- 1 July 2013
The LostCousins newsletter is
usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 20 June
2013) 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.
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).For your convenience, when you click on a link a new
browser window or tab will open (so that you donít lose your place in the
newsletter) - if nothing seems to happen then you need to enable pop-ups in
your browser or change the settings In your security software.
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!
On Wednesday I was the only person at
the Social Research Association's half-day conference entitled "The
Census: Now and in the Future" who had anything to do with family history.
There was nobody from Ancestry, nobody from findmypast, and not even anyone
from the Society of Genealogists or the Federation of Family History Societies!
It's true that you and I are unlikely to
be around in 2122 when the 2021 Census is released - but if our voice isn't
heard now there may not be a census for future generations to study.
What IS the alternative to the
traditional census? On Wednesday morning Daily
Mail readers were treated to a somewhat mangled version of the facts
with a headline that suggesting that the census was going to be replaced by
information from search engines like Google. Somewhat mischievously they referred
to the conference as "behind-closed-doors" when in practice they
could have done what I did and paid £65 to attend.
The reality - mentioned lower down in
the newspaper article - is that the primary sources of information would be
records held by public bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs, the Department
of Work & Pensions, the National Health Service register of patients (not
the health records), local authorities, and educational establishments. These
would be supplemented by information from utility companies and major retailers
such as Tesco and Sainsbury.
This isn't a completely new idea - on my
bookshelves there's an excellent book called People
Count written by Muriel Nissel, and published
in 1987 by Her Majesty's Stationery Office on behalf of the Office of
Population Censuses and Surveys. In Chapter 7 there is a section entitled "Are
there alternatives to the census?" which covers much of the same ground.
The key advantage of using information from
existing databases †is that statistics
would be available on a rolling-basis, rather than every 10 years - but I
reckon that with a little ingenuity (and clever use of modern technology) it's
possible to do this without losing the traditional household census that has
proven so valuable over two centuries.
Right now no decision has been taken
about the future of the census, or its possible replacement, but if the 2021
Census is to go ahead the decision has to be made by September 2014 (according
to Ian Cope, the Director for Population and Demography at the Office for
National Statistics, who spoke at the conference).
There will be a further consultation
between September and November of this year, and that will be our FINAL opportunity
to make our position known. I'll let you know through this newsletter when the
consultation document is published, and there will also be a special section on
the LostCousins forum where we can discuss the issues and formulate our tactics
in order to make the most impact.
I reckon the biggest danger is that the
Government will take the decision based purely on cost. The 2011 England &
Wales Census cost about half a billion pounds, an incredible amount of money
when you consider that the actual information was provided completely FREE by
people like you and me.
However, in 2011 only about one-sixth of
the census forms were submitted online, even though about two-thirds of
households have access to the Internet. Mind you, having completed my own form
online I'm not surprised - the online system was somewhat clunky (for example,
you couldn't go back to make a correction, nor was there any easy way to print
out your data or save it), so I expect quite a few people gave up and filled in
the paper form instead.
But perhaps the most amazing statistic
is that it cost £90 million to chase up households who hadn't returned their
completed census forms - yet there's little or no incentive for them to do so.
After the 2001 Census only 43 people were prosecuted for not completing the
census form, and of those only 38 were convicted - yet there are typically over
a million forms that aren't returned.
Since the stick isn't very effective,
perhaps they should try a carrot? I reckon that if householders who completed
their form on time had been entered into a free lottery with a 1st prize of
£1,000,000 and 50 2nd prizes of PlayStation 3s or iPads
the response rate would have been far higher. And, if the top prize had been
doubled from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 in the event that the winning householder
had submitted their return online, then I think there would have been far more
If sufficient households submit their
returns over the Internet it opens up all sorts of possibilities - such as
updating the numbers between censuses using online surveys - but it's also a
big cost saver. It was Francis Maude, the Minister in charge of the Cabinet
Office, who instigated the review of the census, so it's interesting to note
that according to the Cabinet Office's own estimates, it costs 30 times as much
to process a postal transaction as an online one.
Bring down the cost of a traditional
household census and the argument for doing away with the census becomes much
although all of the countries in the UK are reviewing the options for 2021, Scotland
& Northern Ireland will decide independently about their censuses - and may
not come to the same decision as England & Wales.
When civil registration was introduced
in England & Wales in July 1837 there were a lot of misunderstandings -
which is hardly surprising considering that half the population were
illiterate. There was also a certain amount of misinformation circulated by
members of the clergy, who not only objected to the new 'civil marriages' but
also argued that baptism registers were a more reliable source of information
than the new birth registers.
I was recently looking through the
register of baptisms for St Nicolas, Witham, Essex
when I noticed that there were an exceptionally high number of baptisms in the
last week of June 1837. Whilst there had been just 25 baptisms in the 6 months
from January to June 1836, in the last 6 days of June 1837 there were 27!
On 28th June 6
children of George Rowe, hairdresser, and his wife Harriett were baptised -
their dates of birth ranging from 1828-1837. There's no way of knowing what the vicar might have
said to his congregation, but clearly it had quite an effect - and I suspect
that this isn't the only parish where there was a last-minute rush to the
late baptisms are more common than you might think - one of my 19th century
relatives was baptised shortly before marrying. Even where birth dates aren't regularly
given in the register the vicar would usually identify an adult baptism, and
might give the age or birth year of a teenager. And whilst on this topic, we've
recently been discussing double baptisms on the LostCousins forum - they're not
particularly rare either, though you have to be very careful indeed to
distinguish them from the far more common situation where the parents reused
the name of a child who died in infancy.
I thought it was worth reproducing this
email from Simon in full:
I know you've touched on this
subject before in your newsletters, but how do you stop people posting online
family trees that are totally wrong?
I am increasingly worried that my
diligently researched and totally accurate family tree information is becoming
swamped by erroneous imitations and that future generations who might come
across my research will not recognise it as accurate and true.
I've been researching for over 10
years now and I placed my family tree publically online at Ancestry in the hope
of: a) making contacts with unknown relatives b) Sharing my research so that
others might benefit from it.
This year I changed my tree
status to private.† I did this with
regret but felt it was necessary to protect it from "name collectors"
and lazy researchers.
In over ten years I have only
made contact with four fairly close relatives: one who obviously takes
genealogy seriously, one who makes glaring mistakes and two who haven't
bothered responding to my messages. Ihave also found
my research, photographs and transcripts embedded in scores of other
trees.† This is what I wanted to happen
all those years ago BUT when I see that my research has been added to the wrong
people, or information has been corrupted it makes me very sad and frustrated.
To give you an example:
My Great Great
Uncle, John Thomas Wilkinson, died in a POW camp in Pretoria on 10th June 1900.
For over eight years I could find no trace of him in UK records after 1891
until I searched the Soldiers Records at FindMyPast
and there he was. I know it was him because his home address and next of kin details
were all correct and this fitted perfectly with the fact he did not appear on
the 1901 or 1911 censuses.
Imagine my surprise when I find
him in somebody's Ancestry tree as died in 1900 but continuing to live on in
the 1901 census with a wife and family.†
Further investigation of this
person's tree revealed other glaring errors - all corruptions of my research.
There was data that could only have come from my tree, but this person had
turned it into a nonsense.† I was so angry I sent a very rude message
(which I regretted when I had calmed down), but it made me realise that this is
all very personal and emotionally important stuff.† Rediscovering where one came from is a labour
of love. To observe some stranger mucking it all up is very difficult to deal
It has now got to the point where
there are dozens of these Ancestry trees continuing to promote incorrect
information and I feel powerless to do anything about it.
To protect my tree, the one true
source of accurate information, no-one else can now see it. That means that
anyone researching my family will only be presented by erroneous trees and that
inaccuracy has won. What's the point in that?
Even if your Ancestry tree is private other
users can still connect with you, and when they do you can decide whether or
not to give them access to your tree. There is no need to make your tree
Better still, stick to LostCousins,
because then you can't go wrong - our computerised matching algorithm is
virtually 100% accurate, so nobody needs to see the information you enter.
If you're relatively new to family
history, or first began using Ancestry in the past 5 or 6 years you might be
wondering what I'm talking about when I refer to the Old Search. Are you
sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin....
Once upon a time Ancestry decided to
introduce a new method of searching their records, one that would make it
easier for beginners to use their site. It worked - they attracted millions of new
users and made a lot of money. And so we all lived happily ever after..... or did we?
Unfortunately, whilst the new system
might have made it easier for beginners to get lots of results, they were often
the wrong results (though many
beginners didn't realise this and put the wrong relatives in their online tree).
Even worse, it often didn't deliver the right
results in situations where the previous system would have done - it was certainly
no fairy tale ending for experienced Ancestry users.
Ancestry couldn't completely get rid of
the existing search function, because they knew that they'd lose many of their
existing customers - so instead they renamed it Old Search and hid it away so
that only the people who were already using it were ever likely to find it. †I imagine they thought that we'd all switch to
the New Search eventually. But whereas in the story of Aladdin, the wicked sorcerer
was able to get his hands on the magic lamp through trickery, we didn't fall
for the "New searches for old" scam.
However, Ancestry had some other tricks
up their sleeve. They made Family Tree Maker default
to the New Search, removed the Old Search completely from Ancestry Library
Edition, and from time to time switched home subscribers from the Old Search to
the New Search for no apparent reason. (Some of them couldn't find their way
back again - the Ancestry site can be a maze at the best of times - and wrongly
assumed that the Old Search had disappeared altogether. )
The net result is that, according to
Ancestry, only 2% of us are still using the Old Search - and now they are talking
about merging the two searches into one, which in practice is likely to mean
that the Old Search just disappears.
You might think I'm simply resistant to
change, but in reality I'm always looking for new and better ways of doing
things. †The problem is, even after all
these years, the New Search simply doesn't deliver the goods. Why change to a
system that doesn't work as well?
But don't take my word for it - take a
look at some examples which illustrate the failings of the New Search. Census
searches are absolutely to fundamental to family
historians, because unless we can trace our lines back to the first censuses
we're unlikely to be able to track them back any earlier. In March I wrote
about a problem searching the 1901 Census reported by Valerie which highlighted
some of the problems with the New Search - you can read it again here.
When I heard about Ancestry's latest plans
I carried out another test, this time using a different census: I searched the
1881 England Census for individuals with the surname Calver and birthplace Barton. With 'Exact
matches only' ticked I got precisely 16 results, all of which were relevant. When
I deselected 'Exact matches only' I got many more results, but the first 16
were the ones I'd found previously - so full marks to Ancestry's Old Search for
putting the most relevant results at the top of the list.
Next I switched to the New Search and
ran the search again: with 'Match all terms exactly' selected I got no results
at all! When I deselected 'Match all terms exactly' I got lots of results, but
not one of the first 100 results had a birthplace that included the word
'Barton' - and at that point I gave up, as most people would.
However, I happen to know that the correct
name of the parish is Great Barton - so I ran the test again, this time looking
for Calver with birthplace Great Barton. On
this occasion the Old Search produced 0 results with 'Exact matches only'
selected, but when I removed the tick the first 16 results were the ones I got
Would the New Search do any better this
time? With 'Match all terms exactly' selected there still wasn't a single
result - and although when I deselected it one of the correct results did come
up, it was the 60th result in the list, which put it at the bottom of the third
results page. By the time I'd scanned through the top 200 results I'd still
only found 9 of the 16 results that the Old Search delivered - and how many
people would have the persistence to look through 10 pages of Search results? Even
if they did, they'd still be missing nearly half the results that the Old
These may be individual instances, but
they are symptomatic of a wider problem - that in dumbing down the search process
Ancestry have removed functionality. Ancestry might believe they know what's
best for us, but as I wrote on Dick Eastman's blog
"Ancestry seem to think they're smarter than we are. If they were we
wouldn't be having this discussion."
The one piece of good news is that
Ancestry are seeking comments from users of the Old Search - following this link will
take you to the survey form.
to switch between the Old and New Search click the Search tab, and select
Search All Records - you'll find a link in the top right corner of the page.
1.2 million more Welsh records at
Findmypast are in the process of
digitizing and indexing the parish registers and transcripts held by the
National Library of Wales and many of the record offices in the Welsh County
Archivists Group. This week they added 1.2 million records to the 5.9 million
already in the Wales
Collection, and as most of my wife's ancestors came from Wales I'm going to
be ploughing through the records just as soon as I have the time.
You can read the latest announcement
from findmypast here.
David wrote to tell me that the baptisms for Llanenddwyn
- in Merionethshire - are recorded a second time, but with the county shown as
Montgomeryshire. Findmypast have been notified, but in the meantime there could
be some confusion (I find Welsh place names confusing enough as it is!).†
In the last newsletter I implied that
none of the records at ScotlandsPlaces are free. That isn't correct - it is
still possible to access the Farm Horse tax records and the Clock & Watch
tax records free of charge.
I also stated that the cost of a
subscription is £15 - it's actually £15 plus VAT, ie
£18 in total.
Many thanks to Chris
Paton, the renowned genealogist, author, and blogger for pointing out these
Several members wrote to draw my
attention to an article
in the Irish Times about EU proposals to extend data protection regulations to
include public records, such as the birth, marriage, and death information held
by the GRO has caused some concern amongst genealogists.
I don't know how likely it is that these
regulations will come into force, but they shouldn't have much impact† on
genealogists - because we're primarily researching people who have died. I've
always felt it a little worrying that we can find out so much about people we
don't know and may never meet, simply by searching the
GRO indexes (although I have to admit that it hasn't stopped me using all the
Ironically, Ancestry this week uploaded
death indexes for 2007 (but see Stop Press) - even though the GRO told me in response to my
Freedom of Information request in 2011 that:
"recent advice led us to conclude in 2008 that there was no
clear legal basis for the Registrar General to make the indexes available in
If Ancestry didn't get the data from the
GRO, where did it come from? And if they did get it from the GRO, why haven't
we seen it at other websites?
In the last newsletter I wrote about the
imminent release of the 1921 Census of Canada. What I didn't do was to repeat
the unsubstantiated rumours that were going round about the release being held
back deliberately by the government.
Nor did I repeat the story
from the Ottawa Citizen which talked about a secret deal with a "private
high-tech consortium" that would result in access to some digitized
documents held by Library and Archives Canada being charged for.
In fact, Canadiana - not a shadowy
private consortium, but an alliance of Canadian public and research libraries -
will be making the images available free of charge. There will be a charge to
search the transcribed text, but the revenues will be used to partially fund
the transcription work (the remaining funding is coming from grants and
donations). You can read about Canadiana's plans here.
Earlier this month there was a lot of
publicity in the British newspapers when it was claimed that DNA tests had
proved that Prince William has an Indian ancestor on his mother's side (see
this Guardian article).
The research had been carried out by a
company called BritainsDNA who seem to be very adept
at courting the media (just this week the Telegraph
their assertion that the invention of porridge was key
to the advancement of the human race).
However, when it comes to the claims
about Prince William's ancestry there are considerable doubts, according to
Debbie Kennett, LostCousins member and author of DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the
Twenty-First Century - you can read her blog posting here.
According to an article posted on the
BBC website this weekend people in Britain inherit their social class not just
from their parents but also from their grandparents.
Personally I'm not sure that class is as
important in modern Britain as it used to be, but then I would say that,
wouldn't I - one of my grandfathers was a boilermaker, the other a commercial
Following my recent articles about the
graves that are being reused at two east London cemeteries Elizabeth sent me a link
to an article from The Spectator
entitled Recycled graves - coming soon to
a cemetery near you which suggests that there will be an increase in the
reuse of graves.
I'm not against the principle of making
better use of the limited space available, but the practice of doing so without
relatives being aware of what's happening has to stop. All cemeteries could
make their records readily available through DeceasedOnline if they chose, and
in my opinion those that don't should be barred from touching our ancestors'
There's an article on the BBC
website about middle names, and whilst it's a whimsical look at the topic, it
serves as a reminder that we shouldn't take the middle names of our ancestors
I asked in my last newsletter whether any
members would be interested in combining winter sunshine with genealogy, and I've
already had a sufficiently good response to start making some tentative plans
(although we do still need more attendees, so let me know if YOU might be interested).
I was surprised how many members from Canada
were interested in attending - I guess it's even colder there than it is in
I've currently pencilled in the third
week of March 2014, and am talking to potential speakers - but the best news is
that I'm negotiating with one of the most beautiful resorts on the Algarve coast.
As you can see from the photographs I took there earlier
this year, the architecture is traditional and the setting peaceful, with
plenty of shade for those who find the sun too hot (though with an average
daily high of 66 degrees in March that shouldn't be a problem).
Everything's cheaper out of season - not
just the accommodation, but also the airline tickets and the car hire (if
required). The apartments and villas all have their own kitchens and washing
machines, so it's just like being at home - indeed, most of the properties at
the resort are used as second homes or holiday homes by their owners, so no two
are exactly alike (it's completely different from staying in a hotel!).
If you want to eat out every night you
can, but cooking in the apartment can be just as much fun, and a lot cheaper -
especially if we organise some informal dinner parties. We'll also get together
for restaurant meals now and again.
I'm currently envisaging that there will be 5 formal
half-day sessions over the course of a week, with the rest of the daytime reserved
for sunbathing, sitting on the beach, exploring, shopping, tennis, or whatever
you want (there's a golf course nearby for spouses who prefer that to family
history). So far as possible I'm going to keep the timetable flexible so that
we make the most of the sunshine - if it's raining one day (even Portugal has
rain) we might have two sessions to free up time on another day when the
forecast is better.
Although the course is only a week long
I'll be around for longer, and I'd encourage you to come earlier and/or leave
later †- you'll find the air fares are
cheaper if you don't travel at weekends so that will help to offset the extra
Finally, just to make it clear that
whilst I'll be co-ordinating the whole thing, you'll make your own travel
arrangements and book the accommodation directly with the resort - it has to be
done this way to avoid involving a travel agent who would simply add on an
extra layer of costs, but it also means you have complete flexibility.
When I was a child we only had pork and
chicken as an occasional Sunday treat, but these days they're amongst the
cheapest meats in the supermarket (especially in Portugal, by the way). †As a result I've found through experimentation
that a lot of recipes for casseroles and stews that are intended for beef or
veal work just as well with pork.
But enough talk of food - it's making me
hungry. Time for some genealogy tips!
Family Tree DNA,
the company that I chose when I decided to start using DNA to break down some
of the 'brick walls' in my family tree, have a Summer Sale with substantial
reductions on most of their tests (see here for prices).
But before you take a DNA test make sure
you know what it is that you're hoping to discover - and check that you're the
right person to be taking the test. Last year I wrote a series of articles explaining
what you can and can't do using DNA tests - and you could save yourself a lot
of heartache by re-reading them. Click here to read
In recent months I've made some changes
to the LostCousins site that make the process of
connecting with cousins simpler. If you log-in and go to your My Summary page you'll find a statistic called
Match Potential which indicates your
chances of finding new relatives - the higher the number, the more you're likely
to find. To increase your Match Potential
add more relatives to your My Ancestors page, focusing on the ones who were recorded on the
Once you've made a match another
statistic comes into play. Go to your My Cousins
page and click on the initials of the person you've been matched with to
display the My Contact page for that
relationship. There you'll see the Match
Rating - which can vary from 0 to 5. A rating of 1 or more indicates that
the person you've been connected with is a cousin, but a lower value suggests
that they might be related only by marriage.
Sometimes you can increase the Match Rating by entering more relatives
- or by correcting the relationships shown for some of the relatives you've
already entered. I've noticed that some members have a blind spot when it comes
to 'direct ancestors' - if you're not sure who counts as a direct ancestor of
yours, fill out the blank Ancestor Chart I provide (everyone on the chart is a
direct ancestor of yours).
I forgot to mention that on each My Contact page there's a space for
notes - I find it very useful, and I think you will too.
It seems that the 2007 GRO death records at Ancestry
only go up to the end of April, and may not be complete.
I'll be sending out more invitations to
join the LostCousins forum shortly - if you're fortunate enough to receive one
I look forward to seeing you there!
© Copyright 2013 Peter Calver
MAY link to this newsletter or email a link to your friends and relatives
without asking for permission in advance. I have included bookmarks so you can
link to a specific article: right-click on the relevant entry in the table of
contents at the beginning of the newsletter to copy the link.
DO NOT re-publish any part of this newsletter, other
than the list of contents at the beginning, without permission - either on your
own website, in an email, on paper, or in any other format. It is better for
all concerned to provide a link as suggested above, not least because articles
are often updated.