Newsletter - 11th April 2016



Archibishop's story resonates with family historians

The eyes have it

Contacting relatives

Who Do You Think You are? Live

Show offer extended - save 20% at ENDS SUNDAY

Can 26,000 family historians be wrong?

More Essex transcriptions online

Why Bishop's Stortford isn't named after a river

Secrets of the 1939 Register EXCLUSIVE

Review: Servants' Stories

Review: Family First

What proportion of births weren't registered?

Review: Kindred

Exhibition: Dawn of the Photograph

Stop Press


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Archibishop's story resonates with family historians

This week's revelation that the head of the Church of England was the product of an extra-marital relationship came as a surprise to many people - including, it seems, his mother!


The fact that the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was prepared to take a DNA test to determine who his father really was, and the overwhelmingly positive response, will - I hope - remove some of the inhibitions that have been preventing lesser mortals from providing DNA samples.


All too often I hear from members that their research into a key part of their tree has been stymied by the reluctance of a family member - sometimes a close relative, sometimes a distant cousin - to provide a DNA sample. I do understand those who consider that the past is sometimes best left undisturbed, but I feel that often their decisions are based on a lack of understanding about DNA testing. For example, I wouldn't attempt to persuade anyone to take a DNA test unless I'd already done it myself, and I'd ideally have a spare sample kit with me so that I could demonstrate just how easy it is.


You can read more about this wonderfully human story in this Telegraph article, and you might also be interested in this obituary of Justin Welby's biological father, which was published by the same newspaper three years ago. The fact that he died on April Fool's Day seems quite appropriate in the circumstances!


Note: you can only view a limited number of Telegraph articles without paying - this BBC News article covers much of the same ground, though in less detail.


It's an amazing coincidence that in this issue I review Steve Robinson's new genealogical mystery novel, which focuses on Jefferson Tayte's quest to discover the identity of his father and mother - and also that in the latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine there's a major article entitled "Who's the daddy?"


Note: don't be tempted to use the testing company that the Archbishop of Canterbury used - I'm sure they do a very good job, but their tests are not designed for the sort of problems that we're usually faced with as family historians. The company I have used myself is Family Tree DNA - whilst they are based in the US they've been at every Who Do You Think You Are? Live that I've attended, and they really understand what genealogists need to know.


The eyes have it

It seems that, long before DNA settled the question once and for all, there were suspicions that Gavin Welby was not the biological father of Justin Welby, simply based on the resemblance between Justin Welby and Anthony Montague-Browne.


But appearances can also be misleading - I'm sure that over history there have been many men who have wrongly accused their wives of being unfaithful simply because their son has "the wrong colour eyes". Whilst we inherit all of our genes from our parents it's perfectly possible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child, something that was long thought impossible - this article explains how it might happen.


Some of you might remember the story of the white South African couple who had a black child - it was turned into the film Skin (which I've just ordered) - and 5 years ago the Daily Mirror reported the case of a black couple who had a blonde white son. Almost anything is possible!


Contacting relatives

The article Contacting living relatives - your life in their hands in the last issue resonated with Carol, and I wanted to share her uplifting story with you:


"The story of relatives who refused to meet others in today's newsletter was sad to read, but understandable, we never can be sure that what we want to know will be forthcoming.


"My Dad and his only sister fell out in 1950, and we had no further contact with my aunt or our 2 girl cousins. About 6 years ago I found that both my aunt and uncle died in the 1990s, so I sent for a copy of the later death, which was my aunt, reasoning that it would have been recorded by one of her daughters.  


"This was indeed the case, so now I had a married name and address for my cousin. I mulled over how to approach her, as I had no idea what sort of response I would get, so eventually I wrote a short letter explaining who I was and why I was writing, and enclosed a photograph of me with our grandfather, taken in the 1960s.  I put in my e-mail and phone number for her to contact me, but I was quite prepared for the letter being ignored.


"Within 24 hours an e-mail arrived, she was so delighted to be back in touch after 60 years; many gaps in our family knowledge are now closing and we phone each other every week. We even worked out eventually what had caused the family rift."


Who Do You Think You are? Live

I was delighted to meet so many LostCousins members as I walked round the massive exhibition hall on Thursday, but my absolute priority was to hand over the wonderful 178 year-old sampler that I discovered just before Christmas to one of the descendants of William & Mary Godwin, whose family had been embroidered for posterity "by a Friend in the Year 1838".


(For the incredible story of the sampler see my January newsletter - you'll find the article here.)


It was mid-afternoon by the time I'd done my duty and in all the excitement I'd completely forgotten to have any lunch, even though I hadn't eaten since breakfast at 7am. Not surprisingly my brain wasn't functioning properly, and not only did I fail to recognise some people who I ought to have done, I completely forgot to take any photos!


So this year I'm appealing for members who attended to send in some of the photos they took so that I can upload them to a website I've set up specially, WDYTYA.LIVE


For me the most important announcement of the show was the release of more Essex transcriptions by The Genealogist (see the article later in this newsletter), but I'm sure there will be at least as many of you who will be pleased to have official confirmation that Findmypast will be adding Leicestershire parish registers during 2016.


Show offer extended - save 20% at ENDS SUNDAY

At the show Findmypast were offering a 20% discount to attendees, and I'm delighted to say that I was able to persuade them to extended this offer to newsletter readers who weren't able to be at the show.


Until midnight (London time) on Sunday 17th April you can save 20% on new 12 month Britain and World subscriptions at - just follow this link and click the button labelled "Claim your 20% discount" (see the example below):




This offer is for new subscriptions, not renewals - so if you have an existing subscription you'll probably see a message saying that the offer has ended. But don't worry - remember the price promise that Findmypast made in January when they announced that the 1939 Register would be included in all 12 month Britain and World subscriptions (see my newsletter article for a reminder of the details).


Tip: my Masterclass article last month listed the parish registers which are only available through Findmypast - you can re-read it here.


Can 26,000 family historians be wrong?

Also at the show were lecturers from the University of Strathclyde who told me that an amazing 26,000 people had signed up for their free Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree course at the FutureLearn site. If the feedback I get from LostCousins members who are taking the course is positive I'll be sure to let readers of this newsletter know when it is re-run, probably in the summer.


More Essex transcriptions online

Essex is a bit of a conundrum for anyone who (like me) has ancestors from the county - on the one hand the historic parish registers online at the Essex Record Office website, and the colour images are both beautiful and easy to read. On the other, you'll need a subscription to access the images (the cost ranges from £10 for 24 hours to £85 for a year), and more importantly there are no name indexes to help you find the entries.


Fortunately help is at hand: there are just over a million transcribed entries from Essex parish registers at Family Search, and around 850,000 at FreeREG. However, the biggest collection of transcriptions by far is at The Genealogist, where there are now over 2.5 million entries following the addition of 900,000 new entries this week.


Already I've made some important new discoveries in my family tree thanks to The Genealogist. For example, I discovered that my 6G grandparents David Bates and Sarah Godfrey had 16 children, 10 more than were on my family tree. Whilst I had suspected they had moved to a different parish after the 6th child was born, there are dozens of parishes within a few miles, and as I can usually only work on my own tree in spare moments the new transcriptions were a godsend.


I also found the baptism of David Bates, although this didn't allow me to add any extra ancestors to my tree, because it turned out that - as I had long suspected - he was the brother of my 6G grandmother Hannah Bates. Whilst I'd previously searched the baptism register for the parish where Hannah was baptised, expecting to find David, I had missed the entry (because the baptisms for this period were out of order in the register). No doubt I would have found his baptism eventually, but when we're back this far in our tree - barring cousin marriages we have 256 6G grandparents to research - we need all the help we can get!


Note: other new records at The Genealogist include 158,000 Worcestershire parish transcriptions, taking the total to over 2 million, and full colour tithe maps for Surrey and Westmorland (more counties will follow in the coming months).


Why Bishop's Stortford isn't named after a river

Although LostCousins is based in Essex, the closest town is Bishop's Stortford, which is over the border in Hertfordshire. Like most people I assumed that the town's name came about because there was a ford through the River Stort, but that story has been comprehensively debunked - it seems that in reality the river got its name from the town!


The Saxon name for the town was Esterteferd, which over time became corrupted to Stortford - but until the 16th century the river didn't have a name. But since the town - by then called Bishop's Stortford - had a ford through a river, the mapmakers Saxton & Camden assumed that it must be sited on the River Stort. And that's how the river took its name from the town, rather than the other way round.


I'm sure there are many other similar examples - I just happened to spot this one in my local paper. (If you have an interest in the area you'll find this local history website fascinating.)


Secrets of the 1939 Register EXCLUSIVE

The more time I spend looking at the 1939 Register the more I discover about my family - and the more I learn about the register itself. Recently I contacted Audrey Collins at the National Archives to fill in some of the missing details, and I'm sure you'll be interested to learn what I discovered:



I'm still not sure why there are some pages where almost all the entries are closed; in some cases it's the last page of the register, but in other cases the distribution of the few open entries makes it clear that the page is full. My best guess, at this stage, is that the closed entries are for children who returned home after previously being evacuated - but it is just a guess. I hope to find out more in due course.


Review: Servants' Stories

Although their names don't appear on the cover, the true authors of this wonderful book are the 21 individuals whose stories of their time in service bring the pages to life - Michelle Higgs has expertly chosen these accounts and set them into context with short introductions.


Divided into four parts covering the periods 1800-1850, 1850-1900, 1900-1914 and 1914-1950, each of which begins with a chapter explaining the key issues of the time that affected domestic servants and the households employing them, Servants' Stories enables us to appreciate far better than ever before what it was like to be in service.


The book focuses on indoor servants, most of them female, almost all of whom lived-in throughout their careers - and so were at their employers' beck and call for as many as 100 hours a week. If your relatives worked as grooms or coachmen you won't learn about their daily lives from this book, but it will still help to explain the social setting in which they were expected to function.


Of course, in hearing about the stories of servants we also learn much about their masters and mistresses, so if your ancestors were fortunate enough to be at the other end of the social spectrum you'll gain an element of insight into their lives too. Inevitably there were good employers and bad employers - and, because future employment depended on getting good references from previous employers, servants were often faced with a conundrum when they realised that they were in the wrong job.


The stories in the book aren't told by a random cross-section of domestic servants - they are necessarily recounted by those who survived, despite (in many cases) suffering loneliness, deprivation, and poor living conditions. And frequently their experiences were told to, or written down for the benefit of, children and grandchildren - so we're mostly hearing from those who found love and escaped their servile existences. But from the point of view of the family historian (rather than the social historian) these aren't flaws in the methodology since we're only able to enquire about our ancestors' lives because they survived and had children!


It's a wonderfully readable book that will appeal to many who don't have an interest in family history - but for those who do it's close to an essential purchase. It's available as a Kindle e-book or as a paperback (currently the cheapest option is the paperback from a third-party seller at but that may change by the time you read this); you can support LostCousins when you use the following links:         


Note: I hope you're impressed that I managed to write this review without once mentioning Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs!


Review: Family First

Whilst it's a good read, as you'd expect from such an experienced writer, in my opinion Ruth Symes' book Family First - Tracing Relationships in the Past focuses too much on people at the top end of the social scale, the upper and middle classes - it doesn't have enough to say about the lives of the ordinary people who made up the vast majority of the population.


This is unfortunate because my ancestors - like most of yours, I suspect - certainly weren't upper class, and whether any of them could be considered middle class would depend very much on where the dividing line is drawn. Would a tailor or a wheelwright (the most exalted of my ancestors) have belonged to the middle classes as defined by the author? I suspect not, but sadly I can't tell you, because I couldn't find any definitions in the book.


Whilst it's inevitable that more information has survived about the lives of rich or famous individuals, genealogy is no longer the preserve of the privileged few, and in my opinion the author could have done more to provide examples of family life for the many. For example, the two examples of childless marriages on page 29 are those of Benjamin Disraeli (whose wife was 47 when they married) and John Ruskin (whose marriage was unconsummated and was soon anulled) - I'm not sure how knowing about those two marriages is going to enlighten us regarding our own ancestors.


There are some interesting statistics in the book - for example, on page 53 we are told that between 1846-1929 only 1844 girls below the age of 14 married - but often, as in this case, no source is cited so the reader can't verify the figure. I found this a particular problem when I came across the statement on page 78 that a third of births weren't registered during the first 40 years of civil registration in England & Wales, which seems to me a extremely high figure, one that might well encourage researchers to give up too easily (I'm going to return to this topic in my next article).


Similarly, on page 79 the author writes of the censuses that "Often a child under the age of one would be recorded as 'one year' old regardless of how many days, weeks, or months old he or she actually was." This isn't something I've personally noticed in the censuses - indeed, in my experience the ages of children tend to be more accurate than those of adults - but maybe your own experience has been different?


There are lots of other intriguing snippets in the book, but I'm also rather doubtful that the reason given on page 90 for the number of females called 'Christiania' on the 1901 Census had anything to do with Nordic tourism (Oslo was named Christiania until 1924) - I suspect some were misspellings of the far more common forename 'Christiana'.


The discussion on pages 140-41 of the law that prohibited a widower from marrying his dead wife's sister is also a bit muddled - the author writes that but for the Marriage Act of 1835 the Reverend Patrick Brontė (father of the famous authoresses) might have married his wife's sister after he was widowed in 1821, even though he would have had 13 years to do so before the Act came into force.


Note: if the Rev Brontė had indeed thought of marrying Elizabeth Bramwell it would have been the strictures of Canon Law that would have stood in his way - see Rebecca Probert's excellent Marriage Law for Genealogists if you want to know more. 


The author goes on to say that the "only men successfully to marry their wives' sisters in this period were rich enough to do so abroad where the law was different", which ignores the reality that many people ignored the law and married anyway - including at least three men in my own tree, one of them my great-grandfather. Perhaps the truth is that if you were poor and unknown you could get away with it?

There's another slip on page 151 when the author refers to Queen Victoria becoming a great-grandmother in 1878 - in fact her first great-grandchild, Princess Feodora, was born on 12th May 1879 - and on page 167 there's a surprising omission when discussing the introduction of the first Old Age Pensions in 1909. Whilst parish registers were also used, searches of the 1841 and 1851 Ireland censuses, which were then still in existence, were key to the verification of ages (you can see the surviving forms at Findmypast).


I almost fell over backwards when I read the assertion on page 168 that "widows of all ages actually made up a huge proportion of the nineteenth and early twentieth century populations", and it was supported by the lone statistic that there were three-quarters of a million widows in 1851 (out of a population of 20 million). Would you describe 4% as a 'huge proportion' of the population? I wouldn't.


I hope that I haven't put you off reading this book - despite its faults I did learn from it, and you will too. It is available both as a hardback book and in Kindle format - however, in my view the e-book is expensive at £14.39, so I'd advise you to choose the hardback, which even including postage is available at a lower price from several third-party sellers at Amazon.


What proportion of births weren't registered?

David Annal and Audrey Collins state on page 52 of Birth, Marriage & Death Records that "the overall rate of non-registration for the periods from 1837 [to 1 875] was estimated to be no more than about 7%". My intuitive guess is that it was actually significantly lower than this over the period as a whole, though I accept that in the earliest years compliance was lower in some areas.


I have tried to compare the numbers of births, marriages, and deaths registered in 1838, 1839, and 1840 with the figures for baptisms, marriages and burials compiled from parish records which are included in the Registrar General's report for 1841 - however the parish register figures are significantly lower, and the discrepancy seems too large to be accounted for by non-conformity, so I suspect that statistics were not forthcoming from all parishes.


You might think that nearly 180 years on from the commencement of civil registration there's little chance of finding out how many births really went unrecorded - but I believe that now is actually the ideal time to commence such a project. Why? Because the precise birthdates given in the 1939 Register make it possible to check whether the births of the individuals people recorded in 1939 were actually registered.


Review: Kindred

Steve Robinson's latest book is a cracker! I was privileged to receive a review copy well ahead of tomorrow's publication, and once I started reading it, I found I couldn't put it down.


I'm sure that most of you reading this article will be familiar with Jefferson Tayte, the food-loving professional genealogist who is the hero of Steve Robinson's mysteries - but where the latest book differs is that Tayte is at last able to turn his attention to his own family tree. Adopted as a baby, his only clue to his parentage is a photograph of a woman who he believes to be his mother - and she's standing in front of a building in Munich, Germany.


There are two threads to the story - in one we follow JT and his colleague Professor Jean Summer as they follow leads in the present day; in the other we learn about two German adolescents who become bosom pals after joining the Hitler Youth in the 1930s, but whose friendship is strained when they both fall for the same Fraulein. Only at the end do we learn whether or not the two threads are intertwined and, if so, how - and I'm certainly not going to spoil your enjoyment by giving you any more clues!


Kindred is available as a paperback, as a Kindle e-book, and as an audio download. I read the book on my iPad, but there are free Kindle readers available for most devices - usually I read books on my smartphone (and would have done so on this occasion had I not smashed the screen).


If you do decide to order Kindred (or anything else that Amazon sell), you can support my work by using one of the links below:         


Exhibition: Dawn of the Photograph

It's difficult to be a family historian without being entranced by old photographs, and they don't come much older than those taken by Henry Fox Talbot - one of his photos dates from 1835.


On Thursday 14th April the exhibition Dawn of the Photograph opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London - it runs until 11th September 2016. The photographs on display are taken from a collection of 6500 items which were passed to the Science Museum by Talbot's niece Matilda in 1934 .


Stop Press

Findmypast have added over 900,000 Royal Navy and Royal Marine service and pension records covering the period 1704-1919. You can search them here


That's all for this issue - I'll be back soon with more news from the wonderful world of family history..


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2016 Peter Calver


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