Newsletter - 25th April 2013



Come to our 9th Birthday party

Bring your friends and relatives

Save on DNA tests ENDS TUESDAY

GRO - the next step?

Books online - a new source

London Gardens Online

Cradle to grave

Tracing your ancestors through death records

Who will inherit your online accounts?

Online archives of the Imperial War Museum

War memorial to be corrected after nearly a century

Saving $$$ at Ancestry

Searching for living relatives

Door to door challenge: solution

Statistics and genealogy

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 8 April 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.

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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!



Come to our 9th Birthday party

On 1st May LostCousins will be 9 years old! It will be 9 years to the day since I stood outside the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster handing out leaflets to people queuing for the Society of Genealogist's Annual show.


From now until Monday 6th May the LostCousins site will be COMPLETELY FREE. This means that whether you're a subscriber or not you'll be able to contact any relatives who are currently waiting in the New Contacts section of your My Cousins page PLUS any new relatives you find between now and 6th May.


To join in the fun simply complete your My Ancestors page by entering as many as possible of the relatives you can find on the 1881 Census - whether they were living in England & Wales, Scotland, or Canada. Remember that whilst it's natural to start by entering your direct ancestors and their households, it's the members of their extended families who are most likely to be the link to your 'lost cousins'.


Tip: if you take the total number of relatives on your family tree and divide by 5 this gives you a quick estimate of how many of them would have been alive in 1881.


Bring your friends and relatives

It'll be an even better party if everyone brings their friends and relatives - and there will be loads more opportunities to find 'lost cousins'. By far the easiest way to invite other researchers to join is through your My Referrals page - and you don't even have to provide the email addresses of your friends and relatives, though if you do I guarantee they won't be misused.


Tip: when you invite a cousin using your My Referral page you can do them a favour by indicating the relatives on your My Ancestors page that your cousin shares - they'll automatically be copied to your cousin's My Ancestors page!


Save on DNA tests

Family Tree DNA, the testing company chosen by most family historians, is offering heavily discounted prices - but only until Tuesday 30th April.


For example, a 37-marker Y-DNA test to trace your direct paternal line costs just $119 - about £80. For comparison, British-based Oxford Ancestors charge an eye-watering £199 for a 15-marker test!


Family Tree DNA is the company I've chosen for my DNA tests, and the one that I've recommended to my own relatives. It isn't just about price - because they have the largest genealogical DNA database on the planet you're likely to get more matches.


To remind yourself how DNA tests can help you with your 'brick walls' see my articles here and here.


GRO - the next step?

Thank you for the many, many messages of support I have received since publishing my letter to the Home Secretary and the rather unhelpful reply from the Communications Manager at the GRO.


It transpired that the response from the GRO was even more unhelpful than I realised when I was writing my last newsletter - an eagle-eyed LostCousins member led me to two online documents, published just before Christmas, in which the Home Office set out their Digital Strategy. Surely the GRO must be aware of those documents, and if so why did they not mention them in the letter (especially since the provision of copy birth, marriage, and death certificates for family historians is listed in the documents as one of the most significant services - in terms of volume - provided by the Home Office)?


Reading those documents it was clear that whilst the GRO may be happy to remain marooned in the 19th century, the Home Office intends to get up to date - and fast.


A few quotes will demonstrate the wide gulf between the GRO and their masters, starting with this one from the Civil Service Reform Plan:



Note those final words "convenient to the users rather than the providers" - what a change that would be! The Home Office documents go on to outline some of the benefits from going digital:



I couldn't have said it better myself. However it isn't all good news, because the Home Office seem to have swallowed the GRO's line when it comes to the legislation governing the issue of certificates:


There are a range of legislative/practical barriers currently preventing the Home Office from implementing fully end-to-end digital delivery systems. These include:



As another astute LostCousins member pointed out, the legislation might refer to certified copies, but it certainly doesn't specify that they must be paper copies - it seems the GRO has never heard of digital certificates (even though the HM Revenue & Customs has for over a year required most companies to submit their tax returns in a PDF file with a digital certificate).


What should we do next? A lot of members suggested that a petition might be the answer - but given that the Home Office themselves are already headed down the right route there doesn't seem to be much point (and previous petitions have struggled to get a meaningful number of votes, even though one in particular was widely-publicised).


Surely what we really need to do is ensure is that the needs of family historians are fully taken into account - not just the need for a faster and cheaper service, but also the need for better indexing so that we can more easily identify which entries relate to our ancestors? For example, shouldn't it be possible to search for all the births where the father's name is John Smith and the mother is Mary Smith formerly Brown?


The Civil Registration system was never designed with the interests of family historians in mind. Did you know that in the 21st century there are as many copy certificates issued in a SINGLE year as there were in the ENTIRE 19th century!


Although the certificate system isn't one of the three areas prioritised by the Home Office, that's probably a good thing - because it gives the GRO time to consult with users. There have been consultations in the past, of course - but in those days the GRO very definitely had the upper hand. Now that the Home Office has recognised the importance of "citizens who can freely contribute to policy making and influence service-design" and "well designed services that are quicker and more convenient for users" I rather think that the boot is on the other foot!


If the GRO are right in their assertion that there can be "no digitisation without legislation" then let us make sure that the legislation - when it comes - strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of living individuals to privacy and the needs of family historian like ourselves.


As you probably know, over the past few months I've been working with a group of volunteers to create an online forum. In view of the importance of certificates to our research I propose that we have a dedicated area within the forum where we can discuss the GRO and the certificate issue.


If you would be interested in taking part in those discussions please indicate your interest in the forum by clicking the appropriate box on your My Details page, ie:



Books online - a new source

I'm sure that most readers of this newsletter have used Google Books and the Internet Archive to search for out of copyright books related to genealogy, but until Brian wrote to me this month I hadn't heard of HathiTrust.


HathiTrust is a partnership between major libraries around the world, and 3 million of the 10 million digitised volumes are out of copyright. A quick search led me to two of the three volumes of statistics published after the 1831 Census, and whilst I later discovered they're also on Google Books, the fact is I'd never found them there. (Volume 1 can be found at the HistPop site, and invaluable source for census data.)


London Gardens Online

London Gardens Online has an enormous amount of information about parks, gardens, churchyards and cemeteries in the Greater London area - there are over 2500 locations.


Cradle to grave

Walter Harrison was born in 1921 on a coal barge on the Grand Union Canal. It was therefore fitting that when he died this year aged 91, his coffin was carried on a canal barge to his funeral and then to his final resting place. See this BBC article for photographs - what a way to go!


Tracing your ancestors through death records

Celia Heritage, author, lecturer, professional genealogist - and LostCousins member - will be running a one day course entitled Tracing your ancestors through death records at Canterbury Christ Church University in Chatham, Kent on Saturday 11th May. As a fellow LostCousins member you can book a place on the course for just £27 (normal price £37).


You'll find full details here. If you want to attend the course please email Celia as soon as possible since at this price the course is likely to sell out quickly (like the half-day course that Celia is running at the Society of Genealogists this weekend).


Tip: why not use the £10 you've saved on a copy of Celia's latest book (you'll find it here)? I'll be reviewing Celia's book in a future newsletter.


Who will inherit your online accounts?

Sally wrote to tell me about Google's plans to make life - or rather death - that little bit easier, by allowing the holders of Google accounts to decide what should happen to them when they're no longer around.


It's certainly something that we all need to think about - let's face it, we're not going to be around for ever. Mind you, they say the two things that are inevitable in life are death and taxes, and since Google has managed to avoid paying more than a token amount of UK Corporation Tax (see this BBC article), it wouldn't surprise me if they're working on avoiding death as well, particularly since the wife of one of the Google founders runs a DNA company!


But what I found most interesting about the announcement is that Google are 8 years behind LostCousins in identifying the problem - since 2005 it has been possible to enter on your My Details page the email address of the person you would like to inherit your LostCousins account.



That said, 90% of the readers of this newsletter haven't completed that box. Maybe you should?


Online archives of the Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum has over 33,000 audio recordings related to combat since 1914, almost half of them related to the First World War - for example, I stumbled across this recording of old soldiers talking about life in the trenches, and these reminiscences of a nurse who worked with Edith Cavell, who was shot by a German firing squad in 1915 after helping scores of soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium.


But that's not all - there are thousands of images, such as these World War 2 identity cards and the World War 1 army manuals that belonged to Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII). There are wartime posters, photographs of escape equipment used by prisoners of war - it's an Aladdin's Cave.


There are currently 28 podcasts at the First World War Centenary site that is run by the Imperial War Museum, and the same podcasts are available free from iTunes.


War memorial to be corrected after nearly a century

Private George Samuel died fighting for his country in 1916, but when his name was added to the war memorial in Shepreth, Cambridgeshire his surname was recorded as 'Samuels'. But 97 years after he fell in combat his great-niece has finally managed to persuade the local council to correct the error (see this BBC News article for more details).


Saving $$$ at Ancestry

I've written many times about the big savings that can be made by switching your Ancestry subscription to a different site, but I get so many emails asking for more details that I'm going to run over them once more.

Here are the facts: Ancestry offers a Worldwide subscription through all of its sites, but the cost varies enormously from one site to another - this partly reflects changes in exchange rates since the prices were fixed, but some of the differences are too large to be explained entirely by currency movements.

Even if you don't need a Worldwide subscription you might still be able to save money by switching. You might even be able to get a better (or more appropriate) subscription and save money.

Which Ancestry site is the cheapest? There's a hint in the title of this article! All of the sites that charge in dollars - whether US, Canadian, or Australian - are considerably more expensive than the UK site. Look how little you would pay at!

Note: the published price of a Worldwide subscription on Ancestry's UK website is £155.40, but that includes UK taxes. So long as you live outside the European Union you'll pay £135.13, as shown in the screenshot above - the actual price will, of course, be displayed before you complete your purchase.

At today's exchange rate that price equates to $201 (Australian), $207 (US), or $212 (Canadian), which is a substantial saving compared to the price you'd pay for exactly the same subscription (though with a slightly different name) at,, or! And although it says 'Initial Annual Membership Fee' it isn't a special offer price - renewals are charged at the same rate.

There are four simple steps to take:

(1) Cancel your existing subscription - do it now, even if it isn't due to expire for some time (you'll still get the time you've paid for). That way there's no risk that you might forget to cancel nearer the time. In most cases you'll be able to cancel your subscription online, simply by going to My Account.

(2) Wait until your existing subscription has expired - otherwise you won't be able to switch sites. Then when you're ready to take out a new subscription* click here to go to (note: if you use that link LostCousins may receive some commission - if you don't we won't).

(3) Don't re-register. Simply log-in using your existing user name and password - that way you won't lose anything (and you can even continue using the same site to access Ancestry's records if you prefer).

* when my subscription runs out I can often manage for a week or two without renewing, so that's a way to save even more!

You can still save money if you don't currently have a Worldwide subscription - for example, the cost of a UK Heritage Plus subscription at is $215.40 which is more than you'd pay for a Worldwide subscription at!

Tip: if you want to share this tip with friends or relatives please send them a link to this newsletter - that way you'll be supporting LostCousins and its members.


Searching for living relatives

I've had quite a number of emails from members who have been unable to find the 'Living Relatives' search at


This link will take you to the right part of the website - this link will take direct to the Search page.


Tip: if you click a findmypast link in my newsletter and you end up on their home page rather than the page you expected - it's not my fault, it's a 'feature' of the findmypast site. Simply click the link a second time, and then you will get to your intended destination.


Door to door challenge: solution

This was a fascinating puzzle because there were only two possible answers, and everyone who entered was absolutely convinced that whichever answer they had chosen was the right one.


Here's the puzzle again, in case you missed it:


Imagine that you're a contestant on a TV game show and have to pick one of three doors, in the knowledge that only one of them conceals a prize. When you've made your selection the host (who knows where the prize is hidden) opens one of the other two doors to show that there's nothing behind it - and then gives you the option of staying with your original choice, or switching to the remaining closed door.

What should you do, and why?


I should perhaps have stressed that this is a regular occurrence on the show - the host always makes the same offer whether or not you have chosen correctly, and he always opens a door that has nothing behind it.



You should switch doors - this doubles your chances of winning! But why?


Let's suppose that you were allowed to choose 2 doors instead of 1 - then you'd clearly have 2 chances in 3 of winning the prize. Would those odds change if the host opened one of your doors and demonstrated that there was nothing behind it? Of course not - as there's only one prize, it clearly can't be behind both doors. So at this point the chance that the other door you chose is the one that leads to the prize must be 2 in 3.


In other words, switching doors puts you in the same highly advantageous position as someone who was allowed to choose 2 doors in the first place. You're not guaranteed to win, but you have doubled your chances.


The winner of the prize (a one-year LostCousins subscription) is Mark Hepinstall, who provided the most convincing solution. I have a feeling that he's going to discover lots of new cousins over the coming year!


Statistics and genealogy

If you're wondering why I posed a statistical puzzle it's because in researching our family trees we often have to make judgments based upon statistics. For example, if you search the IGI for your ancestor's baptism and find only one that fits, you need to be able to assess how likely it is that the register entry you've found is the right one. If 90% of the baptisms for that period are in the index, then clearly it's quite likely you've found the right entry - but if only 10% are in the index then it's far less likely.


Often it isn't clear how many entries there are in a particular dataset - not all websites provide this sort of information. When that happens I tend to use the 'Smith Test', a test I developed myself, but which usually gives remarkably accurate answers. It's very simple - I search the dataset for people with the surname Smith, then multiply the number of results by 50 and by 100. The total number of entries in the dataset is usually somewhere in between.


Tip: make sure that the results you get all relate to people called Smith (tick the exact matches only box, or equivalent).


I'll be giving more examples of how statistics and probability can aid your research in future newsletters.


Peter's Tips

My earlier article describes how overseas readers can save on Ancestry subscriptions - but what if you live in the UK? In this case the cheapest way to get a subscription is to buy Family Tree Maker 2011 Platinum at around £25 because, even if you put the program in the recycling, you're getting a 6 month Ancestry subscription for less than a quarter of the price they normally charge for a 12 month subscription. In other words, you're saving over 50% and getting a free program.


There seems to be no limit to how many copies you can buy and how many free 'trials' you can claim, but it's worth noting that the price of Family Tree Maker 2012 Platinum has dropped at Amazon to just £30. It's also worth checking eBay since the price there may be even cheaper.


Stop Press

This where any late updates will be posted, so it's worth checking back after a few days.


I hope you've found this newsletter interesting and that you'll make full use of your membership of my site to link with the cousins you don't yet know (your 'lost cousins'). After all, that's what LostCousins is all about!


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2013 Peter Calver


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