Newsletter - 25 December 2011



Christmas Bonus!

The Queen's Speech - now on Kindle!

How accurate is the census?

Missing from the census?

How to search the census by birthplace

Last 1911 Census secrets to be exposed

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: All findmypast subscriptions under £99

GRO redundancies shock

Alternatives to BMD certificates

How to find MORE cousins

The gift that keeps on giving

Peter's Tips


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 13 December 2011) please click here.


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). 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 nothing seems to happen then you probably need to enable pop-ups in your browser.


To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter - it's free to join!


Christmas Bonus!

There are TWO great EXCLUSIVE offers starting at Christmas and running all the way through to the New Year (but that's not all - see Peter's Tips for details of other offers this Yuletide).



From Christmas Day until 2nd January all LostCousins members will be able to contact the cousins and other relatives they are matched with, whether or not they are subscribers. It's an opportunity to contact relatives already listed in the New Contacts section of your My Cousins page - and to make more connections by adding to your My Ancestors page. See How to find MORE cousins below for my top tips to help you find cousins who not only share your ancestors, but also your passion for family history.


Tip: this offer applies to new members as well as existing members - so if you're in touch with other researchers why not invite them to join? Remember that unlike other sites we don't ask members to provide credit card details, so there is no risk and no obligation whatsoever.



From Boxing Day (26th December) until 2nd January you can save 10% on any new findmypast subscription AND get a free LostCousins subscription as a Christmas bonus. See the article All findmypast subscriptions under £99 for full details, including the exclusive offer code.


The Queen's Speech - now on Kindle!

Queen Elizabeth II may be 85 years old, but she still likes to be up-to-date with the latest technology - so I wasn't surprised to read in a news article on the BBC website that her Christmas messages to the Commonwealth were to be released as a free Kindle e-book (indeed, I've just downloaded a single book with all the speeches from 1952-2010).


Isn't it about time that more genealogy publications were released as e-books? Considering how dependent on computers we are, you'd think that publishers would be a bit quicker to fill the gap in the market.


Note: the Society of Genealogists has recently released its first book in Kindle format: My Ancestor was a Royal Marine. I hope there are many more!


How accurate is the census?

According to a BBC news report, about 400 people in England & Wales are to be prosecuted for failing to return their 2011 census forms. That's a pretty small number, so you'd probably think that the response rate must have been well over 99%, but a closer look at the figures is less encouraging - of the 25.4 million forms that were issued, only 22.9 million were returned - a mere 90%.


Some of the disparity is accounted for by empty houses, second homes, and properties that look residential from the outside but are used commercially - this probably includes many flats over shops. It makes me wonder why they didn't use Council Tax records to establish which properties were occupied?


The Office for National Statistics believes it has reached its target of a 94% response rate. That's a pretty low target, in my opinion - especially when you consider the much higher rates achieved in the Victorian and Edwardian censuses that family historians are familiar with. I think it's a recent change - when I worked on the 1971 census I went round to every household in my enumeration district to collect the forms (and in many cases ended up filling them in myself for the older residents). And all for £40!


You would think that for half a billion pounds (over £20 per household) we'd get a higher-quality service, especially in the Internet age. Mind you, they didn't exactly make it easy to complete the forms online. And why on earth did they not provide an opportunity to download a copy of the form after we'd completed it? I made a copy of the information I submitted using the Print Screen (it may be labelled Prt Scn on your computer) key, but it was very tedious - by the time I finished I wished that I'd filled the form in by hand and photocopied it.


One man who refused to complete his census form has already been prosecuted; I wonder whether Brian Collier from Coventry thinks it was worth a fine of £150 to get the privacy he craves?


Current estimates of the response rates in Scotland and Northern Ireland are a little better, 96% and 95% respectively. But assuming that the recalcitrant households are of average size there could be over 3 million people who weren't recorded.


For statistical purposes the figures will be adjusted to allow for the missing households, but that won't help the family historians of 2112 when they come to look for their ancestors!


Missing from the census?

When you can't find someone on the census it's tempting to assume that they were one of the 2 or 3% of the population to be omitted from the count - but usually that won't be the case.


A common mistake that beginners make is to enter too much information on the search form - because even though you might know what ought to have been written on the census form, that doesn't mean that the householders, enumerator, and transcriber all got it right - and usually they didn't. For example, about half of all ages on the census were incorrect, and even when the age is correct the birth year is usually wrong - because the convention is to calculate the birth year by subtracting the person's age from the census year.


When I search I enter the absolute minimum of information on the search form - not because it saves time (although it often does), but to maximise the number of results that I get. After all, the more relevantresults there are, the greater the chance that my relative will be among them. If I get too many results - most likely when the surname is a common one - I'll add more information to filter down the results, but most of the time it isn't necessary.


I use wildcards frequently. For example, if the surname is an unusual one, or one that's likely to be spelled incorrectly, or mistaken for a more common surname that looks similar when handwritten, I'll often use two or three wildcards. At findmypast it's a good idea to leave the tick against 'include variants' under the 'First name' box so that abbreviations and alternative spellings are automatically allowed for.


But the best tip for searching the census is to make use of the free searches that most sites offer. Just because you have a subscription for one site doesn't mean that you can't take advantage of what the others offer free of charge.


For example, even though findmypast and Genes Reunited are in common ownership and use the same census transcriptions, they provide different information on the results page. When you search the census at Genes Reunited you'll see the birthplaces in the search results whether you have a subscription or not (if you're using credits it could save you a lot of money). At findmypast you currently don't see birthplaces in the search results, even if you do have a subscription (though on the other hand findmypast has far more powerful search facilities, so it's still my favourite website by a mile).


How to search the census by birthplace

There are two obvious problems when it comes to searching by birthplace. One is that many people didn't know where they were born - which is why there's often a difference between the birthplace shown when they're living at home with their parents and later censuses.


However, even if they did know where they were born, there could be many different ways to describe it. Sometimes they'll name the parish, especially in a city (eg St Stephen's); sometimes they'll name the nearest town; sometimes they'll give the village. Occasionally they might even give the street!


Even if you try all of those options you might find that you've unable to find the person you're looking for, and this could be because of the way that the county has been written. Enumerators would often write Cambridge or Gloucester when they meant Cambridgeshire or Gloucestershire (and similar for many other counties), and as a result what was intended as the county could well have been transcribed as the town.


When searching by birthplace at findmypast it's easy to overcome this problem by adding a wildcard before and after the name of the town or village, for example *oakridge*. Ancestry uses keyword searches, so you don't need to add a wildcard, but when you're searching for the county town you may find that every matching record in the county is returned! This is a particular problem in the 1881 England & Wales census, but since you can search the 1881 census free at findmypast it isn't an insuperable problem.


Last 1911 Census secrets to be exposed

From 4th January it will be possible to see, for the very first time, the information that was redacted from the 1911 Census when it was released in 2009. Although the Information Commission determined that most of the census could be released early without infringing the privacy of living people (it was originally due to be released in 2012), he permitted it on the basis that information in the final column of the Household Schedules relating to infirmities was redacted.


Allow me to remind you what it says at the top of the column:



If any person included in the Schedule is:-


(1) "Totally Deaf" or "Deaf and Dumb"

(2) "Totally Blind"

(3) "Lunatic"

(4) "Imbecile" or "Feeble-minded"


State the infirmity opposite that person's name and the age at which he or she became afflicted.


The 1901 Census did have a similar column, but there was no requirement to enter the age at which the affliction took hold.


Also revealed will be details of children aged 3 or under who were born to women in prison - these were previously omitted from the transcription.


Note: findmypast have stated that they will be the only site to have this new information on the release date



EXCLUSIVE OFFER: All findmypast subscriptions under £99

For me, the England & Wales censuses from 1841-1911 are the cornerstone of my research, whether I'm researching backwards from 1841 or forwards from 1911. Findmypast was the first subscription site to offer the complete 1911 Census, and even now the only other subscription site with complete coverage is Genes Reunited (which is also part of the BrightSolid group).


I'm therefore delighted that findmypast have agreed to provide an exclusive discount code for use by LostCousins members, friends and relatives. From 26th December until 2nd January you can save 10% on any new findmypast subscription - and remember that all of the subscriptions, even the cheapest, include the full 1911 England & Wales census.


Even better, you can save as much as £23.50 in all by claiming a free LostCousins subscription to run alongside your findmypast subscription (if you're already a LostCousins subscriber the expiry date will be extended by 6 or 12 months). Here's what you need to do:


(1) Click here to go the findmypast website (it will open in a new tab or new browser window), then either register or log-in (if you have registered previously).


(2) Next click on Subscribe, enter the exclusive offer code XMASCOUSINS in the Promotional Code box, and click Apply to display the discounted offer prices:



(3) Choose the subscription you prefer, bearing in mind that the 12 month subscriptions offer the best value. I'd also recommend the Full subscription unless you're an absolute beginner since the wealth of additional datasets are well worth the small additional cost (at the discounted price of £98.95 the total cost for an annual Full subscription just 27p a day, considerably less than the cost of a 2nd Class stamp).


(4) When you receive your email receipt from findmypast forward a copy to me at the usual address (the one I used to tell you about this newsletter). Your free LostCousins subscription can include your spouse or partner as well - just make sure that the two accounts are linked together before you write to me (the Subscribe page at the LostCousins site explains how to do this).


Note: these offers apply only when you take out a new findmypast subscription; they do not apply to renewals (since renewals at findmypast qualify for 10% Loyalty Discount), nor can they be backdated or combined with any other offers. Your free LostCousins subscription (worth up to £12.50) is paid for by the commission we receive from findmypast, so it is essential that you click the link or the screen shot above just before you subscribe.


GRO redundancies shock

Just two days after my last newsletter, in which I criticised the management of the General Register Office, the town of Southport was rocked by the news that the GRO is making 27 staff redundant as a result of the falling orders for BMD certificates.


As the Southport Visiter pointed out, the GRO is one of the town's biggest employers, and there must inevitably be concern that this round of redundancies won't be the last. What a shame that the GRO hierarchy didn't consider the knock-on effects of the 32% price increase.


I've just been checking my records: in more than 18 months since last April's price hike I've ordered just 2 certificates from the GRO, whereas in the three years preceding the increase I ordered 17, 25, and 12 respectively. I know from talking to members that I'm not the only one who has cut back on certificate purchases.


The biggest danger is that they'll react to the low number of sales by putting the price up again - which will only make matters worse for all concerned.


Alternatives to BMD certificates

To some extent birth, marriage, and death certificates are a luxury - when we're researching before 1837 we don't have that option, and so we rely primarily on parish registers.


At one time the only English register images online were those for the Medway area of Kent, but now you can view registers for Dorset, West Yorkshire, Liverpool, Warwickshire, and most of London at Ancestry, Norfolk and Cornwall at FamilySearch, and Cheshire and Plymouth & West Devon at findmypast. During 2012 nearly 900,000 register pages from Welsh registers are expected to go online at findmypast (you can see the original announcement from 2010 here), and the Essex Record Office is midway through the Essex Ancestors project to put their registers online.


However, some of these registers are unindexed, which makes searching tedious and time-consuming, and the vast majority of English counties are yet to putt any of their registers online - though hopefully a side-effect of the cost-cutting at record offices will be an increased willingness to make their records available online.


If a couple married in church after 1837 then the parish register entry is, in theory, exactly the same as the entry in the GRO registers. In practice it's likely to be more reliable - often the entry at the GRO has been copied out by the vicar, in which case it won't show original signatures, and could contain errors that were introduced during the copying process.


But certificates and register entries aren't always needed: when we're tracing collateral lines (or side lines) it's often possible to get much of the information from indexes - either the GRO index or a local index. Even for direct ancestors it's the best place to start, though you must follow-up with documentary evidence otherwise you could end up researching the wrong line altogether!


UKBMD has links to online indexes of local registration records, and many of these local indexes include information that you won't find in the GRO indexes.


If you find an index entry that you think relates to one of your relatives it's often possible to investigate further using the censuses: for example, if you think you know who your relative married in 1856, that person should be shown as single in 1851 and married in 1861.


How to find MORE cousins

Yesterday I received a lovely email from a member who wrote:


"Thank you very much for the contact with a cousin of mine......I'm so happy that after several years I have found a lost cousin!What a great Christmas present!"


Finding a new cousin is a great experience at any time of the year, but finding a cousin at Christmas is extra special, because Christmas is a time for families.


But not everyone reading this newsletter has played their part - remember that no matter how hard your cousins search for you, they won't be able to find you unless one of the relatives they've entered appears on your My Ancestors page. For example, I had another email yesterday - from someone who had been a member for nearly 6 years but hadn't found a single cousin. It wasn't difficult to work out why - in all that time she'd only entered 32 relatives from the 1881 Census (which is the census that's most likely, by far, to link any of us to our 'lost cousins').


Tip: if you're not sure whether you've entered all of your relatives from the 1881 Census take the total number of relatives in your tree and divide it by 5, to get a pretty good estimate of how many would have been alive in 1881. The number of relatives you have entered from each census is shown on the My Summary page, the one that's displayed when you first log-in.


Though it's important to enter your direct ancestors and their households, in practice it's the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own in 1881 are most likely to provide the vital links to your 'lost cousins'. Why? Because there are so many of them, which means that there will be a multitude of modern-day descendants!


If every LostCousins member who is reading this article spends just half an hour adding entries to their My Ancestors page between Christmas and New Year there will be thousands of additional 'lost cousins' making contact for the first time. Wouldn't you like to be one of them?


The gift that keeps on giving

This year many of my relatives will be receiving a gift with a difference - a $25 Kiva voucher that they can use to help someone in the developing world.


You may recall that in early November I wrote about Genealogists for Families, a group within the Kiva network that lends small amounts of money to poor people around the world who are trying to improve the conditions for their families by running small businesses.


The great thing about lending money in this way is that when it is paid back you can lend it to somebody else in need - that's why I think of it as 'the gift that keeps on giving'. Genealogists for Families was started by Judy Webster, a professional genealogist and a long-time supporter of LostCousins. It has over 100 members, who between them have made over 200 loans totalling more than $6000 - but that's just the start.


Please don't be put off by the fact that the money you lend is denominated in dollars - your money can make a difference wherever you live and whatever currency you have in your pocket. When you donate to most charities all you get back is a request for even more money - but with Kiva and Genealogists for Families there are regular repayments to your Kiva account (I've already received back a third of the money I lent in November!), and you can relend the money as soon as you have a balance of $25 or more.


Note: to date 98.96% of Kiva loans have been repaid, so just one donation could end up helping dozens of people around the world.


Peter's Tips

The cost of postage in the UK has gone up by leaps and bounds in recent years, and with the removal of controls April 2012 could see the biggest increase yet. Until 3rd January you can buy books of 1st Class stamps at a 5% discount in Superdrug (limit 72 stamps per day), whilst WH Smith are offering both 1st and 2nd class stamps, also at 5% off, and this offer lasts until 31st January.


My greatest luxury is a subscription to Hotel Chocolat's Chocolate Tasting Club - 6 or 7 times a year a gorgeous box of chocolates comes through the letterbox. The annual cost is more than the cost of an Ancestry or findmypast subscription (on the other hand my wife gets to share the chocolates, so she's prepared to permit this one indulgence).


On Christmas Day the End-of-Season Sale commences at Hotel Chocolat, and I shall make a point of visiting on Christmas morning - since at 50% off the best bargains will be snapped up pretty quickly! Admittedly even at half-price the chocolates aren't exactly cheap, but then the quality is several steps up from anything that Cadburys, Thorntons and the rest have ever produced.


New Year sales start ever earlier - this year Homebase are offering an extra 20% discount from Christmas Day until the end of December when you click here and enter the code DISC20 at the checkout. My wife already has a list of jobs for me to do around the house...


It's too late for Christmas, but too good an offer to miss - Albelli are selling all their custom calendars at half-price until 27th December when you click here and use the code CALNB5A at the checkout. You can also buy£50 Albelli gift voucher for just £35 when you click here.


You've just a few days left to take advantage of the special offer I arranged with the Society of Genealogists - pay 2011 rates for a 2012 subscription and avoid the £10 joining fee altogether! See my 4th November newsletter for full details.


Also ending on 31st December is the LostCousins subscription offer in my last newsletter - 13 months for the price of 12 when you use the code BAKERSDOZEN on the Subscribe page. Remember you can now pay by American Express or PayPal as well as the more conventional Visa and Mastercard - and unlike supermarkets we still accept cheques (just so long as you have a UK bank account).


As I write these closing paragraphs it's 6pm on Christmas Eve, and I'm just back from my usual circuit of the supermarkets to see what bargains are left on the shelves (you see, I do follow my own tips!). The best offer was 2kg bags of satsumas for 50p in Tesco, and when I was there I also picked up a large turkey at half price which we'll have on Christmas Day - the small one I bought earlier in the week (just in case) has gone in the freezer. There were a few bargains at Waitrose and Sainsbury's too - so I probably won't need to go shopping again for a week.


Mind you, the best bargain at Sainsbury's was one I bought earlier in the week - the Body Sculpture BM1505 Power Slimmer, reduced to just £59.99. The reviews I read (on Amazon) were great, and it's just what I'll need after Christmas (though on Christmas morning it will be wrapped up with my wife's name on it since I've been really struggling to come up with original gift ideas this year!). There are lots of other fitness machines in the sale at Sainsbury's - click here to see them all.


But eating too much doesn't just affect your weight - researchers at the University of Leiden found that high blood sugar levels help your skin to age prematurely (hope I've not put too much of a dampener on your Christmas festivities!).


I'm going to end this newsletter with something a little different - a YouTube link that was sent to me by a bird-loving friend in California. It's amazing footage shot by a wildlife photographer who is sailing round Britain and I found it perfectly beautiful and quite mesmerising (make sure you have your sound turned on so that you can hear the music).


Stop Press

Boxing Day update: just to say that my wife professes to be very happy with the Power Slimmer I bought her (see my Tips column above).


As I wind up the final newsletter of the year I'd like to thank all of those who contributed during 2011. Many of the best articles were inspired by emails from LostCousins members, and I hope that you'll continue to write in with your stories, news, and tips during 2012.


It only remains for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!




Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2011 Peter Calver


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