Newsletter - 18 May 2012
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 5 May 2012) please click here.
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Who Do You Think You Are? cancelled in US
After three series of Who Do You Think You Are? US network NBC has decided not to commission a fourth series.
I must admit I have always been quite surprised at the low viewing figures: whilst the audience for the third series has been similar to that for the UK show, that's pretty disappointing when you consider that the US population is about 5 times greater. But most disappointed, I suspect, will be the shareholders of Ancestry - which sponsored the TV show - their stock has dropped by over 15% this week, and the price is now just half last year's peak (though it's still well above the price at which Ancestry came to the market in 2009).
There's a possibility that another US channel will pick up the show - I hope so. In the meantime there's speculation that the UK series might also be reaching the end of its life, because even though it attracted an audience in excess of 6 million for last August's series 8 show featuring JK Rowling, by the end of the series the audience had fallen to little more than 3.5 million (though I suspect that the artist Tracey Emin might not have appealed to as wide an audience).
Of course, when Who Do You Think You Are? launched in the UK 8 years ago it was the only family history series on television, but its success has inspired numerous other series - not only on TV but also on radio.
The closure of the Forensic Science Service, the government-owned company which provided forensic services to police forces in England and Wales, has resulted in a large quantity of expensive equipment coming onto the market at what seem to be bargain prices.
If you are a fan of CSI, or would like to sequence your own DNA, I suspect there's enough equipment on offer to set up your own laboratory (but please don't ask me what each item does - if you don't know already then you probably wouldn't be able to use it). There are also various consumables, some of which have starting bids as low as £10. The online auction ends on May 24th, so get your bids in quick!
You can search 360,000 burial records for Belfast completely free - thanks to Rosemary for letting me know. Meanwhile, over at DeceasedOnline (which isn't free) they've been busy adding more cemeteries and crematoria, including 210,000 records from Eltham Crematorium.
In the last newsletter I wrote that it's no longer possible to search the 1881 Census at the old FamilySearch site. Actually it is - choose an All Resources search, click on the census results in the 'Sources Searched' panel, then click 'refine search' - now you'll find yourself at the old census search page. Thanks to all the eagle-eyed members who pointed this out!
Introducing the new look findmypast
Whenever a site undergoes major changes, as findmypast has done over the past week, it takes a while to figure out how to make the most of the new features - and whether any of the little tricks you've used in the past no longer work.
During this week I've not only be testing out the site using my own family tree but also following up questions and comments from some of the LostCousins members who are findmypast subscribers. The most positive discovery I've made is that findmypast aren't stopping here - they will be continuing to make improvements over the coming month and they are going to be listening to comments from users of the site like you and me.
So - what are the changes? Let me say right away that they haven't added any new datasets - these changes are all about helping users find the information they are looking for more easily, more quickly, and more reliably. I think they are absolutely spot-on, because there's no point having billions of records if people can't find the ones that are relevant to their research.
There are two approaches to running a family history site: one is to present users with lots of results so that they think they are getting value for money, the other is to put the user in control and allow them to search in many different ways. When you're trying to crack a nut, sometimes you have to turn it around a few times before you can find its weak spot: it's much the same with family history - if approaching the problem from one angle doesn't produce the answers, you have to turn the problem around.
Tip: findmypast now allows you to enter more than one forename whenever you're searching the census - previously this was only an option if you chose an Advanced search. Amazingly this small anomaly was a major source of confusion for members who were more used to using Ancestry, so findmypast were quite right to fix it.
For many years researchers have complained about the quality of census transcriptions and the mistakes that enumerators made - but when the 1911 Census went online just over three years we were suddenly faced with an unpleasant truth - our own ancestors were also pretty unreliable when it came to completing census forms.
That's why being able to search the censuses by street address as well as by name gives findmypast a useful advantage over most other sites. Often we know where our ancestors were living around the time of the census from BMD certificates or baptism register entries, so being able to search by address can be very useful indeed - even if all it does is confirm that part of the census is missing (as sadly is the case for all censuses, with the possible exception of 1911).
Another useful feature is being able to choose how the results of a census search are sorted - currently the options are to sort by name or by birth year (and for each of these you can choose ascending or descending order).
Tip: something that won't be immediately obvious is that when you're presented with the results of a census search, you can change the way they're sorted without going back to the Search form - just click on the relevant heading.
As an experienced researcher I like to have control over my searches, which is why I hardly ever use an All Records search (which is what you're doing if you complete the Search form on the home page of Ancestry or findmypast).
Tip: searching all the datasets at the same time can be a good way to pick up records in obscure record sets that you might never have thought to search, but it's a very poor way to find the right entries in the most important records, such as censuses, GRO indexes, and parish registers.
But taking control of my searches isn't just about searching individual datasets, it's also about searching them in a smart way, rather than relying on the website to do it for you. For me there's nothing worse than seeing a page of results sorted 'by relevance' because I know that I'm a better judge of what's relevant to me than any computer algorithm!
However, there is one exception - I've found that ticking the 'include variants' box is a good way to pick up first names that have been abbreviated.
Findmypast have now introduced a new dimension to census searches by allowing users to search by occupation.
It's true that the occupation field has been on the Search form for years - but until last week you had to enter a name as well as an occupation, which meant you couldn't use it as a way of finding ancestors whose names had been grossly misrepresented, whether by the enumerator or the transcriber.
Of course, you can still enter a name if you want to - but now you can enter a place of instead. For example, I just searched the 1911 Census for wheelwrights living in Fyfield - a small village in Essex where my ancestor was a wheelwright a century earlier:
Tip: like all smart researchers I've completed the minimum number of boxes on the Search form - less is definitely more when it comes to searching!
Of course, since Fyfield is only a village I didn't expect there to be many wheelwrights, and in fact there were only two - father and son it transpired:
Now, if you've used findmypast before you'll probably have experienced a common problem - many searches used to be rejected because there were too many results, or the search was deemed 'too complex'. I'm glad to say that this is no longer a problem - a search of the 1911 Census for labourers in Liverpool threw up† 45,592 results (I used *labourer* as the search term so that it would pick all sorts of labourers). I haven't yet discovered what the upper limit is, but in the past week I've successfully carried out searches that have produced more than 200,000 results!
Right now you can't search the 1841 and 1871 censuses by occupation, because the occupation field wasn't transcribed - but I suspect that one day findmypast will put that right. It would be really useful to search the 1841 Census by occupation because it's the most problematical of all the censuses, not least because the enumerators were told to use pencils.
Because so many of the resources of interest to family historians are available at a single site (Scotlandspeople) I don't have so much opportunity to write about Scottish records. As a result I occasionally get emails from members asking when LostCousins will start covering Scotland - yet the 1881 Scotland census was the second one added to the list, way back in September 2004!
Tip: if you are in any doubt as to the 7 censuses we use to find your 'lost cousins', you'll find a list on the Census Links page at the LostCousins site - between them they cover Ireland, Canada, USA, England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. By the way, I had an email from Sally recently who told me that she has been able to enter relatives from all 7 censuses - is she the only one, I wonder?
The good news is that the unique census searches that findmypast offers for the England & Wales censuses can also be used for the Scotland censuses from 1841-1901 (only Scotlandspeople has the 1911 Scotland census). This means you can search the Scotland censuses by address, and most of them by occupation.
Indeed, because the occupation field was transcribed for all of the Scotland censuses it should be possibly to search them all of them by occupation, though at present the field is 'greyed-out' on the Search form when you choose 1841 or 1871 (hopefully findmypast will rectify this anomaly before long).
Now for the bad news - there is no agreed format for the references for the Scotland censuses, notably the 1881 Census that we use at LostCousins. FamilySearch organised the first transcription and used one format, Ancestry did the second transcription and used another, Scotlandspeople did the third and chose yet another format - and finally findmypast's transcription (the fourth), has yet another format!
So whilst I can commend findmypast's transcriptions of the Scotland censuses for their accuracy, and for the range of search options, I must warn you about using the census references they quote for the 1881 Census when entering information on your My Ancestors page. The reference described as 'folio' is actually the Enumeration District, and the 'piece' is the Volume (or Registration Number).
An added complication is that if the 'piece' is more than 3 digits it won't be in the correct format - in this case I suggest you contact me for advice (please paste the text of the transcription - not a screenshot - into your email).
Ancestry vs findmypast
I often get emails from members asking me whether Ancestry or findmypast is the best - and the short answer is that "it depends". Here's what I wrote when a member in the US asked for my advice earlier this week:
"I've written about the two sites frequently over the past couple of years, and stressed that the most important thing is to choose the site that has the records you need for your research. There are some records you'll find at both sites: for example, both Ancestry and findmypast have all of the England & Wales censuses to 1911, and transcriptions of all the Scotland censuses to 1901. However findmypast offers more search options, such as searching by address, or (in most censuses) by occupation.
"Both Ancestry and findmypast have the GRO BMD indexes, and have fully-transcribed them. However, they are far, far easier to search at findmypast - and Ancestry has many more transcription and other errors. Findmypast also has a more comprehensive collection of BMD indexes, including military and other overseas indexes, and you can search them all at once if you wish.
"As far as military records are concerned, both sites have records from the National Archives - but they are completely different sets of records. Ancestry's are mostly from World War 1, but findmypast has pensioner records spanning 150 years up to World War 1.
"And as to other records, such as parish records, there is again very little overlap between the two sites, so if you only ever use one site (whichever site it is) you risk missing out on the records that the other site has. I usually recommend findmypast for UK members because most of them can get Ancestry free at their local public library - so by subscribing to findmypast they can have access to both sets of records, which is the ideal situation.
"However, for overseas members where non-UK records are important an Ancestry Worldwide subscription is often the only sensible choice. If you do decide to stay with Ancestry, make sure you follow the advice in my recent newsletters to subscribe through Ancestry.co.uk, as it is much cheaper. I suggest following this link, otherwise Ancestry will try to send you back to Ancestry.com".
If you want to take advantage of the discount offer I've arranged with findmypast you'll have to act quickly, because it ends at 11.59pm (London time) on Monday 21st May.
Follow the instructions carefully, because when you save 10% on a findmypast subscription using the exclusive offer code, you can save 100% on a LostCousins subscription. That's right - you can get a free LostCousins subscription that runs for the same period as your new findmypast subscription, so the total saving could be as much as £23.50!
Please note that the offers don't apply to renewals (which already benefit from findmypast's generous Loyalty Discount - see here for full details), nor can you combine them with any other offers. But it needn't be the very first time that you've ever had a findmypast subscription - if you are rejoining findmypast after a break you'll still qualify (and you could well be amazed at how much more you get for your money - see the other articles in this newsletter and the previous one).
During the offer period EVERY findmypast subscription, even the most expensive, costs less than £99, or about 27p a day! What else can you buy for 27p these days - one cigarette, or half a postage stamp? †
Here's how to take advantage of these TWO great offers:
(1) Click here to go the findmypast website (it will open in a new tab or new browser window), then click Subscribe and either register or log-in (if you have registered previously).
(2) Now enter the exclusive offer code LOSTMAY12 in the Promotional Code box, and click Apply to display the discounted offer prices:
Depending on the exact sequence of events you may see a different display - but the information will be the same. The important thing is to make sure that the discounted prices are shown before you select your subscription.
(3) Choose the subscription you prefer, bearing in mind that the 12 month subscriptions offer by far the best value (because the second six months is virtually half price). 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.
(4) If during the process you are logged out for any reason, or if your credit card isn't accepted, start again at step (1) to ensure that you qualify for your free LostCousins subscription.
(5) When you receive your email receipt from findmypast please forward a copy to me 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).
Tip: if you want to share this offer with other researchers, don't simply pass on the code. Instead, please send them a link to this newsletter - because that way they might be inspired to link up with their own 'lost cousins'.
According to last week's New Scientist it was the accidental duplication of a single gene around 2.5 million years ago that led to the changes in our brains that have set us apart from all the other species on the planet. In fact, it seems that more than one gene duplication has played a key role in brain development - and yet it is thought that in all only about 30 genes have become duplicated since our ancestors diverged from those of chimpanzees.
A separate article in the same issue reported research that has discovered that blonde hair has evolved at least twice. Up to 10% of the population of the Solomon Islands have blonde hair, even though they are very dark-skinned, and for a long time it was assumed that this was the result of interbreeding with European explorers.
It has now been shown that it evolved independently, probably around 10,000 years ago. I can't link to the New Scientist article, but there's a Daily Mail article which reports the same research.
The February issue of Significance magazine reported that David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge is collecting coincidences. He wants people to send him their stories of coincidences so that he can explore the scientific explanations which may account for them (some of them may feature in a forthcoming BBC television programme about chance).
Well, Professor, I can start you off with a few coincidences. First of all, even though Spiegelhalter is a very rare name in England, there's a Spiegelhalter in my family tree - he married my 1st cousin 3 times removed in 1893. Secondly, you and I are both Fellows of the Royal Statistical Society (which of course is how I came to be reading Significance magazine). And finally, I used to know a very interesting chap called David Harding - who a few years later made a fortune running hedge funds and used some of that money to create a new professorship at Cambridge. Which is how you came to be the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk!
All of that is true, but it's almost certainly not the sort of coincidence the Professor is looking for - I suspect that he'll be much more interested in the sort of coincidences that I regularly hear about from LostCousins members. To find out more about the project and submit your coincidences click here.
It seems that Americans are taking this ancient saying to heart - the median age at which they are marrying for the first time is now 26.5 years for women, and 28.7 years for men.
In the UK people have also been marrying later as this graph on the Office of National Statistics site shows - and it's easy to extrapolate backwards and conclude that in the 19th century people must have married much earlier. However that isn't the case - prior to the 1960s the average age at marriage had for several centuries typically been about 25 for women, and 27 for men, as this 1989 paper records.
The same paper has an interesting chart on page 3 showing how the typical 'life course' of women changed between 1681 and 1951. Statistics like these are useful when we're trying to estimate when our ancestors might have been born - prior to 1837 the age at death isn't always recorded, so we're often faced with the challenge of estimating the year of birth based on other factors, such as the year of marriage, or the years when the eldest and youngest children were born.
From time to time I get emails from members whose relatives haven't replied. Often it's because the other person's email address has changed, in which case I do my best to contact them in some other way - and succeed about two-thirds of the time.
But there also occasions when I realise that the person who has contacted me hasn't made it very easy for their relative to respond. For example, they may have sent a series of reminders that all refer to a message sent 6 months ago - which might never have arrived, or might have been lost in the intervening months.
Tip: when you send a reminder, always include a copy of the original message - it could make all the difference!
When you ask for information try to be as explicit as possible - and try to ask for information that the other person is likely to have. Always find out as much as you can about how the other person is related to you before you write to them - that way you're less likely to ask awkward (or stupid) questions.
How can you find out how you are related? Look at the My Contact page for the relationship, which you can display †by clicking the other person's name or initials on your My Cousins page. The My Contact page lists the relatives you have both entered, but more importantly shows how each of you are related to each of them. That's usually enough information for you to work out how the two of you are related, and roughly where the other person fits on your family tree.
I couldn't help smiling when I saw this BBC News report.
It's very rare that I recommend a product or service that I haven't bought or used myself, but when I received an email from a member telling me how much he'd enjoyed The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, and that he had been told about it by the U3A genealogy group he attends, I looked it up at Amazon. There I found that two-thirds of the reviewers had given it 5 stars, and almost all the rest had given it 4 stars - quite an endorsement. It could be just the book to get someone you know interested in researching their own family tree!
Do you wish you could buy petrol at 75p a litre? That's what it feels like for me, because 3 years ago I took advantage of the Government's scrappage scheme to switch to a much more economical car, one that regularly returns over 60 miles to the (British) gallon.
However, you don't have to change cars to save money - when my new £20 road tax disc arrived in the post it was accompanied by a leaflet explain how "a smarter driving style could save you £250-£350 every year". The AA agree - they reckon that most people can save over 10% on fuel, and they proved it by asking 50 of their own employees to take part in an eco-driving experiment. One employee save 33%! See how they did it here.
My car was due for its first MoT this month, and there were two tyres that needed changing. There are always cheap makes available, but I found that by shopping around I could get brand names tyres amazingly cheaply from Tyre Shopper. I hadn't heard of them before, so I was naturally a little bit wary - but when I had the tyres fitted I discovered that Tyre Shopper is the discount arm of a very well-known company, so I have no hesitation in recommending them to you.
I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to collect extra Clubcard points at Tesco - because my wife and I use them towards the cost of our main holiday of the year. This year it'll mean that we get it for half price, which is a very worthwhile saving in these straitened times.
Tesco are also going through tough times, so there aren't as many chances to get extra points - but today I found out that they are giving away 50 extra points with each online purchase of a DVD from a wide selection when you click here.
This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.
Please keep sending in your news and tips - many of the articles in this newsletter result from suggestions from readers like you!
© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver
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