Newsletter - 19 June 2011


Childhood memories

Wills and probate records

New death index search pays dividends

Medals for 90 year-old woman

Family history on the Kindle

Competition entries flooding in

Unusual census entries

Wrong name on the census?

Dorset records - update

Identifying relatives in photos (continued)

Dutch records free online

Findmypast gets TV series

Is there a Doctor in the house?

Fancy a Twitter?

Peter's Tips

Have you tried...


About this newsletter

The LostCousins newsletter is published twice a month on average, and all LostCousins members are notified by email when a new edition is available (unless they opt out). To access the previous newsletter (dated 6 June 2011) please click here. Each newsletter links to the one before, and you can go back to February 2009 when the newsletter first went online; there will shortly be an online index to articles thanks to the sterling efforts of members Elizabeth and, especially, Gill.


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). Note: 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 you are still using Internet Explorer you may need to enable pop-ups (if a link seems not to work, look for a warning message at the top of your browser window).



Childhood memories

My earliest surviving memory is of the day I broke my leg - it was the summer of 1954 and I was 3 years old (though no doubt if you'd asked me at the time I would have claimed to be "nearly 4"). The next incident I can remember was a few months later - it was the day my grandfather was taken into hospital, never to return.


I don't remember my first day at school, even though it must have been traumatic, but I do recall hearing about the Suez Crisis (even if, at the tender age of 6, I didn't understand what it was all about).


Isn't it strange what we do and don't remember? A recent article in New Scientist suggested that most of us don't remember very much at all from our early years- and usually nothing at all before the age of 2 or 3. There's some suggestion that the ability to form memories is associated with our linguistic ability at the time (although I've always thought that it was because at such a young age there's often very little to distinguish one day from the next).


Researchers have found that we are particularly susceptible to creating false memories of our childhood, which makes it difficult to rely on our recollections unless they are supported by more tangible evidence such as photographs (and even then, there must be the possibility that we reverse-engineered the memory from the photograph).


What do you remember from your childhood? Have your childhood memories helped you to piece together the fragments of information you've collected during your family history research?


Wills and probate records

One of the great things about wills is discovering unexpected clues - perhaps a legacy left to a godson, a derogatory comment about a relative, or the discovery of a hitherto unknown child. A few months ago I found all three of these - and more - in two wills from the early 1800s at the London Metropolitan Archives, and they enabled me to solve a mystery that has puzzled other researchers for decades.


Prior to 1858 there were over 250 ecclesiatical courts across England & Wales that could handle probate matters, some more important than others. One of the most important was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), which handled the wills of relatively wealthy people in the south of England & Wales (though not necessarily that wealthy, because I found the will of one of my ancestors there!). PCC wills can be found at Documents Online, and whilst you have to pay for a copy of the will, searching is free.


There is an excellent guide to wills and probate at the National Archives website, however one of the key links no longer works: if you want to order a post-1858 will click here instead (thanks to Graham for letting me know about the change).


From 1858 onwards the Principal Probate Registry kept a copy of every will proved, and ever letter of administration issued. At Ancestry you can search the National Probate Calendar from 1861-1941, which is an almost complete index with brief details about the deceased and the executors or adminstrators.


Tip: I read in the latest issue of Your Family Tree that between 30th June and 8th July researchers will be able to search the National Probate Calendar free at Ancestry. Click here to go to the relevant page on the Ancestry site (there may not be any details of the offer shown until it actually commences).


If you decide to order a copy of a post-1858 will after searching at Ancestry click here - when I checked just now the link to the Probate Registry on the Ancestry site was out of date.


New death index search pays dividends

I mentioned recently that findmypast now allow one search that covers all of their official birth, marriage, and death indexes. Not long afterwards Jenny wrote to tell me of here success in tracing her uncle's death after many years of searching:


"Thanks to a prompt from you I logged on to Deaths in Find My Past and typed in my long lost uncle's name as I have done so many times in the past 18 years I have been searching for him. The search produced three names and one was him. I am so thrilled and have sent for his certificate and found he was an assistant steward on a ship named Thesus."


At findmypast you can learn a lot from their free search results, even if you don't have a subscription - click here to see whether you can make any discoveries of your own.


Tip: we get so used to searching the main GRO BMD indexes that it's easy to forget that there are also official indexes of British subjects who were born. married, or died overseas.


Medals for 90 year-old woman

Yvonne Cornelius, a 90 year-old woman from Porthcawl in Wales who served as a Corporal in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War 2, has just received the medals she was awarded for her loyal service - 70 years after playing a key role in the Battle of Britain.


For full details and a photograph see the BBC News website.


Family history on the Kindle

Sadly there aren't many family history books that are currently available in Kindle format - which is a shame, because my bookshelves are already full to overflowing.


I was therefore delighted to hear that LostCousins member Linda Ellis has embraced modern technology by making the history of her family available in Kindle format - it's available from the Kindle store for just 69p. I bought a copy to show my support for what Linda has done, and if you're a Kindle owner you might want to do the same. Click here to go straight to the page at Amazon (you don't need a Kindle just to take a look!).


Talking of the Kindle, Eric wrote to tell me of an outstanding example of customer service:


" Last Thurday afternoon I telephoned Amazon to report a problem with my Kindle, which is 5 months old.


"I was told that a replacement would be sent, and I was given details of a website to print a returns label so that I could send the faulty machine back.


"Hey presto! At 10 am on Friday the postman arrived with my new Kindle, and I was relieved to find that I could transfer my books from old to new. I now just have to wait for their carrier to collect the old one.


"How's that for customer service?"


I buy all sorts of things from Amazon - not just books. One of my recent purchases was a stainless steel cafetiere; another was a spare battery for my Nokia mobile phone (just £2.99 including postage). Because they allow other people to sell things through their site the chances of finding a bargain are a lot greater.


Tip: you can support LostCousins by clicking here to visit the Amazon site. Then, if you buy something during the same visit we'll get a small commission. It may be as little as 1p, but believe me, if everyone did that I'd soon be able to finance some of the improvements to the LostCousins site that have been on my 'wish list' for a couple of years.


Competition entries flooding in

It's often said that it's hard to get enthusiastic about someone else's family tree, but if you'd had the opportunity to read the stories copied to me by LostCousins members who are entering the Federation of Family History Societies competition (mentioned in my last newsletter), you would have been fascinated - as I was.


Do keep those entries coming!


Tip: there's a link to the last newsletter at the beginning of this one; indeed, each of my newsletters has a link to the one before, so you can still read any of the articles I've written since the newsletters went online in February 2009. ††


Unusual census entries

Bill wrote from Australia to tell me about a family he'd found in the 1881 Census. Apart from ascribing some unusual occupations to members of his family, it looks to me as if the head of household invented the birthplaces of his many servants. The quickest way to look up the household is a census reference search at findmypast - enter the piece number as 20, the folio as 126, and the page number as 48.


You don't need to be a subscriber to access the 1881 census transcription at findmypast or Ancestry, though Ancestry doesn't show the information in such a convenient format, so I prefer to use findmypast.


Tip: you can use the census reference search facility to quickly check that the information on your My Ancestors page is correct - first choose the 'Household' sort and then put in the references for each household.


Wrong name on the census?

Pamela wrote from Australia with an interesting question, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce Pamela's question and my answer in the newsletter, since I'm sure that many other members have come across similar situations.


"On the 1881 census I have 2 children listed under their stepfather's surname.In the 1891 census they have reverted to their father's surname.I had found them previously with their widowed mother and her mother-in-law in the 1871 census. She married again and used her previous married name not her maiden name - created a little detective work there.


"Question is, what name should I list them on Lost Cousins to make it easier for other people to connect?"


This was my reply:


"Pamela, there are two sections on the Add Ancestor form. The first part is for information from the census - and you should never enter anything here that wasn't shown on the relevant census.


"In the second, optional, part of the form you can enter corrections and additional information. Some of the information you enter here (currently maiden names and corrected surnames) is recycled into indexes that help other members find their relatives.


"Obviously the members most likely to be helped by that information are the ones who are your cousins - so I'd recommend that when you're entering the stepchildren you show their father's surname in the 'Corrected surname' box, and when you're entering their mother you show the surname she was born with in the 'Maiden name' box."


In your case the circumstances may be different, but the same principle applies - it's the information shown on the census that will lead to your 'lost cousins', whether it's right or wrong.


A related question that members often ask is whether they should enter what the enumerator wrote, or what the transcriber thought he wrote - and the answer to this depends on which census you're talking about. For the 1880/81 censuses, the ones that were originally transcribed by FamilySearch, you should use the transcription, but for the other censuses you should enter what the enumerator (1841) or householder (1911) wrote.


Don't worry if this sounds confusing, because the input form tells you what to do - the advice on the form varies according to the census you select from the dropdown menu.


Dorset records - update

In my last newsletter I welcomed the news that Ancestry had made available online the parish registers and other records held at Dorset Records Office - but added the caution "I just hope they haven't made too many blunders".


So far it's a fairly mixed bag. Caroline wrote to tell me that some of the probate records have been indexed under the name of the person to whom the letters of administration had been granted, rather than the name of the person who had died - which seems a strange way of doing things. Jennifer was delighted with the number of baptism entries she'd found, but remarked that "you are right to query the accuracy of the transcriptions - I found several errors in only 5 entries".


Nevertheless, everyone I've spoken to agrees that the more parish registers that can be made available online, the better - especially if the entries are indexed. Let's hope that many more record offices in England will be prepared to join the few who have so far made their registers available online (Welsh parish records are in the process of being digitised by findmypast).


Tip: you can get free access to transcriptions of some of the Dorset parish registers at the Dorset Parish Registers Index website.


Identifying relatives in photos (continued)

Since my last newsletter I've been contacted by more members who have been able to identify relatives in photographs thanks to the help of distant cousins. Rodney told me how when his mother passed away he found a dozen photographs from around the turn of the 20th century which contained relatives he was unable to identify. Now, after getting help from his 5th and 6th cousins, Rodney knows who almost all of them are!


Dutch records free online

It has been some years since I've mentioned Genlias in my newsletter, and it won't be of interest to every member - but for anyone who has ancestors who came from Holland, or relatives who migrated there, itís a goldmine. Civil registration began in 1811 (or a few years earlier in some parts of the country) and all that information has been preserved, although to protect personal privacy birth records arenít published until they are 100 years old, marriages until they are 75 years old, and deaths until 50 years afterwards. The information is released in 10 year blocks, and currently the records go up to 1902, 1932, and 1952 respectively.


There is also a programme to add earlier data taken from parish registers. Lynne - who reminded me about the Genlias site in an email recently - wrote "I can't believe how detailed their records are, most BMD records have date of birth, place of birth, parents names so it has been a breeze to go back to the 1700's without shelling out for certificates. If only our records were like this.....".


I hope that one day we will indeed have records that are as accessible as this for England & Wales (Scotland is already there, thanks to Scotlandspeople). The closest we have at the moment are the local BMD projects, which you can find through the UKBMD site.



Findmypast gets TV series

According to an article on the Guardian website, findmypast is sponsoring a new 10 part series called "Find My Past" that will be shown on the Yesterday Freeview channel during the winter of 2011/12.


Is there a Doctor in the house?

I'd be interested in making contact with any members who are general practitioners here in Britain. Nothing to do with family history, I'm afraid - it's a project I'm helping with that's related to patients who have psychological issues. All emails sent to LostCousins come to me so you can use the usual address to get in touch (I don't include the email address in the newsletter itself because of the spam it would inevitably attract, but of course it's in the email your received telling you about the newsletter).


Fancy a Twitter?

One or two members have suggested that as my newsletters are only issued twice a month on average, I should consider using Twitter to send out urgent messages. These might include (for example) last minute closures of records offices, short-term offers, imminent price increases - in short, anything that really can't wait until the next edition.


Currently I'm somewhat agnostic towards Twitter - I can see that it could be very useful if used wisely, but most of the 'tweets' I've seen have been so inane that they make txt msgs look like the works of Shakespeare.


Any thoughts from the Twitter users (or prospective users) out there?


Peter's Tips

I recently discovered a great free utility for converting web pages to PDF files - and you don't even have to install It on your computer, it all works online. Simply click here, enter the web address (or URL) for the page you want to convert, decide on the paper size, and off you go!


The same site has lots of other useful utilities that I've yet to try out - do let me know if you discover another one that LostCousins members might find particularly useful.


Note: I found this tip in a most unexpected source - The Oldie magazine (it's one of only a handful of non-genealogy magazines that I read regularly). I'm hoping that one of these days I'll persuade Richard Ingrams, the editor, to let me write a regular family history column for the magazine...


Another great tip from the same magazine is a map of the London Underground system showing where all the trains are (click on one of the yellow markers to find out where the train is going, and when it's expected at the next station). Just goes to show that we 'oldies' like to stay up to date with the latest gizmos (but what a shame that we can't currently get that information while we're actually underground).


Along similar lines, but above ground, is the RadarVirtuel site that shows you the position of all the aeroplanes over the UK, Europe, and most of the rest of the world. Click on any of the planes to find out the airline, model of plane, flight number, air speed and much more. This tip came from Tony, a pilot who lives in the same village as me.


Note: you may have problems with the RadarVirtuel site if you use Internet Explorer, but it works fine with Firefox (my browser of choice).


Thinking of changing your computer? Make sure you make a copy of all the data first! I get innumerable emails from members who have lost files or email addresses when they have changed computer.


Although it has never happened to me, even if it did, it wouldn't matter because I always keep my old computers until I'm absolutely sure I don't need them any more. Sometimes I transfer the hard disk from my old computer to the new one, not as the main hard drive, but as a secondary drive. Even if the old computer won't boot from the drive, it's often possible to recover the data when you plug it into the new computer.


How often do you back up your data? Probably, like me, you don't do it often enough - but do you realise that there are some people who never make backup copies? Although I feel sorry for someone who writes to tell me that they've lost 10 years of research due to a hard drive failure, I can't help also wondering why on earth they didn't make a backup.



Have you tried...

A lot of people use webmail services like Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail (the best in my opinion), but I like to store all of my correspondence on my own computer.


For the best part of 20 years I've been using the same email program - a free program called Pegasus Mail - and for me it is ideal. Even after all this time I'm still getting to grips with some of the more advanced features, but if it can send out 55,000 plus emails to members whenever there's a new edition of my newsletter, it can probably cope with your needs.


There's a forum where users help each other, and - although the program is free - you can, as I have done, send a donation to the author to show your appreciation (and ensure that he continues to support the program).


Stop Press

This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.


That's all for now - I hope you've found my newsletter interesting. Many of the articles are inspired by you, the members, so please do keep writing in with your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.




Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins