Newsletter - 17 March 2012



Success! GRO holds BMD certificate prices

Last chance to save on findmypast subscriptions

Use the right button to speed up your online research

The rarest search in the world

Are official records ever wrong?

St Patrick's Day savings

"A Lion Tamer in the Family"

The possibilities of DNA

Were single mothers better off in the 19th Century?

Findmypast heads for Westminster

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 6 March 2012) please click here.


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).For you convenience, when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open (so that you don’t lose your place in the newsletter) - if nothing seems to happen then you need to enable pop-ups in your browser.


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!


Success! GRO holds BMD certificate prices

Over the past 2 years I've been campaigning for the General Register Office to take a more commercial approach to the pricing of birth, marriage, and death certificates - one that reflects the effect that prices have on demand for certificates. Requests under the Freedom of Information Act, articles in this newsletter, and the feature that I wrote for Family History Monthly must have all have helped, but ultimately it may have been the brief discussion I had with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, last November that had the most impact.


So I'm delighted to report that, despite making a loss on certificates in the 2010/11 financial year and making 27 staff redundant just before Christmas, either of which might have signalled a further substantial increase in certificate prices, the GRO is holding the price at £9.25 in 2012/13, even though the price of certificates from local register offices will be going up by 11% from £9 to £10 (excluding postage) from 1st April.


Our eventual aim must surely be to get the same low-cost instant online access to the registers held by the GRO as Scotlandspeople offers to the registers held by the General Register Office of Scotland. If this requires new legislation - as the GRO claims - then the sooner it is brought before Parliament, the better!


Last chance to save on findmypast subscriptions

You’ve got until midnight (London time) on Monday 19th March to take advantage of the EXCLUSIVE 10% discount that I’ve arranged with findmypast - and get a free LostCousins subscription worth up to £12.50!


Sorry - but if you’re currently a findmypast subscriber you can’t take advantage of this offer. But on the other hand, when your subscription comes round for renewal you can take advantage of the 10% Loyalty Discount that findmypast offers. See here for full details of the loyalty scheme.


Whilst the prices of food and petrol are rising, it's good to know that some things are coming down in price. Last year you could have paid £129.95 for a 12 month Full subscription to findmypast (see the old rates here if you're feeling nostalgic), but subscribe today and you'll pay just £98.95 when you use the discount code - even though there are many more records on the site now than there were a year ago!


Is findmypast the right site for you? I like it because it's easy to use and navigate, and has the most complete collections of England & Wales censuses and BMD indexes - which are the records I use most. Also, whilst I don't have any Scottish connections, I'm glad to say that over the past year findmypast has added transcriptions of all the Scotland censuses from 1841-1891 (with 1901 to follow shortly, I believe).


Of course, once you extend into the realms of parish records, military records, and passenger lists, no one site has more than a fraction of the total - and that's why some researchers subscribe to two of the major sites, usually findmypast and Ancestry. However, most people can't afford two subscriptions - so being able to access one site at home and the other at your local public library is an alternative solution.


Tip: if you don't already know what your library offers, now would be a very good time to check - most libraries in England and many in other countries have a subscription to either findmypast or Ancestry (usually the latter, because they've been around for much longer). Most libraries also offer access to newspapers archives, such as The Times and a collection of nearly fifty 19th century newspapers from the British Library collection.


Please remember that is focused almost entirely on British records; there are other findmypast sites around the world, but currently findmypast doesn't offer a worldwide subscription. If you need to access overseas records so frequently or so extensively that it wouldn't be feasible to rely on your local library, then - despite its faults - Ancestry might be a better bet.


But for the vast majority of readers of this newsletter findmypast is the best choice. There's an additional bonus if up to now you've used one of the other sites - subscribing to findmypast will give you the chance to access a completely new collection of records!


Here's how to secure both your 10% discount AND your free LostCousins subscription - make sure you follow these instructions precisely:


(1) Click here to go the findmypast website (it will open in a new tab or new browser window), then either register or log-in (if you have registered previously).


(2) Next click on Subscribe, enter the exclusive offer code LOSTCOUS1203 in the Promotional Code box, and click Apply to display the discounted offer prices:


There is a slight possibility that you might see a different screen - in this case look for the wording "Click here if you have a promotional code" near the bottom.


(3) Choose the subscription you prefer, bearing in mind that the 12 month subscriptions offer the best value. I'd also recommend the Full subscription unless you're an absolute beginner since the wealth of additional datasets are well worth the small additional cost (at the discounted price of £98.95 the total cost of an annual Full subscription works out at just 27p a day, considerably less than the cost of even a 2nd Class stamp).


(4) When you receive your email receipt from findmypast forward a copy to me at the usual address (the one I used to tell you about this newsletter) so that I can verify your entitlement. Your free LostCousins subscription can include your spouse or partner as well - just make sure that the two accounts are linked together before you write to me (the Subscribe page at the LostCousins site explains how to do this).


Note: your free LostCousins subscription (worth up to £12.50) is paid for by the commission we receive from findmypast, so it is essential that you click the link or the screen shot above just before you subscribe.


Use the right button to speed up your online research

There are so many different record sets at sites like Ancestry and findmypast that it can be time-consuming switching from one page to another and back again. So don't do it!


A far better alternative is to open a new tab within your browser each time you go to a new set of records. For example, if you are using the 1911 Census at findmypast and want to look for the marriage of one of the relatives you've just found go to the Search records menu, move down it until you reach the Life events (BMDs) entry, then instead of clicking the left-button as you may have done up to now, click the right-button instead.


This displays a menu of options, one of which is Open in new tab, or Open link in new tab, depending on which browser you use - you can choose this option using either button.


Typically I'll have at least 4 tabs open at the same time, one for births, one for marriages, one for deaths, and one for censuses. I personally find it easier to keep track of which is which by having them in a logical order, eg births followed by marriages followed my deaths - but you may find a system that works better for you.


The rarest search in the world

There's a search that I use so rarely that I can't even remember the last time I used it - and yet beginners use it all the time!


Using an All Records search seems like the easiest way to find what you're looking for - and yet it's the surest way of guaranteeing failure. Why? Because every set of records includes different types of data, and to search a dataset effectively you need to be very careful which boxes you fill in on the Search form. Fill in too many boxes and you won't get any results at all - fill in too few (or the wrong ones) and you'll get far too many results.


When you think about it, an All Records search has to be a jack-of-all-trades - whatever you enter on the Search form it probably won't be ideal for any of the record sets. In fact, there might not even be a box on the form for some of the things you'd like to enter.


When I wrote in my last newsletter about searching the death indexes using a precise date of birth a handful of members (I won't embarrass them by mentioning any names) wrote in to say that there wasn't anywhere on the Search form to enter the day of birth. Of course there wasn't - they were using the All Records search.


Of course, you can't suddenly switch from using the All Records search and expect to get the best possible results - it takes a certain amount of experience. But you don't want to stay a beginner for ever, do you?


Note: sometimes an All Records search may be your only option, but there won't be many occasions when it's the best option. In my experience it's most likely to be worth trying if there is a very rare surname in your tree.


Are official records ever wrong?

A couple of days ago I was chatting with someone I'd just met. I eventually admitted what I do (it can be a  great conversation stopper - not everyone is as excited by family history as we are), and somehow we got onto the topic of errors in official documents such as certificates and military records.


At this point his eyes lit up, and he told me the story of his grandfather, who had lied about his age in order to fight in the Great War, but was sent to a unit behind the firing line when his mother told the Army how old he really was.


This was a common tale - one of my relatives claimed to be 2 years older in order to revenge his older brother, who was killed in the same war; another claimed to be 7 years younger in order to qualify. But what really interested me was when Daniel told me that he had a letter from the Army confirming the story - and I thought that you might also be interested in seeing it.


As you can see, it's a standard letter that has printed on a mimeograph, with the details filled in by hand. With this little snippet of information I was able to find Anderson Needham, aged 12, on the 1911 Census and confirm that his birth was registered in the last quarter of 1898. I also found his Medal Card, showing that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, sometimes known as "Mutt and Jeff".


But going back to the title of this article - official records are frequently wrong, either because of administrative errors, or because the wrong information was supplied in the first place (the saying "Garbage In - Garbage Out" may have been invented in the computer age, but it encapsulates a problem that is as old as the hills).


Errors occur for all sorts of reasons. The first time I registered a death I wasn't prepared for all the questions I was asked, and had to guess some of the answers. Fortunately I got them right, but I might not have done.


Marriage certificates from the 19th century are particularly prone to error. The ages of the bride and groom were often adjusted to bring them closer together, and the details shown for the fathers are often wrong. The fact that there is an error doesn't necessarily imply deception - some illegitimate children were spun a yarn about their parentage.


One of my female ancestors was illegitimate, and no father's name was shown for her in the marriage register. But the groom - who was legitimate - did the gentlemanly thing and omitted his father's details too. Are there any similar examples in your tree?


St Patrick's Day savings

Irish Origins are offering a 20% discount on all subscriptions when you sign up using the discount code STPATS2012 (expires 26th March). But don't forget there are now lots of Irish records that are available online at FamilySearch, at the National Archives of Ireland, at Ask About Ireland, and at Irish Genealogy.


You can also get a 10% discount when you take out a subscription at between now and Monday 19th March.


A Lion Tamer in the Family

This story by LostCousins member Heather Feather won joint 3rd prize in the Federation of Family History Societies competition (LostCousins members also won the 1st and 2nd prizes!).


My mother-in-law, Ada Annie Woon Feather (nee Hoskin) 1901-1976 told us three “tall tales” about her family. Having proved two during over thirty years of family history research, I set out to prove the third: “…the cousin who had a row of stitches round his forehead where the lion closed its mouth.” Did she really expect us to believe that? Then we found a “new” cousin, who was also a Hoskin. He had the same story in his family, so now I knew which family should be my focus.  It wasn’t until about two years ago that I finally found a lion tamer in our family, but was the story the complete truth?


Ada’s father, John Woon Hoskin, had six sisters. The youngest was Mary Ann Colman Hoskin born in Plymouth, Devon in 1873. By 1891 several members of the family had moved to Fulham in London and Mary Ann married on April 30th 1894 at the Register Office in Fulham. Her new husband was John Gavett (born in Hackney, London in 1875) a “professional bicyclist”. I wondered at first whether he was the circus connection. The couple had three daughters: Florence Mabel born 1895, Kathleen born 1897 and Ada born 1900, who died within a few months of her birth.


I searched marriage and death indexes to find what happened to the two surviving girls and finally found a marriage for Florence in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1914. The index told me that her husband was Thomas Ambrose Tallon, so out of curiosity I ordered the marriage certificate. While waiting for the certificate to arrive I looked for the couple on the 1911 census. I could not find Florence (she may have been abroad with her father who was in the army) but, to my delight, found Thomas in Sheffield, Yorkshire, where he, aged 27 and born in Boston, U.S.A.  was listed at “The Jungle.” This was the home at the time of Bostock’s Menagerie, with a hundred lions, and his occupation was an animal trainer. This must be my man!! The arrival of the marriage certificate confirmed that he was a lion trainer. The couple were married on April 18th 1914 at St.Jude’s Church, Bradford, Yorkshire. I understand that a branch of Bostock’s Menagerie was in Bradford at the time. The certificate does not note Florence’s employment. The bride and groom gave their addresses as different houses in the same street.


A search for children of the marriage was fruitless, so I looked for their deaths. It did not take long to find that Thomas Tallon had died on August 1st 1914 in Hammersmith Infirmary. His 19 year old widow registered his death the same day, giving their address as Bostock’s Menagerie, Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition, Hammersmith. The cause of Thomas’ death was “acute lobar pneumonia”. A medical friend tells me that this type of pneumonia can be caused by an infection, so was a lion responsible as mother-in-law had suggested? She grew up in Fulham, so may have met her cousin’s husband. Family members will certainly have told her about him. Thomas was buried in the Margravine Cemetery, Hammersmith on August 5th 1914 (North front L 14). The “West London Observer” of April 5th 1914 describes the influx of visitors to the Anglo-American Exposition at the White City, Hammersmith, so I imagine that the newly-weds travelled there from Yorkshire soon after their wedding.


Description: Photo: Tom Tallon
The National Fairground Archive has a project on “The Jungle” and their web-site has a photograph of “Colonel” Thomas Tallon with his lions, with a copy of an advertisement saying that he is America’s youngest lion trainer. There is also a photo of “Mlle.Gavette” with a group of polar bears. Could this be Florence? The “Yorkshire Telegraph and Star” of October 29 1912, reporting on the performers at The Jungle, says “…one great novelty was to see Polar bears controlled by a smart girl trainer aged 15”. Was this Florence with a little “journalistic licence” employed with regards to her age? Was this where she met her husband? How did she become involved with the Menagerie?


Description: Photo: Mlle Gavette Gavett


Apparently while Bostock’s Menagerie was at Crystal Palace in London in 1911 Thomas was prosecuted by the R.S.P.C.A. for cruelty to a lion by teasing it, but the summons was dismissed. The “World Fair” of October 29 1912 reported that a stag belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam had escaped from Wentworth Woodhouse and made its way to Sheffield where it was trapped in a garden. Members of Bostock’s staff were called to deal with it and in the process Tallon received a severe injury to his right cheek from the animal’s antlers. This was treated in hospital – did he receive stitches, so was this the origin of the tale?


I wondered what happened to the young widow. I could not find another marriage for her, or a death, in the English indexes, nor was there a further reference to her sister or parents. Passenger lists from the United Kingdom gave me the answer. On November 7th 1914, with her mother and sister, she sailed from Liverpool to New York on the S.S.New York. They travelled 2nd class and arrived at Ellis Island on November 15th 1914. The records show that Florence’s occupation was “animal trainer” and all three said that they were going to Henry Tudor, who was the manager of “The Jungle” in 1911.


Records of Kathleen and her parents have been found in California, but I have yet to discover what happened to Florence after she arrived in the U.S.A. I assume that she continued her career with animals. Of course, it is possible that she was pregnant when she left her homeland.


I recently spoke to my husband’s niece about my findings. As a child she spent a lot of time with her grandmother. Before I had mentioned bears she said “I thought he was injured by a polar bear.” So, which was the guilty animal? Lion? Stag? Or a Polar bear? Every answer brings a new question!


© 2012 Heather Feather                                                                   


Postcards reproduced by kind permission of the National Fairground Archive


The possibilities of DNA

Just over a century ago crime detection was transformed by the discovery that fingerprint evidence could identify the guilty party, and DNA has had a similar impact in modern times. Of course, both fingerprint and DNA evidence has on occasions been successfully challenged - but that's usually because the samples left behind at the scene of the crime have been less than ideal.


Nevertheless, if after reading the previous articles about DNA in my newsletter you've been looking at the different tests available at the Family Tree DNA website, you may have wondered why there are so many options at different prices.


Ideally we'd all have our entire genome sequenced. But even though the cost has come down from billions of dollars to less than $10,000 it's still beyond the means of most of us (I can assure you that I won't be having my genome sequenced any time soon!). Instead most DNA tests focus on specific positions within the genome where variations are known to occur, on the basis that if two people have the same variations, the odds are that they are related can be calculated statistically.


Of course, the more markers that are tested the more matches can be made. It's a bit like discovering a cousin when you click the Search button on your My Ancestors page - if there's a match with just one relative you probably wouldn't feel as confident as you would when (say) 5 relatives all matched. Often you can increase the number of matches by adding more relatives to your own page, but you're obviously limited by the number of relatives that the other person has entered.


It's the same with DNA tests. You could buy a 111-marker Y-DNA test, but if the potential relatives you're being matched against have only bought a 67- marker test, or a 37-marker test it won't improve the level of certainty.


If you read Catherine Stewart's excellent article in my last newsletter (and I certainly hope you did) you'll know that she started off with a 12-marker test, then upgraded it in stages: first to 37-markers, and then to 67-markers. It costs a little more to do it this way, but it does mean that the initial outlay is lower. Of course, prices have fallen since Catherine started her research, so you probably wouldn't want to start with a 12-marker test these days (except, perhaps, in conjunction with a Family Finder test, when it costs just $50 extra).


I'm going to be contacting Family Tree DNA about setting up a Calver study - although there are over 6000 surnames being studied through DNA, my surname isn't one of them, and I've always wanted to establish whether the name originated in East Anglia, where it predominated in the 18th and 19th centuries, or in Derbyshire (where the village of Calver is to  found). All sorts of theories have been put forward, but I don't find any of them convincing.


I shall let you know how it goes. In the meantime, do let me know what puzzles you've solved (or created) as a result of DNA tests!


Were single mothers better off in the 19th Century?

I found this BBC article interesting - and you may too.


Findmypast heads for Westminster

Great news for anyone who has been struggling to find their London ancestors! Findmypast have been awarded a contract by the City of Westminster Council and the Westminster Archives Centre to digitise over 10 million records including baptisms, marriages, and burials but also rate books, apprentice records, and workhouse admissions and discharges.


Registers and other records for most of the rest of London are already online in the London Metropolitan Archives collection at Ancestry. The Westminster records should be available at findmypast later this year, and I'll let you know when they are launched.


Peter's Tips

I had hoped that the new UK postage rates would have been announced by the time that this newsletter was issued, but even a telephone call to the regulator, Ofcom, couldn't elicit any information. It's possible that the new rates will already be in effect by the time my next newsletter appears, so this could be your last chance to act.


WH Smith are no longer offering a 5% discount on books of 1st and 2nd Class stamps when you order them online, but it's possible that you'll still be able to get a discount in stores - certainly the Warwick store had a sign in the window when I was there a week ago. But even if you have to pay full price the saving could be very substantial - next month the price of 2nd Class stamps could go up by more than 25%, and it's likely that there will be a similar rise in 1st Class prices.


Note: I understand that Superdrug are currently offering a 5% discount.


If you decide to take advantage of the findmypast discount offer above, why not take advantage of my generosity as well? If you link your LostCousins account to that of your spouse or partner, or (if widowed) to that of a son, daughter, or in-law, you can claim a free joint subscription covering both accounts. Linking two accounts together is easy - simply enter the membership number for one account (shown on the My Summary page, the one you see when you log-in) on the My Details page for the other account. Like most things at LostCousins, it's something that you only need to do ONCE.


Stop Press

The latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine includes an interview with Sarah Rapson, the Registrar General, in which she states "I think there's a lot we could do to provide family historians with better access to the data. Were we to do that, it would need to be a priority for this government and we would need to have legislative change."


Please keep sending in your news and tips - many of the articles in this newsletter result from suggestions from readers like you!


Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver and the contributors named


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