Newsletter - 22nd January 2015
Kickstart your research at Findmypast ENDS TUESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 10th January) 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 2012-14 click here. Or use the customised Google search below:
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). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).
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!
I was flattered to learn that LostCousins is in the Top 100 Genealogy sites (at No. 68) according to Genealogy in Time magazine. Out of the 100 websites listed, 34 are owned by just three large companies - so it's good to know that people like John D Reid (Canada's Anglo-Celtic connections - No. 97), Claire Santry (Irish Genealogy News - No. 99), and yours truly can still make a difference.
The ratings are based on the number of site visits, as measured by Alexa, so it's really all down to you - thank you so much!
Findmypast have released several new record sets to mark Irish Family History Day, including 700,000 records from the National Archives in London relating to the Irish Reproductive Loan Fund, which was set up in 1824 to provide small loans to the "industrious poor" - in other words, it was an early micro-credit scheme.
The majority of the records cover the period 1824-1846, and whilst a small number were made available at the Moving Here website in 2003, the vast majority have never before been available online. It's a chance to find out what life was really like for poor families in the west of Ireland.
Findmypast have also added the Ireland 1911 Census, which has been available at the National Archives of Ireland website for some time, but should be much easier to search at Findmypast - for example, you'll be able to specify the name of another household member to help you pick out the right O'Reillys from the 4584 who were recorded in that census. You'll still need to follow the link from the Findmypast transcription to the NAI website to see the handwritten census form and note down the image number (which is the reference you'll need for your My Ancestors page).
Note: Findmypast will be running a webinar on Friday hosted by Irish family history expert Brian Donovan, It starts at 5pm (Dublin time) on Friday, and you'll need to register here.
You don't need Irish ancestors to celebrate St Patrick's Day, and nor do you need them to celebrate Irish Family History Day. For just £5 (or $5) you can get a One Month World Subscription to Findmypast when you follow one of the special links below:
Note: if you are a lapsed subscriber
you may not see the offer button the first time you click the link. In this case
log-out of your Findmypast account and click the link above a second time.
Note: if you are a lapsed subscriber you may not see the offer button the first time you click the link. In this case log-out of your Findmypast account and click the link above a second time.
World subscriptions provide access to ALL of Findmypast's worldwide records - billions of them - from US censuses to Irish dog licences, New Zealand Sheep Farmers to Convict Transportation Registers, Lincolnshire Poor Law Removals to Royal Household Staff. You'll also have unlimited access to historical newspapers, including the British Newspaper Archives, and to UK Electoral Registers from 2002-14 (which gives you another option for tracking down your cousins).
If you're only interested in Irish records there's an even better deal - a One Month Ireland subscription for a measly Euro (that's virtually a 90% discount) when you follow this link:
Whichever of these offers you choose, please bear in mind that your monthly subscription will be automatically renewed at the normal price unless you un-tick the ‘auto-renew my subscription’ box in the My Account section of the site.
Note: as you'd no doubt expect, the offers are for new or lapsed subscribers only.
Today Ancestry launched the Scotland and Northern Ireland, Death Index, 1989-2013, which has over 400,000 entries. It's not obvious where the data was sourced, and even Claire Santry at Irish Genealogy News doesn't have the answer (yet).
This index is timely given the recent launch - in England & Wales - of an online probate index which is kept extremely up to date (I've just been looking at an entry for someone who died on New Years' Eve, little more than 3 weeks ago!). Mind you the new system of ordering wills online is still experiencing teething problems - see the article below.
Until 31st January you can over 2 million pay-per-view BMD records are half-price at the website of the Ulster Historical Foundation, a registered charity. I haven't used the site myself - as I've yet to discover any Irish ancestors - but I thought you'd like to know about the offer anyway.
In December the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 became law, allowing Irish records of historic births (over 100 years), marriages (over 75 years), and deaths (over 50 years) to be published online. It will take time before the records appear, but in the meantime the BMD indexes which were hurriedly withdrawn last year should make a comeback, though in truncated form.
The Masterclass in the last newsletter was very well-received, and I know that some of you have already broken down 'brick walls' as a result of working through the article.
Even the most experienced researchers benefited from the opportunity to look at their thorniest problems from a slightly different angle. For example, Anne Harvey, author of many articles in family history magazines (as well as the novel, A Suitable Young Man, which I enjoyed so much) wrote to say:
"I wanted you to know too that thanks to your Masterclass in parish registers, I've now found an elusive marriage of one of my 3xgt grandfathers in the Cheshire records which gives me the maiden name of his wife. I'd struggled with this one for years!"
One factor I didn't cover explicitly in the Masterclass was the possibility that your ancestors were not CofE - although there was an article about non-conformists a month previously. Some non-conformist and Catholic registers have become available online as part of a larger collection - for example, Ancestry's Lancashire parish registers include Catholic registers for Liverpool, and non-conformist registers for Manchester. However, the biggest collection of non-conformist registers is held at the National Archives under RG4-RG8 and can be searched free at FamilySearch; you can view the register images at The Genealogist (those from RG4, RG5, and RG8 are also online at Ancestry).
Sometimes to knock down a 'brick wall' we must first knock down our assumptions, as you'll see in this next article....
It can be very frustrating when you're up against a 'brick wall' in your research, but it's impossible to research your family tree for any length of time without running into one (or two, or three...... or in my case about seventy!).
Is it really a 'brick wall'?
But before turning to the question of how to get those brick walls tumbling down, it's important to distinguish between real brick walls and the imaginary ones we create for ourselves. For example, if there are sources of information that you haven't searched because you don't have the right subscription or don't live close to the relevant records office, it's not really a brick wall that's blocking your path.
Of course we all have limited time and money, but there are usually routes we can take if only we stop and think for a moment. These might, for example, include free access to subscription services at your local library, record office, family history society, or LDS Family History Centre. Of course, sometimes the records you want to search are only available at an archive that's thousands of miles away - but even then you've got the option of employing a researcher, or (if you're lucky) contacting a friend or cousin who lives nearby.
For me, a brick wall is something that stops me getting back any further on a particular line. So being unable to find an ancestor's death or burial place can rarely be a brick wall, at least by my definition. Nor is it necessarily a brick wall when we can't reliably identify an ancestor's parents - for example, there's a point in my own tree where I can't be 100% sure who the parents are, because there were two cousins baptised with the same name at around the same time in the same parish, both of whom lived to adulthood and married - but I do know who the grandparents were.
Family reconstitution or reconstruction
When researching prior to 1837 we're often faced with the problem that there are lots of people with same surname in a few adjoining parishes, which makes it very difficult to identify who a particular register entry is referring to. Burial registers are particularly problematic, since there's often no indication of the age of the deceased, but baptism registers which only give the name of the father, or give the wrong name for the mother (surprisingly common) are also a hindrance.
Sometimes the only way to make sense of the entries is to take all the entries for a particular surname and apportion them amongst the families who were known to be living in the area at the time - it's like the overlap between a One-Place Study and a One-Name Study. It may be necessary to draw on records other than parish registers - later census and marriage records can provide insight into happenings in the early 19th century, even though the information can't be assumed to be correct (birthplaces and ages on census are often wrong, as are ages and fathers' names on marriage certificates).
But when you've checked all the readily-available records, what next? One approach is to find others who are researching the same line, which is where LostCousins can help: make sure that your My Ancestors page is as complete as possible. Finding relatives who are researching the same families can lead to all sorts of discoveries - even someone who isn't as experienced as you may well have some clues that you don't have.
Tip: most researchers tend to spend more time working on their direct paternal line than any other - partly because our ancestors in that line bear the surname that WE were born with, and partly because following a single surname made life a lot easier in the days when we had to rely on microfilms and index cards. So when you're researching one of your many other lines, finding someone for whom that line is their direct paternal line is almost always good news - even though they might have as much overall experience as we do.
A different perspective
Sometimes simply starting from a different place on the tree can make all the difference. For example, a few years ago I obtained the will of my great-great-great-great aunt's husband - which referred to the son of his sister-in-law (another of my great-great-great-great aunts) but didn't name him. I knew that she wasn't married at the time the will was written, so it was obvious that the child was illegitimate - and suddenly I realised who that son must be (and that the father shown on BOTH of his marriage certificates was nothing but fiction).
It was a ground-breaking discovery - even though it didn't break down any of my own brick walls - because for the descendants of that child (and there are hundreds of them, now confirmed as my cousins) it revealed who the mother of the child was, and at the same time prevented them from expending more effort trying to find a non-existent father. Starting from where they are on the tree there would have been no reason for them to ever obtain a copy of that will - it was only when they connected with me, their 5th cousin, that the mystery could be solved.
Tip: it doesn't matter how distant your cousins might seem - all of them share your ancestors, and that's what is important!
That particular find depended on spotting the link between seemingly unrelated information from three different parts of my tree. Making such connections usually requires us to have a very ambivalent attitude towards the information in our tree: in other words, we always have to have in the back of our minds the possibility that what we've been told, or what we've read in a register or on a certificate isn't true - at least until we have found so much supporting evidence that we have to accept its veracity.
Whilst we all know how unreliable family stories usually are, somehow we fool ourselves into thinking that our family is in some way different. Our bias is even more evident when it's someone we actually knew: "My grandmother was so religious, she couldn't possibly have given birth to an illegitimate child" is a fiction I've heard more than once since I started helping LostCousins members to knock down their brick walls over 10 years ago.
Occasionally we know where the information that will break down a particular brick wall is likely to come from. For example, there were a lot of people waiting for the 1911 Census to be released because it was the only way they could find out where their grandfather or grandmother was born. Similarly, I was hoping that the indexing by Ancestry of the London Metropolitan Archives parish registers would enable me to find the baptism of my great-great grandmother - who gave four different birthplaces on the census but wasn't baptised in any of them (sadly it didn't).
If you have a pretty good idea that the answer to a puzzle is going to be revealed by the release of new data, why continue to expend effort? Surely it's better to use your energies and expertise to solve problems that don't have such a neat solution.
Be alert, be lucky!
Often it's serendipity that leads to the solution - though we still have to be alert to that possibility. For example, the surname of a visitor staying with my great-great-great grandparents at the time of the 1851 Census seemed vaguely familiar, and I eventually realised that it was the name of a marriage witness whose signature I'd had difficulty deciphering some years before. This enabled me to confirm that I'd found the right Smith family on the census (not easy with such a common surname) and take the line back another generation.
Read around the problem
Seek out inspiration. Read as many family history magazines as you can, and especially free newsletters - not just mine, but also the blogs of knowledgeable people with lots of connections like Chris Paton. If you join the Society of Genealogists sign up for the Rootsweb mailing list and read all the discussions, as I do - there are some amazingly knowledgeable people on there (many of them also LostCousins members). The information you glean might not solve the problem you're currently focused on - but it could well solve one in the future (sometimes the solutions arrive before the problems!).
Join the LostCousins Forum if you've been invited (check your My Summary page - over half the people who have been invited haven't joined yet). Listening to how other people knocked down their brick walls may inspire you to knock down your own.
Rather than bang my head against a brick wall I often choose the "do nothing" option. That's right, instead of running round like a headless chicken I put that particular problem to one side and focus on another part of my tree, or else on writing a newsletter. It's amazing how often some small discovery I make when researching the articles in my newsletter provides an insight into how I might solve a problem that I've filed in the "too difficult" drawer.
To be really successful we have to be flexible not only in the way we do our research, but also the order in which we do it!
Last week Findmypast added 92,000 transcribed records of marriages in 8 parishes in London's East End and Docklands - and they inspired me to have another look for clues to the origins of my own most recent 'brick wall' ancestor. I didn't find the answer, but it did raise some interesting questions which in due course might lead me to the solution.
I'm delighted to announce that Professor Rebecca Probert, author of Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide (perhaps the only book written by a professor that I've ever had a problem putting down!), has agreed to present in Portugal this March. She joins a stellar line-up - and whereas at most genealogy events the stars are whisked off in chauffeured limousines after they've given their presentation, at Rocha Brava you could well find them sunbathing by the swimming pool.
There are still a couple of apartments available if you want to join us - but you'll have to be quick. You'll find most of the details here, and I'll fill in any gaps when you get in touch.
Note: Genealogy in the Sunshine 2015 has already started - in an exclusive area at the LostCousins Forum.
Nearly 3500 pauper inmates of Eastville were buried in unmarked mass graves according to this BBC article. A local group is trying to raise £9000 for a memorial - which got me wondering about the tens of millions of other Britons who are buried in unmarked graves (including almost all of my ancestors). Should a small number get special treatment, or do they all deserve the same level of respect?
Until the end of January you can get two vouchers for the price of one at DeceasedOnline when you use the promotion code DOL2015
Tip: you can win a 12 month subscription to Deceased Online in my New Year Competion - you'll find the details here (the closing date is now 3rd February).
This month Ancestry added nearly a million records from South Africa. There are 378,000 records in the South Africa, Birth and Baptism Records, 1700s-1900s set, and 220,000 in the South Africa, Voter Indexes, 1719-1996 set. Also included for the first time at Ancestry is a collection of directories and one of Methodist Parish Registers (the latter also available free at FamilySearch, as reported in my December article).
Last Friday the BBC reported the death of Ethel Lang, thought to be the last person in the UK who was born in the reign of Queen Victoria. She was 114 - and at the tender age of 64 I can only hope that I too have another half-century to look forward to!
Many of the soldiers who survived the Great War had their lives blighted, not by obvious physical injuries but by shellshock - yet according to this article from today's Independent it is only now, a century later, that scientists have been able to identify the unique pattern of brain injury that caused such trauma.
When you're ordering wills from 1858-1995 from the GOV.UK website, one of the boxes on the form is labelled 'FolioNumber' but there's absolutely no indication where that elusive number is to be found (not even on the inaptly-named Help page).
Where there is a folio number - and here often isn't - it's handwritten on the left of the entry. All the handwritten numbers I've seen so far have related to the London probate registry (but not all London entries have a number).
Supposedly your order will be rejected and your money lost if you don't include the folio number - see this PDF document which was sent to a LostCousins member AFTER he was told that he'd lost his £10. My advice to anyone who has been defrauded in this way is to threaten to sue them in the Small Claims Court - a nice irony since it's Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunal Service that issued the belated advice!
However in practice you're more likely to lose your money if you give the wrong date of probate - it's easy to get the year wrong as it isn't shown in the entry, only at the top of the page. Mind you, since it's only a beta service, perhaps they could be more forgiving? If they're expecting us to debug their system, shouldn't they at least help us out in return?
Tip: some people have had a problem getting the Feedback link to work - this isn't a problem with the website, but the way your browser is configured (or perhaps your email program). In the event of difficulty just paste this email address into your email: HMCTSWills@ironmountain.co.uk
Joy has very kindly updated webpage which listed all of the articles for 2012 to include the 2013 and 2014 newsletters. You'll find a link near the beginning of the newsletter.
There's also a customised Google search which will ONLY search the newsletters - against, it's near the top of the newsletter. This is particularly useful when you're looking for something that I may have mentioned in passing - I don't devote an article to every single news item or tip as with 20 or more articles in some issues the list of contents is quite long enough already!
I bought my wife a belated Christmas gift this week - one of her favourite perfumes, and at half the price she'd have paid in Duty Free. If you want to save money on perfumes and aftershave without the hassle of travelling abroad, take a look at the prices at AllBeauty!
When I reviewed Anne L Harvey's novel A Suitable Young Man in the last newsletter I said it was only available on Kindle - but I'm glad to say that's it is now also available as paperback. I'm really looking forward to reading the follow-up!
If you do decide to buy Anne's book please use one of the following links: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com.au because that way LostCousins may benefit, even if you end up buying something completely different (though I'm sure you won't).
Short of money after Christmas? Perhaps you should enter my New Year competition - you'll find all the details here (but remember that the closing date is now 3rd February).
This is where I'll post any last minute additions.
Have you broken down any of your 'brick walls' using the advice in this newsletter or the last one? Do let me know if you have!
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
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