Newsletter - 31 December 2010



New Year resolutions for family historians

Ten days to find your cousins

A diary for the third millennium?

Not so Neanderthal, after all

Findmypast offer continues

Traceline - killed by the Data Protection Act

Finding old articles

Escaping Ancestry's new search

Save money on the 1911 Census

Multiple births in the 19th century

More census jobs online

Did your ancestors live near a county border?

Peter's Tips


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 25 December 2010) please click here. Each newsletter links to the one before, and you can go back to February 2009 when the newsletter first went online; in due course there will 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 donít lose your place in the newsletter - 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).


Although these newsletters are hosted at LostCousins, they are not part of the main website. Click here to go to the main website and take part in the LostCousins project to link relatives around the world.


New Year resolutions for family historians

This year why not adopt a set of New Year resolutions that you can actually keep? I've come up with a list of resolutions that will make a real difference - to your research, of course, but also to you and your relatives. As well as listing them here, I've also produced a separate page that you can print out, and which has spaces for you to add your own notes (alternatively you can simply copy and paste it into your favourite word processing program).


Check your older research - does it need updating or revising in the light of newly-published or newly-discovered data?


When I started to research my family tree in 2002 there was hardly any information available online, and I know that most LostCousins members have been researching even longer than I have. I suspect, therefore, that like me there are parts of your tree where you could add lots of extra information now that there are so many online resources.


Focus on a different line


We all tend to focus on particular ancestral lines, often our paternal line or our mother's paternal line. This is understandable - after all, they're the surnames that we're most familiar with - yet in terms of who we are, our other ancestors are just as important. In 2011 research at least one of the 'forgotten' lines - you may be surprised at what you discover.


Tip: often this bias is reflected in the entries on our My Ancestors page - we enter lots of relatives from one or two lines, but few from others. Why not give all of our cousins a fair chance to link up?


Visit your nearest LDS Family History Centre


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints not only operates the FamilySearch website, the biggest online repository of free genealogical information in the world, it also provides Family History Centres all over the world, where anyone - not just Church members - can access both online and microfilm resources. For example, members in Australia often feel disadvantaged, but with over 120 Family History Centres across the country most of the population live within easy reach of at least one. You will be amazed by how much information is available free - click here to find your nearest Family History Centre.


Visit your local archives


Even if your ancestors didn't live in the same part of the country, visiting your local archives will enable you to get a better feeling for the types of records that you generally won't find online, from militia lists to rate books, creed registers to electoral rolls. You might even decide to find out more about the area where you live - local history and family history have a lot in common.


Handle some original documents

So much of our research is inert - looking at transcriptions or onscreen images, peering at gloomy microfilm. For once ask to see some original documents when you next visit an archive - even if it's not immediately obvious how they might be relevant to your research. I find that handling old documents helps to bring history to life - and I suspect you will too!


Check your contacts list - and get in touch with any relative you didn't communicate with in 2010

Finding cousins is the easy bit - keeping in touch with them is more difficult. But they're not only useful sources of information, they're our flesh and blood, so we owe it to them - and to ourselves - to keep in touch.


Tip: it can be difficult keeping track of so many relatives, especially when you've discovered them in a multitude of different ways - and that's why I find it useful to use the My Cousins page to keep track of everyone, including the relatives I've met on other sites (you can even note when you last contacted each person). To add relatives you already know to your My Cousins page either click the 'Connect to a member you already know' link, or - if they're not already members - invite them to join using the My Referrals page.


Remember that it is better to give than to receive


At this time of year it's particularly appropriate to remember that - especially where our own relatives are concerned - we should be focusing more on giving, and less on taking. Ask not what research, photographs, and certificates your cousin can give you, but what you can give your cousin.


Think the impossible


So many of the 'brick walls' that we're faced with seem impossible to scale, so why not try an experiment - after all, you've got nothing to lose. Imagine for a moment that you have already found the answer you're seeking - feels good, doesn't it? Now ask yourself how you did it - I bet you'll come up with at least one new approach, and quite possibly several ways of cracking the problem.


Learn a new technique


When we first start our research we're forced to learn new ways of doing things, because we don't have any old ways of doing them. But as seasoned researchers we tend to stick to what we know, often shying away from learning new ways of doing things - especially if it means accepting that the old ways aren't quite good enough. For you it might mean going back over your research and noting the source of the information, even if it is a secondary source (such as someone else's tree). There's nothing worse than being unable to answer the question "Where did that information come from?"


Join a family history society


Most family history societies have transcriptions or microfiche copies of registers that are only available to members (or are available at discounted prices), and quite a few offer a research service, again only to members. You might even be able to contribute to a society, by becoming a transcriber, a volunteer, or an officer.


Become a transcriber


Many of the resources that we come to rely on are only available because of the work of volunteer transcribers. The prime example is FreeBMD, but that project is now largely complete (and to an extent superseded by the fully-searchable indexes at findmypast), so I'd suggest looking further afield - perhaps at FreeREG or FamilySearch. There are also OPC (Online Parish Clerk) projects in many counties - they too need more help. The one thing I would suggest is whatever project you choose, make sure that you're transcribing new information, and not simply repeating work that's already been done as part of another project, or by a commercial website - there is so much information that has never, ever, been transcribed!


Ten days to find your cousins

Between 1st and 10th January you can link up with other members whether you have a subscription or not! Normally you'd need to be a subscriber to initiate contact with someone new, but there are usually two or three opportunities each year when the LostCousins site is completely free.


If you've already added every possible entry to your My Ancestors page then all you need to do is wait for your cousins to get in touch - but the chances are you don't fall into that category (less than 1% of members do). Here are some of the most common misunderstandings:



Did you know that whilst it's important to enter your direct ancestors, the relatives most likely to link you to your 'lost cousins' are the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own in 1881? Most of us have between 20 and 50, yet the average member has entered less than 5. How many of these key relatives have you entered?


A diary for the third millennium?

Gordon Bell, a Microsoft researcher, has written a book describing a future in which everything we do and everything we say is recorded. For example, a camera would record what we see, a microphone would record what we hear, and a GPS device would track where we go. In short, our own memory would be replaced - or rather supplemented - by an e-memory.


Our everyday lives may seem very uninteresting to us, but just imagine if you could experience a day in the life of one of your ancestors! Maybe this is the future of family history?


Not so Neanderthal, after all

We tend to use the term Neanderthal in a pejorative way, on the assumption that Neanderthals were closer to apes than to modern humans. Yet now that the family tree of the human race is being rewritten, following the discovery that humans and Neanderthals mated as recently as 45,000 years ago, there's also a reassessment of the talents and abilities of our Neanderthal cousins - who share 99% of our genes.


Until about 30,000 years ago Neanderthals occupied much of Europe, including Britain. Plentiful evidence of tool-making has been discovered, and because they fashioned a distinctly different range of stone and bone tools from humans it seems unlikely that they could have simply copied humans. They made beads and jewellery, and around the time they died out, may have begun to produce clothing. Whilst no cave paintings created by Neanderthals have been found, there are few cave paintings more than 20,000 years old - and by this time there were no Neanderthals to paint them.


Was it just chance that led to the demise of the Neanderthals, and the survival of humans? I'm looking forward to more discoveries in 2011.


Findmypast offer continues

Findmypast are still offering a 15% discount when you click here and enter MERRYFMP in the Promotional Code box before you click the Subscribe button. Sadly this offer will be ending on 10th January, but that should still give you plenty of time to decide which subscription is right for you.


BONUS: you can get a free LostCousins subscription when you subscribe to findmypast simply by following the instructions on my Seasonal Offers page, which you'll find here


Traceline - killed by the Data Protection Act

Do you remember Traceline? Probably not, because this unique service was never publicised - and when it came to killing it off in 2008 I seemed to be the only one who cared. Let's remind ourselves what the Traceline service offered:



What this leaflet doesn't tell you is how the service worked - it utilised the National Health Service Central Register, which aims to track every inhabitant as they change doctors. It was a remarkably ingenious way to track down missing friends or relatives (even if they had changed their name), and all at a small fraction of the cost of a private detective. In April 2008 control of the register was transferred from the General Register Office to the NHS, and at this point the service was discontinued - primarily, it seems, because some busybody official had realised that the data in the NHS register was being used for a purpose other than the one for which it had been compiled, in contravention of the Data Protection Act.


Ironically the NHS Central Register had itself been based on the National Register created in 1939 and used to control the issue of identity cards - so on that basis the NHS have been contravening the Data Protection Act ever since it was passed. In recent newsletters I've talked about the way in which the Act encourages hospitals to destroy medical records, and I've no doubt that if I examined the effect on other records I'd reach the same conclusion - which is that data needs to be protected from the Data Protection Act!


Finding old articles

I often get emails from members who want to know where to find an article that they remember reading in my newsletter. And whilst all of the newsletters since February 2009 are still online, and can be viewed in reverse order starting from the most recent edition, some of the best tips are found hidden in longer articles, or in my Peter's Tips column - and so aren't easy to spot from a glance at the list of contents.


I am planning an online index, hopefully with the assistance of Gill, who has generously offered to help. But in the meantime I thought you might like to know about a little trick I use to find an article (this is a tip you may be able to adapt for other online publications, too).


All I do is type LostCousins newsletter into Google, followed by one or more relevant words, such as Neanderthal or 1911 census - and usually the first or second result is the one I'm looking for.


Escaping Ancestry's new search

An article that has done more than most to improve members' lives was in my May newsletter - it explained why Ancestry's Old search is far better than the New search, and also how you could switch between them. As Elizabeth said when I sent her the link a few days ago, "A thousand thanks - that new search was driving me bats".


Save money on the 1911 Census

Until 9th January findmypast have slashed the number of credits required to view pages from the 1911 England & Wales census. Normally I wouldn't recommend using credits, but if you can't justify the cost of a subscription (even with a 15% saving - see above) it's a great opportunity to fill in some of the gaps on your family tree.


Multiple births in the 19th century

When I were a lad I remember hearing about the Dionne quintuplets, five sisters born in Canada in 1934 who were the first quins to survive infancy (two of them are still alive, at the age of 76). They were born two months prematurely, something that is typical of multiple births - and this is one of the reasons why the chance of survival is much lower. Of course, in the mid-19th century, when modern medical science was itself still in the gestation stage, the chance of surviving birth, let alone infancy, was lower still - and boys were particularly vulnerable.


I was surprised and delighted to hear from Beverley that she has triplet boys in her tree who were born in 1852, two of whom survived at least until the 1861 Census (sadly the other died at the age of 1). Do you have any triplets in your tree from the mid-19th century or earlier? Statistically about one child in 8000 was a triplet in the days when fertility treatment was limited to dancing round the maypole.


More census jobs online

Would you like to be involved in the 2011 England & Wales Census, possibly the last of its kind? More temporary full-time and part-time vacancies are online now - the ones I looked at had a closing date of 17th January, so you'll need to be quick.


Did your ancestors live near the border?

Census districts were aligned with registration districts, which were based on Poor Law Unions. Because Poor Law Unions often spanned county boundaries, people who lived near a county boundary may have been recorded as living in the adjoining county. I was reminded of this when Ken wrote to me about the difficulty he'd had finding his relatives in the 1911 Census - the village where they lived was in Devon, but they were indexed under Cornwall.


By now you are probably wondering how the Poor Law Union boundaries were defined. According to the first report of the Poor Law Commissioners:


"The limits of unions which we have found most convenient are those of a circle, taking a market town as a centre, and comprehending those surrounding parishes whose inhabitants are accustomed to resort to the same market. This arrangement was found highly convenient for the weekly attendances of the parish officers, and some portion of the guardians. Some auxiliaries to good management were derived from the town itself."


This information was taken from one of the websites listed under Recommended Sources on Poor Law at the Devon Record Office site.


Peter's Tips

You can still buy books of 1st Class stamps from Superdrug at a 5% discount (offer ends 4th January).And if a 5% saving isn't enough to tempt you, remember that the price is going up by 12% in April!


Tip: even if you don't normally use 1st Class stamps you can still save money by using them to make up the postage on large letters and packets


Sticking with stamps, did you know that on Thursday 11th January the Royal Mail will be releasing their first ever 'Motion Stamps'? The miniature sheet of Thunderbirds stamps will have pictures that seem to animate as you tilt them, and for a mere £2.86 it's a chance to own a piece of philatelic history.


For other tips and money-saving offers please check out my Seasonal Offers page, which has probably been updated since you last looked at it.


That's all for now, so it only remains to say - all the best for 2011!




Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins