Newsletter - 16th October 2014
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Did you watch the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? Have you ever imagined that you were the star? Well, now you can be - at the new Who Do You Think You Are? Story website!
This recently launched site allows you to create your own personalised Who Do You Think You Are? story quickly and easily so that you can share †it with your friends and family - and best of all, it's free. It's really simple - just enter some of the details you know about your immediate family, and Who Do You Think You Are? Story will create a unique visual experience. Not only will it feature key events in your own family's history, it will also pull in important contemporary issues which would have had an impact on their lives.
I'm told that over 18,000 people have already started their stories - so if you want to join them and create your own Who Do You Think You Are? Story just follow this link: www.whodoyouthinkyouarestory.com
Tip: this could be a great way to interest younger generations in family history.
Although next year's Genealogy in the Sunshine is still 5 months away, most of the places have already been taken - which is hardly surprising when you consider that you get a chance to hone your genealogical skills and acquire a suntan at the same time!
You'll find more details about the course here. Although the full speaker line-up hasn't yet been confirmed, I promise you won't be disappointed - and whilst there will more attendees than at the inaugural event earlier this year there will also be more speakers, so there will be even more opportunities for informal networking with acknowledged experts.
Note: if you're discouraged by the thought of coming on your own, you might like to know that a quarter of the people on the course will be in the same position - one lady is coming all the way from Australia on her own - and another quarter are bringing along a friend or relative who won't be on the course. Fancy sharing? †I'm offering to match up single travellers who would prefer to share a 2-bedroom apartment with someone else in the same position.
There are over a million entries in the Liverpool Crew List collection which has recently been added at Ancestry, and they cover the period 1861-1919. Although the ships were registered at Liverpool, you'll discover crew from all over the country (indeed, some are from other countries).
Almost half a million names are recorded in the London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850 at Findmypast. The records typically include the names and birthplaces of apprentices, the names of their masters, and details of their fathers.
I reported in the last issue that the Probate Service now has an online index of England & Wales wills from 1996 to date, and that if you find a will that's of interest you can order it online.
I decided I'd try out this new service to see how I got on. I ordered three wills on 3rd October, and was told that I'd be notified when they were available - usually no more than 10 days. Having placed the order I received a very brief email acknowledgment listing the wills I'd ordered, but telling me nothing else.
A few days later I logged in to my Probate Service account to discover that digital copies of two of the three wills had arrived on 5th October, just two days after the order was placed. No email had been received to let me know that my order had been partially filled - indeed I didn't get any more emails from the Probate Service until 13th October, when I received an email to let me know that my order had been completed.
Until they change their system it might be best to order wills one at a time - that way you should receive an email when each one becomes available. Had I not gone to the website for a completely different reason I might have waited 8 days longer than necessary for two of the three wills I ordered.
Tip: clicking on the link in their email won't take you to the wills you've ordered unless you're already logged-in at the website.
In June I pointed out that the GRO is part of the Passport Office, which was coming under fire because of the enormous backlog of passport applications, and wondered what the consequences might be. At that time the Passport Office was an executive agency with a great deal of autonomy.
This week Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told Parliament that following a review the Passport Office had been brought back under ministerial control, and that a new Director General would be appointed to take on "HM Passport Office responsibilities, including civil registration" (you can see the official statement here). Perhaps if Mrs May had been allowed by her minders to read the letter I wrote to her in February 2013 castigating the GRO she might have realised earlier that all was not well?
Her confidence in the GRO might be further dented if she could read some of the inane responses MPs have been receiving from Andrew Dent, who is Director of Civil Registration and Deputy Registrar General. Ann recently sent me a copy of a letter her MP had received in which Mr Dent reasserted the need for a change in the law if access to the birth, marriage, and death registers was to change - and commented that it would have to compete for a slot in the legislative timetable.
What he seemed to have forgotten was the Prime Minister's commitment to change the law in order to add mothers' names to marriage registers. Surely this would be the ideal opportunity to secure further changes?
We can't wait for ever for the historic BMD registers to be digitised and made available online - our research can't remain simmering on the back-burner for ever. At the beginning of the month I reluctantly ordered a death certificate and was told it would be despatched in about 6 days - in the event it arrived after 10 days which, allowing for the fact it was sent by 2nd Class Post and there was an intervening weekend, was about right.
But one LostCousins member was recently quoted 21 days. Have you encountered similar delays?
The death certificate I received confirmed that the only child of my great-great grandfather's first marriage had died as an infant, so it was doubly poignant to see that the family were living in Labour in Vain Street, in Shadwell.
Looking up this unusually-named street using Google led me to a potentially very handy book - one that's available free in electronic form - and has the longest title of any book I've ever come across:
If you've ever tried to find locations in London which appear on earlier censuses, or in parish registers, but then seem to disappear (whether because of redevelopment or name change), this e-book could prove invaluable - although you'll probably also need a map to be able to interpret the directions (see this article in the last newsletter). If you would prefer a PDF version, follow this link.
Even today London is replete with 'courts', 'alleys', and 'buildings' which whilst no doubt well-known to locals can be hard to identify on a map (indeed, it was my struggle to identify street names on an A-Z map that made me realise that I needed reading glasses).
Britain from Above adds to aerial photo collection
There are now over 86,000 high resolution aerial photos that you can view free at Britain from Above
The collection covers the period 1919-53, and it would be interesting to compare the images with the old Ordnance Survey maps that are also free online (see this article from last month).
I'm not quite sure why it's called the BBC Genome Project, but it certainly caught my eye when these listings launched earlier today.
The BBC have taken Radio Times listings from 1923-2009 and digitised them - so you can look up what was on BBC television on almost any day during that period (from 1991 ITV and Channel 4 were also included). I was really enjoying myself when the site suddenly crashed - I suspect as a result of thousands of people doing the same as I was!
This link will take you to the news article about the project - hopefully the site will be working again by the time you read this.
In the meantime, does anyone out there have a genuine Crackerjack Pencil? I notice that one sold on eBay for £25 last year.
Mitochondrial Eve is the name given to the woman who is the direct female ancestor of every human being alive today, men as well as women. Estimated to have lived in southern Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, she wasn't the first human female - despite the name - nor was she the only female alive at that time, but every other line has been extinguished (remember that whilst mtDNA is inherited by both males and females, it is only passed on by females).
A skeleton dating from around 315BC, and found in South Africa in 2010, has been recently identified as belonging to a previously unrecorded branch of the human family tree, one that is closer to mitochondrial Eve than any other.
Mitochondrial DNA is rarely capable of proving that two people are related on a genealogical timescale, but it can often prove that they're not. When the skeleton believed to be that of Richard III was found under a Leicester car park DNA tests demonstrated that it could be Richard, but not that it was.
When we talk about people being related 'on a genealogical timescale' it means we could potentially find documentary evidence of the relationship. However mtDNA mutates relatively slowly - and this means that even if your entire mitochondrial genome is an exact match with that of another individual there's only a 95% chance that the shared matrilineal ancestor is within the last 22 generations (600-700 years).
In practice most people who have tested their mtDNA haven't tested the entire genome, and this makes mtDNA results even less useful. If you have an exact match on HVR1 there's only a 50% chance that the common matrilineal ancestor is within the last 52 generations, or about 1500 years! It's not surprising that Family Tree DNA have stopped offering basic mtDNA tests, and now only offer mtDNA Plus tests at $69, or full sequence tests for $199.
Tip: some DNA testing companies don't make it clear what you're buying - never order a DNA test unless you know precisely what is being tested; don't believe the blarney. For example, there's a British company charging £199 to test a mere 400 bases, whereas Family Tree DNA charge just $199 (about one-third less) to test all 16,569 bases!
I guess it had to happen - after the discovery of Richard III's bones in Leicester an amateur historian has come up with a theory that King Harold wasn't killed by an arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings, but succeeded in fleeing to Winchester, where he was able to recover from his injuries.
Josie shared this family story with me, and I thought you might also like to read it:
A few weeks ago I read an article on the BBC website about Belgian refugees in England during WWI, including the workers of Elisabethville in Birtley, Co. Durham. In the LostCousins newsletter of 16th September it was referred to as The Forgotten Belgians.
My mother and her family lived in Elisabethville, known locally as The Huts, in the 1930s. It was then used as council housing near the munitions factory, the Royal Ordinance Factory where my grandfather worked.
However, our connection to Elisabethville started long before that. During WW1 it was decided to build a munitions factory which was to be run and operated entirely by Belgian workers.† It was thought that mixing with the local population and adapting to their customs would be too difficult for the Belgians, about 6,000 in all, so a village was built to accommodate them and they called it Elisabethville.† It was entirely Belgian; Belgian street names, police, fire brigade, school, etc.† They even had their own church and cemetery. The idea was to keep them completely isolated from the rest of Birtley, perhaps also to avoid conflicts as a lot of the local people believed that the Belgians were getting special treatment and had better conditions in those hard times. Needless to say, the theory of isolation wasnít perfect.
When WWI ended Elisabethville was emptied - most of the Belgians went home. But on 2nd February 1918, my great, great aunt, Ethel Thoburn, had married a Belgian from Elisabethville, Arthur Victorien Lelubre.† According to the marriage certificate he was 24, a bachelor, profession a turner and son of Amour Lelubre. They married in the parish church of Lamesley (Ethel was from nearby Team Colliery). I donít know how or where they met but what I do know is that when Arthur left for Belgium Ethel went with him. And thatís where the mystery of "Auntie Ethel who married a Belgian" began......
Iím sure she wouldnít have been the only 'Belgian' bride going to Belgium after the war, but I only hope the others were luckier - for according to family gossip, when they arrived in Belgium Arthur had a wife and children waiting for him at the docks!
I havenít been able to find out what exactly happened or what she did - or even which part of Belgium she went to. Was it true? Was Arthur Lelubre really a bigamist? The majority of the Belgians in Elisabethville were Catholics, but Ethel married Arthur in an Anglican church, so the marriage wouldnít be valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
Or did something else happen? Did Ethel stay in Belgium? Did she have the money to go back home? Her mother had died when she was four and her father had married a widow with children and had had more children with her. Going back to a small mining village in those conditions would have been very hard.
Her life from when she was married at the age of 22 until she was 44 is a complete mystery to me, but in 1939 she emigrated to America on the őle de France as the childrenís nanny for a wealthy Jewish family (according to the passenger list their home address was in London). The father was Polish but the mother was Belgian (although they were married in London), I canít help but wonder if she met Ethel in Belgium.
My aunt never had children. She never changed her married name, she always appeared on passenger lists and US Census returns as 'married' and had Belgian nationality until she obtained American nationality in the late 1950s.† She made some visits home and she always kept in contact with her sisters, who would probably have known what had happened.†† I can remember seeing her when I was little.† She caused quite a stir in those days, bright red lipstick and "Gee honey" included. She lived in Manhattan with the same family until her death in 1987.
So "Auntie Ethel who married a Belgian" became "Auntie Ethel who went to America". I suppose weíll never find out exactly what happened, but 'Forgotten Belgians'? Not in our family.
My 'lost cousin' Steve discovered a useful site which has thousands of obituaries for Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians from 1518 to the present day - you'll find it here.
John Burke, who is best known for Burke's Peerage, also produced between 1834-38 a 4-volume work entitled A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland Enjoying Territorial Possessions or High Official Rank; but Uninvested with Heritable Honours.
All 4 volumes are available free through Google Books:
I'm unlikely to find any of my relatives in there, but I did find a family whose name appears on some early 19th century documents in my possession. I wonder who you'll find?
I'm currently reading Cohabitation and Non-Marital Births in England and Wales, 1600-2012, a collection of essays by leading academics which has been edited by Rebecca Probert, Professor of Law at Warwick University (and author of Marriage Law for Genealogists, which I've recommended on a number of occasions). We all have illegitimate children in our trees, but how much evidence is there of unmarried couples living together?
I suspect some will find the book too academic (or too expensive - the RRP is £55) but if, like me, you want to put your own discoveries into historical and social context I doubt there's ever been a better book on this topic. I'm finding Chapter 7 particularly interesting, because it deals with fostering and adoption between 1860-1930, but I've learnt something from every chapter so far.†
Note: did you see the BBC article about a Frenchman who has gained permission from a court to marry his stepmother? This is against French law, but I wonder if you know whether it would be legal in England (and if so, when did it become legal)?
On 29th May 1914, just a month before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which precipitated the Great War, the Royal Mail Ship Empress of Ireland sank in Canada's St Lawrence River, less than half a day after leaving Quebec City. 840 passengers lost their lives, more than in the Titanic disaster two years earlier, and more than when a German U-boat sunk the Lusitania a year later - and yet until a month ago I'd never heard of the Empress of Ireland.
This forgotten disaster provides the backdrop to Steve Robinson's 4th novel to feature professional genealogist Jefferson Tayte. The Lost Empress is to be published in a few days' time, and you can place an advance order now at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca
But now I have to make a confession - I was privileged to receive an advance copy for review, so I'm already halfway through..... and as usual, I can't wait to find out how it ends. So if this newsletter seems to be a little shorter than usual - don't blame me, blame Jefferson Tayte!
Ian wrote to tell me that between now and the end of 2018 the Daily Telegraph will be publishing newspapers from 100 years ago in PDF format. I understand that if you're not a subscriber you can only look at 20 articles per month (presumably 20 issues per month in this case), but you may be able to extend the limit by using a second browser.
When the young 2nd Lieutenant Hubert Rochereau died in April 1918 his parents decided to preserve his bedroom - and when they moved in 1935 they included a clause in the contract that would prevent it being altered for 500 years. It has remained unchanged now for almost a century, as you can see from the photographs in the Guardian article.
The more data there is online, the more likely it is that errors will creep in - even in records that have been available for many years. For example, in the 1881 Census transcription at Ancestry there are about a million people described as 'windower', when they should be 'widow' or 'widower'.
Similarly, in the 1841 Census transcription at Findmypast there are about 2.5 million people said to be born in Warwickshire who in fact could have been born anywhere in England or Wales (in the census they're merely shown as not born in the county).
These aren't, of course, transcription errors - they're mistakes introduced at a later stage in the process. Perhaps all it took was for someone to press the wrong key on their keyboard?
Nobody likes getting old - but as the saying goes, "it's better than the alternative"; now it seems that exercising can help to extend our lives.
Recent research at Columbia University in New York suggests that maintaining muscle mass as we get older might enable us to live longer. Apart from the obvious practical reasons - people with weaker bodies are more likely to fall - it appears that muscle also acts as the body's store for amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. This means that the less muscle you have, the fewer reserves there are for your body to call upon in times of crisis.
Exercise also has a useful side effect - it helps us to lose weight. Cutting down our food intake is another option - but an article published on the BBC website today suggests that there's a third way. Apparently reheated pasta is significantly harder for the body to digest than freshly cooked pasta (so maybe those chilled meals in the supermarket are healthier than they appear?).
But wouldn't it be even easier if they could invent an anti-ageing pill? Goodness me, it seems they already have! According to an article in New Scientist a couple of weeks ago several medicines that are already being prescribed for other treatments have the side-effect of extending lifespan!
Mind you, living longer isn't without its problems - what if your savings run out?
My comments about deferring the State Pension in the last newsletter were deliberately brief, because everyone's circumstances are different (and in any case I'm neither qualified nor authorised to offer financial advice). I just wanted readers who have recently reached retirement age, or will reach it before April 2016, to be aware that it might just be the safest way to beat inflation and provide a secure income for your later years.
People are living longer. One of my grandmothers died before I was born and both my grandfathers died when I was 4 years old, but in 1950 - when I was born - the life expectancy of a 65 year-old male was only 12 years. Now statisticians are projecting that a man who was 65 in 2012 may be able to look forward to 21 years of retirement on average (note: this is a forward-looking projection that assumes a continued increase in life expectancy - based on historic figures it's closer to 18 years).
It's particularly important to look closely at the numbers because the government have just unveiled a new route to an enhanced pension - but in my opinion it isn't a very good deal. Indeed after looking at some numbers you might think it's a very bad deal!
The State Pension top up allows certain people to buy an increase in your pension of between £1 and £25 a week -and in my case I'd have to spend £22,250 to get a £25 a week inflation-linked increase. A simple calculation will show that it's not a very promising investment - I'd have to collect £25 for 890 weeks just to recover my initial outlay, and that's not taking into account tax. Assuming a marginal tax rate of 20% my top up would be worth only £20 a week, so it would be 1113 weeks (or more than 21 years) before I broke even in real terms.
By contrast, if I were to defer my State Pension for 2 years from the age of 65, which would earn me a 20.8% increase (about £28 a week in my case), I'd only have to live for 12 years to break even. I'd be sacrificing about £14,000 of taxable pension in those first 2 years, but after tax I'd be out of pocket by just £11,200 - which is almost exactly half the cost of the new top-up alternative.
Why is the deferral option a much better deal? Because "the State Pension top up has been set at an actuarially fair rate that ensures that both individual contributors and the taxpayer get a fair deal" (see this government announcement). If actuarial fairness was ever a consideration with the existing deferral scheme, then it must have been calculated long ago based on very different life expectancies - so perhaps it's no wonder that a new and far less attractive scheme will be replacing it in April 2016.
Glancing at the business news recently I noticed that the number of top Tesco executives suspended after the revelations that the profit projections were excessively over-optimistic has now risen to 8, whilst billionaire Warren Buffett has sold a large part of his Tesco holding. How the mighty have fallen! On the positive side, it's not just Tesco's share price that has come tumbling down - a can of own-brand sardines is now only 38p, compared to 50p. I was brought up on pilchards, so for me sardines in tomato sauce on toast make a delicious (and healthy) lunch.
Another bargain at the moment is Bendick's Bittermints, at £6 for 2 packs (normally £5 per pack). I was introduced to these glorious mints in the late 1960s by a family friend, and they've been a regular treat ever since. Sadly they're no longer made in the UK, nor do they still sell a "yard of mints", though I kept one of the boxes, which I sometimes refill in order to recreate the experience. Incidentally, the same mentor also introduced me to the most glorious wine I've ever tasted, Chateau Lynch Bages 1961, which if you can get it now costs about £500 a bottle (but he only paid £1 a bottle at auction - those were the days!).
Talking of the 1960s, this week I met someone I was at school with in the 60s, although I'm not sure that our paths ever crossed (he's 3 years younger than me). Griff Rhys Jones was one of the speakers at The Oldie Literary Lunch at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, talking about his book Insufficiently Welsh (which you can buy online for a lot less than I paid - on the other hand, my copy has the author's signature).
When I was chatting to Griff before lunch he was sitting alongside one of the other speakers - Charles Spencer. Probably best-known as Princess Diana's brother, his latest book Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I has had some excellent reviews (I've just ordered a copy from Amazon - unfortunately they sold out at the lunch before I could get my hands on a signed copy). I'm particularly interested to see what the uncle of our future King has to say about Cornelius Holland..... and perhaps one day I'll tell you why that is
Getting back to savings and investments, the peer-to-peer lending site Ratesetter has temporarily upped the bonus for new investors who are referred by an existing investor to £50. Although Ratesetter hasn't been going as long as Zopa, the rates for savers are a bit higher (5.9% for a 4 to 5 year term when I checked today) - and the provision fund offers a wider margin to cover any losses (it was the first site to introduce the concept). If you want a £50 bonus you've got until 31st October to register and lend at least £1000 - click here to get started.
If, like me, you prefer to split your savings between two peer-to-peer platforms you can get a second bonus by also signing up for Zopa using this link. Once you've signed up you've got 30 days to make a deposit - if you deposit over £2000 you'll get a £50 bonus when it has been lent, or you can get £25 for £1000 or more (but not both).
Peer-to-peer lending may not be as secure an investment as deferring your State Pension, but it's arguably a lot less risky than buying shares or property (the stock market dropped by 3% today, then went back up again!). These attractive rates and bonuses aren't going to continue for ever - right now Zopa and Ratesetter seem to be going for market share at the expense of profit, but since they're both making losses there will inevitably come a point at which they change their strategy (which is why I've lent most of my money at a fixed rate for 4 to 5 years). As with the pension decisions, everyone's finances are different - all I'm doing is highlighting opportunities that some of you may have missed.
According to the Mocavo blog searching is FREE this weekend. Click here to search 420,000 datasets FREE until Wednesday. Note: when I checked on Saturday morning I found I could only look at a few records before I was asked to subscribe, but maybe you'll be luckier.
Thanks for taking the time to read the newsletter - I hope you find it useful. And if so, why not encourage the family historians you're in touch with to join LostCousins?
© Copyright 2014 Peter Calver
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