Newsletter - February 1, 2010



Do you have Irish ancestry?

WW1 soldiers reburied in new cemetery

Searching for death certificates

What will your legacy be?

More than just cousins...



A very strange announcement from Ancestry

Transcription errors - and how to deal with them

How reliable are ages on censuses?

Changes of name & deeds poll

Free Scottish census transcriptions

Don't lose your loyalty discount

Peter's tips

Have you tried...?



To visit the main LostCousins site please go to or click here if you need a password reminder. It's free to join LostCousins, so if you've been sent this newsletter (or a link to this newsletter) by someone else, I hope you'll register in your own right - and take part in the great LostCousins project.

If you missed the previous LostCousins newsletter (dated 18/1/10), or would like to see it again, click here. All newsletters since February 2009 are still available online, and because each links to the one before you can easily step back through all of them.


Do you have Irish ancestry?

The 1911 Census of Ireland is one of only two Irish censuses to have been published so far (the other is 1901). All of the 19th century censuses were lost or destroyed - and so far the 1911 Census is the only one available online.


I am delighted to announce that this census is now supported by LostCousins, and you can start entering your relatives NOW! Even if your ancestors left Ireland long before 1911, they are likely to have left many relatives behind, and it's their descendants who will be recorded on the census.


I've written an illustrated guide to using the 1911 Census of Ireland and entering relatives on your My Ancestors page - you'll find it on the Help & Advice page (click here to go straight to it).


Another key resource for anyone with Irish connections is the FamilySearch pilot site, where you will find birth, marriage, and death indexes from 1864 onwards (1845 in the case of marriages). Ireland has always been a difficult country to research, so for these two resources to become available within the space of a year is a wonderful boost for the millions of family historians who have Irish ancestry. Of the subscription sites Origins has the best collection of Irish records, including Griffith's Valuation (a mid-19th century census substitute).


WW1 soldiers reburied in new cemetery

250 British and Australian soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Fromelles in 1916, and buried in mass graves by the German forces, are to be reburied in a new cemetery - the first for over 50 years according to this BBC article. DNA samples are being taken in order to identify as many as possible of the soldiers, although the results are unlikely to be available until after they have been reburied, relatives will have the opportunity to add personalised inscriptions on the headstones.


The Commonwealth Grave Commission looks after the graves and memorials for almost 1.7 million British and Commonwealth soldiers, but little more than half of the individuals have been identified, and over 750,000 names are recorded on memorials for the missing. Ancestry has an extensive collection of World War 1 records, most of which relate to survivors of the conflict.


Searching for death certificates

By and large death certificates are less informative than either birth or marriage certificates, but if we're to build up a picture of our ancestors lives we need to know when they died. With over 13 million records, the National Burial Index is a major resource, particularly if you're looking for deaths prior to 1865, when the GRO first started including the age at death in their indexes. You'll find the NBI (and many other death or burial records) at findmypast.


The GRO index of deaths is a (virtually) complete record of people who died in England & Wales from July 1, 1837 onwards and can be found at numerous sites - although it can be very difficult to identify the correct entry prior to 1865, not least because so many infants who died young had been named after one of their parents.


I prefer to search for deaths after 1865 at FreeBMD - not because it is free, but because it is currently the easiest option (so long as the death you're seeking occurred before 1936). However, not everyone knows how to search for a death at FreeBMD using the approximate year of birth, so I thought it might be useful to explain how it works…..


Suppose you're looking for John Smith, who you've found on the 1891 Census, but must have died before the 1901 Census because his wife is shown then as a widow.


It's a very common name, and you don't want to have to sift through thousands of entries - but fortunately you know that he was born around 1822. In the box labelled Death age/DoB enter an @ symbol followed by the range of years when he may have been born.


(Note that if you entered a number that wasn't preceded by @ it would be assumed to be the age at death - but you're generally more likely to have reliable information about the birth date than the age at death).


At FreeBMD you can limit your search to specified counties or even registration districts. Bearing in mind that deaths are registered in the district where they occur, rather than the district where the deceased lived, you shouldn't narrow down the area too finely. When I carried out the search above and specified the county as Cheshire there were under 20 results, even for such a common name, so it didn't take long to look through them one by one.


Whenever you're searching for BMD entries remember that births and deaths may be recorded in the following quarter (births can be registered up to 6 weeks after the event, and death registrations can be delayed if an inquest needs to be held).


What will your legacy be?

What will happen to your family history research when you're no longer able to continue it yourself? If there's nobody who is currently interested in carrying it on, have you at least found someone who will safeguard it, so that your discoveries aren't lost to future generations?


Some members are writing books; others plan to donate their research to the Society of Genealogists, or to their local archives.


But the best way to ensure that your efforts benefit future generations is to find someone in your own family who will look after it, and - at some point - continue the great work that you started. Once you've found that person enter their email address on your My Details page at the LostCousins site (in the box labelled My Beneficiary), and leave a letter with your will, explaining where your research can be found (whether on paper, computer, or online), and who will be taking it over.


Something else to bear in mind is the difficulty your loved ones could have accessing your email and other accounts when you're no longer around to tell them the passwords. As an article in the latest edition of Computer Shopper highlighted, without a password they'd need to present half a dozen documents to Google in order to get access to your Gmail account, and the process would take a month - whilst without a password Yahoo won't allow access under any circumstances.


More than just cousins….

At LostCousins our primary aim is to match you with other members who share your ancestors - ion order words, cousins. But cousins aren't the only people who can help you fill in the gaps on your family tree.


For example, let's suppose you discover someone who is only to you by marriage, ie a relative who isn't an ancestor of yours married someone who isn't a direct ancestor of theirs. The chances are that you won't be able to tell them anything they don't already know about their ancestors, and they won't be able to tell you anything that you don't already know about yours. End of story?


No, because the descendants of that marriage are not only your cousins, but the cousins of the person you've just been matched with - so if either one of you has traced living descendants of the marriage then the other is sure to be interested (who knows what they may have inherited from their ancestors?).


How can you tell whether someone you've been matched with is a cousin, or related in some other way? That's easy - simply look at the My Contact page for the relative (click on their name, or if their full name is not shown, on their initials). The My Contact page lists everyone who's shown both on your My Ancestors page and that of the other person, and because the relationships to each are also shown, it's really simple to work out if you are cousins or not. Obviously if there's someone who is a direct ancestor of both of you, then you're clearly cousins - but you're also cousins if someone who is a direct ancestor of one of you is a blood relative to the other.


Similarly, if there's someone listed who is a blood relative to one of you, but only related by marriage to the other, then the chances are that you aren't cousins.


Of course, when another member tries to contact you, the wording of the email we send tells you whether we've identified the other person as a cousin or simply related by marriage. It's because LostCousins aims to provide such detailed information about relationships before you've even made contact that it's essential not to enter your spouse's relatives on your own My Ancestors page - that really would be confusing.


Once both members have agreed to correspond then the entry moves from the New Contacts section of the My Cousins page to the Cousins, Relatives, or Other contacts section, to make it easy for you to remember who is who. It's another reason why it makes sense to introduce the relatives you already know to LostCousins.


Who might you find listed in the Other contacts section? It lists people who have entered the same people from the census, but where there is no known relationship. The other person might be someone who is running a One-Name Study which involves one of the surnames in your tree; or it might be someone whose ancestor worked for yours (or vice versa); in fact there is a whole range of possibilities, all of them potential fruitful. Whatever the connection the My Contact page will reveal all!



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Have you heard the one about the two email addresses? It goes like this: "What's the difference between Googlemail and Gmail?". The answer is 'oogle', the 5 extra letters you have to type every time you give someone your email address when you advertise Google's name by spelling it out in full. As far as I can tell it makes absolutely no difference which one you use, but it's certainly a lot quicker to type than - try it!


A very strange announcement from Ancestry

Ancestry have announced that during 2010 they hope to publish the 1911 England & Wales Census Summary Books, and these will be available to existing subscribers.


Like me you're probably wondering precisely what means… so here is an example page. By comparison, here is a Household Schedule, which is the main document you'll see when you access the 1911 Census at findmypast.


As you can see from these examples, one double-page spread from the Census Summary Books lists up to 50 householders, each of whom has completed the Household Schedule form. If all you want to do is confirm where someone was living in 1911, then it could be useful - but because it typically only gives the surname of the head of household, with no forename, no personal details, and no information on other occupants (apart from the number of males and females), it's of very limited use.


Have Ancestry made this announcement simply to discourage their subscribers from leaving to join findmypast? If so, they could find that it is counter-productive - nobody likes being taken for a fool.


Transcription errors - and how to overcome them

Jane wrote to me recently to ask if I would recommend that LostCousins members report transcriptions errors that they find in the censuses - and I have no hesitation in passing on her exhortation. As Jane pointed out, it's not unusual to find people who have been erroneously recorded as having the same surname as the head of household - and that sort of error can be very difficult to overcome (though not impossible).


My top tip for overcoming transcription errors is to use ALL of the available resources. Just because you have a subscription for one site doesn't mean that the others are off-limits - sites like Ancestry and findmypast offer free search results that often provide the vital clues you need.


Even when two sites have exactly the same transcription - as is the case with the 1881 England & Wales census - you can take advantage of the alternative search options offered by different sites. Ancestry have just expanded their use of wildcards - whereas previously you couldn't use a wildcard in the first 3 characters, you can now use them anywhere, just so long as there are at least three characters specified, one of which is the first or last character.


Of course, at findmypast it has long been possible to have wildcards in any position - but on the other hand you're more likely to find that your search times-out, either because there are too many results, or because the search itself is too complex.


When you use a different site from the one you're used to it's essential that you adapt your search strategy to take advantage of the available options. For example, at Ancestry it's feasible to search on forenames alone - typically you'd search for a child whose approximate age you know, and specify the forenames of the parents. I usually pick the child with the most unusual name - Walter is my favourite because the spelling is consistent - or else the youngest child, as the age is most likely to be correct. Something else you can do at Ancestry that you can't do at other sites is search for a combination of census references and other information - for example, you could search for every John aged 40 to 44 in piece 1078.


Winning techniques at findmypast include searching by address and by occupation , though sadly you can't search the 1841 Census by occupation just yet. You can, however, search for any two people in a household - which is especially useful in 1841, because no relationships are shown (and so you can't specify the names of parents or a spouse at Ancestry).


As a general rule, the less information you enter on the Search form, the more likely you are to find the record you're looking for. I always enter the absolute minimum - if you never see a message telling that you've entered too little information, then you must be entering too much! Birthplaces and place names are especially problematical, because the some locality can often be described in many different ways.


Whatever site you're using, look at the neighbours of the relatives that you have found - families often stayed close together, and often this is the easiest to find who one of the daughters married.


Occasionally you'll find that lateral thinking pays off - for example, swapping the forename with the surname - I'm told this works wonders with the 1911 Irish census!


There are even more handy tips in my article Key Tips for Census Success, which you'll find on the Help & Advice page.


How reliable are ages on censuses?

A year or two back I wrote about my research into the ages shown on censuses, which proved that there was a tendency for ages to be rounded to the nearest decade, eg 70 instead of 69 or 71. This means that if your relative's age is shown as 50 it's less likely to be correct than if it is shown as 49 or 51. Overall it is said that at least half of the ages on censuses are incorrect, although I don't know of any research that has conclusively proved that to be the case.


Recently I've turned my attention to the 1841 England census, because on that census ages were meant to be rounded to the nearest 5 years below (for anyone about the age of 15). However, not everyone followed the instructions, and you'll therefore find examples of all ages given on the census.


What particularly interested me was whether parents were less likely to round down their children's ages if they fell into the range 16-19, because I had a hunch that this would be the case - and so it proved. Overall, only three-quarters of ages in that range were rounded down to 15.


Children (or should I say young adults?) aged 18 and 19 were particularly unlikely to have their ages rounded down - I estimate that no more than 60% of 18 year olds were shown as 15, most of the remainder being shown as 18, and clearly quite a few  19 year-olds  had their ages rounded up to 20.


If your ancestor's age is shown on the 1841 Census as 15, then it's highly likely that he or she was older - but probably 16 or 17 rather than 18 or 19. However, if your ancestor's age is shown as 16, 17, 18 or 19, then it's very likely to be correct. And, if your ancestor was shown as 20, then not only was he likely to have been older - he could also have been younger.


Of course, we often have additional information about our relatives' ages, whether from later censuses or from certificates - or inferred from the ages of adjacent siblings. But when you don't, it's useful to have some guidelines as to the accuracy of the figure shown in 1841.


Changes of name & deeds poll

I frequently receive emails enquiring what procedure an ancestor might have gone though in order to change their name, and what records might survive. However, in England it's possible to change your name without going through any legal process, the most common example being when a woman adopted a man's surname even though they were not married. As a result there was rarely any official record of name changes.


Nevertheless, anyone who has changed their name in recent times will know the problems that it causes with banks and officialdom. It has long been possible to execute a 'deed poll' to provide evidence of a change of name, and such documents could be enrolled - although most were not. For a detailed guide to this interesting area of research see this online leaflet at the National Archives site.


Free Scottish census transcriptions

As a Sassenach I've long been envious of the wealth of information available at the official Scotlandspeople website, which not only has all of the Scottish censuses from 1841-1901, but also digitised images of the birth, marriage, and deaths registers from 1855 - not just the indexes. This means that there's usually no need to buy certificates (certificates for England & Wales from the GRO in Southport are only copies of their register entries). Furthermore, Scottish certificates - and hence the registers - invariably have more information than you'll find on an English  certificate.


However, whilst it is cheaper to access BMD information for Scotland, it generally works out much more expensive to obtain census data, because Scotlandspeople is a pay-per-view site, with no subscription option. Personally I think they're making a big mistake, but since they didn't even reply to me when I wanted to review Scotlandspeople for this newsletter, I don't suppose they lose any sleep worrying about what I think.


Fortunately there are some alternatives if you don't need to see the handwritten census schedules. For example, Ancestry has transcriptions of all the Scottish censuses, so if you have an Ancestry subscription already, you get them thrown in for nothing. If you don't have an Ancestry subscription there are some other options: you'll find partial transcriptions of the Scottish censuses up to 1871 at the FreeCEN site - and it's notable that the 1841 census is nearly complete. Complementing FreeCEN to an extent are the transcriptions you'll find at Maxwell Ancestry - these are focused on the 1841, 1851, and 1861 censuses of the border counties.


Of course, it's the 1881 Census that we've chosen to use at LostCousins - and since this census isn't covered by the free sites, you may be wondering why. The very first complete transcription of any Scottish census was carried out by FamilySearch, who transcribed the 1881 Census for the whole of Britain. Sadly, although the transcription for England & Wales is available free at the FamilySearch site, the Scotland section isn't - but you can get it as part of the CD ROM set for the whole of Britain, which when I ordered mine from FamilySearch about a year ago cost just £6.85 including postage within the UK (a real bargain considering it comes on 25 CDs).


It's not always easy to navigate around the FamilySearch website, so if you want to order the CD set start with this map, which enables you to find the telephone number of your local distribution centre - there are centres all over the world. Despite what you may have read in one of the magazines, the FamilySearch viewer does work with Vista (and Windows 7 too), just so long as you right click on the icon and select XP compatibility mode.


Don't lose your loyalty discount

At findmypast there is a 20% loyalty discount when you renew your subscription, just so long as the new subscription is exactly the same as the old one AND you have opted for automatic renewal. However, if you don't choose the automatic renewal option then you won't get the discount, even if there is no break in your subscription. Whether you're an existing subscriber or are thinking of subscribing, I suggest you check out the terms here.


Peter's tips

Are you one of the 10,000 LostCousins members who will be affected by the change in the age at which you can draw your pension from 50 to 55? I'm not talking about the change in the state pension age (which for women in going up from 60 to 65), but the change in the age at which you can start taking money from a private pension - from April 6 onwards you'll need to be 55 to take a cash lump sum or a pension.


"So what", you might say, "I'm not planning to give up work just yet." But drawing a pension and giving up work aren't the same thing at all - you don't need to do them at the same time. Over the past few months I've been doing a lot of research into pensions - both state and private - and I've come to the conclusion that - for anyone who qualifies for both - it is usually best to take the private pension as soon as you can, and defer the state pension as long as you can (ideally to the age of 70 if you're a woman entitled to a pension at 60, and to 72 if you're a man).


Deferring your state pension to those ages will add over £20,000 to the amount that the average man collects, and the figure for a woman can be well over £40,000! I don't know anyone in retirement who wouldn't consider those useful amounts of money, and yet hardly anyone chooses to defer their state pension.


By the way, if you do choose to defer your state pension you have the option of taking a lump sum instead of an increased pension. This lump sum can be tax-free if - in the tax year you receive it - your other income doesn't exceed the personal allowance. Whether you use the money to pay off your mortgage, buy a retirement home, or finance medical treatment, it's great to have that opportunity - although if you exercise this option you may not end up any better off than if you'd been taking your pension all along, so my recommendation would to take a lump sum only if your circumstances change unexpectedly.


Returning to private pensions, I wrote last month about income-recycling, which is a perfectly legal way to get a second tax-free lump sum. Something I should have made clear is that to begin building your second lump sum you must start by taking your first one - as demonstrated by the article that I referred you to on the Scottish Widows site.


Please remember that I am not am authorised financial adviser, so you should check that what I'm telling you is appropriate for someone in your position before acting on it, especially if you are entitled to a UK pension but live overseas. But remember too that financial advisers don't get a commission for advising you on your state pension, so they will expect to be paid. However, I'm not the only source of free independent advice - here's what the Department of Work & Pensions has to say about State Pension Deferral.


Have you tried….?

Both of the major subscription sites now offer a 14-day free trial, so it's a great opportunity to compare one against the other. Be careful, though, because they'll take your credit card details, and if you don't cancel before the end of the trial, they will charge you for a subscription.


There's something else to beware of - the trial at findmypast doesn't allow unlimited access to the records, nor does it allow any access to the 1911 Census. Furthermore, if you don't cancel, you'll end up with a 6 month subscription, which works out a lot more expensive per week than a 12 month subscription (and it still doesn't include the 1911 Census). Then again, you won't get the 1911 Census at Ancestry either…..


If you want to try either site just click Ancestry or findmypast and you'll be taken to the appropriate page of their website.


Stop Press
This is where updates or amendments will appear.

That's all for now - I hope you've found some of it relevant to you and your family tree. Please do keep sending in your comments and suggestions for future issues.

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated