the Guild of One-Name Studies, and studies registered with the Guild are automatically approved for inclusion.

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What is Historical Research?

Some LostCousins members are carrying out research into historical figures (eg for a book), and as part of their research are interested in contacting descendants.

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I've just joined - what now?

The Help & Advice page has all the information you need, including a Getting Started guide for new members.

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What information can I enter from my family tree?

You can only enter information taken from the census. Here's why......

LostCousins matches members who are related with virtually 100% accuracy - for every 1000 matches we make there is usually no more than 1 that is incorrect. This is an amazing achievement when you consider that our best-known competitor typically gets it right only 10-20% of the time (which means that for every 1000 matches they make, there are between 800 and 900 incorrect matches!). We don't think you should have to plough through lists of possible matches or waste time corresponding with people who turn out to be completely unconnected.

Why do other sites make up to 1000 times more errors? Because they'll accept almost any information you care to enter - wherever it comes from. LostCousins members, on the other hand, enter precise data taken from a common source - the census.

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I've been researching my family tree for years - how can LostCousins help?

The longer you've been researching, the more generations there will be on your tree, and the more family lines you will have identified. For example, when you were 6 generations back there were just 64 lines to worry about - but when you were 10 lines back there 1024 lines to follow up, a seemingly impossible task.

LostCousins can look for living relatives from ALL of your lines simultaneously, and because it's an automated system you can still focus your efforts on the particular lines that you regard as your current priority.

The more cousins you find, the greater the potential to exchange past research and collaborate on future research.

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My tree extends back to the 16th century - how can 19th century censuses possibly be relevant?

The census information you enter is simply a means of finding people who share your ancestors. When you find your cousins the chances are they'll have researched back further than you on some of the lines you share, and not so far back on others. But even in the unlikely event that you've done more research than them on every line, you can still co-operate with them on future research.

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I have found all my cousins - why get involved?

Nobody knows who all their cousins are - not even you! What you may have done is track down all of your 1st and 2nd cousins, and perhaps - though this is unlikely - your 3rd cousins too. But there is no way you can possibly know who all of your cousins are - yet every one of them shares your ancestors, and is a potential source of valuable information.

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My tree has over 30,000 people on it - is it worth me entering data?

The larger your tree, the greater the potential to find living relatives who share your ancestors. So even though you might spend more time entering data than someone with a smaller tree, the rewards will be commensurately greater!

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Which censuses does LostCousins support?

The censuses we currently support are the 1940 and 1880 US Censuses; the 1881 Canadian Census; the 1881 Census of Scotland; the 1911 Census of Ireland; the 1911, 1881 and 1841 Censuses of England & Wales (these include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).

These censuses were chosen because they are readily available online - and five of the eight (US 1880, US 1940, Canada 1881, Ireland 1911, England & Wales 1881) can be accessed online free of charge which means that all members can obtain the correct data, irrespective of means. The 1880/81 censuses are the ones that your cousins are most likely to have used, so if you want to get the quickest results, give them priority.

When you're entering your relatives start by specifying the appropriate census - click the arrow, then choose the census from the menu. The form changes according to the census selected, so if the questions don't match the data you have, check that you have chosen the correct census. The advice on the form also changes - when you're using a census for the first time read it carefully and follow any links to further information.

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Can the same relative be listed more than once?

If you find the same relative recorded on more than one of the censuses that we support (or even twice on the same census, as sometimes happens) then you can enter them more than once.

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Two families appear as a single household - what have I done wrong?

The entries on your My Ancestors page are sorted into households based on the census references you've entered. This means that if two households are on the same page of the census they'll usually appear as a single household. This won't affect your chances of finding 'lost cousins', because we match individuals, not households, but if you'd prefer them to be shown separately there was an article in the July 2011 newsletter which explains how to do it (you'll find the newsletter here.).

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What do the ticks and exclamation marks mean?

When you click the Search button on your My Ancestors page all your entries are compared against the millions of entries made by other members. If your entry exactly matches another member's entry it will be marked with a tick; if it nearly matches another entry it will be marked with a red exclamation mark. The Help information on your My Ancestors page (revealed when you click How to use this page) explains what to do next.

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How can I contact someone I've been matched with?

Your My Cousins page lists all the relatives you've been matched with. When you're matched with someone new they'll appear in the New contacts section, and only their initials will be shown; once the two of you have agreed to correspond they'll move to one of the other sections, and the other person's name will be displayed. The Help information at the top of your My Cousins page explains how to contact other members and how you can find out how the two of you are related.

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Why can't I enter relatives from other censuses?

Suppose that you were organising a family reunion - wouldn't you want everyone to come on the same day? Sure, there might be one or two people who can't make the date that's chosen, but if you offered two different dates, as many as half of your relatives wouldn't get to meet the other half.

It's the same at LostCousins - we can only match your data with the data entered by your cousin if you have both entered the same relative from the same census. Having a wide choice of census years would be counter-productive, since you would probably choose a different census from your cousin.

Whichever line of your family tree you look at, there must be someone from that line who was alive in (say) 1881, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this now (because you wouldn't have been born)! Of course, the same is true for your cousins. Even though a few relatives may be missing from the census we've chosen, so long as you enter all of the relatives who were recorded on that census, you'll maximise your chances of finding your living cousins.

A common error is to assume that only relatives in your direct line are important - if you make that mistake your chances of finding cousins will be far lower than they ought to be. Why? Because most of your living relatives are linked by a shared ancestor from an earlier generation.

The LostCousins matching system is clever enough to pick up those links, but only if you play your part by entering relatives from collateral lines as well as from your direct line. The key relatives are usually the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own at the time of the census - find them on the census, enter them on your My Ancestors page and you'll be well on your way to finding the living relatives that you didn't know existed!

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Where do I find the census references? What do they all mean?

Whichever website you're using to access the census you should find that the census references are part of the transcription. At FamilySearch they are shown towards the bottom of the Household Record page, at findmypast.co.uk they are below the transcription, and at Ancestry they are usually shown below the transcription under the heading 'Source Citation' (make sure that you click View Record to display the transcription, not View Image, which displays the handwritten census schedule). The article "Key Tips for Census Success" on the Help & Advice page has an illustrated guide to searching the census at FamilySearch, and advice that will help you whichever site you prefer to use.

Each census has different references - the input form changes according to the census you have selected, so if they don't seem familiar, make sure you have selected the correct census.

As to what they mean - all you really need to know about the census references is that they identify a specific page in the census. That's why we're able to match your relatives with those of other members so accurately - because the chance that there are two people of exactly the same age, and with exactly the same name, on the same census page is miniscule!

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Where can I find the 1841 census references?

It's easiest to take the census references from the transcript; however at Ancestry the folio number is often missing and there are many instances in which it is wrong, so if you use that site you should take the folio and page number from the handwritten census page (follow the instructions below).

The new Findmypast site is much more reliable - you can use the references given in the transcription. However, if a private household spreads over two pages, it's crucial to use the references for the head of the household for every member of the household you enter. To make sure you are looking at the correct references click the Transcription icon opposite the head of household.

It is important to take care interpreting the numbers you see on the handwritten census page, especially if you've never done it before - but if you follow the advice below you won't have any problems.

Easiest to find are the piece number and book number, which are usually stamped on a separate piece of paper which is oriented sideways and usually positioned to the right of the census pages. They are always preceded by the reference HO107, for example HO107/1425/16 where 1425 is the piece number and 16 is the book number.

The page numbers are the only original references - they were printed when the books were printed. You'll find them at the top of each page, in the centre - they are very small, but should still be readable. Note that, unlike a normal book, the left-hand pages have odd-numbers and the right-hand pages have even numbers.

A folio is a sheet of paper, with a front side and a back side - which obviously can't be photographed at the same time. Therefore the two pages in the image come from different folios, with consecutive numbers. Because the folio number is only stamped on the front side of the sheet, the only folio number you'll usually see is the one stamped in the top right corner of the right-hand page. However, you may sometimes see a reversed image of the folio number for the left-hand page in the top left-hand corner, as the ink can bleed through from the other side of the paper. As the folio numbers are consecutive you can always work out the number for the left-hand page by subtracting 1 from the number stamped on the right-hand page.

If a private household spreads over two pages then the references that apply to the head of the household should be used for the entire household, and you should do this even if you are not related to the head of the household (eg if your ancestor was a servant or a visitor). However, if you are entering somebody who was in an institution, such as a workhouse, hospital, or barracks, enter the references that apply to the individual.

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How should I enter relatives from the England & Wales 1911 census?

When you're entering relatives from this census you should enter what the head of household actually wrote, and ignore the transcription.

The census references are not shown on the handwritten census schedule (apart from the Schedule Number, which is usually in the top right corner), but you will find them in the transcription. Also, if you are using the findmypast site you'll see them displayed above the image of the form.

The two references you need to know in order to enter your relatives are the piece number, which is prefixed RG14PN and the schedule number, which is prefixed SN.

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I'm using the Scotland 1881 census - where can I find the references?

Different sources show the references for this census in different ways, which makes the answer to this question quite complicated - however, since you'll probably use just one source, you only need to read the part that's relevant to you.

Note:whichever source you choose, the advice on the entry form will act as a reminder and help guide you through the process.

The best source to use is the FamilySearch CD ROM set, as the references are clearly shown and (after the small initial purchase cost) you can look up as many entries as you like without any further payment.

Ancestry can be confusing because the references aren't all shown under Source Citation as you might expect: whilst you'll find the Enumeration District (ED) and page number there, the Registration number is only shown as part of the transcription (below the place of birth). Important: if the Registration number includes a suffix, eg 168/2 or 328B please enter it with a dash between the main part of the reference and the suffix, ie as 168-2 or 328-B.

The Scotlandspeople website has two versions of the 1881 Scotland census, one provided by FamilySearch which shows the references in the same format as on the CD ROMs.

Unfortunately Scotlandspeople's own transcription uses a completely different format for the references - nevertheless the information is still all there. The first number shown is the Volume number, but if there is a 00 suffix please ignore it, so for example 147/00 should be entered simply as 147. The next reference shown is the Enumeration District; again ignore any 00 suffix and also omit leading zeroes, so for example 007/00 should be entered simply as 7. The final reference is the page number, and once again any leading zeroes should be omitted, thus 025 is entered as 25.

A final complication is that where people were recorded on a ship at the time of the census there may be no Volume (Registration) number and/or no Enumeration District shown (whatever your source). If your relatives were on a ship at the time of the census please type 0 in place of any missing references - in any other case please contact LostCousins for further advice.

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I'm using the Ireland 1911 census - where are the references?

There are no references shown as part of the transcription, or on the handwritten census form (usually Form A). However, each handwritten census schedule has a unique number, which forms part of the URL (or address), and is prefixed with the letters 'nai'; when entering this number omit the prefix, but include all 9 digits, even though some of them may be 0.

You should be able to see the NAI number on your browser command line when the handwritten census is displayed; you will also see it in the bottom margin of your browser when the mouse pointer is hovering above the words "Form A". In the case of an institution or a very large household there may be more than one Form A, or a different form may be used; in this case please enter the NAI number for the form on which your relative is actually listed.

For more information and an illustrated guide see the Help & Advice page.

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Where is the Search button?

The Search button can be found on your My Ancestors page - but only once you've entered some of your relatives. Why? Because until you've told us about your 19th century relatives we've got no way of knowing who your 21st century relatives are.

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How do I search?

Once you've found some of your relatives on the census, enter them on your My Ancestors page - then click the Search button. You'll find out in seconds if there are other members who share the same ancestors!

Search again whenever you enter more relatives - indeed, because LostCousins membership is growing so rapidly it's worth searching again even if you haven't entered more names. That said, the more relatives you enter on your My Ancestors page, the sooner you will find your 'lost cousins'!

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How can I find people researching the same surnames?

Anyone researching the same line will have entered some of the same relatives - so you will be matched with them automatically when you click Search.

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Where can I see the ancestors that other people have entered?

You can't! Because the matching process is both automatic and highly accurate there is no need for you to see what other people have entered, nor is there any need for them to see what you have entered - the confidentiality of your data is very important to us.

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How soon can I expect results?

If you have predominantly English ancestry and you enter all of your relatives from the 1881 Census you are likely find at least one new living relative on the day you join! However, our coverage of other censuses is currently lower, so if your relatives were in other countries in 1881 it it likely to take longer to find your first cousin.

If you are disappointed by the results you get please get in touch - we can usually point out a solution. Note that it helps us to advise you if you can enter the Ancestor Numbers for your direct ancestors. Ancestor Numbers are shown on the blank Ancestor Chart that you can download from this site.

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How many relatives do I have to enter to find a cousin?

The median number of relatives entered by members who have found at least one 'lost cousin' is 63, which means that half of them have entered less than 63 relatives, and the other half have entered more than 63.

However in the short-term there's an element of chance involved. You may find a cousin after entering just one relative - but you might enter over a hundred and still be unlucky. Nevertheless, the more relatives you enter, the better your chances - both in the short-term and the longer-term.

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How can I improve my chances?

First, don't focus just on one line - enter all of your direct ancestors from the census, and include the relatives who were living with them in at the time of the census.

Then add any other relatives that you can find, remembering that the more relatives you enter, the sooner it will be possible to identify which other LostCousins members share your ancestors.

And last but not least - encourage others to join, because the faster the membership grows, the more 'lost cousins' will be found!

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Where can I see the information I have entered?

When you register, a personal My Ancestors page is created, which only you can see. All ancestors and other relatives that you enter from the censuses are listed on this page.

To view all the information entered for a particular relative (or to make changes), click that person's name.

Note: you can view a more detailed version of your My Ancestors page if you click 'More detail'.

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How can I amend or add to information already entered?

Go to My Ancestors and click on the name of the relative to display the information that you entered, then make whatever changes are necessary. To save your changes click 'Submit'; to remove an entry completely click 'Delete'.

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How can I save time entering my relatives? Can I upload a Gedcom file?

Once you've entered the first person in a household it's very quick and easy to enter the others when you click the + symbol at the end of the line (usually you'll only need to enter the forename and age).

The aim of LostCousins is to save you time by generating only accurate matches,and this requires that members enter precise data taken from a common source. By contrast, the Gedcom format was designed to be flexible - you can enter almost anything in a Gedcom file - which means that matching people who share the same ancestors using Gedcom files is a highly inaccurate process (as you may well have discovered at other sites).

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How do I know when a new contact has been found?

When you click the Search button on your My Ancestors page we'll let you know in a matter of seconds whether we've found any new matches - we'll mark them with a red tick. Go to your My Cousins page to find out how other members are related or otherwise connected to you.

Of course, it's equally likely that it will be your relative who discovers you and decides to make contact. In this case you'll receive an email from LostCousins asking you to log-in and check the New Contacts section of your My Cousins page.

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How do I make contact?

All contact with other members takes place through the My Cousins page. This lists the living relatives you've found and any other contacts you've made through the LostCousins site. At first the name of the other person is hidden (and they won't know your name either); only when both of you have agree to make contact will your names be revealed.

Only LostCousins subscribers can make the first move; if you are not a subscriber you'll need to wait for the other person to contact you.

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Do I have to reveal my email address?

You can exchange email addresses with your cousin at any time - so long as both of you agree. Our recommendation is that you don't reveal your email address until you've got to know your new relative, but it's entirely up to you.

Until you've exchanged email addresses you can send a message by clicking the envelope symbol on your My Cousins page - we will forward this by email, and it will be shown as coming from our address, not yours (this means that if you receive one of these messages you can't just reply to it, as the reply will come to us!).

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My cousin hasn't replied - what can I do now?

Because there's so much junk mail these days it's possible that your cousin hasn't seen the email they were sent. If you contacted them directly, try sending a message through your My Cousins page.

If this is a new contact (or you don't have your cousin's email address), and it has been more than 10 days since you tried to contact them, please let us know so that we can send a reminder on your behalf.

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What happens if my lost cousin turns out not to be a cousin at all?

Although the automatic matching process is extremely efficient, it does depend on the accuracy of the information that members have entered. Mistakes will occasionally occur, and may not be the fault of any of the individuals involved - there are errors both in the census records and in the indexes of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. A member who has wrongly identified an ancestor is responsible for deleting the ancestor from his or her My Ancestors page.

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What is a Second Cousin...?

First cousins are the children of your parents' brothers and sisters - in other words, the relatives with whom you share grandparents. Second cousins are the relatives with whom you share great-grandparents, third cousins share the same great-great grandparents, and so on. All you do is count the generations until you reach the common ancestors - then deduct one.

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...Once Removed?

Sometimes when you count back through the generations (until you reach the common ancestors) you get a different tally, depending whether you start with yourself, or with your relative. This means that the two of you are in different generations. In this case the shortest path determines whether you are a first (or second, or third...) cousin, and the difference in the number of generations gives the number of times removed. So, for example, your first cousins' children are your first cousins, once removed.

If you have a great aunt, she must be the sister of one of your grandparents - so you would share the same great-grandparents as her grandchildren. They would be your second cousins, and their children, if they have any, would be your second cousins once removed.

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How can I close my LostCousins account?

If you decide that you would like to completely close your free account please contact us. Note that you can unsubscribe from our newsletters without closing your account - just change the settings on your My Details page.

In the unfortunate circumstance that a LostCousins member passes away, or becomes incapable of using a computer the account held by that member can be transferred to a relative in order to preserve the information entered and contacts made for future generations. Please contact us for further advice.

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How can I delete all of the entries I've made?

If your account is closed then all of the entries you've made will be automatically deleted at that time.

However it is worth remembering that the information you enter cannot be seen by anyone else, not even by search engines such as Google - there's no risk of anyone copying your research. It's therefore worth keeping your free account open even if you don't have the time (or the inclination) to be an active member.

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