Newsletter - 20 March, 2010



General Records Office blunders on

Chelsea pensioners arrive at findmypast

Free SoG library access on March 27th

How to benefit from links

Is it worth it?

Success story

Did Amazon catch you out?

Genes Reunited latest

New Zealand BDM - members' tips

How civil registration began

Certificates and signatures

Everyone makes mistakes

Peter's tips

Have you tried?

Stop Press


To visit the main LostCousins site please go to or click here if you need a password reminder. It's free to join LostCousins, so if you've been sent this newsletter (or a link to this newsletter) by someone else, I hope you'll register in your own right - and take part in the great LostCousins project.


If you missed the previous LostCousins newsletter (dated 6/3/10), or would like to see it again, click here. All newsletters since February 2009 are still available online, and because each links to the one before you can easily step back through all of them.


General Records Office blunders on

First family historians were hit by a 32% rise in certificate prices  effective from April 6th - then the GRO announced that the checking service is to be discontinued:


We have been advised that there is no clear remit in statute for charging for a service to check additional index references, or to retain partial fees. In order to ensure full legal compliance, and in view of the fact that we cannot afford to offer this service free of charge, we are regretfully withdrawing our reference checking service from 6 April. This will include the withdrawal of the "checking points".


So, not only will we be paying more for certificates in future, we'll also end up with more incorrect certificates!


My Freedom of Information request was initially lost in the Home Office email system, but I've been told that they still hope to provide the costings and other information I've asked for by the end of March - just in time for the next LostCousins newsletter.


See below for more articles about certificates and civil registration.


Chelsea pensioners arrive at findmypast

The phrase 'Chelsea pensioner' conjures up an image of a very old soldier in a long red coat - but in fact the vast majority of Chelsea pensioners never went to Chelsea and never wore the uniform. For them the Royal Hospital was simply the place that administered their pension.


Covering a period of over 150 years, the WO97 series held at the National Archives include service records for 901,000 soldiers who served in the British Army and received a pension between 1760-1913. The first tranche to go online at findmypast, includes 252,000 records for the period 1883-1900. I quickly found the records for my great-great uncle, even though when he signed up in 1880 he omitted his middle name, lied about his age, and gave his birthplace simply as "London, Middlesex".


The files don't simply record where soldiers served and when they were promoted - they are also full of intimate personal details: I now know that my great-great uncle was only 5ft 7in tall with a chest measurement of under 34 inches, and had brown eyes, brown hair, and 3 marks on his left forearm. I won't go into his medical history except to say that the disease must have cleared up before his marriage, because his wife bore him 11 children.


Searching is free - and because the search results include the name, place of birth, and year of birth it is easy to find the right record. Although 30 credits to see the records sounds a lot, in my uncle's case there were 10 pages of records to see (the average is 7 pages). To try it out for yourself, or to find out more about the records, click here.


Free SoG library access on March 27th

The Society of Genealogists is holding an Open Day on Saturday March 27th. There are 4 free talks during the day, but you must pre-book because space is limited.


It will be free for non-members to use the library between 11am and 6pm, and because the SoG has a vast collection of parish records on microfiche and CD ROM it's a great opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in your family tree. On my last visit I managed to get back two generations on one of my lines, which was a very rewarding experience!


Sadly the SoG website is getting more and more difficult to navigate, but if you want to get an idea of what records they hold for the counties and parishes you're interested in, start here.


How to benefit from links

After each newsletter I get hundreds of emails from members, many of them telling me about the discoveries they've made by following up on my tips.


But I also get quite a few emails from members asking me for links to the sites I've written about - which is strange, because whenever I write about a site I always include links, and usually they'll take you straight to the very part of the site that I've written about.


Links are easy to spot - they are underlined and normally displayed in blue (though the colour changes to purple after you've clicked on them). Here's an example from the last newsletter:






When you click on a link the site will open in a new browser tab, so that you don't lose your place in the newsletter; this means that you'll need to allow pop-ups(though only for the LostCousins site). If you're using Internet Explorer watch out for a message like the one below:

When you click on the message you'll see a dropdown menu with a list of alternatives:


I suggest you choose the second option, Always Allow Pop-ups from This Site… (you can change it later in the Tools menu should you wish). If you're not making use of the links in my newsletters then you're really missing out!


Is it worth it?

Not everybody is initially convinced about the benefits of LostCousins, as you'll see from the following correspondence:


Whilst I read and enjoy your newsletters very much, I am a bit unsure about entering names on your Lost Cousins site as I already subscribe to Ancestry, so my tree is there and my ancestors entered as I find them. To enter them twice seems a lot of work unless you can convince me otherwise.


I'm glad you've given me an opportunity to explain why so many people use LostCousins.


At Ancestry you can only find living relatives by making your information available to others. Many people aren't prepared to publish their data online, whether for security reasons or simply because they are worried that others might take their research and misuse it - something that does happen (and not just at Ancestry, though that's the site about which most members have complained).


By contrast, at LostCousins we match you with your living relatives without either your data or theirs being published online. LostCousins members can only see their own entries, which means your research is safe from prying eyes.


Whilst you yourself may be prepared to take the risk of uploading your tree to Ancestry, many of your cousins won't be - especially the most experienced researchers (who have more to lose). And of course, some of your cousins might not use Ancestry at all - because findmypast is a British company many people who live here use that site instead.


I can appreciate that you wouldn't want to enter all your data twice. Fortunately you don't have to - because it's only your relatives from 1881 that we really need to know about. (Although you can also enter relatives from 1841, that census was added mainly to help people whose relatives emigrated in the early 19th century, usually to Australia.)


I think you'll find that only 15-20% of all the relatives on your tree were alive in 1881. The average LostCousins member has between 1000 and 2000 relatives on their tree - and typically only 200-300 were recorded on the 1881 Census.


Entering 200 relatives takes about an hour if you already have the census data, a little longer if you don't. That isn't a lot of time considering it's something you only need to do once - and at the end of that hour you'll probably have found at least one new cousin, with more discoveries to follow in the future.


If you have any questions please get back to me.


Peter Calver

Founder - LostCousins


It wouldn't surprise me if there were one of two people reading this newsletter who have hesitated to complete their My Ancestors page. If you're one of them, please remember that it's not just you who are losing out - until you enter your data your cousins won't be able to find you either!


Success story

I recently received a wonderful email from Nancy in Canada in which she described how she managed to track her great-grandfather's journey from Cawood in Yorkshire to Ontario by making use of a wide range of records including memorial inscriptions, passenger lists, and local newspapers, as well as more usual records like censuses.


Of course, as so often happens, the more we find out, the more we want to know - and I thought you'd like to read how she ended her epic tale:


"The questions I had thought impossible to have answered, partially were. In the process though, even more were created. The answers to these new queries must play upon the imagination and speculation alone as sadly there is no one left with the full story!


"Those had been my thoughts until I heard of the Lost Cousins website where commonalities in the recording of Census data brings together living relatives. At least that's what it has done for me & blood relatives to this day living in the Cawood area of Yorkshire, England. A trip I am planning, for later in 2010, will take me back to this country setting that my great grandfather & his extended family left nearly 130 years ago. Because of Lost Cousins, I will not arrive as a stranger! I will arrive as FAMILY! Perhaps some of those remaining questions may find answers."


Though I've heard many similar stories in the 6 years since I founded LostCousins I still find it amazing that my 'little' project can have changed the lives of so many people!


Did Amazon catch you out?

In the last newsletter I wrote about the millions of Amazon users (including an estimated 10,000+ LostCousins members) who have unwittingly published personal information online using the Wish List feature. Click here or on the graphic to see if someone you know is one of them.


Since the article appeared I've had numerous emails from LostCousins members thanking me for pointing out this security flaw - but I suspect there are quite a few members who have yet to check.


It's certainly not a reason to stop using Amazon, which is a great website, although for second-hand books you can often do better at AbeBooks.


Genes Reunited latest

As I was writing this newsletter the news came through that the takeover of Friends Reunited and Genes Reunited by brightsolid, the parent company of findmypast, is definitely going ahead after the Competition Commission cleared the deal.


Genes Reunited will continue to be run as a separate site, though hopefully the new owners will be making some changes - there's certainly plenty of room for improvement!


New Zealand BDM - members' tips

In the last newsletter I reminded members that birth, marriage, and death indexes for New Zealand are free online. Something I didn't mention is that deaths during the last 50 years are included in the indexes so long as the individual was born more than 80 years ago.


Several members wrote in with a very handy tip: to find out the exact date of an event simply drop it into your basket, as if you were going to order the certificate - and amazingly the date will appear.


It's also worth noting that whilst earlier death entries give only the year of birth of the individual, from 1972 onwards they start to show the exact date of birth, and by 1975 almost all the entries have this extra details (I imagine that in the intervening period the registrars were using up old stationery). This is very handy if you're trying to track down someone who was born outside New Zealand, and whose birth therefore won't be in the indexes.


Reg wrote in with details of another site that may help you track down your relatives in New Zealand. The Archives Research Centre has indexes to thousands of Presbyterian baptisms and marriages, and whilst there isn't a global search facility at the moment I'm sure they'll be considering that for the future.


Finally, Owen wrote about Archives New Zealand, which is also worth a look.


How civil registration began

Everyone knows that civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in England & Wales began on 1st July 1837, but it was only recently that I discovered the background to the establishment of the registration system and the General Register Office.


Did you realise that there were two separate Acts in 1836, the Registration Act, which set up a system for the registration of births and deaths, and the Marriage Act, which provided for civil marriages? As a result, in nearly half of registration districts the positions of Registrar of Births & Deaths and the Registrar of Marriages were held by two different people.


The driving force for the Registration Act was the problem that under English law only the registers of the Church of England could be used as evidence in court cases, and this created all sorts of difficulties for non-conformists, particularly in relation to inheritance. But it wasn't only 'dissenters' who were unsatisfied with the situation as it existed - parish registers recorded the dates of baptisms and burials, and not necessarily the dates of births and deaths.


So far as marriages were concerned there was a slightly different problem. Since Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into effect in 1754 the only marriages legally recognised had been those that took place under the auspices of the Church of England (an exception was made for Quakers and Jews). This meant that, for their children to be regarded as legitimate, non-conformists and Roman Catholics had to marry in a church whose beliefs differed from their own.


Registration of births seems to have been more of right than an obligation, judging from a GRO poster from June 1837 that is reproduced on page 13 of Muriel Nissel's interesting book People Count - a history of the General Register Office (it has been out-of-print for many years but I was fortunate to find a new copy on eBay; there are also second-hand copies available through AbeBooks).


All Births and Deaths which occur after June 1837 may be registered… without any Payment required… provided that, in the case of a Birth, it is registered within Six Weeks after the day of the Birth.


A Birth cannot be registered more than Six Weeks after the day of the Birth without payment of 7s 6d; nor can it be registered at all more than Six Months after the day of the Birth.


If the Registrar came knocking it was an offence to withhold information relating to a birth, but otherwise it was not until 1874 that penalties were introduced for failing to register a birth.


Certificates and signatures

I've been continuing to research the question of whether GRO marriage certificates are likely to show original signatures, and having spoken to a current registrar, a former registrar, and a member of the clergy I think that at last I have the definitive answer!


For church weddings the vicar fills out four documents:


(1) the certificate that is handed to the happy couple;

(2) the church's own marriage register (which is normally sent to the local records office on completion);

(3) the duplicate marriage register which is sent to local register office when it is full; and

(4) a copy of the entry that is sent to the Superintendent Registrar at the end of the quarter for checking and onward transmission to the GRO


In some parishes all four copies are filled out on the day of the marriage, and all bear original signatures - but this is entirely at the discretion of the clergy. In other parishes the copy for the GRO is filled out later, and therefore doesn't bear the signatures of the bride, groom, or witnesses.


If you want to be certain of seeing your relatives' signatures get a copy of the church register entry from the records office. The next best option is to obtain a copy of the duplicate register entry from the local register office - but check that they have the capability to produce a facsimile certificate, otherwise you may end up with a typed one!


Everyone makes mistakes

Beginners often assume that because birth, marriage, and death certificates are official documents the information on them must be correct (LostCousins members, of course, know better).


Once we come to accept that mistakes do occur it opens up all sorts of possibilities. For example, in the preceding article I mentioned that apart from the copy handed to the bride and groom on the day there are three other records of the marriage, and which one you have in your files will depend whether you get a copy from the records office, the local register office, or the GRO.


Even if all three are written out on the same day and signed by the participants there is no guarantee that they'll all say the same thing. For example, I have a copy of my great-great grandparents' 1859 marriage certificate which I obtained from the local register office (and so has been taken from the duplicate register), and another which I obtained from the London Metropolitan Archives (who hold the church copy of the register).


Both registers were signed by the bride and groom, but they show two different names for the bride's father!


Another of my certificates which came from the GRO shows that one of the marriage witnesses signed using her maiden surname - however, the church register entry shows that she signed using her married name. The GRO certificate doesn't bear original signatures, so I don't know whether it was my relative who made the error (she was newly married) or whether the vicar made a mistake when copying the entry for the GRO.  It would be interesting to know what the duplicate register shows, but I don't feel inclined to pay for a third copy of the same marriage!


Sue wrote to tell me about the marriage she'd found where the wrong name was shown for the groom both in the church register and in the GRO certificate - the correct name had been overwritten with the bride's name! Fortunately the entry in the Register of Banns was correct.


Sometimes mistakes are made and then corrected. For example, another Sue - who is a volunteer transcribing Warwickshire parish registers for FamilySearch - came several baptisms of illegitimate children where the father's name had been written in, then crossed through. It's yet another reminder of how important it is to refer back to the original records, rather than relying on transcriptions (which usually won't provide this sort of valuable clue).


Copies of birth, marriage, and death entries have been sent to the GRO since 1837, but this wasn't the first attempt to build a national database. In 1597, during the last years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, an Act was passed directing that copies of baptism, marriage, and death registers be sent annually to a diocesan registrar - and such copies are nowadays known as Bishop's Transcripts.


Where the original registers have been lost the BTs are invariably the only record that has survived, though often the transcripts themselves have also vanished - assuming they were ever submitted in the first place. Inevitably there were many errors and omissions, so where the original registers have survived you should always refer to them.


As family historians we're used to both making mistakes ourselves and being confounded by the mistakes, and that's why it is so important to record the source of every piece of information in your tree. All too often we're so excited about a new discovery that we forget to record precisely where it was made, or who it was that provided the information.


Viewing someone else's family tree on Genes Reunited or Ancestry tells us nothing about where the information came from, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to verify. It's important to remember that just because someone shows an exact date rather than a year doesn't guarantee that it's correct - precise dates can be precisely wrong.


Occasionally, just occasionally, mistakes work in our favour - rather like that Monopoly card that reads "Bank error in your favour, collect £200". The 1911 Census of England & Wales provides some excellent examples, where the questions on the form have been misinterpreted and we learn far more as a result. For example, when my great-grandfather completed the form he wrote the number of years of marriage and number of children against his own name, rather than that of his wife - but not only that, he gave the figures for both his marriages (my great-grandmother having died before her 37th birthday). This enabled me to confirm my suspicions that there were two children who had been born and died without every appearing on a census.


Sadly errors and corrections on census forms can sometimes reveal the most heart-breaking events. Do you remember my great-great uncle, whose Army record I found amongst the new Chelsea pensioners' collection at findmypast? At the age of 44 his wife gave birth to their 11th child Marjorie Rosa in early 1910, and the following year the proud father filled out the census form meticulously, listing all of his children.


He must have done it ahead of time. How do I know? Because he had to cross out young Marjorie Rosa's name - for she died just a few days before the census, barely one year old.


One thing I'll never know - was that smudge on the form made by his arm as his cuff dragged over the damp ink? Or was it, perhaps, a tear?


Peter's tips

I used to buy insurance through a broker. Every year they'd send me a renewal notice, accompanied by a letter which would include a statement something like this:


"We have obtained quotes from alternative insurers and can confirm that this is the best quote available."


Regular readers will know what is coming next: that's right, every year I'd get quotes myself, and invariably they'd be far cheaper.


I was reminded of this experience when another member called Peter wrote to me about the quote of £332 he'd received to renew his building and contents insurance. The funny thing was, when he went online and got a quote from the company's website, it was just £130. That's right, he paid 60% less for the same cover through the same company!


You won't always be able to get a cheaper quote from the same company, but some of them offer to match like-for-like quotes from other companies - which is how I saved nearly 50% on my father's buildings and contents insurance, again without switching companies. I'm willing to bet that this is the same the world over, so for once I've provided a money-saving tip for the entire membership!


Finally, a family history money-saver. For the next 2 weeks you can save 10% on a subscription to findmypast when you click here and enter the code mypast0410 in the Promotional Codes box. The discount applies to ALL subscriptions, even the standalone 1911 Census subscription - but my advice is to go for 12 months rather than the 6 month option, as it works out far cheaper in the long-run.


Have you tried?

For me it is second nature to use wildcards when I'm searching censuses and other records, but I'm beginning to realise that some experienced researchers have yet to discover how useful they can be. I rarely type an entire name or place, because - as you can see from the handwritten schedules for the 1911 Census - it's not just transcribers who make mistakes, our ancestors did too. In 1911 my great-great uncle wrote his wife's middle name as 'Voilet' rather than 'Violet' (ironically her middle name was actually Elizabeth!).


I never look for relatives called Frederick - I only ever look for Fred*, and only if the surname is such a common one that it couldn't conceivably be spelled incorrectly will I ever type it in full. Place names are often misspelled or misinterpreted - but often you'll find them written the wrong way round. For example, aforesaid great-great uncle wrote that he was born in 'Middlesex, London', but that the rest of the family were born in 'Norwich, Norfolk'.


At findmypast you can use a wildcard at the beginning AND end of the search term, which can be very handy. It's often difficult to interpret capital letters because of the way that enumerators wrote, whilst at the other end of the name it can be hard to distinguish 'n' from 'u' and 'e' from 'o' or 'a'. And you won't find Harriette Anne Edith Smith, who gave her birthplace as 'Born in Ryde, Isle of Wight' if you type ryde or wight, whereas *ryde* or *wight* works a treat!


Stop Press

This is where updates or amendments will appear.


That's all for now - I hope you've found some of it relevant to you and your family tree. Please do keep sending in your comments and suggestions for future issues.

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated