Newsletter - 26 August 2010



Are there any "brick walls" in your tree?

Breaking down brick walls

What's next from the National Archives?

Parking at Kew - new rules

Teach a man to fish..

From double baptisms to double marriages

Probate calendar pitfalls

Password protection

Anyone you recognise?

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


About this newsletter

The LostCousins newsletter is published twice a month on average, and all LostCousins members are notified by email when a new edition is available (unless they opt out). To access the previous newsletter (dated 16 August 2010) please click here. Each newsletter links to the one before, and you can go back to February 2009 when the newsletter first went online; in due course there will be an online index to articles.


Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). Note: when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open so that you donít lose your place in the newsletter.


Although the newsletters are hosted at LostCousins, they are not part of the main website. Click here to go to the main website and search for your living relatives.


Are there any "brick walls" in your tree?

Of course there are - and parodoxically the more successful you are in your research the more brick walls there will be! That's because every single family line you research inevitably terminates in a brick wall, a seemingly impenetrable barrier that prevents you getting any further back.


There are 57 brick walls in my family tree at present, whereas a year ago here were only 55 - and in the looking-glass world of genealogy that's real progress (because every brick wall we knock down ultimately creates two more). How many brick walls are there in your tree?


Breaking down brick walls

Before turning to the question of how to get those brick walls tumbling down, it's important to distinguish between real brick walls and the imaginary ones we create for ourselves. For example, if there are sources of information that you haven't searched because you don't have the right subscription or don't live close to the relevant records office, it's not a brick wall that's blocking your path - it could simply be your lack of determination to solve the problem.


Yes, of course we all have limited time and money, but there are usually routes we can take if only we stop and think for a moment. These might, for example, include free access to subscription services at your local library or LDS Family History Centre. Many local records offices offer very reasonably-priced research services, and those that don't can usually put you in touch with a private researcher. Even the most expensive researchers charge no more than the average plumber, and what they can achieve in an hour or two with their in-depth knowledge of the records is often quite amazing.


But when you've checked all the readily-available records, what next? One approach is to find others who are researching the same line: make sure that your My Ancestors page is as complete as possible (as a rule of thumb about 20% of the people on your tree are likely to be on the 1881 Census, which is the one for which we have the greatest coverage). Finding relatives who are researching the same families can lead to all sorts of discoveries - even someone who isn't as experienced as you may well have some clues that you don't have.



Sometimes simply starting from a different place on the tree can make all the difference. For example, I recently obtained the will of my great-great-great-great aunt's husband - which referred to the son of his sister-in-law (but didn't name him). I knew that she wasn't married at the time the will was written, so it was obvious that the child was illegitimate - and suddenly I realised who that son must be (and that the name of the father shown on his marriage certificate was a fabrication). It was a fascinating discovery even though it didn't break down any of my brick walls - but for the descendants of that child (and there are hundreds of them) it was like manna from heaven, because starting from where they are on the tree there might have been no reason for them to ever obtain a copy of that will.


That particular find depended on spotting the link between seemingly unrelated information from three different parts of my tree. Making such connections usually requires us to have a very ambivalent attitude towards the information in our tree: in other words, we always have to have in the back of our minds the possibility that what we've been told, or what we've read in a register or on a certificate isn't true - at least until we have found so much supporting evidence that we have to accept its veracity.


Occasionally we know where the information that will break down a particular brick wall is likely to come from. For example, there were a lot of people waiting for the 1911 Census to be released because it was the only way they could find out where their grandfather or grandmother was born. Similarly, I was hoping that the indexing by Ancestry of the London Metropolitan Archives parish registers would enable me to find the baptism of my great-great grandmother - who gave four different birthplaces on the census (sadly it didn't).


Often it's serendipity that leads to the solution - though we still have to be alert to the possibility. For example, the surname of a visitor staying with my great-great-great grandparents at the time of the 1851 Census seemed vaguely familiar, and I eventually realised that it was the name of a marriage witness whose signature I'd had difficulty deciphering. This enabled me to confirm that I'd found the right Smith family on the 1851 Census and take the line back another generation.


Similarly, it's important to look at neighboroughing households on the census, and adjacent entries in baptism and marriage registers (yet another reason not to rely on transcriptions). Remember, just because the surname is different it doesn't mean they aren't related.


Seek out inspiration. Read as many family history magazines as you can, and especially free newsletters - not just mine, but also the monthly newsletter from the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies which always contains some useful nuggets. The information you glean might not solve the present problem, but it could well solve a problem in the future (it's important to remember that sometimes the solutions arrive before the problems!).


And yet, more often than not, when I'm up against a brick wall I choose the "do nothing" option. That's right, instead of running round like a headless chicken I put that particular problem to one side and focus on another part of my tree. It's amazing how often some small discovery I make elsewhere provides an insight into how I might solve the original problem.


For example, if our ancestors married in the parish church there's a tendency to assume to that they were Church of England, even though they didn't have any other option between 1753 and1837 - even after this date it was common for non-conformists to be buried in the parish churchyard, even non-conformist ministers. The discovery that ancestors on one line were non-conformists might remind us that we hadn't searched non-conformist registers for the baptisms of ancestors from another line. Of course, that's just one example - the possibilities for cross-fertilisation are too numerous to mention..


Another reason to focus on a different line is the way that new records are becoming available on the Internet, particularly through Ancestry, findmypast, and FamilySearch. By the way, I still come across LostCousins members who haven't discovered the new records at FamilySearch, even though I've been writing about them for over a year in my newsletter! (If you're one of them, click this link - and remember that because some of the parish registers haven't been indexed yet, you won't find entries in those registers by searching, only by browsing.)


Why twiddle your thumbs waiting for something to happen when you could be working on a different line? To be really successful we have to be flexible not only in the way we do our research, but also the order in which we do it!


What's next from the National Archives?

It's always a lovely surprise when we hear about a new online dataset from the National Archives, whether it's available through TNA's own Documents Online or from one of the commercial partners, such as findmypast, or Ancestry. But sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to know in advance what's coming. After all, what's the point in spending days peering at microfilm if the records are going to become available online in a few months?


However, though I spent a considerable time exploring the National Archives website, and trying likely entries in the A-Z Index, I couldn't find out what their plans are - until I tried Google, when I discovered a very handy PDF document entitled Digitisation Projects Update May 2009 which lists the projects that were in hand at that time.What a shame I've only recently discovered it!


More searching using Google led to an 8-page document entitled The National Archives Digitisation Programme 2009-2013, which dates from March 2010. This lists 25 projects, some of them already complete - and all but one of the remainder are scheduled to be completed by 2012. Unfortunately it doesn't show who is responsible for each project, but in many cases there are clues in the earlier document.


You might want to take a look at these documents to see whether any of the forthcoming releases might help break down one of your brick walls!


Parking at Kew - new rules

If you're planning to drive to the National Archives you need to be aware that from 31 August parking must be pre-booked and pre-paid. There is a flat fee of £5 a day, but for Annual tickets the price varies from £350 if you drive a gas-guzzler, to just £75 if you have a fuel-efficient low-emission car like mine (but you won't catch me driving all that way - I always take the train whenever I possibly can).



Teach a man to fish..

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."


That proverb, sometimes attributed to Confucius, is an excellent illustration of how family historians can best help each other - not by doing someone else's research for them, but by teaching how they can do it themselves. And what about the sense of satisfaction that we get from doing things ourselves, and making our own discoveries - isn't it a wonderful feeling?


It's true that with over 80,000 members it's obviously impracticable for me to help you all individually - but even if I could, the fact remains that you'll benefit so much more by doing the research yourself and following the advice and tips in my newsletter.


Tip: read my newsletters whilst you're online, so that you can follow the links - otherwise you'll only get half the story.


From double baptisms to double marriages

Thanks to everyone who wrote to tell me about the double baptisms in their tree: between us we came up with all sorts of theories as to how this might have happened, but of course there's rarely sufficient evidence to prove any particular hypothesis.


However one member, James, came up with an interesting theory which could explain many of the double baptisms that have been reported: it seems that some vicars (especially in the larger parishes) would fill out the baptism register in advance - and if the parents failed to turn up with their child on the appointed day, they might forget to amend the register. Jo in Tasmania also proposed the same theory after discussing an apparent double baptism with an acquaintance who is a vicar.


In James's example his relative was apparently baptised at two different London churches in adjoining parishes on consecutive Sundays - and the second appointment was in the parish where they lived (and where their first child had been baptised). However, it wasn't only a parish boundary that separated the two churches - the parishes were also in different Poor Law Unions, and the parents might well have been concerned that their entitlement to relief might be affected.


Of course, the reason for some double baptisms is perfectly clear - because they took place in churches of different denominations which didn't accept the rites of the other as valid. For example, Baptists don't believe in infant baptism. However, it's the cases where a child was apparently baptised twice into the Church of England that are really intriguing, and sometimes confusing. Still, it's better to find two baptisms than none at all!


Double baptisms are one thing, but what about couples who married more than once?Between 1754-1837 marriages in Roman Catholic and Non-Conformist churches were not legally valid - which meant there was nothing to stop a couple who were forced to marry in the parish church against their conscience going through a ceremony which meant more to them in the church of their choice. But it's the couples who tied the knot twice in Church of England ceremonies who intrigue me - and I suspect you too!


Richard wrote to suggest that a second marriage might legally take place where there was some doubt about the validity of the first: for example, if banns had not been read in the parish of the non-resident partner (and no licence had been obtained), if the minister was not licensed to perform marriages, or if the venue itself did not have a valid licence (there was a case in the news last year, I believe).


Coincidentally Richard had recently compiled a very helpful article about Marriage Regulations and he has kindly allowed me to post it on the Help & Advice page so that all members can benefit from his knowledge and experience. Do take a look, because I found it absolutely fascinating: for example, did you know that until 1886 a Special License was required if a couple wanted to marry in the afternoon? Or that a vicar who infringes the regulations is liable to 14 years imprisonment?


There's a double marriage in Barbara's tree - they took place in different counties in successive years - and Barbara's theory is that the first marriage was secret. I think she could be right!


Have you come across any double marriages in your tree?


Probate calendar pitfalls

Last time I wrote about the National Probate Calendars that are now online at Ancestry, providing in effect an index to wills for the period 1861-1941. Unfortunately it seems I was a little premature in reporting that for once Ancestry's New Search outperforms their Old Search.


It turns out that the New Search uses the probate year rather than the year of death - and since the two can be very different, my advice is not to use the New Search when you know the year of death, as specifying this in the search is an easy way to target the right results, especially when the surname is a common one. Thanks to Bryan for pointing out this anomaly, which is nothing less than carelessness on Ancestry's part.


UPDATE: the problem above has been partially fixed - but also made worse in certain circumstances. I am still investigating.


There's also a problem with place names which affects the earlier years in particular. As David pointed out, county names were often shown without 'shire' at the end, thus Cambridge instead of Cambridgeshire. You or I would understand this (because it actually says 'the County of Cambridge'), but Ancestry's transcribers didn't, and as a result the entry for Abraham Pearmain, who died at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire in 1864 is indexed as if he died in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire - with no mention whatsoever of Steeple Morden until you view the original text. Not a problem, perhaps, when the name is such a rare one - but what if it had been John Smith?


Password protection

If you're logged-in automatically when you visit the LostCousins site you may not be aware that you're still using the temporary password that we issued when you first joined - amazingly about 50% of members are, even though whenever a new member logs-in for the first time we suggest they change the password to something they'll find easier to remember.


You can get an automatic email reminder of your password simply by clicking here and entering your email address (the one that's shown when you are logged in). It's important that you know your password, or have it recorded somewhere, because at some point your email address will change - and you'll need your password to get access to the My Details page.


Even if you value the information you enter at LostCousins as highly as the money in your bank account, you still shouldn't use the same password for both accounts - because anyone who has access to your email address, including someone who hijacks it, will be able to find out your LostCousins password.


Anyone you recognise?

LostCousins has been in the news recently: last month there was a double-page spread in Your Family History which has attracted lot of new members, and now on page 16 of the September issue of Family History Monthly there's an interview with yours truly, which includes a photograph of me aged nearly 4 in 1954. It was taken at Oldchurch Hospital, in Romford, where I spent 6 weeks recovering from a broken leg.


I used to know which leg, but I've long since forgotten, and the hospital has long since destroyed all their records (shame on them!). But I can still remember how painful it was when they took my cast off, and made me hobble between the parallel bars.


I'm the one standing directly behind the young girl in the chair - I was probably supporting myself on the chair back. Goodness knows why I was looking away from the camera! But who are the other people in the picture - surely there must be a LostCousins member who recognises one of them? If you do recognise anyone in that picture, do let me know.


Note: if you think the hospital behind me looks rather Victorian, you're right - it was a former workhouse.


Peter's Tips

If your arithmetic is up to scratch you'll have worked out by now that it's my 60th birthday this year - in just over a month, in fact.


When you get to my age you don't want too many surprises, so to make sure that the present from my wife doesn't involve hang-gliding or hot-air ballooning I pointed her in the direction of the Amazon Kindle eReader which I briefly mentioned in the last newsletter. Which? magazine reckoned that the previous model was the best of the 17 eReaders that they reviewed, and as this new model is cheaper, thinner, and lighter, with 50% better contrast and twice the storage capacity, I reckon it's the perfect present for my special birthday.


Inevitably they're sold out at the moment, but my wife got her order in today and they are promising delivery by the middle of September - in plenty of time for the big day. And yes, I have asked for the more expensive model, with a free 3G connection for downloading books anywhere in the world!


What has all this got to do with family history, you might ask? Well, it suddenly struck me that with a capacity for 3500 books my new Kindle would be ideal - I've got two bookshelves full of genealogy books, and that's without the magazines and journals that are piled high on the floor.


And then I got to thinking further - what about all the out-of-print books, and the ones that don't get published at all because of they're too specialised? It'll be fascinating to see how things develop over the next few years.



Stop Press

Findmypast have added another 131,000 marriage records between 1750-1984 from parishes in Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey. Click here to see the announcement.


That's it for now - I hope you've enjoyed reading this newsletter as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it!




Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


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