Newsletter – 30th
18th Birthday Special Edition
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 22nd April) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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Almost 20 years ago I had a dream – I imagined that one day there would be a website where family historians with common interests could connect easily, and without having to search repeatedly. At that time everything was very piecemeal – if you had ancestors from a particular county you had to visit this website, or join that family history society, then check regularly whether anyone else had registered similar interests. Indeed this antiquated system still continues today – just this week I looked through several pages of new members’ interests in the quarterly journal of one of the many family history societies I belong to. As usual there was no overlap with my interests, even though more of my ancestors came from that county than any other – but there might have been, and that’s why I felt I had to look.
When Genes Connected (now Genes Reunited) launched in 2003 I thought at first they’d come up with the answer. Unfortunately, of the first 25 people to contact me through the site, not one was a relative of mine – they just happened to have someone with the same name in their tree. It was possible to reduce the chance of error by including a birthplace, but then there was the problem that different researchers would give different birthplaces for the same relative – it all depended whether the information had been taken from a birth certificate, a birth index entry, a baptism register entry, from this census or that census, or was based on a family story that had been passed down the generations. Even if the source was the same, the location could be described differently – it was a veritable minefield. And then was the question of when someone was born and how their name was spelled – again, the choice of source made a big difference, but there could also be different preferred surname spellings in different branches of the same tree.
Eventually I realised that if I didn’t come up with the solution, nobody would – but it took me months to come up with a bullet-proof way to connect researchers who shared the same ancestors: I concluded that it could be only be achieved using data that was readily available online, and ideally it should also be free, so that nobody was excluded or discouraged from taking part. The obvious source was the 1881 Census, which had been transcribed by volunteers: the England & Wales census was available free online at the FamilySearch website, and many family historians had access to the CD ROM set, which also included Scotland.
The next question was how to ensure that cousins entered the same data for the same relative: the answer was simple, but counter-intuitive – LostCousins members would need to enter precisely what was recorded in the transcript, ignoring errors and omissions (no matter how blatant). And finally, to ensure that there could be no confusion, even between people called John Smith, references specifying the precise census page would be included. (With only 23 entries per page it was exceedingly unlikely that there would be two people of the same age on the same page who had exactly the same name – that’s why, over the course of the past 18 years, the matching system has proven to be 100% accurate.)
That was one part of the problem solved – the next challenge was how to avoid the need to keep repeating searches in the hope that a new cousin had joined the site, a problem that I knew only too well from my own experience at other sites. Again there was a simple, but less than obvious solution – the searches would be saved, so that they could be repeated at the click of a mouse button. And that’s how the My Ancestors page came about.
Accurate automated matching is the key to privacy – it means that nobody needs to see the entries that other people have made, they only need to know which of their own entries match with those of another member. Even when a match is made the names of the two members are hidden until both have agreed to correspond; similarly, email addresses remain hidden until both members have agreed to exchange addresses. 18 years ago these might have seemed small things, but nowadays we appreciate the protection they offer.
The South Australian Tourism Commission has reinvented the Ten pound Pom – see this ITV News article for more details.
There are now nearly 125 million entries in the UK Electoral Registers & Companies House Directors record set at Findmypast, a modern collection which begins in 2002. The most recently added entries are mainly from 2021 – you can search the enlarged collection here.
Note: there are nearly 200 million historical British electoral records at Findmypast, mostly from the period 1910-1932; you can see a list of the record sets here. Ancestry also has an enormous collection, with a focus on London – follow this link for more details.
Until the passing of the Adoption and Children Act in 2002, if a stepfather wanted to adopt his wife’s child they both had to adopt the child - because the making of an adoption order severed the connection between the child and his or her birth parents. Someone who was unfamiliar with the legislation might well find the records confusing – and indeed, that’s precisely why I was contacted by a LostCousins member earlier this week.
A couple of years ago I would have been equally perplexed, but I remembered reading an answer to a reader’s query in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, where professional genealogist David Annal answered a very similar question.
Tip: I keep magazine articles for future reference, filing them under the relevant subject – it’s the main reason why I prefer paper magazines to their digital counterparts, even though I could read most of them free through my local library. With cuttings going back even before LostCousins began there are few topics that haven’t been covered at some point.
This year Mother’s Day in the USA is on Sunday 8th May, and Ancestry are offering some generous discounts for US residents, including DNA tests reduced from $99 to $59 (prices exclude shipping). There are also savings on Gift Memberships, and if you buy a DNA test you can get a 3 month membership for just $1 more! The offers end at 11.59pm EST on 8th May - and despite the wording of the banner ad, they're not limited to mothers!
Ancestry.com (US only) – SAVE $40 on DNA until 8th May
Ancestry.com (US only) – DNA plus a 3 month World Explorer Membership for $60
Ancestry.com (US only) – SAVE 30% on a 6 month Gift Membership
Note: there are no offers in Canada even though Mother’s Day there is on the same day (there was however an offer in March, which was reported at the time)
I was surprised to discover that the exclusive discount offer I organised earlier this year is still running, but I have a suspicion it will finish at the end of April. So don’t delay if you want to get 6 issues for a miserly £9.99 (in the UK) or save between 49% and 64% in the rest of the world. Follow this link - now!
The Dialect and Heritage Project at Leeds University is seeking to update the original Survey of English Dialects which took place between 1951 and 1961 – are you interested? There’s more information in this Guardian article.
Although the 2021 England & Wales Census went ahead as planned, despite the pandemic, as did the Northern Ireland Census, in Scotland (and the Republic of Ireland) it was decided to delay for a year.
Census Day in Scotland was Sunday 20th March 2022 but 5 weeks later it was announced that there were still 700,000 households – roughly one in four – which had not completed their submission. On Thursday it was confirmed that householders were to be allowed an extra 4 weeks to submit their return, either online or on a paper form – the new deadline is the end of May. After that, householders in default will become liable for fines of up to £1000.
This Guardian article provides more background.
Note: in Ireland Census Day was 3rd April; census forms will be collected up to 6th May.
A century ago the Royal carriages were drawn by Yorkshire coach horses, a breed that is now extinct. But even then the numbers were low – The Times reported on 21st February 1921 that “the census of pedigree stock taken by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1919… shows that the number of registered Yorkshire coach horses has fallen to 46”.
According to an article in Horse & Hound, these days the Royal carriages are drawn by Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays – the latter being on the current list of breeds at risk, which you will find here (it’s not just horses – rare breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry are also on the list).
Note: I’ve written about the census of pedigree stock not because it’s directly relevant to family historians, but as a reminder that censuses aren’t just about people, and that even those which record people aren’t compiled for our benefit.
The duet between Rolfe and Liesl is one of the most memorable songs in The Sound of Music, though as it turned out Rolfe, despite being older, was the more naïve of the two (he was seduced by Hitler’s words, and betrayed the von Trapp family).
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the titular lovers seem scandalously young – we know from Shakespeare that Juliet was 13 going on 14, and Romeo probably wasn’t more than 16 or 17. Yet until 1929 girls of 12 and boys of 14 could marry with parental consent – not that it would have been forthcoming in the case of those star-cross’d lovers.
I mention these couples because in the very week that LostCousins comes of age, Parliament has passed a bill which – for the first time in nearly a century – raises the minimum age at which marriages and civil partnerships can be contracted in England & Wales. It has increased from 16 to 18, though it is interesting to note that in 2018 only 119 girls and 28 boys of 16 or 17 married. (Similarly there were few who married under the age of 16 prior to 1929.)
There are no changes planned in other parts of the United Kingdom: in Northern Ireland children of 16 and 17 can still marry with parental consent, and in Scotland they don’t even need that. However the marriage of anyone under 18 who marries after the date on which the legislation comes into force will not be recognised in England & Wales, irrespective of where they married.
So far as I can see the bill is still awaiting Royal Assent, but this is just a formality. This BBC News article about the legislation indicates that the change is primarily intended to prevent children being forced into marriage – indeed, any adult who coerces a child into marriage could receive a prison sentence of up to 7 years. You can read a more detailed summary of the legislation in the Explanatory Notes that accompanied the bill when it was presented to the House of Lords earlier this year – for example, it states that “Research has shown that child marriage is often associated with leaving education early, limited career and vocational opportunities, serious physical and mental health problems, developmental difficulties for the children born to young mothers, and an increased risk of domestic abuse.”
Tip: if you are a LostCousins subscriber you will enjoy the talk on Marriage Law that Professor Rebecca Probert, the leading expert, gave to LostCousins competition winners in February – you’ll find the link on the Subscribers Only page.
You might reasonably think that a site with the name LostCousins is all about finding cousins – but that’s a bit like saying a telephone directory is all about finding phone numbers. Yes, you can find phone numbers in directories – or could in the old days, when we had paper directories delivered to our door – but we didn’t look people up because we wanted to know what their phone number was, we looked them up because we wanted to telephone them.
It’s the same with LostCousins: yes, you’ll find cousins (lots of them if you look hard enough), but that’s not the real objective – as genealogists we’re primarily interested in our ancestors. So the real objective is to find other researchers who share some of our ancestral lines, and who are prepared to collaborate with us in researching them. The fact that in most cases these researchers are also cousins of ours is simply a bonus.
Frankly, these days cousins are ten-a-penny – just take a DNA test and you’ll be linked to thousands of cousins – but precious few of them will have your experience, or your concern for accuracy. If you can figure out how you’re related to them you may be able to add a new branch to your tree, but the chances that you’ll end up collaborating in order to knock down a ‘brick wall’ are probably pretty small.
Most LostCousins members have over 20 years experience, and very few are beginners. It’s not that beginners aren’t welcome, but for someone who is just getting started there are sites which are, frankly, more attractive. You and I are somewhere near the top of pyramid, but it’s understandable that big commercial sites with shareholders to please will target the lower tiers, simply because there are so many more of them.
Note: I should stress that I’m not recommending that you ignore cousins that you find at other sites – how are they going to gain experience if not from people like you? I’m more concerned that you might be ignoring opportunities to find ‘lost cousins’ simply because you have an overwhelming number of matches at other sites.
During the first year of the pandemic many people bought pets, but it seems that some are now finding it hard to pay for pet food and vet’s bills now that the economic situation has worsened. See this RSPCA article for more information.
I also came across this BBC article which gives the average lifespan for different breeds of dog. My family always had mongrels – they live longer, of course.
A casual visitor to the LostCousins site might well wonder what all the fuss is about – because it’s only members who get to see the best bits! When you log-in to your LostCousins account the menu transforms, opening a new section headed My LostCousins which offers access to a whole range of pages that weren’t there before:
Most of the pages are specific to you – the ones with names beginning with My. The two most important pages are shown in bold: My Ancestors is the page where you enter deceased relatives from the censuses, My Cousins is the page where your living relatives appear when you find them.
My Details is where your personal information is held – you’ll need to enter your password again to access this page. My Referrals offers an easy way to invite other family historians to join, and if they’re cousins of yours be sure to choose Refer a Relative so that you can ‘send’ them information on the relatives that you share.
My Prizes is a recent addition – during the Christmas/New Year Competition it provided a simple way to indicate which prizes were of most interest, and allowed members to ask questions in advance of presentations they had been invited to attend. My Summary provides a snapshot – it tells you how many relatives you’ve entered from each census, and when your subscription runs out (if you have one); it also shows your Membership Number and your Match Potential – an estimate of how many new relatives you should have found by now, given average luck.
It would appear that Russian hackers have gained control of some email accounts under the TalkTalk banner – emails sent to several LostCousins members with TalkTalk, Tiscali, or Lineone email addresses have bounced back from a Gmail account with a very Russian name. Unfortunately none of the intended recipients bothered to include a secondary email address on their My Details page at the LostCousins site, so I’ve been unable to warn them about what has happened (perhaps this revelation might incentivise other members to check and update their own accounts?).
Although the number of accounts known to be affected is small – just 8 out of the 1805 members on my mailing list who have one of those addresses, it could be just the tip of the iceberg, since the emails have only been returned because Olga “is receiving mail at a rate that prevents additional messages from being delivered”. Others might well have got through.
Whichever email provider you use, make sure that 2-factor authentication is turned on – for more information see this page on the official website of the National Cyber Security Centre, a UK government agency. Equally importantly, if you have friends or relatives with any of the email addresses shown above, be aware that emails you receive which appear to be from them could have been sent by hackers.
Just one week before VE Day, in 1945, a 13 year-old Italian girl was planning to celebrate her birthday with a cake that her mother had made – but unfortunately it was taken by hungry American soldiers who saw it cooling on a window sill.
This week Meri is celebrating her 90th birthday – with a cake provided by the US Army. There’s more about this heart-warming story in this BBC article.
I get a lot of emails from readers asking where they can find a particular newsletter article – and whilst I’m always pleased to hear from members the simple truth is that I have to do exactly the same as you, ie search for the article using the custom Google search at the top of any newsletter. So you can save yourself the effort of writing an email and the wait for me to respond, by carrying out the search(es) yourself. It’s because you can find articles quickly and easily with a search that there’s no need for an index – and there’s also no need to keep copies of the newsletters (or even the emails I send with a list of articles).
Sometimes you can find a series of articles with a single search – for example, if you wanted to find all of my book reviews you could search for ‘review’, or if you wanted to re-read my wife’s gardening articles you could search for ‘gardeners corner’. If you want to send someone a link to a specific article, rather than the entire newsletter, right-click on the title of the article in the contents list at the start of the newsletter. Choose ‘Copy link’, ‘Copy Hyperlink’, or whatever your browser calls it.
There’s some better news on the COVID front for those of us in the UK – the latest ONS survey shows a significant fall in the number of people who are currently infected. For example in England only 1 person in 23 would currently test positive if they took a PCR test, whereas at the beginning of April the corresponding figure was 1 in 13. However deaths involving COVID are still high – over 1000 per week – and as around 40 of them are males in the 70-74 age bracket I’m staying cautious, especially since the latest Vaccine Surveillance Report confirms that my three doses now provide me with no protection against symptomatic infection by the Omicron variant (though there is still some protection against hospitalisation and worse).
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© Copyright 2022 Peter Calver
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