Newsletter - 6th February 2015
FREE access to all UK records at Ancestry ENDS SUNDAY
LostCousins is completely FREE this weekend ENDS TUESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 22nd January) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-13 click here. Or use the customised Google search below:
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To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!
The Society of Genealogists today reported that the Government has accepted an amendment to the Deregulation Bill currently going before the House of Lords that allows for the publication of information from Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates in England and Wales to be issued otherwise than in the form of a certified copy. You can read the SoG announcement and see the proposed clauses here.
This is something that family historians have been seeking for many years: first recommended by a Royal Commission almost a century ago, legislation was put forward in 1983 by Lord Teviot, but failed to be implemented because the Government chose to call a General Election. We must hope that this year's General Election - it takes place on Thursday 7th May - does not once again scupper these plans.
I would like to thank all of the LostCousins members who have written to their local MP, and the MPs who have taken up this matter with the Home Office and/or the General Register Office - without a doubt this will have helped to sway the Government's decision in favour of Baroness Scott's proposal, which was first reported in my Christmas newsletter.
May I suggest that those of you who did write to your MP send them an appreciative letter? I don't suppose they get very many - they're probably as rare as hens' teeth and Ryanair refunds - so I'm sure they would welcome the gesture.
FREE access to all UK records at Ancestry ENDS SUNDAY
No subscription? Don't worry, because this weekend Ancestry.co.uk are offering free access to all their UK records! It's a great opportunity to extend your tree by researching your collateral lines - the descendants of your ancestors' brothers and sisters.
You've got three days to plunder Ancestry's UK records - the offer ends at midnight (London time) on Sunday 8th February. You may need to log-in or register in order to view the records, but you shouldn't be asked to provide credit card details or make any commitment.
Tip: make sure you save the records to your own computer - if you save them to your Ancestry tree, or to your 'shoebox', you'll need a subscription to look at them after the weekend. For many years I've used the free Irfanview program to view, edit, and print the images I've downloaded from Ancestry and other sites - you can download your copy here. Irfanview has saved me a fortune in ink - the LostCousins member who recommended it to me all those years ago deserves a medal!
LostCousins is completely FREE this weekend ENDS TUESDAY
LostCousins is also free this weekend, and the good news is that you've got an extra 48 hours, because my offer doesn't end until midnight on Tuesday 10th February.
As you find relatives on the 1841, 1881, and 1911 censuses it make sense to enter them on your My Ancestors page straightaway, so that I can link you with the other members - your 'lost cousins' - who have already entered them. Simply click the Search button and the LostCousins computer will automatically check every entry you've made against the millions of entries made by other members.
Tip: it doesn't matter if your new-found cousins don't reply before midnight on Tuesday - as long as you have initiated contact during the offer period (by clicking 'Make contact' on your My Cousins page), you'll be OK.
Of course, you won't always get an instant match - somebody has to be the first person to enter a particular relative - but once you've entered your relatives your cousins will be able to find you (and you only have to click the Search button to look for matches all over again).
Tip: the 1881 census is the one that's most likely to link you to your 'lost cousins', and you'll get most matches when you enter the members of your ancestors' extended families - their brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
It's very frustrating when you can't find an ancestor's birth certificate - but often the 'brick wall' only exists in our imagination. Let's look at some of the key reasons why a certificate can't be found....
· The forename you know your ancestor by may not be the one on the birth certificate: sometimes the name(s) given at the time of baptism would differ from the name(s) given to the registrar of births; sometimes a middle name was preferred, perhaps to avoid confusion with another family member, often the father. Although it was possible to amend a birth registry entry to reflect a change of name at baptism, most people seem not to have bothered. But there can be all sorts of reasons why a different forename is used - one of my ancestors appears on some censuses as 'Ebenezer' and on others as 'John' (which I imagine was the name he was generally known by). In another family the children (and there were lots of them) were all known by their middle names.
· Middle names come and go: at the beginning of the 19th century it was rare to have a middle name, but by the beginning of the 20th century it was unusual not to have one. Some people invented middle names, some people dropped middle names they didn't like, and sometimes people simply forgot what was on the birth certificate. For example, one of my relatives was registered as Fred, but in 1911 his father - my great-grandfather - gave his name as Frederick.
· The surname on the certificate may not be the one you expect: if the parents weren't married at the time of the birth then usually (but not always) the birth will be recorded under the mother's maiden name (the exception is where the mother was using the father's surname and failed to disclose to the registrar that they weren't married). Also bear in mind the possibility that the surname you know your ancestor by was his stepfather's name - this could apply whether nor not the child was born outside marriage.
· You're looking for the wrong father: often the best clue you have to the identity of your ancestor's father is the information on his or her marriage certificate. Unfortunately marriage certificates are often incorrect - the father's name and/or occupation may well be wrong. This is particularly likely if your ancestor never knew his or her father, whether as a result of early death or illegitimacy. Not many people admit to being illegitimate on their wedding day - and in Victorian Britain illegitimacy was frowned upon, so single mothers often made up stories to tell their children (as well as the neighbours). Whether or not the birth was legitimate young children often took the name of the man their mother later married, so always bear in mind the possibility that the father whose name is shown on the marriage certificate is actually a step-father.
· You may be looking in the wrong place: a child's birthplace is likely to be shown correctly when he or she is living at home (few mothers are going to forget where they were when they gave birth!), but could well be incorrect after leaving home. Many people simply didn't know where they were born, and assumed it was the place they remembered growing up. The most accurate birthplace is the one given by the father or (especially) the mother of the person whose birth you're trying to track down; the least accurate is likely to be the one in the first census after they leave home.
· You may be looking in the wrong period: ages on censuses are often wrong, as are the ages shown on marriage certificates - especially if there is an age gap between the parties, or one or both is below the age of consent (21). Sometimes people didn't know how old they were, or knew which year they were born, but bungled the subtraction; ages on death certificates can be little more than guesses, or may be based on an incorrect age shown on the deceased's marriage certificate. Remember too that births could be registered up to 42 days afterwards without penalty, so many will be recorded in the following quarter - and they could be registered up to 365 days afterwards on payment of a fine. In my experience, where the marriage certificate shows 'of full age' it's often an indication that in reality they were under 21!
· The birth was not registered at all: this is the least likely situation, but it did happen occasionally - most often in the first few years of registration, though it wasn't until 1875 that there was a penalty for failing to register a birth.
· The GRO indexes are wrong: this is also quite rare, but did happen occasionally despite the checks that were carried out.
How can you overcome these problems? First and foremost keep an open mind - be prepared to accept that any or all of the information you already have may be wrong. This is particularly likely if you have been unable to find your relative at home with their parents on any of the censuses.
Obtain all the information that you can from censuses, certificates, baptism entries and other sources (such as Army records). Sometimes it will be worth buying certificates for all of the children - one member told me recently that she only found her ancestor's real surname on one of the birth certificates for his eight children - but start with their baptisms, as this is a much cheaper option (though, of course, the information won't necessarily be the same).
The less information you can find, the more likely it is that the little you already have is incorrect or misleading in some way. For example, if you can't find your ancestor on ANY censuses prior to his marriage, you can be pretty certain that the information on the marriage certificate and later censuses is wrong in some material way.
Don't assume that just because something appears in an official document, it must be right. Around half of the 19th century marriage certificates I've seen included at least one error, and as many as half of all census entries are also wrong in some respect (I'm not talking about transcription errors, by the way). Army records are particularly unreliable - one of my relatives added 2 years to his age when he joined the British Army in 1880, and knocked 7 years off when he signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914.
Some people really were named Tom, Dick, or Harry but over-eager record-keepers might assume that they were actually Thomas, Richard and Henry. My grandfather was Harry, but according to his army records he was Henry (just as well he had two other forenames, which were recorded correctly).
Consider how and why the information you have might be wrong by working your way through the list above - then come up with a strategy to deal with each possibility. Sometimes it's as easy as ordering the birth certificate for a sibling to find out the mother's maiden name; often discovering when the parents married is a vital clue.
If you can't find your ancestor on the census with his or her parents then you should be particularly suspicious of the information you have - it's very likely that some element is wrong, and it is quite conceivable that it is ALL wrong.
Middle names that could also be surnames often indicate illegitimacy - it was usually the only way to get the father's name on the birth certificate. Unusual middle names can provide clues - I remember helping one member find an ancestor whose birth was under a completely different surname by taking advantage of the fact that his middle name was Ptolemy!
Make use of local BMD indexes (start at UKBMD), and don't forget to look for your ancestor's baptism - sometimes we forget that parents continued to have their children baptised after Civil Registration began. Consider the possibility that one or both of the parents died when your ancestor was young - perhaps there will be evidence in workhouse records. Have you looked for wills?
Could the witnesses to your ancestor's marriage be relatives? When my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Harrison married, one of the witnesses was a Sarah Salter - who I later discovered (after many years of fruitless searching) was his mother. Her maiden name wasn't Salter, by the way - nor was it Harrison - and it was only because the Salter name stuck in my mind that I managed to knock down the 'brick wall'. Another marriage witness with a surname I didn't recognise proved invaluable when I was struggling with my Smith line - he turned up as a lodger in the census, helping to prove that I was looking at the same family on two successive censuses, even though the names and ages of the children didn't tally, and the father had morphed from a carpenter to a rag merchant.
Finally, remember that you're probably not the only one researching this particular ancestor - and one of your cousins may already have the answers you're seeking. So make sure that you have entered ALL your relatives from 1881 on your My Ancestors page, as this is the census that is most likely to link you to your 'lost cousins'.
Many congratulations to Stephen, who won himself a 12 month subscription to Deceased Online, the leading source of burial and cremation records covering the last 150 years (thanks to Deceased Online I finally found the graves of the grandmother I never met, her parents, and many other family members). Stephen referred Frances using the Refer a Relative option on his My Referrals page, which meant that there were scores of relatives listed on Frances' My Ancestors page when she first logged in.
Frances did her bit too - she added another 37 relatives before Tuesday's midnight deadline, earning herself and Stephen a bonus of £37 each.
A further 10 new members will each receive a free 12 month LostCousins subscription and a FREE digital photo repair/restoration worth up to £8.99 generously donated by Repixl, who have already produced stunning results for hundreds of LostCousins members. And the 9 members who referred them will each receive the same runners-up prizes (one canny member referred two of the winners and so will get a double helping). I was delighted to see that Alexander, who helps me run the LostCousins Forum (but is better known as author of the popular free utility Family Tree Analyzer) was amongst the winners.
Check your My Summary page over the next few days to find out whether you're one of the runners-up - I'll be updating the winners' accounts shortly.
Jacqueline, who I met for the first time at the inaugural Genealogy in the Sunshine last year (I'm glad to say that she and her husband Ken will be back next month), wrote to tell me how delighted she was with the service from Jayne Shrimpton, who is able to date and analyse old photographs just by looking at scans of them.
If you're puzzling over a photograph that you've inherited it's an option you might want to consider.
In 2010 Canada decided to abandon the mandatory long-form census in favour of a voluntary survey - now planners are finding that they can't do their job properly, as this recent article from The Globe and Mail reports.
It's a reminder for those of us in Britain that whilst the 2021 Census has been saved, it's unlikely that there will be a traditional census in 2031.
If one of your relatives was a PoW in WW1 it's possible that they were one of more than 3000 to be interviewed by the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War before the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. You'll find more information here on the National Archives website.
Ancestry have added a collection of 872,395 records from WW1 which I hadn't come across before - they relate to monies owed to soldiers who were killed (though there are a small number of soldiers who were discharged because of insanity). You can search the records here.
For example, I discovered that my great uncle Herbert was due £2 6s 2d when he was killed in action in January 1916, a sum which was paid to his widow nearly three months later. A further amount of £3 was sent to her in 1919, as a War Gratuity.
Widows of soldiers who were killed in WW1 could be granted a pension of 13s 9d a week, but in the event of re-marriage this would stop - so it isn't surprising that whilst my great uncle's widow bore two more children after his death she didn't marry the father.
In the last issue I was speculating where Ancestry had sourced their Scotland and Northern Ireland death index 1989-2013. Subsequently Ancestry added this information to their web page - apparently it comes from a company in West Yorkshire called Wilmington Millennium, and is from their 'Grey Power Deceased Data' collection.
A similar index for England & Wales 2007-13 was also launched around the same time - it comes from the same source. Neither index is complete - Ancestry suggest that they include 45% and 55% respectively of the deaths that occurred - and the England & Wales index is likely to have a significant overlap with the free probate index at the will ordering site (see below).
If you've been holding back from ordering wills since reading about the problems in my last newsletter, I do have some clarification about the folio number issue - apparently only wills proved in London between 1858-1930 have folio numbers, so if your relative's will was proved after 1930, or at one of the provincial registries you don't need to supply a folio number. Many thanks to member Peter for pointing this out to me.
We all have 'brick walls' that we want to knock down, but often it takes someone looking over our shoulder to spot the obvious. But how much better it would be if we could learn some techniques that will help us to knock down the 'brick walls' ourselves, rather than bang our heads against them!
You might think that you couldn't learn anything much from a genealogy book that was only 64 pages long, but as I read Nuts and Bolts: Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques by Andrew Todd I was continually nodding my head in agreement, because there were so many invaluable tips - many of which I'd used in my own research but never thought to write down at the time so that I could share them with you.
For example, on page 26 the author points out that even when the birthplace shown on the census is wrong, it can still be useful information - because it provides a clue to the whereabouts of the family at the time that person was growing up. In other words, it might not help us directly with our ancestry, but it does tell us something about our family history - as the author says, "Birthplaces may be factually wrong, but they are rarely irrelevant."
Family reconstitution is all about looking beyond our direct line ancestors to their siblings, cousins, and perhaps also to people who might siblings or cousins if only we can find the connection. It helps us to make sense of the (all too common) situation where there is more than one candidate, but it can also lead to so much more. Naturally it ties in very well to what we should be doing anyway if we want to connect up with our 'lost cousins' - remember, they're all descended from collateral lines, so the more research we do into our collateral lines the more cousins we'll find, and the more we'll ultimately learn about our direct line ancestors.
Nuts and Bolts may be only 64 pages, but it is crammed with useful advice that we can all benefit from, no matter how much experience we have. I recommend it without reservation, but perhaps the highest praise comes from the Amazon reviewer who bought a second copy, having lent out his first! Available for £3.50 plus postage & packing from The Family History Partnership it's worth every penny (but I gather their stocks are running low, so don't delay).
Earlier this week the House of Commons voted by a majority of 3 to 1 to allow women whose mitochondrial DNA has serious defects to give birth to healthy children. The procedure involves the donation of an egg by a woman with healthy mtDNA (as you can see from the diagrams in this BBC article).
Only a very small proportion of the child's genome will come from the donor - less than 0.1% - and the number of genetically-modified children born each year will be small (about 150), but the procedure is nevertheless controversial in some circles.
The donors will not have any parental rights, nor will they be recorded on the birth certificates of the children - nor is it likely that they could be identified with a DNA test because so many people have identical mtDNA.
Genomics England, which is 100% owned by the Department of Health has begun to sequence 100,000 human genomes, starting with those of people who have rare diseases and cancers. The number of people involved in the project will be less than the headline figure because those with cancer will provide two samples, one from the tumour, and one from the patient's healthy cells.
The hope is that it will be possible to identify genetic causes of the illnesses so that diagnosis and treatment can be improved, but there are also likely to be other unanticipated benefits from a major project like this. It could also help to drive down the cost of whole genome sequencing, so could ultimately help family historians who have been forced to resort to DNA testing in order to break down 'brick walls'.
According to this Daily Telegraph article, one of the people who'll be tested is a 37 year-old space scientist who is under 4ft tall - even though his parents were both normal height.
You probably wouldn't want to be one of the tens of thousands in the 100,000 Genomes Project, because it would mean that you, or someone close to you, was suffering. But I bet you would have wanted to be one of the 1215 people who this week have had the privilege of viewing all four surviving copies of this momentous document (you can read more in this BBC article).
Last time I mentioned the Magna Carta I was criticised for saying it was signed, whereas it was actually sealed. In my view that's as petty as the General Register Office insisting that copy BMD certificates must be provided on paper, and not digitally. Move with the times, guys!
It's not just British records that can be accessed free at Ancestry this weekend - if you go to Ancestry.com.au you can search New Zealand records free of charge (this marks Waitangi Day, which for indigenous New Zealanders was when their 'Magna Carta' was signed). Check out the recently-added collection of 1.6 million records from New Zealand cemeteries.
I'm willing to bet that thousands of people reading this have never used eBay. I started using eBay after I was made redundant about 15 years ago - it soon become apparent that at my age I was virtually unemployable (there was no age discrimination legislation in those days), and so I raised money by selling many of the things I'd accumulated over the previous 20 years. Ironically, one of the companies that turned me down on the grounds of my age was eBay's UK subsidiary - but I don't hold it against them because they were only doing the same as everyone else. (I'd argue now that eBay's loss is LostCousins' gain!)
If you have never used eBay before, but might be tempted to try by the offer of a £10 voucher, sign up using this link - and that way we could both benefit. One of the bargains on offer when I looked today was Family Tree Maker 2014 World Edition, which comes with a free 6 month Ancestry.co.uk World subscription (worth nearly £90) - for just £62.99 including postage within the UK.
Last weekend it was the 22nd anniversary of the day my wife and I met, so we decided to watch one of the films that we'd been saving for a special occasion; we chose Philomena, the true story of a mother whose illegitimate son was taken away in the mid-1950s. Philomena was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Judi Dench's wonderful portrayal of the title character, and Best Picture. I don't know whether it was the champagne that we were drinking, or the movie, but we both had tears in our eyes as we watched - it was very moving, and made more so by the knowledge that it was just one child and one mother out of thousands. We don't usually watch the 'extras', but it was great to hear the real Philomena Lee talk about the film and her experiences.
This month's Saga magazine (February 2015, pages 50-53) has an article about unmarried mothers in which two mothers, now aged 72 and 82 tell their stories. It coincides with the publication of In the Family Way, a book by Jane Robinson which is subtitled "Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties". I haven't read it yet - it only came out yesterday - but I have a feeling that many readers of this newsletter will be able to relate to the issues (at least three of my 19th century direct ancestors were illegitimate, and I suspect that when I eventually knock down my highest 'brick wall' another illegitimate birth will be revealed).
Tesco are once again in the news for the wrong reasons: the way they treat their suppliers is going to be investigated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Investigations have previously been announced by the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Reporting Council.
It seems they can't even get simple things right - if you look at these cooking instructions from a pack of kale I bought recently you'll see that they are contradictory. Let's hope that the kale my wife and I ate had been washed before it was packed, because I only read the microwave instructions. Tesco also boobed when they gave me a voucher for a £1 saving when I spend £4 or more on Valentine cards: however, the most expensive card I could see in my local store cost £3.50 - so do they think I'm a bigamist?
Bigamy, by the way, is one of the topics that we'll be hearing about from Professor Rebecca Probert next month at Genealogy in the Sunshine. I'll be posting the full programme on the LostCousins Forum next week. Tomorrow I'll be in Upminster speaking to the East of London Family History Society - I only hope that the snow doesn't make my journey too difficult - roll on March and Genealogy in the Sunshine!
Note: there is still one, possibly two apartments available at the Rocha Brava resort if you want to join us next month - but please get in touch with me right away!
This is where I'll post any last minute additions.
Have you broken down any of your 'brick walls' using the Masterclass articles in this newsletter or the previous two? Do let me know if you have!
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
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