Newsletter - 13 March 2013
The LostCousins newsletter is usually
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If this title seems familiar, it's because I used it in November 2007, when I wrote in this very newsletter:
Once there were companies offering to sell us books or coats of arms for our family name - now we're being offered DNA tests (even Ancestry.com is doing it). But are they of any value to serious genealogists?
A recent article in the US journal Science questions the value of what it describes as "recreational genetics" or "vanity tests", and there's a follow-up article at the (unrelated) LiveScience website.
If you imagine your family tree, it's in the shape of an inverted Christmas tree, with you at the bottom, and rows of direct ancestors that get ever wider as you go back through the generations.
The left-hand edge of the tree is your paternal line; at the far right is your maternal line. Most genealogical DNA tests analyse the Y-chromosome, which passes down the paternal line, or mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the maternal line.
Go back 10 generations and (ignoring cousin marriages) you've got 1024 direct ancestors. Even if you spend hundreds of pounds (or dollars) and take both tests, they are only telling you about 2 of those ancestors, who have provided less than 1% of your DNA!
So is there a place for DNA testing in genealogy? I believe that there is, provided you're using the information to test a specific hypothesis.
Of course, in those far off days the LostCousins newsletter didn't have such a large readership, so my comments weren't picked up by the wider media. But earlier this month, the report Sense About Genetic Ancestry Testing from the charitable trust Sense About Science was headline news in national newspapers including the Daily Mail¸ and the Daily Telegraph - it even merited an article on the BBC News website.
The BBC article led with the statement "Scientists have described some services provided by companies tracing ancestry using DNA as akin to astrology". I couldn't have put it better myself!
But remember - you read it here first!
DNA tests are not a substitute for genealogical research - at best they will confirm what you think you know, or provide leads when there are gaps in certain parts of your tree. But whilst there are plenty of companies that will take money from people who have more money than sense, I wouldn't want any LostCousins member to waste their money on a test that can't possibly tell them anything meaningful.
Last year I ran a series of articles in my newsletter about DNA, and how it can and can't be used (you can find them easily by going to the web page which lists the articles from all last year's newsletters - see the link at the beginning of this issue).
Of course, if you've never seriously considered DNA testing before then reading the articles once probably won't be enough. Indeed, it might not be until you apply what you've learned to an example in your own family tree that you'll truly understand how it all works. But whilst I've had many emails since those articles were published asking me questions about DNA tests, I don't recall a single one where the answer wasn't in those articles (so do please re-read those articles before getting in touch!).
However, you needn't rely on my interpretation - the report mentioned in the previous article also provides an excellent explanation, though sadly it isn't illustrated with diagrams, so you may find it a little more difficult to follow. And there are plenty of other guides on the Internet if you really want to know more, but they'll probably take you into detail that - quite frankly - you don't need to know about.
The best thing you can do is apply the simple principles in my articles to your own tree. Why not colour it in the same way as the diagrams in my articles, so that you can trace in your own tree the path that the Y-DNA or mtDNA of your ancestor takes? Some people will try to blind you with science, but believe me there's nothing you can't figure out yourself with a printout of your family tree and a couple of coloured pencils.
When should you use DNA tests? Only when you understand (and I mean, really understand) what they can and can't do for you. Only then will you know which test to use and - even more importantly - who needs to provide the sample (because most of the time it won't be you!).
Tip: Family Tree DNA, the only testing firm I can recommend based on my personal experience, are currently reviewing their prices, and they are likely to drop dramatically - so my advice is to hold off ordering a test until I give you the go-ahead through this newsletter. The only exception is the $39 12-marker Y-DNA test, since the special offer could end any day.
For many years it has been possible to search the current UK Electoral Register at findmypast - but only if you used credits - because this feature was not included in any of the subscription packages.
Great news! It's now possible to search the 2002-2013 Electoral Registers completely free if you've got a Full or World subscription - click here for more details.
Does this mean that LostCousins becomes redundant, and I can ride off into the sunset (or, preferably, the sunshine)? Unfortunately not - for three very good reasons: one is that it's unlikely that you know the names of more than a small percentage of your living cousins; the second is that nearly half the population have opted out, so won't be found in the published register; and the third is that if your relative's name is a common one, you could have great difficulty figuring out which of the thousands of John Smiths he is.
There's another good reason why you might choose to continue looking in the conventional way: when you find a living relative through LostCousins you know that they too are researching their family tree - which means that not only will they be pleased to hear from you, they'll have information to share. By contrast, when you pick somebody out of the Electoral Register or the phone book (free online at BT.com), there's no way of knowing what sort of reception you'll get, nor whether it will be worth the effort.
Tip: if you write to someone who you think may be a relative, always include a stamped addressed envelope - it's a basic courtesy that will considerably increase your chances of getting a response. And if your reason for contacting your cousin is to ask them to provide a DNA sample - can I suggest you keep that detail under your hat until you've got to know them a little better?
This year the WRVS, originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, will be celebrating its 75th anniversary - which means that anyone who served in those early years must be getting on a bit.
Saga Magazine is inviting people who have memories of volunteering with the WRVS to write to them with their thoughts (in no more than 200 words), for possible inclusion in the magazine. Send them to email@example.com
Coincidentally I've just found out that the WRVS archives have launched an online catalogue. There are many photographs, although sadly the ones I found were all obscured by rather too prominent copyright notices.
Many of my relatives on my mother's side of the family were boilermakers, a job that was essential to the war effort - they helped to build the craft for D-Day.
Sadly they're not around to ask - but if you have a living relative who was in a reserved occupation during World War 2 the University of Strathclyde's Oral History Centre would be very interested in interviewing him (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details).
Talking of hats, in my last newsletter I mentioned that LostCousins member Anthony had spotted a man taking pictures at Who Do You Think You Are? Live who he thought might possibly have been me.
From the description he gave me I could tell that it wasn't me, but I was curious to know who the distinctively-dressed individual was. I received a number of suggestions, but eventually the suspect was forced to own up - and it was Grant Millar.
He works for the British Newspaper Archive, which is publishing an enormous collection of newspapers from the British Library collection (if you haven't already registered you can get 15 free credits by registering here). Grant even sent me photo of himself in costume, taken on the British Newspaper Archive stand.
I suppose I should be flattered - as you can see from the photo, Grant looks less than half my age, even dressed as a 19th century newspaper seller! But to think that I'd wear a scarf that made me look like Rupert Bear? Now, Anthony, that IS a bit worrying!
Mind you, there was some good that came out of this embarrassing episode - I managed to persuade Mr Millar to let me use a clipping from the archive in this next article....
Era editor was member's ancestor
Last month I mentioned that members who had entertainers in their tree would do well to search The Era, one of the many newspapers that is online at the British Newspaper Archive (and can also be viewed at findmypast if you have a Full or World subscription).
No sooner had the ink dried on my newsletter than an email came in from Jenny in Australia, who told me that her great-great grandfather Frederick Bond had been the founding editor of The Era, and held that position from September 1838, when it was first published, until his death in 1844.
As you know, I always like to check information I'm given, so I went online and looked at some of the early copies. When I got to issue 3, published on 14th October 1838, I struck gold - here was incontrovertible proof that Frederick Bond had indeed been the publisher:
Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive
I just love it when looking at images of documents reveals extra little pieces of information that might otherwise have been incredibly difficult to find!
I mentioned a while back that the National Library of Wales was planning to put an enormous collection of Welsh newspapers online - and I was delighted to discover this week that the site has gone live, although it's still in the beta-testing stage.
With over 250,000 pages and 2.5 million articles it's an amazing resource for anyone who has Welsh ancestry - but the big question is, how easy will it be to find the right person when so many people have the same common surnames?
If you'd like to try the site prior to the official launch you can find it here.
When I wrote in my last newsletter about the registers for north-eastern Kent that have been online at findmypast since last summer, but only recently indexed, I hadn't had much chance to test them. So at the weekend I sat down to see how far I could get on one of my lines where I was stuck in 1764.
I had a great afternoon: in the space of three hours I managed to go back not one, not two, not three but FOUR generations, to a couple who married in 1663. Some people wonder why I'm so keen for ALL the parish registers to be online and indexed - it's because on a good day with a following wind you can make some amazing progress.
In truth I need to spend a little more time satisfying myself that the entries I've found ARE the right ones, because it's easy to overlook a second baptism in an adjoining parish that has been wrongly transcribed - but the whole process is so much quicker than searching through microfilm, particularly once you reach the 1600s when the handwriting gets harder and harder to interpret. You'll find a list of nearly 200 parishes included in the Canterbury Collection here.
But there's more good news for those of you with ancestors from Kent - the Kent Messenger Group are putting thousands of pages from their newspaper archive online this month, and they're going to be free to search for everyone in the UK. The archive will include issues of the South Eastern Gazette (forerunner of the Kent Messenger) from 1852-1912; you can find out more here.
Findmypast have more than doubled their collection of parish register entries for Westminster so that it now comprises around 3 million baptisms, marriages, and burials from 50 London churches - you'll find full details here.
These records fill a big gap in the map of London - it has truly been a great few weeks for family historians, and the amazing thing is, there are still more important collections to come during 2013!
It's not easy to find records relating to your ancestors in the London Poor Law records at Ancestry because they haven't been indexed - but it might not be quite as difficult as I implied in my last newsletter.
Sheila wrote in with a very handy tip - one that could make all the difference. She pointed out that the Creed Registers are broadly alphabetical within a given year, so if you suspect that your relative might have been in the workhouse, and know roughly when he might have been admitted, you can quickly look through the Creed Registers.
Once you've found an entry in the Creed Registers it's then a relatively simple task to find the corresponding entry in the Admissions Register. Of course, this strategy depends on both registers being available for the relevant period - so it isn't a perfect solution.
In the last newsletter I mentioned the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website which catalogues the payments made to British owners of slaves, and suggested that it wasn't the sort of list where you'd want to find your ancestors mentioned. However, the situation wasn't as black and white as I made it appear, as Tim Clarke pointed out:
I found the UCL website ‘Legacies of British Slave Ownership’ extremely interesting and informative. At the time that compensation was paid to slave owners the website and indeed my own research into my family show that there were a large number of both men and women who claimed for only a very few slaves and who themselves were not wealthy.
At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries the argument about slavery was raging and it is quite surprising to see who was or was not supporting it. For example the Anglican Church did NOT support the abolition and in Jamaica a rector of a parish often owned slaves.
Historians have noted that where white proprietors lived on the estate their slaves were usually well looked after and often respected members of the household. It was with absentee planters whose estates were run by coloured overseers where the worst cruelty took place.
In my case my family went in three generations from medium sized planters with a large number of slaves to abolitionists who went in fear of their lives from angry planters who held them and their church responsible for a slave rebellion.
Slavery is, of course, totally abhorrent to us today but at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries it is very difficult to understand the thinking of some people who were involved in it. For example in America Thomas Jefferson who wrote the pre-amble to the Declaration of Independence which includes the words “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” also owned a large plantation with hundreds of slaves.
My 4g grandfather was a medium sized planter in Jamaica owning several hundred acres of sugar and coffee and a considerable number of slaves. He was quite well off as was his son who was a land surveyor and owned about a dozen slaves. Now his grandson my 2g grandfather who lived from 1801 to 1840 is the one who is most interesting from the perspective of slavery.
He was very poor and was a member of the local Baptist Church. In 1831 he was a ‘sworn measurer’ (someone responsible for checking local shopkeeper’s weights and measures) with 9 slaves and in 1833 he became ‘a licensed catechist’ (someone allowed to teach the bible to slaves) and by 1839 he was a schoolteacher on a sugar estate and a ‘poundkeeper’ (ie responsible for collecting stray animals). However, he still owns slaves as in 1835/6 he and his sister claimed compensation for a total of 24 slaves 9 of which were owned by his sister. Presumably as he had campaigned against slavery his own slaves were valued members of the household but if so it is difficult to understand why he had not freed them? This situation seems to have been quite common from Thomas Jefferson down to my ancestor!
They could, of course have stayed on working for him if they wished, perhaps he simply held on to get the compensation although initially he would not have known that this would happen. Following emancipation freed slaves were known as apprentices but apprentices in what? Being free? An older man who had say been a carpenter all his life would not take kindly to being called an apprentice!
In a census of the “White and Brown inhabitants and other Persons of Free Condition of the Parish of Hanover distinguishing their Sexes, Colour, Ages and places of Residence. 1823” he is living with his wife, his mother and his brother and sister on a small estate which is owned by a white man who has 4 children of mixed race.
Now the Baptists were the leaders in the movement against slavery and living as he did in Hanover Parish in Jamaica he was caught up in the slave uprising of 1831/2 in that Parish. This uprising was also known as ‘The Baptist War’ and the planters were incensed by the help given to the slaves by the Baptists and afterwards went around the area burning down Baptist Chapels including the one where my 2g grandfather was later to become the clerk. He lost his baby son killed in the uprising in which only a few white people were killed. The local courts later meted out horrendous punishment to hundreds of slaves and also tried to bring Baptists to trial for their part in the revolt. His son, my great grandfather went sea at 15 years old later becoming a master mariner and lived in Liverpool.
The following paragraph from a booklet I have written about my family perhaps gives some idea of the state of affairs in Jamaica just before emancipation:-
This must have been a truly terrible period for everybody in the island. The Anglican church continued to actively support slavery and the Rev. George Wilson Bridges, rector of St Ann Parish emerged as a chief propagandist for the Jamaican planters. The whites were furious with the government in Britain and feared that abolition would eventually come, ruining their livelihood.. They were extremely suspicious of the missionaries whilst at the same time accepting that at times their help was valuable. The missionaries were in a quandary and were receiving mixed instructions from England, some still accepting slavery whilst others were vehemently opposing it, in some cases being imprisoned for trying to protect members of their church who were slaves. The slaves were becoming increasingly political and literate and knew very well that the abolitionists in England were gaining strength and the free coloured and black population who had no rights were finding that their labour was increasingly needed to make up for the reduction in slave numbers and they too were becoming increasingly political and aware of their lack of rights.
Thanks, Tim - that really helps to put things into perspective. Tim wasn't the only one to point out that I'd over-simplified the situation, and I'm similarly grateful to Isla and the other members who contacted me.
Valerie reported a very strange problem at Ancestry - when she searched in the 1901 England Census for the surname Higginson, birth place Ireland, she got 8 results if she typed in the word Ireland, but 29 results if she 'accepted' Ireland when it was suggested by the website (even though there was no visual difference between the two entries).
This is confusing enough, but having verified what Valerie had told me, I decided to see what happened if I used Ancestry's Old Search - which to my mind is infinitely better. This produced 36 results!
Of course, newer Ancestry users probably wouldn't even be aware that there is an Old Search, let alone conceive of the possibility that the Old Search might be better than the New Search - so it's hardly surprising that so many public trees at the Ancestry site are riddled with errors.
Tip: to change back to the Old Search click here, then look for the words 'Go to Old Search' in the top right hand corner of the screen (you might need to scroll right to see the link). Click the link, then go back to the home page before continuing.
In my last newsletter I warned that the number of email accounts being hijacked was on the increase, and I'm sorry to say that matters are getting worse. Over the past week I've spent an hour or more each day (including Saturday and Sunday) corresponding with members whose accounts have been hijacked, resulting in emails being sent to everyone in their address book.
I've no idea what the scams are - I don't click on the links in the emails. But whereas most people would simply delete the emails or put them in the spam folder I take the time to write to each member explaining what has happened and offering advice. I don't like being the bearer of bad tidings, but I know that if my friends and relatives were getting fake emails from my email address I'd want to know about it! Of course, some of the people I've contacted already did know - but a surprisingly large number didn't.
Even if your friends and relatives don't fall for the scams - and some inevitably will - they might well discover something about YOU that you'd rather they didn't know. How are they going to learn that from a spam email? Because each one goes out to several addresses, all of which are visible to recipients.
You might not mind everyone knowing which political party you support, your sexual orientation, or the fact that you've been in contact with a pregnancy advisory service - but some people might. And what if an old boyfriend or girlfriend was still listed in your address book, and your present partner was copied in on the same email?
In recent days almost all of the spam emails I've received have been from members with Yahoo addresses (or BT, or Rogers, but in both cases their mail is managed by Yahoo). If your email address account is run by Yahoo and you don't want to close it altogether then I suggest you choose a really tough password - one that includes not only upper and lower case letters, but also numbers and symbols.
Tip: although it might seem easier to use the same password for all your accounts, remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The password you choose for your LostCousins account certainly shouldn't be one that you use to protect important information at other sites, because anyone who gets access to your email can request a password reminder.
Although Yahoo is the main target, Hotmail and AOL addresses also seem to be vulnerable. The best protection is to change your password frequently - or else not to use webmail. If you do have to be able to pickup your email online, Gmail is free and seems very reliable.
A final thought - could these problems for Yahoo users be in any way be connected to the recent ban on home-working for Yahoo employees? It was certainly a most surprising decision for a technology company to take.
Note: whilst the spam emails I get are all from family historians, there is no evidence that the hackers are specifically targeting researchers.
If - like me and thousands of other LostCousins members - you're hooked on Steve Robinson's genealogical mysteries but prefer a traditional paperback, you'll be delighted to hear that his third book The Last Queen of England is now available from Amazon. Of the 84 reviews at Amazon, 66 have awarded 5 stars, and most of the rest give it 4 stars - so whilst I haven't yet read it myself (I'm saving for a long trip!). Of course, as with Steve's other books, the Kindle version is a lot cheaper.
Given the horse meat scandal, still ongoing, I thought it bit weird when the news came through that Tesco have bought a restaurant chain called Giraffe. Still, they don’t tell me how to run LostCousins, so I really shouldn't tell them how to run their business.
I'm delighted to report that, as of this week, a significant number of the volunteers who are helping and advising on the forthcoming LostCousins forum are people who've never used a forum before - and so far their reaction has been very positive. I want all LostCousins members to feel at home on the forum - and as one of the new volunteers said to me today, they already feel as if they're among friends.
I'm not setting an opening date for the forum, because what matters to me is getting it right. Right now I'd especially like to hear from members who've never used a forum before (or tried one once and didn't like it). What do I need to do to make you feel at home?
This where any late updates will be posted, so it's worth checking back after a few days.
I hope you've found this newsletter interesting and that you'll make full use of your membership of my site to link with the cousins you don't yet know (your 'lost cousins'). After all, that's what LostCousins is all about!
© Copyright 2013 Peter Calver
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