Newsletter - 21 May 2011


Problem solved!

The most comprehensive death indexes

Masterclass: Extending your tree beyond 1911

Researching children in family history

Nick is the new president!

How accurate was the 2011 Census?

Canadian census disclosure option

The mystery of the missing will

My first experience of spam

Low key launch for new Irish site

Tracing 'Ag Labs'

Hearth Tax returns online

Posting family trees on the Internet

The personal touch

Peter's Tips

Have you tried

Stop Press


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 29 April 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.


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 don’t lose your place in the newsletter - if you are still using Internet Explorer you may need to enable pop-ups (if the link seems not to work, look for a warning message at the top of the browser window).


Problem solved!

In my last newsletter I invited members to suggest new names for My Ancestors and My Cousins, the two most important pages at the LostCousins site. There was an excellent response with some very interesting suggestions - but the vast majority of members who responded like the existing names, and would rather that they didn't change, and I have to respect that. Nevertheless I feel that there's no longer such a risk that new members, or those who are unfamiliar with the site, might be confused about the purpose of the pages.


One part of the solution was already in place! Several members reminded me that anyone who isn't sure what each page does gets a preview as they move the mouse pointer over the menu items - for example, as you move the pointer over the words My Ancestors the tip "Your deceased relatives who were recorded on the censuses" appears; similarly, as you move it over My Cousins the words "Your living relatives" are displayed.


However, I've also added a new option to the menu, Search. Members who are logged in will be taken to their My Ancestors page, where with one click of the Search button they can compare every entry they've made against the all entries made by other members (although this can involve over one billion comparisons it takes just seconds). Non-members who click Search will be taken to a page that describes how LostCousins works - and where they can learn what makes the site so different. Regular users of the LostCousins site won't be directly affected by these changes, but I suspect they'll prove a great help for new or infrequent users - and this should lead to better results for the rest of us!


The most comprehensive death indexes

Findmypast have at last released their fully transcribed GRO death indexes 1837-2006, complementing the indexes of British overseas deaths 1818-2005, British deaths at sea 1854-1890, and British armed forces deaths 1796-2005 announced in my last newsletter.


It's now possible to search all of these death indexes with a single search - indeed, I'd recommend that you consider making this your default method of searching, because it's easy to forget the overseas indexes (and time-consuming to search them separately).



Masterclass: Extending your tree beyond 1911

If your family comes from England or Wales, and you have a findmypast Foundation or Full subscription you'll not only have access to the fully transcribed birth, marriage, and death indexes but also to the complete England & Wales 1911 Census. By combining these two resources you'll probably find that you can add dozens of new relatives to your family tree - without spending a penny on certificates!


Here's how I generally go about it:


(1) Where there are married couples on the 1911 Census and the wife is of child-bearing age (typically up to 47) I search the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the family surname and mother's maiden name. The rarer the surnames the more confident I can be about identifying the entries, especially if I also take into account the choice of forenames, the timing of the births, and the districts where the births were registered.


(2) I then check to see whether I can identify marriages involving relatives who were single in 1911. This is generally only possible when the surnames are fairly uncommon (but see below).


(3) Having identified these post-1911 marriages, or possible marriages, I look in the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the technique described in (1) above. Sometimes the choice of forenames will help to confirm whether or not I've found the right marriage.


(4) I next look for the deaths of the couples whose children I've been seeking. If the precise date of birth is included in the death indexes, as it is for later entries, this often helps to confirm not only that I've found the right death entry, but also - in the case of a female relative - that I've found the right marriage. Even if I don't know exactly when my relative was born, the quarter in which the birth was registered defines a 19 week window (remember that births can be registered up to 6 weeks after the event). Why does this work best for female relatives? Because they will have changed their surname on marriage, so their birth will be registered in one name and the death in another - and there will be a marriage that links the two.


(5) Now I start on the next generation, the children who were recorded in 1911 or whose births I have been able to identify as belonging to my tree. I look for both marriages and deaths, because if I find the death of a female relative recorded under her maiden name, this usually indicates that she didn't marry.


(6) Having identified marriages I then look in the birth indexes for children born to those marriages - and continue this process until either I reach the present day, or I get to a point where I can't tell with reasonable certainty which entries relate to my relatives. Mind you, when it comes to more recent generations there are all sorts of additional sources of information - including social networking sites such as Friends Reunited and Facebook, and searches of the electoral roll (see my January newsletter if you want to know how to get free information from the electoral roll).


Here are some key dates to bear in mind when searching:


2nd April 1911 - Census Day


1st July 1911 - from this date the mother's maiden name was included in the birth indexes


1st January 1912 - the surname of the spouse was included in the marriage indexes


1st January 1966 - from this date the first two forenames are shown in full in the birth indexes


1st April 1969 - the precise date of birth was included in the death indexes and the first two forenames were shown in full


During the 20th century middle names are more consistent than they were in the 19th century - there is less of a tendency for them to appear or disappear between birth, marriage, and death. Unfortunately for more than half a century after 1910 only the first forename was shown in full in the birth and death indexes, and the marriage indexes only show one forename for the whole period after 1910 - so a perfect match on the second forename is only possible if the relative was born before 1911 and died after March 1969.


What can you hope to achieve by following the techniques I've described? In my case I've been able to extend some lines forward by as many as four generations, although three is more typical. In all I've added over two hundred 20th century relatives to my family tree, most of whom are still living.


Of course, if you decide to contact a living relative you've identified in this way you're unlikely to find that they share your interest in family history - though there's a fair chance that they'll be able to tell you of someone else in their part of your tree who is doing research. (By contrast, when you find a living relative through LostCousins you know they're interested in family history - otherwise they wouldn't have joined, and wouldn't have had the necessary census information.)


Note: although you could use the BMD indexes at Ancestry, rather than findmypast, it's much more difficult and time-consuming to use Ancestry because of the way their searches work (this applies whether you choose the 'old' search or the 'new' search). Whilst findmypast allows you to search the entire period with a single search, at Ancestry pre-1915 records must be searched separately - but even more annoying is the way that Ancestry forces you to search separately for middle forenames and middle initials. The net result is that something that would take ONE search at findmypast can sometimes require FOUR different searches at Ancestry.


Researching children in family history

On Saturday 11th June there is a half-day course at the Society of Genealogists which focuses on children. The afternoon begins with a thought-provoking talk by Michael Gandy which will focus on the problem that children born to a family might never appear with them on a census; it continues with a lecture by Liz Carter entitled 'The Victorian Child', which will look at changing attitudes towards childhood and childcare in Victorian England. The course is open to all, but SoG members get a 20% discount which brings the cost down to just £14 - see the SoG website for more information about this and other courses.


Tip: non-members who attend a course at the SoG can access the library at a reduced rate


Nick is the new president!

Nick Barratt, the well-known genealogist (and a long-term supporter of LostCousins) has been elected President of the Federation of Family History Societies. Congratulations, Nick!


How accurate was the 2011 Census?

When I was filling in my census form online I didn't get the feeling that the information would be of much use to future researchers, although I did my best by entering both my forenames in the 'first name' box. However, there was nowhere to record the town or even the county where I was born - so in this respect we've gone right back to 1841.


But leaving aside the questions that weren't asked, it wasn't always possible to answer every question fully online - for example, there's not a lot of room to enter the name of one's employer, or to describe one's job - and, as a Your Family Tree reader pointed out in the May issue, it isn't possible to give a year earlier than 1951 as the date when someone last worked (his 89 year-old mother hadn't worked since the end of World War 2).


These days many people have two or more jobs, but the only questions asked are about an individual's main job - is that the job that pays the most bills, or the one that the person identifies with most closely? As I filled in my online census questionnaire I felt distinctly uncomfortable as I reflected on how the answers might be misinterpreted in the future.


Tip: if you haven't already submitted your census form, Sunday 22nd May will be your last chance to do so. The Help websites will also close that evening, so if you want to keep a copy of the information for future reference, don't delay!


Canadian census disclosure option

Starting from 2006 Canadians completing census forms have been invited to tick a box to confirm that they want their census records to be transferred to Library & Archives Canada after 92 years. As I understand it, if they don't tick the box then their information won't ever be made public - so I hope that all our Canadian members have been ticking the box! Online returns must be submitted before the end of May.


Note: since 2001 Australians have been able to ask that their census data is transferred to the National Archives of Australia after 99 years. However, this was an improvement on the situation that existed previously - until 2001 all the returns were destroyed once the statistical information had been collated.


The mystery of the missing will

Bob, one of our longest-serving members, recently wrote to tell me how he had ordered a copy of his great-aunt's will, which he had found listed in the probate registry's own index - only to be told that it couldn't be found in their Birmingham warehouse. To make matters worse, they didn't even offer to give him his money back!


Fortunately the story has a happy ending. After Bob submitted an official complaint they had another look in their warehouse and found the will - it seems that it had been correctly filed, and that it was the date in the index that was wrong.


If you have an experience like Bob's, whether with a will or some other vital document, don't give up - a bit of persistence and you too might have a happy ending!


Low key launch for new Irish site

Findmypast Ireland is a collaboration between findmypast and Eneclann, the award-winning Irish history and heritage company. Irish research has always been difficult so a new data provider is welcome, and whilst at this early stage there doesn't seem to be much on the site that is new, I'm sure that will change over time.


Tip: there is a comprehensive article about Irish research in the latest (June 2011) issue of Your Family Tree - it's by Chris Paton, who is not only a very knowledgeable writer, but also a LostCousins member.


Tracing 'Ag Labs'

Many of my ancestors were agricultural labourers - which is not surprising when you consider how many people worked on the land in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The National Archives has recently added a podcast that will help you trace your 'ag lab' ancestors, and I can do no better than quote from their website:


"It's all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that agricultural labourers are boring and that you can't trace anything about them. In fact they can be very interesting, and there's lots of information to be found if you know where to look. This talk covers resources available in The National Archives, parish and county records, and manor, estate and farm sources."


Click here to go straight to the relevant page.


Hearth Tax returns online

British History Online has recently made available transcriptions of Hearth Tax returns covering London, Westminster, and Middlesex - and they are free!


If you're interested in returns for other parts of the country don't forget Hearth Tax Online, which I wrote about in my February newsletter.


My first experience of spam

The first spam email I can remember receiving arrived in my Compuserve mailbox nearly 20 years ago. It told the sad tale of Craig Shergold, a 9 year-old boy with a brain tumour who - according to the email - wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records by collecting more business cards than anyone else. The email ended with a request to forward the email to everyone I knew.


As with so many of these emails, there was some truth behind the story. There was a young boy named Craig Shergold, and he had indeed set a world record for collecting cards - but they were get-well cards, not business cards. Furthermore, by the time the email arrived in my inbox he was several years older and well on the way to recovery following a successful operation paid for by the American billionaire John Kluge.


Over the next 10 years I must have received dozens more copies of that email, all forwarded by people who knew me, and more recently there have been other similar hoaxes. But Craig Shergold is the only name I remember - he was the first - so when I spotted a second hand copy of his mother's book Craig Shergold - A Mother's Story at Amazon I couldn't resist buying it. I'm already on page 107 - it's easy to read, and tells a very human story.


Tip: if you ever receive an email that asks you to forward it to all your friends, don't! Instead pick a key phrase from the email and see what Google can find - it's almost certain to be a hoax.


Posting family trees on the Internet

There's always a big hoo-ha in the press when a well-known website is hacked and personal information stolen, yet many family historians willingly publish information on the Internet without thinking carefully about how it might be misused. Recently Diane wrote for my advice about uploading information to the net, and I'd like to share my reply with you:


Diane, I've written around this topic on many occasions in my newsletter -

and my advice is not to upload information to the Internet.


If I didn't believe in sharing information I wouldn't have spent the last 7

years running LostCousins - but sharing information with a cousin isn't the

same as publishing it on the Internet where literally anyone could see it.


The key factor about LostCousins is that nobody else can see the

information you enter - even after you've been linked with a cousin they

still won't be able to see your My Ancestors page. All they'll know is

which of their entries also appear on your page.


Once you have got to know your new relative by all means exchange

information with them - but my advice is that you don't give them your

entire tree, only the part that's relevant. I suggest you also ask them not

to pass it on to anytone else without checking with you first (this

obviously includes posting it online).


This way you'll control who has your research, and will be able to contact

Them with the inevitable updates and corrections.


Remember that once your information gets into the wrong hands, you can

never get it back!


Hope this helps



The personal touch

In 2009, when Ancestry was planning to become a publicly-quoted company, I was surprised to note that none of the company's directors said that they had any interest in researching their own family history. With the benefit of hindsight, it's perhaps not surprising that in the 2 years since the IPO the Ancestry site has become more and more difficult to use - which is a shame, because some of the records that have been added since are an absolute goldmine of information (the London Metropolitan Archives records, and the Liverpool parish registers spring to mind).


By contrast, if you go to the findmypast site you'll find photos of the key staff - together with brief details of the research they've each done into their own family history. I'm sure that like the rest of us they don't get always get everything right first time, but knowing that they've researched their own family trees tells me that it's something they care about (indeed, several of them are LostCousins members, which shows how serious they are).


Note: don't worry - I'm not going to post a photo of myself on the LostCousins site!


Peter's Tips

When I was young it was common to buy things on hire-purchase, a form of borrowing where the goods belonged to the finance company until the debt was paid. We used to call it "the never-never" because it seemed to take forever to pay off the debt.


Nowadays credit cards and bank loans have largely displaced hire purchase, but it can still take a very long time to pay off debts. Recently my credit card company changed their minimum payments - which didn't affect me, because I always pay the balance in full - but I couldn't help noticing the graph that showed how long it would take to repay a loan of £2500 if the minimum payment was made each month. Under the new system it would take "only" about 11 years - under the old system it would have taken nearly 30! I'd hate to think how much interest would be paid over that time…


As a child I never liked it when my mother bought own brands instead of tried-and-tested favourites such as Heinz Tomato Ketchup, or Dairylea cheese spread - but times have changed. Last year I decided to try Tesco's own brand of tomato sauce, and I found it every bit as good as Heinz - so I was interested to read an article in the latest Which? magazine which gave the results of taste tests of 13 brands. The top three sauces were all own brands (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Marks & Spencer) - whilst Heinz came 12th in the list, only kept out of bottom place by Daddies. Considering that own brands are about half the price of the branded ketchups, I wonder why anyone buys Heinz?


Prices in the supermarkets have gone up so much in the past couple of years that there are some things I simply won't buy any more unless they are on special offer, and even then it usually has to be Buy-One-Get-One-Free to tempt me. I've been buying more and more of the vegetables that my mother used to cook when I was young - such as spring greens and cabbage - and forgoing the mange touts and sugarsnap peas that I used to buy when prices were lower and incomes were higher. Cabbage might sound boring, but when it's stir-fried rather than boiled it is absolutely delicious.


Fruit is more expensive too, but I refuse to switch to cheap juice for breakfast. Then I remembered something else from my childhood - the half-time oranges when I played football. Now, instead of squeezing oranges to make juice, a time-consuming and messy process that seems to waste half of the fruit, I slice them into quarters or eighths. It's not only quicker and cheaper - it's also healthier!


My favourite meal as a child was liver and bacon, and it's something that I still eat as often as I can - and why not, when for about a pound I can buy enough liver for two generous or four normal helpings? Mind you, it wouldn't be the same without Marmite in the gravy - another tip I picked up from Mum. Do you have a favourite meal that's not only quick and easy to prepare, but also cheap to buy and healthy to eat? If I like the sound of your suggestion I'll try it out myself and I'll also include my favourites in a future newsletter!


I must confess that though I have managed to save on the cost of essentials I still can't resist the occasional luxury. This year it was a Nintendo 3DS handheld, which is an absolutely fantastic piece of kit - the 3D effect is brilliant and you don't have to wear special glasses. Before you ask what someone who has just collected his bus pass is doing buying a games machine, I'd like to point out that it is so much more - for example, ever since I bought it I've been going round taking 3D snaps with the built-in cameras and showing them off to anyone who will look (even my mother-in-law was impressed by the 3D effect). It's also an MP3 player, and there's a download coming soon that will add an Internet browser. I got it at a good price - I paid £184 last month in Dixons Duty Free at Stansted Airport, but you can do even better - I've just noticed that Amazon are selling the smart black edition (the one I've got) for just £165 with free shipping.


Talking of Amazon, my most recent purchase from them was Family Tree Maker 2011 Platinum Edition, not because I'm ever going to use the program (I'm very happy with Genopro, as I explained last month), but because it's by far the cheapest way to get an Ancestry Premium subscription. For just £29.99 I will get 6 months membership when my existing subscription runs out, which is an enormous saving compared with the annual subscription rate of £107.40! When I first wrote about this amazing deal a few months ago the price quickly shot up to £34.99, so my advice is not to delay - you don't need to wait for your existing Ancestry subscription to expire (mine doesn't run out until October).


Yesterday I was linked with yet another 'lost cousin', someone who shares my ancestors from the Coggeshall area of Essex. Because we are 5th cousins I expect there are few people out there who would question how useful such a distant connection might be, but they'd be wrong - we're both researching the same ancestors, which is all that matters! And to be frank we could both do with all the help we can get on that line, because it currently terminates in 1756 with a baptism that doesn't name either the father or the mother of the child - how frustrating!


I made this connection because I had traced the marriage of great-great-great grandfather's eldest brother's daughter, found her on the 1881 Census, and entered her on my My Ancestors page. If you haven't been as successful as I have, it may be because you haven't been as diligent - I've entered about 700 relatives from the 1881 Census, 1 for every 6 relatives on my family tree.


Have you tried

Coincidentally, earlier this week I discovered an unexpected source for Coggeshall records - the website of the Coggeshall Museum. There they have transcriptions of burial records from 1856-1979, a grave register, and non-conformist (Baptist and Methodist) baptism records.


When we look for online records held locally we tend to focus on the local records office and the local family history society - but this discovery is a reminder to cast the net wider. Apart from museums and local history societies, there are often useful sites run by individuals, either independently or as part of the Online Parish Clerks project.


I wonder where you'll make an unexpected discovery?


Stop Press

This is where any amendments or updates will be 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