Newsletter - 9 September 2011



EXTRA savings at findmypast EXCLUSIVE

Are e-petitions the answer?

Where did they marry (continued)?

Cemetery scandal - shocking photos

Deceased Online offers double credits EXCLUSIVE

Court records to be digitised

Merchant Navy records online now!

More crew lists online

Find your railway ancestors

Free searches at Ancestry

Take control of your searches

Check before you visit!

The ups and downs of DNA

Why do we get happier as we get older?

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 27 August 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 thanks to the sterling efforts of members Elizabeth and, especially, Gill.


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



EXTRA savings at findmypast!

Whilst I was delighted to hear that findmypast had cut their subscription rates by around 15% (as reported in my last newsletter) I was worried that this might mean there would be no more exclusive discounts for LostCousins members.


But I'm glad to say that I have been able to negotiate an EXCLUSIVE 10% discount for LostCousins members on all new findmypast subscriptions taken out between 0.01am (London Time) on Saturday 10th September and 11.59pm on Monday 26th September!


This exclusive discount brings the price of a 12 month Full subscription down to just £98.96 - the first time it has ever been below £100. At the other end of the spectrum a 6 month Foundation subscription is just £44.96 after deducting the discount (though I'd seriously recommend spending the extra to get access to all the records that the Full subscription offers).


To take advantage of this opportunity click here to go the findmypast site, then register or log-in (if you have registered at findmypast before). Next go to the Subscribe page, enter the code LOSTCOUSINS09 in the promotional codes box on the left, click Apply to display the discounted prices, and choose the subscription you prefer.


But there's more good news - when you take up findmypast's offer I'll give you a free LostCousins subscription (worth up to £12.50) that runs alongside your findmypast subscription! To qualify for the bonus you must click the link n the previous paragraph immediately before subscribing to findmypast (otherwise we won't receive the commission that pays for your LostCousins subscription); when claiming your free subscription please forward to me a copy of the email receipt you received from findmypast so that I can verify your entitlement.


Your free LostCousins subscription will run for the same period as your findmypast subscription unless you are already a LostCousins subscriber, in which case the expiry date will be extended by 6 or 12 months (as appropriate).


Note: the discount code and bonus offer do not apply to renewals as existing subscribers get a 10% discount when they renew. You'll find full details of the findmypast Loyalty Scheme here - make sure you qualify!


Are e-petitions the answer?

Over the past couple of weeks I've been flooded with emails from members telling me about two online petitions related to family history.


It's very easy to create an e-petition - and this can mean that the people who sponsor them do it on the spur of the moment, rather than carrying out the sort of research that I do when I'm writing articles for this newsletter.


For example, one of the petitions proposes that the General Register Office makes available uncertified copies of birth, marriage, and death entries at a reduced price. Sounds like a great idea - until you look at the numbers. The fact is that the certificates themselves cost next to nothing for, as anyone who read my newsletters last year would have known, most of the price we pay for certificates is accounted for by labour, IT costs, and other overheads.


How do I know this? Because I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the GRO - which revealed that the cost of the paper and printing is just 16p per certificate. If you want to re-read my May 2010 article you'll find it here.


What we REALLY need is a system in England & Wales that matches the one that Scotland already has - one where the register entries are digitised and viewable online for a very modest cost. Getting sidetracked down blind alleys does nothing to further our cause, and may harm it.


The other petition proposes that the 1921 Census should be released early. Again it sounds like a great idea - until you consider how many people could be adversely affected.


People are living longer than ever before, so it's becoming increasingly likely that individual privacy will be infringed when a census is released. Bringing the release date forward by 10 years would make a massive difference, because according to the Office of National Statistics there about 40 times as many people alive in the UK who are over 90 as there are over 100.


At a time when the future of the census is in the balance it's also important to consider the impact on future censuses if people become aware that the information they provide could be published during their

lifetime. Those of us with British ancestry are very lucky that so many censuses have survived - let's not allow our unbridled enthusiasm to ruin the prospects for the family historians of the future!


Where did they marry (continued)?

A month ago I reported that the Guild of One Names Studies has set up a site called Marriage Locator, which identifies the precise church where a marriage took place. That index is currently focused mainly on east London, so I was interested to hear from LostCousins member Steve about the Barrall Marriage Index, which lists 100,000 marriages that took place in Northamptonshire or North Buckinghamshire between 1837 and 1911.


The main advantage of knowing where your relative married is that it enables you to obtain a copy of the register entry from the local records office, rather than ordering a certificate from the GRO or local register office.


The ups and downs of DNA

Researchers using DNA extracted from samples of teeth and bone taken from a London plague pit have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Black Death, which wiped out around one-third of the population of Europe in the 1300s was caused by bubonic plague (other researchers had previously suggested that a virus might have been the cause).


At the same time, there is concern that the varying DNA tests used by police forces in different countries could lead to a flood of wrongful arrests. This isn't because the tests themselves are flawed, but because the laboratories collect data from different parts of the genome, and there's only a limited overlap. In 2003 a Merseyside man was held in custody for 20 days when his DNA appeared to match that of a suspect wanted by Italian police - it was only when the DNA was retested on a consistent basis that the authorities accepted that a mistake had been made.


Cemetery scandal - shocking photos

Matthew wrote to tell me that at his local cemetery gravestones are being pull over or broken into pieces in the name of health and safety. Sadly there have been some incidents in the past when people have been killed or injured by falling gravestones, as this BBC Wales news report relates.


You may recall that when I wrote about cemeteries in the last newsletter I mentioned that "the stories I've heard about Woodgrange Park are particularly disturbing". After that article appeared LostCousins member Nicky wrote to tell me about her experience when she visited the cemetery recently:


"Graves have either been left to the mercy of the undergrowth or have been smashed. I was searching for a 1918 War Grave but although there are some that have been left, the plot reference for the one I was searching for has completely disappeared.  I intend to contact the owner of the cemetery to see if they can tell me whether the grave still exists. Incidentally, I was speaking to someone yesterday who has lost the graves of all four grandparents and her father and had never been told that the graves were going to be removed/reused."



I was shocked and saddened by the photographs that Nicky took, sections of which I've reproduced above. It just shows how important it is to locate and visit our ancestors' graves as soon as we can.


I mentioned in my last newsletter how difficult it can be to find our ancestors graves. Fortunately there's a website that is building a huge database to help us...


Deceased Online offers double credits - EXCLUSIVE

Deceased Online is the only website dedicated to statutory UK burial and cremation records, with almost 2.5 million so far and millions more on the way. It's free to search- and only when you find one of your relatives will you need to buy credits in order to see the register scans, grave details, photos of memorials and cemetery maps (not all are available in every case, but you'll know in advance what you are going to get and how much it will cost).


I've managed to persuade Deceased Online to offer LostCousins members double the number of credits for a limited period which, considering that the minimum spend is just £3, is very generous.


How this EXCLUSIVE offer works


1. Start by searching the database at Deceased Online completely free of charge (it's a good idea to look at the database coverage so that you know which branches of your family are most likely to included).


2.If you find information relating to one of your family members which you want to download, you will need to register - also free of charge. I recommend that you don't opt out of receiving emails as this is the way that Deceased Online will tell you about new records - and youíll want to know this! You can always opt out at a later stage if you wish.


3. If you decide to purchase credits there's an option on the second screen to enter a promotion code. The exclusive promotion code for Lost Cousins members is LCAUT2011.Enter this code as requested and then Ďadd to basketí.

4. On the next screen you'll see that the number of credits has been doubled; now all that remains is to Check Out.


You can buy as many credits as you want before the offer runs out at midnight on Monday 26th September. It's possible that the offer may be extended, but I can't guarantee this, and as credits are valid for 6 months you may as well stock up!


Court records to be digitised

The National Archives has announced that BrightSolid, parent company of findmypast and Genes Reunited, has been awarded the contract to digitise 3 million crime, court, and convict records. It is hoped that the first batch will be online by the end of 2012.


Merchant Navy records online now!

The Merchant Navy is the name given to the UK's commercial shipping industry - it is made up of shipping companies that own and manage a wide range of different types and sizes of ships. If you want to find out more about the Merchant Navy, and the records that have survived, a good place to start is the National Maritime Museum which has a series of research guides on its website.


Most of us have relatives who served in the Merchant Navy, so I was delighted to learn that one million record cards relating to Merchant Navy personnel who served between 1918-41 have been published online for the first time by findmypast (click here to see the press release, which includes some example records). They're not all British - they were drawn from all parts of the Empire - and they're not all men either!


Searching is free - and you get quite a lot of information in the free search results, as you can see from this extract:



To search the Merchant Navy records click here.


More crew lists online

As I was writing this newsletter I noticed that findmypast have also added to their collection of crew lists by adding thousands from the years 1881 and 1891 - over 70,000 individuals are recorded in each year. In some respects crew lists are a census substitute - seamen were often away from home on census night, and relatively few vessels were included in the census.


Findmypast's collection of crew list transcriptions covers the period 1861-1913, and whilst it's represents only a small percentage of all the crew lists, ships operating in coastal waters submitted two lists each year, so the chances of finding an entry for an ancestor who had a long career at sea are quite good.


Find your railway ancestors

Ancestry recently added two million railway employment records from the National Archives, and I discovered for the first time that Alexander Dick Calver, my 2nd cousin twice removed, worked as a cleaner for the Great Western Railway from 1904-5.


Five years later he emigrated with his parents to Canada, but returned to Europe to fight in the Great War; then, in the spring of 1918, he married his sweetheart - but sadly he was to be killed just 11 days before the Armistice.


Do you have any relatives who might have worked on the railways - why not search to see who you can find?


468x60: Iím, your Nan


Free searches at Ancestry

John wrote in with a great tip that can multiply the value of free searches at Ancestry. You may have noticed that when you search the results page provides very limited information if you don't have a subscription. For example, this is what I saw when I searched the 1871 Census:



There's a lot of information that you'd really like to know - and John discovered that much of it was revealed when he positioned the mouse pointer over the 'View Record' link, for example:



Being able to see the precise birthplace is incredibly useful, and being able to narrow down the residence to a sub-registration district is also valuable. The only sad thing is that this trick doesn't work with the Scotland censuses...


Note: these examples assume that you have selected Ancestry's 'Old Search', rather than their 'New Search'. Most experienced Ancestry users believe the 'Old Search' delivers much better results, and I totally agree. See the next article for a reminder of how you can switch between the two options.


Take control of your searches

Over the past two or three years Ancestry have introduced a new-style of search, and logic suggests that the new search must be better than the old one - otherwise why do it at all? Here are my thoughts...


For a beginner Ancestry's 'New Search' undoubtedly makes the site superficially easier to use, because it delivers lots of results. But one of the first things we learn when we research our family tree is that less is usually more - we don't want the records that are relevant to be hidden amongst thousands of irrelevant results, and sadly that's what all too often happens with the 'New Search'.


The worst thing of all is that someone who has only discovered the Ancestry site in the past couple of years won't even realise that there is an alternative - because the 'Go to Old Search' link only appears on one page out of the thousands on the site. Indeed, even experienced users who find themselves suddenly catapulted against their will into the uncharted territory of the 'New Search' struggle to figure out how they can get back - as I know from the many desperate emails I receive.


I therefore make no apology for repeating a tip that I've published at least twice before in the past two years:


Tip: to switch back to the 'Old Search' at Ancestry choose 'Search All Records' from the Search tab, then look for the 'Go to Old Search' link at the top right. This works at as well as at, so I suspect it also works at Ancestry's other international sites.


When I'm searching at Ancestry I always tick the 'Exact matches only' box. Why? Because Ancestry's algorithms for selecting the most relevant matches are - not to put too fine a point on it - rubbish. If I want to allow for discrepancies in the records I much prefer to use wildcards, because these give me much more control over the results that I get. Searching for a needle in a haystack ISN'T my idea of fun!

Tip: take control of your searches by using wildcards - you'll be much more likely to find the results you're looking for.


Another mistake that beginners often make, particularly at Ancestry and FamilySearch, is to search all records simultaneously. Of course, experienced researchers know that they get the best results by searching each dataset individually - not least because different datasets include different types of information. For example, if you specify a birthplace but the records don't have a birthplace field (as most don't), you'll either get nobody or everybody, irrespective of birthplace.


Tip: searching 'All Records' only works well if you have ancestors with VERY rare names. In other circumstances it can be a very dangerous and time-consuming strategy.


Check before you visit!

Every week I hear of changes at one or more records offices - temporary closures, relocation to new premises, changes in opening hours. Some are a result of budget cuts, but most are due to stocktaking, refurbishment or re-organisation.


Whenever I visit a records office or archive I always check the website or telephone first - it's the only way to avoid disappointment. And if you're planning to use a microfilm or microfiche reader, remember that most records offices have a booking system - so, to be on the safe side, book your seat before you leave home.


Also, remember that not all records offices belong to CARN (the County Archive Record Network), so don't assume that your CARN card will be sufficient identification - again this is something you can verify on the website.


Note: the LDS Family History Centre at South Kensington is temporarily closed (click here for full details). During building refurbishment, which is projected to last 7 or 8 months, the microfilm collection has been temporarily relocated to the National Archives at Kew.


Why do we get happier as we get older?

Last December there was a very interesting article in The Economist which reported the surprising finding that as we get older we become happier - and it's a result that seems to be repeated around the world.


Apparently our happiness reaches a nadir when we're in our 40s, or perhaps early 50s - the global average is 46 - but from then on things just keep getting better, which considering that LostCousins members have an average age of just over 60 must be good news for a lot of people reading this article!


Peter's Tips

I've just realised that it's possible to get 3 subscriptions for the price of 1, or rather 3 subscriptions for less than you could have paid for one of them a few weeks ago. Here's what I'm talking about....


Prior to August 26th the cost of a 12 month Full subscription to findmypast was £129.95, or about 35p per day. When you take advantage of the exclusive discount offer I've arranged (see the leading article) you now get the same subscription for just £98.96, or £30.99 less than you might have paid last month - and you get a free LostCousins subscription (worth up to £12.50) as well.


So what's the third subscription? Last time I checked Amazon were still offering Family Tree Maker 2011 Platinum for just £29.99 with free UK postage - and that comes with a free 6 month Premium subscription.


In other words, you could become a subscriber to three key websites - findmypast, Ancestry, and LostCousins - for £1 less than you might have paid last month to subscribe to only one of them. What a great way to kick-start your research!


Note: I know that it's only a 6 month subscription to Ancestry, but you are getting a family tree program as well!


So what can you do with the remaining £1? Whilst it isn't directly related to family history - though there's a useful article comparing different methods of archiving data in the November 2011 issue - you might be interested in a trial subscription to Computer Shopper, the only computer magazine that I subscribe to. If you click here and enter the voucher code N10042AFFCS you can get three issues for just £1 (that's not £1 each, but £1 in total!). Normally you'd pay £21.99 for 6 issues, so it's quite a bargain.


So there you are - not 3 but 4 subscriptions for the price of 1!!!!


Stop Press

This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.


I hope you've found my newsletter interesting, and that you'll keep writing in with tips of your own - many of the best tips in my newsletters come from members.




Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins