- 16 August 2010
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Since the announcement that the Government was looking for a cheaper and more accurate alternative to the census after 2011, my inbox has been full of correspondence from members concerned about the effect that the discontinuation of the census will have on family historians.
One of the problems when something like this comes up is that we react instinctively, and don't always look at the facts. I'm not talking about the cost of the census (which is shocking enough) but the way in which the census has changed between 1911 (which is the most recent England & Wales census to have been published) and 2011. For example, one of the most useful pieces of information on the published censuses is the birthplace of the individuals who were recorded - we've all experienced the frustration of trying to trace ancestors who died before the 1851 Census, the first on which precise birthplaces were shown.
Did you know that in 2011 people will only be asked to state their country of birth? In other words, the birthplace information recorded will in most cases be even less informative than in 1841? Similarly there's no equivalent of the fertility census that we've found so useful in 1911, ie the number of years married and number of children born within the marriage. (In fact, even the 1921 Census didn't have these questions.)
Here's a link to the 2011 census form so that you can see exactly what is and isn't included.
In 2011 all sorts of questions will be asked that they wouldn't have dared to ask in 1911, and this probing into our personal lives has been a contributing factor in the decline in the quality of the responses. Clearly the Government does need to be aware of social and domestic changes that take place in our society - and goodness knows, there have been enough of them over the past century - but there inevitably comes a point at which questioning becomes intrusion.
In Canada they attempted to tackle this problem by having two different census forms in 2001, a short form with just 8 questions that went out to 80% of households, and a long form with an additional 53 questions that went out to the remainder. Even this approach didn't work very well, and in 2011 everyone will get the short census form, with a separate National Household Survey (NHS) form going out to a third of households.
However, these proposals have met with just as many objections - not least because the NHS data will never be released (except in statistical form), whereas census data is published after 92 years. On the other hand, perhaps people will be more likely to fill in the NHS if they know it will never be seen by anyone else? See this article from the Vancouver Sun for more about the Canadian controversy.
Even though we may not be able to persuade the Government to continue the census after 2011, that doesn't mean that family historians of the future have to be worse off - indeed, it's possible that we could end up with something that's a lot better than we have at the moment. After all, without precise birthplaces the existing census will be of limited value when it is released in 100 years' time - whereas if we can use this opportunity to press for more detailed birth, marriage, and death certificates this could provide more useful information sooner.
We've also discussed the possibility that we could run our own census in 2021, using the Internet to keep costs to the minimum. The advantage of that solution is that we can focus on the information that will be of most interest to the family historians of the future, and leave out the questions that many people find intrusive. Furthermore, if we're the ones running the census, we wouldn't have to keep the information hidden for 100 years - the people providing the data could make up their own minds about when it can be published.
Perhaps we could persuade FreeBMD, which had £507,321 in the bank at the end of March 2009 (the latest date for which accounts have been filed with the Charities Commission), that it is a cause worth supporting? Their cash balance has recently been building up at the rate of over £100,000 a year, so by 2021 they could have a very substantial sum with which to finance the project.
LostCousins member Gillian lives in Spain, her brother lives in France, her uncle lives in Australia - but none of them will be recorded on the 2011 British Census, despite their British origins. She wrote in recently to suggest that there could be an 'expat census' to make it easier for future generations to track down family members who have migrated - and I think that it's an excellent idea.
Should we family historians run our own census in 2021 then there's surely no reason why expats couldn't be included - and if LostCousins members are anything to go by, I reckon there would be an excellent response.
Should you support Guy Etchells' 1921 campaign?
Guy Etchells, the professional genealogist whose efforts led to the early release of the 1911 England & Wales census, is campaigning for the early release of the 1921 Census, arguing that the 100 year embargo is not justified.
He makes a good case - but I feel that his timing is completely wrong. Why? Because next year the 2011 Census takes place, and it's hard to see how the Government's assurance that personal data will remain confidential for 100 years can have any credibility if at the same time there's a high profile campaign for the 1921 Census data to be released early.
Since the 2011 Census may quite possibly be the last, wouldn't it be a mistake to sabotage it at this late stage? Far better, surely, to wait until all the returns are in before focusing on 1921?
Incidentally, in his proposal on the Government's Your Freedom website Guy argues that the revenue from the 1921 Census could help cut the deficit, and states that "a group of MPs suggested the 1911 census could develop revenue of £40 million per annum". Well, the MPs may well have made that suggestion, but after the expenses scandal we all know how good they are with numbers. I decided to do a little digging into just how much money the Government is making from the 1911 Census...
The National Archives in Kew published its 2009/10 Annual Report at the end of June, and this showed that the cost of operating TNA was nearly £54 million. It doesn't reveal how much of its income comes from licensing (or at least, I can't find it in the 73-page document), so I submitted an enquiry under the Freedom of Information Act.
I was surprised to find that in 2009/10 only £3 million of TNA's costs were covered by licensing income, ie income from all the censuses and other records that TNA has licensed to companies like Ancestry and findmypast. When I looked closer I discovered that even this figure was exceptionally high because of the release of the 1911 Census, and that two years previously licensing income had been little more than a fifth of the recent level.
Clearly the MPs' estimate referred to in my previous article is way off base - unless they are talking about the total revenue generated, and ignoring the costs. Another interesting figure in the TNA report is an estimate that the commercial partners with whom TNA works have spent in the region of £50 million since 2003 putting records online, an enormous sum. Undoubtedly a large part of this was accounted for by the 1911 Census, where there were over 18m documents that had to be scanned and transcribed.
All of these figures are dwarfed by the projected cost of the 2011 Census, at £482 million. It's clear that we're going to have to fight very hard to ensure that the needs of family historians are taken into account when a decision is made about the 2021 Census, because notwithstanding how important the information is to us, our financial contribution to the cost of collecting it is currently minimal.
I recently wrote about the unofficial 1796 census of the parish of Ardleigh in Essex that a LostCousins member had discovered when browsing the parish registers, but whilst it's always nice to come across something completed unexpected, from a practical point of view it's good to know what exists in advance, especially when we're planning visits to records offices.
A very useful publication published by the Federation of Family History Societies, Local Census Listings 1522-1930 lists thousands of local censuses and extracts from the 1801-1831 censuses that have survived and where they are held (usually in local records offices). Incidentally, this book covers the whole of the British Isles, including the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Ireland - as well as England, Scotland, and Wales.
Another publication in the same series and by the same authors, Militia Lists and Musters 1757-1876, has a slightly different focus. Don't assume that because your ancestors weren't in the services you won't find them in these lists: militias were reserve forces, rather like the Territorial Army or the Home Guard. Again the book covers the whole of the British Isles.
I bought both of these books from Amazon, which has an enormous range of family history publications available (they cost me about £7 each including postage - don't pay the silly prices that some people ask!). But did you read recently that sales of e-books at Amazon have exceeded those of conventional books? The timing is convenient considering that Amazon are about to launch their new Kindle in the UK (it's apparently smaller, lighter, faster and has better contrast). More expensive than any book I've bought, to be true, but when I think how much I've spent on bookcases...
My ancestor William Calver was baptised twice - at least, I think he was. I can't be absolutely certain that his parents didn't have two sons in quick succession, though the age on his death certificate suggests otherwise. The baptisms took place in adjoining parishes within 6 months of each other, and my suspicion is that the first baptism, which took place in a little-used church, was contrived to conceal the fact that the parents had married only 3 months previously - the second baptism was almost exactly 9 months after the wedding, and in the same church where they had tied the knot.
I'd almost forgotten about this when I read a reader's letter in Your Family Tree magazine, which reported two baptism within 11 days of each other, again in different parishes. Clearly there was a different reason in this case, and I wondered whether it might be because there was some dispute about who the godparents should be - but I'm sure there are all sorts of other possible reasons.
Are there any examples of double baptisms in your tree, and if so do you have a theory as to why they occurred?
Note: sickly children were
frequently baptised privately (ie at home), then
received into church at a later date; this will may well result in two entries
in the baptism register, but this does not mean that the child has been
baptised twice. The Book
of Common Prayer warns that private baptisms should not be carried out
unless necessary, but nevertheless provides a form of words for use in
In Britain, if you live to the age of 100 you'll be rewarded with a card from the Queen, and you may even get to see your name on the census. It's something that's becoming increasingly common thanks to better nutrition, better healthcare, and less smoking.
But what's your chance of living to 100 - and how is it influenced by your genes? Researchers at Boston University who studied more than 1000 centenarians have identified 150 genetic markers that are linked to longevity, and sooner than we think there could be tests that can predict our chances of living to 100.
In the meantime there's a free online calculator that estimates life expectancy based on lifestyle and the longevity of your ancestors at the Living to 100 website.
Ancestry has just launched an online version of the National Probate Calendar, which is in effect an index to wills for the period 1861-1941 (though there are some incomplete years - see the Ancestry site for more details).
It's important to note that the Calendar does not include a copy of the will; it is simply a record of when the probate was granted and (usually) to whom - plus the name of the deceased, and the date and place of their death. However, once you've identified one of your relatives in the Calendar you can order their will from the Probate Service at a cost of £5. (Of course, this has always been an option - except that in most cases you'd have paid them £5 to search for a will that didn't exist.)
It's worth noting that there is,
for once, some advantage in using Ancestry's New Search - if you wish to
specify the country where the death occurred. For example, using the Old Search
you would need to search separately for 'United States' and 'USA', whereas the
New Search will find both. There are similar inconsistencies when searching for people who died
in England, Scotland, or Wales. However, for other records I still find that
the Old Search works better.
Finding graves pt2
I've been flooded with suggestions from members following my article in the last issue. Most of the sites listed below are free, but some of them do make a small charge.
Peggy wrote from the US suggesting FindaGrave.com which has a UK section (though it's not yet as easy to use as it could be), whilst Bridget reminded me about the Waveney District Council website that allows you to search for burials in Lowestoft, Beccles, Southwold and surrounding locations. Another local site is run by the London Borough of Richmond on Thames, and covers six cemeteries in the area, whilst on the opposite side of London there's Abney Park Cemetery, which covers the Stoke Newington area.
If you've ever had difficulty deciphering the memorial inscriptions on gravestones you may find that the site run by LostCousins member John Pepperdine can help - he has recorded verses and other text found on gravestones at over 50 Norfolk churchyards while collecting data for the National Archive of Memorial Inscriptions. Over at the website of the Kent Archaeological Society there are not only memorial inscriptions, but also will indexes for the Consistory Court of Rochester from 1440-1561. The grandly-named World Burial Index is a site I hadn't come across before, though its records seem to come mainly from Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk at present (but my trial search did also produce results from the USA, Argentina and Ghana as well as many other British counties).
Finally, if one of your relatives was killed during World War 1 or World War 2 you'll probably know where they are buried from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. But what I didn’t know about until Dianne wrote to me was the In Memory site run by Pierre Vandervelden, who drives round Belgium and France taking photos of individual war graves - it's his way of paying tribute to those British and Commonwealth servicemen who gave their lives.
In the last newsletter I mentioned that Hearth Tax records are a good source of information from the late 17th century, and if you have Suffolk ancestry there's an opportunity to get relevant data from the surviving records and help a very good cause at the same time.
LostCousins member Giles Colchester has generously offered to do a look up of all the surviving hearth tax records for Suffolk and identify every entry for a given surname - if in return you are willing to make a donation towards the maintenance of the mediaeval church of St Mary in Barking, Suffolk that's equivalent to value of the information to you (a minimum of £5 is suggested).
In my case he found 44 entries for Calver of which only 7 were in the previously published 1674 list. £5 would barely cover the cost of my petrol to the Suffolk Records Office, and wouldn't come close to paying the train fare to the National Archives at Kew, where the documents are kept - and that's before the time, effort and problems of reading faded 17th century handwriting are taken into account - so I was very happy to send a donation of £10.
A single entry will give the year that the householder tax was listed, the name of the person, the number of hearths, and the village or parish. In many cases it records whether the person was poor or not. Less frequently, the actual house can be identified, the occupation of the tax payer is given, or whether the home is shared, and on some occasions, a record that there was plague in their house. This is the nearest equivalent to a census for that period, though I should stress that it only records the head (or the taxpayer) of the household.
If your ancestors came from Suffolk and are willing to support St Mary's church, just email firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Lost cousins hearth tax' in the subject line, making sure that you list all the variant spellings of the surname that you wish searched. Giles will then provide you with a transcript of the hearth tax entries for that name and explain how you can make the donation.
If your ancestors came from England or Wales then you will find this Hearth Tax research guide at the National Archives website of interest.
Just over the last newsletter went to press FamilySearch added images of Cornwall parish registers from 1538-1900 to their Record Search pilot. As with the Norfolk registers that I wrote about last time, they are unindexed, so you can only browse them.
It's worth mentioning that within the Cornwall registers there are a few Devon parishes, just as within the Norfolk batch there are some Suffolk parishes - so if your ancestors lived just over the border you may be fortunate.
Also in the process of being added are New Zealand immigration records - so far these are 17% complete, so you might be lucky. In fact, if you have some rare surnames in your tree, why not try a global search and see what comes up?
Several members have written to me about the new FamilySearch site that will be available next year - but don't miss out on the new records that are available right now. The emphasis currently is on adding records from non-English speaking countries, and already there are records from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India…. you've got to try it yourself!
Don't forget that microfilm copies of most England & Wales parish registers can be viewed at your local LDS Family History Centre (there's a small charge to cover postage if they need to order them in), and in many cases these include the banns registers that I wrote about last time. If you don't know where your nearest Family History Centre is, click here to find out - they cover most of the world.
Every few months I remind members not to 'take as gospel' the stories and supposed facts that are passed down within the family, because errors and inaccuracies inevitably creep in - indeed sometimes incorrect information is deliberately introduced, either to cover up some skeleton in the closet, or to make the story sound more splendid than it really is.
Eric wrote to me recently about the years he'd spent fruitlessly searching for information about his mother's stepmother, who was always referred to as Aunt Hilda - only to discover eventually that her name was really Matilda, which had been shortened to 'Tilda. Aunt Hilda was really Aunt Tilda - a simple mistake, but one that had caused no end of confusion. Is there something in your family history that you've been taking a little too literally?
Of course, one of the best ways to unpick the mesh of intrigue is to find a cousin who may have heard a different version of the same story - and of course that's why I founded LostCousins back in 2004. But simply finding a cousin is only half the story.
Have you ever found a new cousin, spent a week or two furiously emailing information back and forwards, then completely lost touch? I've recently been re-establishing contact with cousins who I haven't corresponded with for 4 or 5 years, and not surprisingly most of them have made quite a few discoveries since we were last in touch. That's good news, of course, but not so pleasant was the realisation that I'd spent many hours duplicating research my cousins had already carried out, and in some cases we'd both ended up buying the same BMD certificates.
The best way I've found to keep track of all the contacts I've made is to invite them to join LostCousins - because the My Cousins page offers a better way to record contacts than any other site that I've come across, not least because you can attach a note to each entry, simply by clicking on their name. Try it!
Since the end of July findmypast have added over half a million parish records: these are mainly baptism and burial records from parishes around the Thames and Medway rivers to the east of London, but also include some Wiltshire baptisms and Dorset baptisms, marriages, and burials.
That's it for now - I hope you've enjoyed reading this newsletter as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it!
Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated