Newsletter - 27 February 2014
There IS such a thing as a free lunch ENDS TUESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is
usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 17
February) click here, for an index to articles
from 2009-10 click here, for
a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a
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Who Do You Think You Are? Live photos now online
The photos I took at the show last Saturday are online here.
Surrey Registration Service were at the show promoting their services, but more importantly they were displaying something I thought I might never see - two historic death registers from their vaults.
One was open at the page which recorded the death of Emily Davison, the suffragette who was killed when she jumped in front of King George V's horse at the Epsom Derby in June 1913; the other showed the death registration for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1898.
I spoke at length with one of the representatives of Surrey Registration Services - it seems that unlike the General Register Office they have no problem with people seeing their historic registers (ie those over 100 years old).
Also at the show were representatives from the General Register Office for Northern Ireland, which from April will be offering online access to their registers. Unfortunately I didn't have to talk to them, but fortunately blogger Claire Santry did, and she posted a very informative report on her blog: many researchers will be content with an 'enhanced transcription' which costs just 1 credit (40p), especially if they're researching collateral lines - but a digital copy of the full entry will only cost 5 credits (£2), which is much cheaper than the £15 it currently costs for a certificate.
Comment: isn't it ironic that that England & Wales, the first countries in the UK to establish a system of civil registration, will soon be the only countries in the UK which force family historians to buy expensive certificates? Perhaps it's natural justice that Mark Harper, the Home Office Minister who in December simply parroted the GRO's line in response to the questions my MP raised with him, was forced to resign earlier this month.
Some of you may have wondered what I was talking about when I used the term 'collateral lines' earlier - indeed it was only a few years ago that I came across it myself, in correspondence with a LostCousins member.
I'm not usually one for jargon, but it seems to me a very useful term because the word 'collateral' emphasises how valuable it can be to research not only our direct line, but also the branches that spring from it.
There are two key reasons for this: one is that by researching our collateral lines we're likely to uncover information that is relevant to our direct ancestors - for example, they may have been witnesses at a sibling's marriage, or been mentioned in their will. Indeed, it was only by following up on my great-great-great grandmother's presumed siblings that I was able to prove that she was indeed their sister.
The other reason is that our cousins are ALL descended from collateral lines - that's what makes them cousins! If we ignore our direct ancestors' brothers and sisters (and their progeny) who are recorded in publicly available records such as censuses, BMD indexes, and parish registers it greatly reduces the chances that we'll be able find their modern descendants - our 'lost cousins'.
From time to time I come across researchers who profess to be only interested in their direct line, and who "don't have time" for the branches, but it's a very short-sighted approach. Very often it's only by researching the branches, or by discovering a 'lost cousin' that we can break down our 'brick walls'.
For example, I have dozens of living cousins who share my great-great-great-great grandparents but who, had they never connected with me, would probably never have discovered who their great-great-great grandmother was. The evidence was there, but scattered across disparate records that spanned 35 years - and only someone looking at it from a different angle could possibly piece the information together.
On another branch of my tree it was my turn to be helped - by someone who wasn't even a cousin, although she was related to me through a marriage that took place two centuries ago. She'd researched both sides of the marriage on the off-chance that there was some other connection to be found (marriages between cousins were quite common in those days) and this enabled her to provide me with lots of information about my ancestors that would have been hard to track down unaided.
I realised only afterwards that with the show intervening the deadline I had set for the competition in my last newsletter was rather tight, so I'm going to extend the closing date until Tuesday 4th March.
Tickets for the lunch in London with Princess Michael on 11th March cost £62 each and sold out last November, within days of going on sale - so it really is worth putting pen to paper in order to get a free ticket (the only disadvantage is that if you win, you'll have to sit opposite me!).
Remember, all you need to do is tell me, in no more than 250 words, why finding 'lost cousins' is important to you, and how the LostCousins system is better. For example, is it the accuracy and the privacy? Or the fact I'll chase down your cousins if they don't reply, even if their email address has changed?
For more details of the speakers at the lunch see the article in the last newsletter. And to whet your appetite, just take a look at this menu:
Duck liver parfait with grape chutney, brioche & mixed leaves
~ ~ ~
Seared salmon fillet, crushed new potatoes, grilled courgette, bisque
~ ~ ~
Chocolate and apricot pudding with ice cream
~ ~ ~
Coffee or tea
Wine and water are also included - it really is a FREE lunch for the lucky prize-winner!
And talking of free lunches, LostCousins member Jeannie Elgar was the winner of the competition I mentioned recently where the prize was tea with TV presenter Dan Snow at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. I gather he asked her about her favourite websites - and of course, she mentioned LostCousins!
Jeannie probably wasn't overwhelmed by Dan Snow because she's got some TV experience - 3 years ago she featured in the first programme of the ITV series Long Lost Family, which told of her quest to find her brother Geoffrey, who had been adopted when she was a little girl. †Sadly, whilst the programme makers did manage to track down what had happened to Geoffrey, it turned out that he had died in 1979 - so Jeannie never got to meet her brother again.
At that point many people would have given up - but not Jeannie. During her research she had spotted a birth in the indexes where the child had the same forename and middle initial as her father - and the mother's surname shown was her mother's maiden name.
To cut a long story short, it turned out that there was another brother, one whose existence Jeannie had been totally unaware of - and he had also been adopted. This time the story had a happy ending - she traced her brother and they've been in regular contact ever since!
In the last newsletter I mentioned that the free collection at Welsh Newspapers Online had grown to over 630,000 pages. What I didn't do, however, was to remind you that just because you don't have Welsh ancestry, this doesn't mean that you won't find articles about your relatives.
For example, when I searched for my surname I found an article in the Aberdare Times about a James Calver from Colchester (in Essex) who had fallen off a train a few miles from his home town and was suing the Great Eastern Railway Company. Why this was thought relevant to the population of Aberdare (in Glamorgan) is anyone's guess, but I certainly felt it worthy of further investigation.
As it turned out, this James Calver wasn't a relative of mine, but I couldn't help chuckling when I discovered that by profession he was a carver - because I'd mentioned in the same newsletter that my surname was pronounced 'Carver' in Suffolk, and often spelled that way by unsuspecting members of the clergy.
This month more new members have registered at LostCousins than in any month since 2011 - and, not surprisingly, there have also been many more cousins found this month as a result.
With just 2 months to go before our 10th Anniversary it's getting quite exciting, especially since in just 2 weeks I'll be heading off to Portugal for Genealogy in the Sunshine, where I'll have the pleasure of meeting just over 40 LostCousins members for the very first time (and listening to some very experienced speakers).
Note: there are still 2 places available for latecomers, so if you fancy some winter sunshine get in touch right away!
Are you taking part in the LostCousins project to link cousins all over the world? Spend just one hour entering relatives from the 1881 Census on your My Ancestors page and the odds are that you'll find at least one living relative that you didn't know about - IMMEDIATELY!
You probably know that when you're entering relatives on your My Ancestors page it's important to identify those who are your 'direct ancestors' - but what exactly is a 'direct ancestor'?
On the Add Ancestor form there's a brief description of each relationship - for example, if you select 'direct ancestor' the description reads "a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent etc" - in other words, a direct ancestor is somebody you are directly descended from.
To make sure you donít forget any of them, why not print out the blank Ancestor Chart I provide here and fill it in. Everyone on that chart is a direct ancestor of yours, and whilst there's only room for 5 generations it should include everyone you're likely to find on the 1881 Census.
You'll see that there's a number against each entry on the chart - what we call at LostCousins an Ancestor Number (though the proper name is Ahnentafel). If you enter the Ancestor Numbers on your My Ancestors page it enables me to give you better help and advice.
Tip: you can easily amend entries on your My Ancestors page - simply click the person's name. The Ancestor Number box only appears on the form when you select 'direct ancestor' as the relationship.
Ann wrote to me recently explaining that she'd run into problems trying to get information from the BBC relating to her grandfather, who had been newsreader broadcasting to occupied Europe during World War 2. I suggested that she made a Freedom of Information Act request, and instantly they became much more helpful.
Although there's typically a charge when you request information under the Data Protection Act, there's usually no charge for information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act - so it's well worth considering when you're trying to discover whether or not records vital to your research still exist.
Of course, it's better to ask politely first - but often it's hard to discover who to ask, and if someone tells you that the records don't exist, it's hard to know whether they are telling the truth, or simply fobbing you off.
Recently there has been criticism of the failure of the Foreign Office to pass an enormous hoard of documents to the National Archives once they were 30 years old - as many as 1.2 million documents could be involved. According to a spreadsheet that you can download here the hoard includes 860 registers of births, marriages, and deaths reported by overseas outposts between 1846-1990.
The NHS in England is aiming to improve the quality of patient care by making anonymised information from patient medical records available to researchers - you can read all about it here.
Unfortunately the introduction of this life-saving scheme has been delayed for 6 months because some people feel that the leaflets distributed to each household may not have been read. I imagine many people †do what I do, and put advertising leaflets that arrive with the post in the recycling box without reading them (although I retrieved this one and put it on one side). Mind you, there's subsequently been so much in the press about the new system that surely anyone who is capable of making a reasoned decision already knows about the plans, even if they didn't read the leaflet?
It's a bit of a conundrum: at one end of the spectrum there are people who care so little for their privacy that they post highly personal information on sites like Facebook (or publish family trees online without regard to the impact this may have on their own relatives); at the other there are conspiracy theorists who believe that anything the government does is contrary to their interests.
Personally I'm delighted if my records can in some way help to improve medical care, particularly since other people will be contributing data that may help me at some crucial point in the future. Opting out of a scheme like this is surely rather like refusing to vaccinate a child - gambling with the lives of others?
The good news is that last month Illumina, a manufacturer of DNA sequencing machines announced that from March it will be selling sequencers capable of sequencing an entire human genome for less than $1000 - just one of these $1 million machines can sequence 16 genomes in 3 days, whereas sequencing the first human genome took 13 years and cost $1 billion.
The bad news is that according to Technology Review these machines are designed to run in banks of 10, which means that not only is it a major investment for a DNA testing laboratory, they're also going to need tens of thousands of customers each year to keep the price down to the $1000 level.
It's likely to be quite a while before whole genome sequencing makes an impact in the world of genealogy - but it will, one day....
The Museum of London has an app called Street Museum which allows you to see old photos of London as you're travelling around the city (the BBC website has some examples here of composite images that merge old black and white photos with modern colour shots).
The story of Phyllis Pearsall, who reportedly researched the first London A-Z map by walking 3000 miles around the city's streets is being turned into a musical - according to this BBC article.
I was one of those who pressed for the publishers to release a facsimile of the original A-Z, and whilst the historical edition they released is a little later (1938-39) I find it incredibly useful when I'm trying to identify where my many London ancestors lived.
Tip: there are lots of books with old photos of London here.
One of my earliest memories is of asking my mother why I so often had boiled egg for breakfast - since food rationing ended in July 1954, a few months before my 4th birthday, I can reasonably assume that I was only 3 years old when I made my enquiry.
It's hard to imagine now that rationing continued for a decade after D-Day, but it did - and bread, which hadn't been rationed during the war, was rationed between 1946-48, whilst allowances of some already rationed foods were cut.
During the war it wasn't just about rationing, but also about producing more - the Dig for Victory poster that you can see here is a reminder of the drive to produce more food, on allotments, in back gardens, and even in public parks. This wasn't a novel experience for older Britons - during the Great War there had been food shortages when the U-Boat blockade was imposed by the German navy.
Of course, exotic fruits like bananas couldn't be grown in Britain, which meant that many youngsters were teenagers by the time they first laid eyes on the yellow fruit. In 1943 a single green banana was auctioned in London, and fetched £5 - more than a week's wages for most people.
There's an interesting article on the BBC website which examines some of the slang words which came into use, or became more popular, during World War 1, such as blighty, skive, cushy, and jerry.
Tip: for a more comprehensive guide to slang from the Great War see the Dictionary of Tommies Songs and Slang by John Brophy & Eric Partridge.
I know that a lot of you are helping to track down living relatives of the men whose names are given on your town or village memorial in advance of the centenary of the outbreak of war in 1914.
But did you know that you can use LostCousins to help find them? The Historical Research category is designed for projects like this - it enables you to enter on your My Ancestors page people who aren't your relatives, but are relevant to a historical research project that you're involved in.
The simplest approach would be to find the person who gave their life on the 1911 Census, but you'll be nearly 5 times more likely to make a connection if you can identify them or (more likely) their parents on the 1881 Census. †
I can't remember precisely how I came upon this leaflet from Scottish Friendly - it might have fallen out of a magazine - but being of a suspicious nature when it comes to financial services of any kind I decided to take a closer look.
It sounds wonderful - a guaranteed sum after 10 years, and all for as little as £10 per month! And tax-free too! Could it possibly be too good to be true? It could. When I looked at the figures on their website I discovered that the 'guaranteed sum' is actually less than you would have invested, and that you'd lose money even if the fund returned 2% per annum for 10 years.
Indeed, whilst you would make a small profit if the fund went up by 5% each year, the charges that Scottish Friendly levy would reduce the return to just 2.3% per annum - so in effect they'd be taking over half the profits.
Personally I find it incredible that a friendly society could be so unfriendly towards its customers - after all, like any mutual it doesn't have shareholders, which means that it's run for the benefit of its customers. At least, that's the theory - although when I look at the £400,000 package that each of the two top executives receives it does make me wonder....
Earlier this month I received this email from Michael, who has been a LostCousins member for exactly a year:
"I am a fairly new subscriber to the Lost Cousins Newsletter. It is, by far, the best regular genealogical correspondence that I receive. I read virtually everything. It's a bit like having a friend who is also dead keen on genealogy and from whom one learns also sorts of new and interesting things about this fascinating and wide-ranging subject. The articles are well-written and intelligent. I cannot recommend it highly enough."
I know from other correspondence I've received that Michael isn't the only person who enjoys my newsletter. If you too enjoy reading the newsletter please invite other researchers to join LostCousins so that they can get their own copy - after all, it's free!
This is where I'll post any last minute news, updates, or offers.
Thanks for taking the time to read this newsletter - I hope you found some of the articles useful and others thought-provoking!
© Copyright 2014 Peter Calver
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