Newsletter - 11th June 2014
The LostCousins newsletter is
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If you live in the UK you'll almost certainly be aware of this week's news stories about long delays at the Passport Office - but you may not have connected them with the GRO.
In fact the General Register Office is part of Her Majesty's Passport Office (formerly known as the Identity and Passport Service), so the fact that they're both delivering a sub-optimal service may not be a complete coincidence.
Note: as far as I can see the highflying Sarah Rapson is still nominally the Registrar General for England & Wales, even though she's now in charge of a completely different part of the Home Office (her temporary posting in April 2013 was confirmed in March of this year)!
A birth, marriage, or death certificate is a certified copy of the register entry - and whilst in former times they would have borne handwritten or (later) typed copies of the entries, what we see these days is usually an image of the actual entry in the register.
This means that where the register has been amended you'll see the original version as well as the correction, which can be confusing if you haven't seen an example before - so I was delighted when Alan agreed to allow me to reproduce this birth certificate:
At first glance you might think that the child's name was shown originally Charles M Heal - and wonder why his surname has been crossed out, since even though he was clearly illegitimate, his mother's surname was Heal.
However, if you look more closely you'll see that the 'M' is really the number 17 - and that in the margin the registrar has written "Seventeenth" and initialled it (all corrections to registers must be numbered and initialled by the registrar in the margin).
But why has the surname been deleted? There's no need to write in - I'm sure you all know the answer (but I'll give it in my next newsletter, just in case).
If your family comes from England or Wales, and you have a findmypast.co.uk or Ancestry.co.uk †subscription you'll not only have access to the fully transcribed birth, marriage, and death indexes but also to the complete England & Wales 1911 Census. By combining these two resources you'll probably find that you can add dozens of new relatives to your family tree - without spending a penny on certificates!
Note: the links below are to findmypast- I'll explain later why I've chosen this site.
Here's how I generally go about it:
(1) Where there are married couples on the 1911 Census and the wife is of child-bearing age (typically up to 47) I search the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the family surname and mother's maiden name. The rarer the surnames the more confident I can be about identifying the entries, especially if I also take into account the choice of forenames, the timing of the births, and the districts where the births were registered.
(2) I then check to see whether I can identify marriages involving relatives who were single in 1911. This is generally only possible when the surnames are fairly uncommon (but see below).
(3) Having identified these post-1911 marriages, or possible marriages, I look in the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the technique described in (1) above. Sometimes the choice of forenames will help to confirm whether or not I've found the right marriage.
(4) I next look for the deaths of the couples whose children I've been seeking. If the precise date of birth is included in the death indexes, as it is for later entries, this often helps to confirm not only that I've found the right death entry, but also - in the case of a female relative - that I've found the right marriage. Even if I don't know exactly when my relative was born, the quarter in which the birth was registered defines a 19 week window (remember that births can be registered up to 6 weeks after the event). Why does this work best for female relatives? Because they will have changed their surname on marriage, so their birth will be registered in one name and the death in another - and there will be a marriage that links the two.
(5) Now I start on the next generation, the children who were recorded in 1911 or whose births I have been able to identify as belonging to my tree. I look for both marriages and deaths, because if I find the death of a female relative recorded under her maiden name, this usually indicates that she didn't marry.
(6) Having identified marriages I then look in the birth indexes for children born to those marriages - and continue this process until either I reach the present day, or I get to a point where I can't tell with reasonable certainty which entries relate to my relatives.
There are all sorts of additional sources of information you can use if you need to - including online family trees at sites like Ancestry and Genes Reunited, social networking sites such as Friends Reunited and Facebook, plus the National Probate Calendar (at Ancestry), Electoral Registers (the UK registers from 2002-13 are included in all findmypast.co.uk subscriptions), newspaper announcements, and phone directories (at Ancestry). And don't forget the power of Google!
Here are some key dates to bear in mind when searching the GRO indexes:
2nd April 1911 - Census Day
1st July 1911 - from this date the mother's maiden name was included in the birth indexes
1st January 1912 - the surname of the spouse was included in the marriage indexes
1st January 1966 - from this date the first two forenames are shown in full in the birth indexes
1st April 1969 - the precise date of birth was included in the death indexes and the first two forenames were shown in full
During the 20th century middle names are more consistent than they were in the 19th century - there is less of a tendency for them to appear or disappear between birth, marriage, and death. Unfortunately, for more than half a century after 1910 only the first forename was shown in full in the birth and death indexes, and the marriage indexes only show one forename for the whole period after 1910 - so a perfect match on the second forename is only possible if the relative was born before 1911 and died after March 1969.
What can you hope to achieve by following the techniques I've described? In my case I've been able to extend some lines forward by as many as four generations, although three is more typical. In all I've added hundreds of 20th century relatives to my family tree using these techniques, the majority of whom are still living.
Of course, if you decide to contact a living relative you've identified in this way you're unlikely to find that they share your interest in family history - though there's a fair chance that they'll be able to tell you of someone else who is doing research. (By contrast, when you find a living relative through LostCousins you know at the outset that they're interested in family history - otherwise they wouldn't have joined, and wouldn't have had the necessary census information.)
Why use findmypast, and not Ancestry or FreeBMD? The BMD searches at Ancestry aren't quite as user-friendly, because whilst findmypast allows you to search the entire period with a single search, at Ancestry pre-1915 records must be searched separately. As for FreeBMD, there is little coverage after 1970, and none at all after 1983; there are also some significant gaps after 1939.
Last month a new website which will provide help - and perhaps hope - to those whose ancestors were institutionalised as children. The Children's Homes website has been created by Peter Higginbotham, whose Workhouses website has been immensely useful to family historians. You can view lists of homes according to type or location, and in most cases there are facts and figures, often indicating where the records might be found.
Around the world organisations are improving access to records from World War 1 to mark the centenary - but what a shame more of these records weren't available when the soldiers, sailors, and others who contributed to the war effort were still alive! Last week we celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day - but all too few of the brave men who landed on the Normandy beaches were able to join in.
Of course, it's important that the privacy of individuals is protected - but some of the records now going online have always been publicly-available (though hard to track down), or were very expensive to access until they were digitized. Had I not requested my father's WW2 records while he was still alive it would have cost me £30 to obtain them after his death - yet I downloaded my grandfather's WW1 records as part of my findmypast subscription, so they didn't really cost me anything.
And yet there's an even worse problem ahead - so many 20th century records were thoughtlessly destroyed. I'm not thinking about military records, but hospital and other medical records, school records, employment records - even tax records, I suspect. My guess is that over 99% of the records that relate to you and I have been destroyed - or will have been by the time we get around to asking to see them. When I tried to access my school records from the 1950s I was told they no longer existed; when I wanted to see my hospital records from the 1950s I was told they had been destroyed.
Why not sit down for a moment and imagine you were planning to write your autobiography: what information from your past do you wish you'd recorded? And what information (that others would have recorded at the time) would you now like to be able to access?
The chances are that you don't have diaries or other records to remind you what you did when, so unless you can refer to contemporaneous records you'd probably have to rely on your memory - and we all know how unreliable (and selective) that can be!
In the 21st century more personal information than ever before is being recorded, but not for our benefit - it's mostly to help supermarkets, credit agencies, and advertisers to run their businesses more profitably. Tesco have recorded every purchase I've made since their Clubcard was introduced, but I bet you that if I asked them for a copy I'd discover that they no longer have the data.
The conundrum is that the Data Protection Act doesn't protect data, it only controls access to data. For many organisations the simplest approach is to destroy the information they hold - about us - when it's no longer of use to them. Is that right?
Action for Children is the new name for the National Childrens Homes, which cared for tens of thousands of children following its foundation in 1869. Unfortunately they will only provide information from their records to those who have personally benefited from their services - which they're presumably obliged to do under the Data Protection Act. They claim they don't have the resources to provide information to the descendants of children who were in their care.
They'll happily take your donations - there's a 'Donate' button on just about every page of the website - but they won't provide you with information about your ancestors who were in their care no matter how much you donate! I don't have any personal interest in obtaining records from this charity, but if I did I'd find it extremely frustrating, to say the least - surely records over 100 years old could be made available online?
The Western Front Association took over more than 6 million pension record cards relating to soldiers of the Great War when the Ministry of Defence was no longer able to keep them. The long term aim is to make the records available online, but in the meantime there is a manual look-up service which has proven so popular that it is taking 2 months or more for requests to be filled.
You'll find details of the look-up service here.
Was your ancestor a PoW in WW1?
The Genealogist recently added a database of 80,000 records relating to British and Commonwealth servicemen and women held prisoner during the Great War. All the records I've looked at are taken from casualty lists, so the information you'll discover is quite restricted - often there's little beyond the name, rank, and number - but since so many WW1 records have been lost, it might be all that's available, at least until the International Committee of the Red Cross release their enormous collection....
Note: there is an excellent article about WW1 PoWs in the June 2014 issue of 'Your Family Tree'.
From August this year it will be possible to search for records of WW1 prisoners and internees kept on 6 million index cards by the International Prisoners-of-War Agency set up by the Red Cross. During the First World War, the Agency collected, analysed and classified information it received from the detaining powers and national agencies about prisoners of war and civilian internees. It compared this information with requests submitted to it by relatives or friends, in order to restore contact between them.
It isn't clear exactly what information will be available, but it will certainly make the process of accessing the records far more efficient.
Work has already commenced on the WW2 records - held on 36 million index cards - and the first batch, relating to French PoWs, should be completed during 2016.
At this year's Who Do You Think You Are? Live show Sir Tony Robinson, one of the best-known amateur historians in the world, gave a fascinating 45 minute lecture in the Ancestry theatre - you can see it again here.
Scientists are predicting that in 5 to 10 years' time it will be possible to predict a person's face from their DNA - just imagine how useful that would be to police forces around the world!
But when I read about this in New Scientist a couple of months ago I wasn't thinking about criminals - I was wondering whether it might one day be possible to see what my ancestors looked like, even if they were born long before photography was invented. This was also the focus of a BBC article that was posted last week.
Of course, if you don't have a DNA sample to start with there's nothing you can do - or is there? Perhaps the relevant sections of our ancestors' DNA could be reconstructed using our DNA, and the DNA of other descendants? I'm not so sure it would work - but this is one time I'd be delighted to be proved wrong!
Until Tuesday 17th June you can save $20 on a Family Finder autosomal DNA test at Family Tree DNA - you'll now pay just $79 (about £47) instead of $99. Even $99 seems cheap - I paid $159 for my Family Finder test, and that was a special offer!
Whereas you might choose a Y-DNA test to investigate your direct paternal line (your father's father's father.....) or an mtDNA test for your direct maternal line (your mother's mother's mother.....), autosomal testing samples the 22 pairs of chromosomes that are inherited from both of our parents - and which they inherited from both of their parents, and so on.
It's therefore the only DNA test you can take that will tell you anything about the ancestors in the middle of your family tree (Y-DNA and mtDNA can only tell you about the lines that run up the extreme edges). But precisely what might you find out when you take the test?
Family Tree DNA match your results against those of all the others who have taken the same test - and list the matches with estimated relationship. For example, my best matches are 7 people who most likely to be 3rd cousins, but could be in the range 2nd to 4th cousins - which means that the common ancestor might be a great grandparent, a great-great grandparent, or a great-great-great grandparent.
In effect it's a bit like LostCousins - except that the matching is based on DNA, not census records!
Family Finder DNA test
LostCousins census matches
Cost of test $99 ($79 during offer)
Free to search, but you might have to become a subscriber to make contact with the cousins you find (cost £10 for 12 months)
No effort required - just take a cheek swab
Enter your relatives from the 1881 census - the more you enter, the more matches you'll get
Only finds cousins
Also finds relatives who are related by marriage or adoption
Results based on biological evidence
Results based on research
Typical match 2nd-5th cousin, but it probably won't be immediately obvious how you are connected
Typical match 2nd-5th cousin, and you'll know almost immediately who your common ancestors were
Once you've taken the test you'll get more matches as more of your cousins take the test
Once you've entered your relatives you'll get more matches as more of your cousins take part in the project
Tip: if you've tested at Family Tree DNA, or are considering doing so, why not check the list of projects that you can join - these include geographical projects as well as surname projects. It's free to join a project, but you must meet the entry requirements.
There are two ways to approach DNA testing - you can take a test and hope that you get some useful matches, or you can identify a particular problem that needs solving, such as the parentage of an illegitimate ancestor. Often you'll have a theory who the father of an illegitimate child may have been, but unless Poor Law records that identify him have survived you're unlikely to find documentary evidence to support your theory.
Proving (or disproving) your theory through DNA testing is often possible, but you usually need to have another sample to compare your DNA against. Here's the question that you should ask yourself: "if there is someone alive today who shares my putative ancestor's Y-chromosome (or mtDNA), who will they be descended from?"
You might think that the answer to that question is simply "my ancestor", but that's the lazy answer. Why? Because the Y-chromosome or mtDNA in question didn't suddenly materialise when your ancestor was born - it was inherited from their father or mother.
This diagram illustrates how Y-DNA and mtDNA are passed down the generations - remember that mothers pass mtDNA to all of their children, but fathers pass Y-DNA only to their sons:
Imagine you're Robert Bradford, whose paternal grandfather was illegitimate. You've obviously inherited your great-grandfather's Y-chromosome which provides a clue to his identity - but only if you can match it against another sample. Often you wouldn't have any idea who the father of the illegitimate child was, so the best you can do is take a Y-DNA test yourself and see if there are any matches in the database of the testing company, or other accessible databases, that will provide a clue to the surname of your unknown paternal ancestor.
But let's suppose that in this particular case you have a strong suspicion that the father of Mary Bradford's child James was one Roger Smith - maybe he was lodging with the family at the time when the child was conceived, but died before James was born. Or perhaps there is a family story that points in Roger Smith's direction.
Now, because Roger Smith died before marrying, and - to the best of your knowledge - before fathering any other children, the only person who will have inherited his Y-chromosome is your ancestor James Bradford. So is this a hopeless cause?
No, it isn't - because Roger will have inherited his Y-chromosome from his own father, John, and John had another son, also called John Smith, who was living at home with Roger and his parents on the 1881 Census. Perhaps John married and had a son? If so, you might be able to find a living Smith who is in his direct male line of descent?
The only problem is, John Smith is such a common name that trying to track his marriage and his descendants would be really, really difficult - and that's where LostCousins can help. On your My Ancestors page you could enter not only Roger Smith, but also his brother John and their father - not as relatives, because that's speculative, but using the 'DNA research' category. You'll then be matched with the other LostCousins members who have entered any one of them within seconds of clicking the Search button.
Of course, you're not guaranteed of a match, and even if there is a match, you don't know that Roger's brother had any sons. But since it will only take a couple of minutes to add the 1881 Census data for this family to your My Ancestors page, it's got to be worth a try.
Note: many people take DNA tests without any real understanding of how they might help resolve their questions about their family tree. Using the 'DNA research' feature doesn't commit you in any way to taking a DNA test - it merely helps to create a situation in which taking a test is more likely to tell you something useful!
In the next three weeks there are two talks from experts that could help shine light into the dark corners of our ancestors' lives. This Saturday, 14th June, Dr Simon Pawley will be exploring bigamy, in a talk entitled "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Bigamist" at the Lincolnshire Family History Society; then on the evening of Wednesday 2nd July, Professor Rebecca Probert (author of Marriage Law for Genealogists) will be giving a talk entitled "Tracing Marriages: Legal Requirements and Actual Practice 1700-1900" for Buckinghamshire Family History Society in Bletchley.
Tip: while I was looking up the details of Professor Probert's lecture I noticed another BFHS event that could be equally fascinating - Michael Kushner will be talking about "Black Propaganda Radio: Britainís Biggest Hoax" in Aylesbury on the afternoon of Saturday 21st June.
Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge begins with a man selling his wife by auction, so when I saw the headline "Rugby star's wife puts her marriage on eBay" in The Times in March I couldn't resist reading the article beneath - but in fact she wasn't selling her husband, but her wedding ring, wedding dress, and the love letters her husband had sent in better times. Surprisingly Hardy's tale was fact-based, as a search of the British Newspaper Archive will demonstrate.
Dutchman Ed Houben claims to have fathered more children than any other man in Europe, with 98 to his name, according to this BBC story. This reminded me of the 2003 DNA study (reported here on the National Geographic website but also found on many other sites) which suggested that there are 16 million men who are direct descendants of Genghis Khan in the male line (which suggests that after 30 generations there could be hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people who are descended in some way from the great warrior).
Will researchers in 800 years time discover millions of Houben's descendants? Perhaps - but the Genghis Khan theory seems to be the result of journalists jumping to the wrong conclusion, as this 2012 blog posting explains.
Meanwhile, a recent article in The Guardian demonstrates that fathering lots of children can be a risky strategy - if you're a bear.
Just after the last newsletter was published findmypast announced that they had added over 4 million Devon records to their site. Some parishes are missing: this page at the Devon Heritage Centre website lists parishes for which the registers have not yet been digitized (including Salcombe and Malborough, where some of my ancestors lived), but in most cases they will be added in the not-too-distant future. However, there are two parishes for which the incumbent has not given permission for digitization.
You can find out more about the Devon Collection here.
My great-great-great-great grandfather was the licensee of "The Compasses" in Patchetts Green until his death in 1837 (he thoughtfully waited until civil registration had been in place for 2 weeks before expiring).
I'm glad to see that not only is the pub still standing, it's still a pub - so many have been turned into homes and restaurants, or simply demolished. I wonder if my family connection would be worth a free drink? Sadly, I suspect not.
On Tuesday I was in a pub near Cambridge where I noticed a framed list on the wall of landlords from 1729 †to the present day - it's common to see lists of vicars in churches, but I think this is the first time I've seen a list of landlords in a pub.
(Sorry about the quality of the photo - if I had had more time I would have asked Repixl to bring it up to scratch.)
A couple of weeks ago Jill wrote from Australia to remind me about the Pubs History website, which covers most of the counties of southern England - it has lists of landlords for thousands of pubs, although the information seems to be taken mainly from directories or censuses, and usually only goes back as far as the late 19th century.
Record offices usually hold licensing records for their area, so if you have ancestors who ran a pub it's well worth checking to see what information has survived.
In the summer of 1953 two very different men were each teaching youngsters how to win at the board game Solitaire. (Not to be confused with the Solitaire card game, which we call Patience in England, it was played with marbles on a wooden board - rather like this one, in fact.)
Less than a year later both men were dead, one of natural causes, the other probably by his own hand - but even after 60 years the two youngsters, now old enough to be grandparents, can still remember their lessons. One of those men was my grandfather; the other was Alan Turing, the computing pioneer who had helped to crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park (I'm talking about what actually happened, by the way - not the movie version).
I was reminded of my own experience when I read this BBC article about Maria Summerscale, who met Alan Turing when she was 7 years old, and still has the letter he wrote explaining how to play Solitaire. Isn't it strange how we can remember these relatively unimportant things from such a long time ago?
I'm going to keep it short and sweet this time, as this newsletter is already longer than usual.
I was amused when I saw this sell by sticker yesterday in my local supermarket - I don't know whether you can read it, but it says "Eat within 2 hours of purchase". This is the first time I've seen such precision, or such a short shelf life - and it also made me wonder how long it had been sitting there on the shelf......
That was the short bit - now for the sweet bit. Do you have a favourite recipe for fudge? If so, please drop me an email. I haven't made fudge since I was a child, but I bought some at a garden gate recently - which reminded me how much nicer the home-made confection is than the shop-bought variety (it really does melt in your mouth).
This is where you'll find corrections or urgent news.
Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter - I hope you found it interesting, and perhaps even amusing in places! Many of the articles are inspired by emails from people just like you, so do please write in with your tips and questions.
© Copyright 2014 Peter Calver
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