Newsletter – 4th August 2016
Explore the world for a month – under £10 ENDS SUNDAY
Please update your My Details page ACTION REQUIRED
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 23rd July) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):
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Last Friday there was a 'teaser' in Findmypast's regular email to subscribers which read "Do you have Scottish ancestors? Brand new Scottish registers and records to be released soon."
Up to now Findmypast haven't added many Scottish records to their vast collection – possibly because they have also been operating the ScotlandsPeople site on behalf of the Scottish government. Now that their contract is coming to an end they’re probably in a better position to compete without there being a conflict of interest.
Although I don’t have Scottish ancestors myself (or at least, none that I’ve found so far!) I’ll be watching very closely on your behalf.
Explore the world for a month – under £10 ENDS SUNDAY
For the next few days you can buy a 1 Month World subscription to Findmypast for the cost of a Britain subscription (or the equivalent ‘local’ subscription at Findmypast’s sites around the world).
It’s a handy opportunity to access almost all of the 8 billion records and newspaper articles in the Findmypast collection (the one record set excluded is the 1939 Register, which is only ever available to 12 Month subscribers).
This offer isn’t exclusive to LostCousins, but you’ll only be supporting LostCousins when you use the appropriate link below:
Tip: if you live outside the UK it’s worth noting that subscriptions to the UK site are significantly cheaper in terms of your local currency following the June referendum – you can check the latest exchange rates at xe.com
You need to be aware that your subscription will renew automatically at the end of the month unless you un-tick the ‘auto-renew my subscription’ box in the My Account section of the site. However you can do this at any time – there’s no need to leave it until the last minute.
Yesterday AncestryDNA and Quest Diagnostics announced that they will be collaborating to expand the market for consumer DNA tests; to quote the press release “The new collaboration will allow AncestryDNA to scale its testing services and pave the way for new wellness offerings.”
Since AncestryDNA have now sold over 2 million autosomal DNA tests, most of them in the past couple of years, it’s clear that DNA testing is becoming ever more important to genealogists.
But is AncestryDNA the best choice? For researchers in the UK and many other countries outside the USA their tests are relatively expensive to purchase - and you need to subscribe to Ancestry to view the family trees of the people you’ve been matched with, so that’s something else to take into account. (After all, you may be an Ancestry subscriber now, but will you always be able to justify the expense?)
It’s a complex decision: Ancestry have the biggest DNA database, but it’s dominated by people who live in the USA – which is clearly a problem if you’re trying to solve ‘brick walls’ in Europe. My inclination has always been to purchase the cheapest tests (since they’re all using similar technology), and to use sites like GEDmatch to connect with cousins who have tested with other providers.
Ancestry use a phasing algorithm known as Underdog to separate segments of DNA that you inherited from your mother from those that came from your father (although the workings are hidden from the user); currently they’re the only major testing company to attempt this process, so it’s hard to know how successful it is.
Recently, however, Family Tree DNA came up with a slightly different approach when they added a Family Matching Tool to sort matches into paternal and maternal. When this new tool first launched it required users to have tested a close relative from at least one side of their family – a parent, an aunt or uncle, or a 1st cousin – but it has just been extended to include more distant relatives, including 2nd and 3rd cousins.
For the new feature to work you need to have uploaded or created a family tree which includes the relatives who have tested – and you’ll need to confirm that it’s the same person. This page at the FTDNA site explains how it all works, but as I’ve only just discovered this feature I’m still waiting to find out how well it works.
Note: the process of sorting in maternal and paternal matches doesn’t take place instantly – so don’t expect immediate results. Precisely how long it will take depends on how many other researchers are using the site – it could be hours or days – so the sooner you start, the better.
I’ll be writing again about the Family Matching Tool when I have more personal experience of using it – so please don’t write in asking for my help just yet. (Many thanks to DNA expert Debbie Kennett for telling me about this new tool.)
Family Tree DNA are having a Summer Sale – offering Family Finder tests at the amazingly low price of $69, a $30 saving compared to their usual price of $99 (and the usual sale price of $89).
This means that, despite the fall in the pound following the recent referendum, researchers in Britain can buy an autosomal test more cheaply than ever before – about £63 after allowing for shipping and the commission that your bank is likely to add on a foreign currency transaction. And, other than return postage when you send back your sample, there are no further costs – there are no subscriptions or one-off charges, even though Family Tree DNA are continually improving the features they offer (see the previous article).
Of course, it’s not just those of us in Britain who will benefit – the saving is even greater if you live outside the UK. But wherever you live, please use this link (or the one above) to ensure that LostCousins will benefit from your purchase.
Who should test? In most cases you are the best person to test - the main exception is if both of your parents are still alive, in which case they should both test instead of you. Remember that with autosomal DNA it makes no difference whether you are male or female - you can take the test.
Autosomal DNA tests are rather like chocolates - you always want another one. If both of your parents are deceased consider asking an aunt, uncle, or first cousin to test (ideally one from each side of your tree). Whilst paying for multiple DNA tests might sound extravagant, at $69 you'd be paying only a third of the $199 they cost when I tested in 2012.
Note: no end date for the offer has been published, so I suggest you make your decision as soon as possible. I’ll update this article when I discover the closing date.
Please update your My Details page ACTION REQUIRED
I recently added a new section to the My Details page so that members could indicate whether or not they had taken an autosomal DNA test (such as Family Finder, or Ancestry DNA) – or if they were considering doing so. Like it or not, DNA is starting to become just as important as traditional records when it comes to knocking down ‘brick walls.
Whether or not you’re interested in taking a DNA test yourself I do hope you’ll spare the 60 seconds it will take to compete this new section – in due course this information will be shared with other members you’ve been matched with, making it easier for those who do want to use DNA to develop an effective strategy.
Whilst you’re updating your My Details page I hope you’ll also take a moment to check that the other information shown there is correct and complete – thank you!
Note: to access your My Details page you’ll need to know your password – to get a reminder just follow the link in the website menu. The email which told you about this newsletter gives the email address under which your account is registered.
Nottinghamshire parish records on the SoG website
There are now transcribed records for over 90 Nottinghamshire parishes included in the Society of Genealogists collection, SoG Data Online – but they represent just a small fraction of the data that SoG members have at their fingertips. Some of the record sets in the collection are also available at Findmypast, but many others aren’t.
This PDF document lists all of the record sets available online as at the end of May – it’s an impressive list, and they’re all free to members!
Well, if you have Norfolk ancestors it’s a no-brainer – you use the site that has the most records. Or do you? I’m reliably informed that in reality the three sites all have the same records, they just count them differently! I guess it’s ‘normal for Norfolk’……
Tip: the Findmypast link above leads to a list of their Norfolk records by event and by parish, so if you want to compare one site with another it’s a good place to start.
Since 1998 the charity FreeBMD - now known as Free UK Genealogy - has been marshalling the resources of thousands of volunteer transcribers for the benefit of the genealogical community.
There are three key projects: FreeBMD (GRO indexes for England & Wales), FreeCEN (censuses covering the whole of Britain), and FreeREG (parish registers covering the whole of Britain). The only project of the three that is close to completion is FreeBMD, where the coverage is virtually 100% for the period 1837-1975, but the site that I find most useful is FreeREG, because many of the parish register entries that have been transcribed aren't available online at any other site.
Some years ago Ancestry licensed the FreeBMD data from 1837-1915, but otherwise the records that the volunteers have transcribed are only available at the three free sites. As things stand there are two key risks: one is that the money required to keep the free sites going runs out - this is always a risk for sites that rely on donations and advertising. The other, arguably more significant, risk is that researchers won't find parish records relating to their ancestors - maybe because they're unaware of the existence of FreeREG, or perhaps because they find different records at other sites which are plausible matches.
Of course, experienced researchers with an unlimited amount of time will leave no stone unturned in the search for the truth - but the reality is that few of us have as much time as we need to painstakingly research our ancestors, and even fewer are immune from making mistakes.
The solution that the trustees of Free UK Genealogy came up with is simple - rather than put the transcribed data behind a paywall (as commercial sites do), or restrict access by confining it to the three existing sites, they propose to make the data available to anyone under an Open Data licence. A blog posting by David Mayall, one of the trustees, on the Free UK Genealogy site explains what they are planning to do, and how everyone will benefit:
What we ARE proposing is to make our data available as “open data”, which will mean that anybody can re-use that data. That could include people who re-use it commercially, but we will still have it online, free of charge.
Should you be worried about this? Well, rest assured that I and the other trustees have worried about it for several years. Of course, we are concerned that we should do the right thing, and that we shouldn’t leave people thinking we are doing the wrong thing.
So, why open data? Well, whilst we have achieved much, in bringing all that data to people free of charge, we have come to realise that something was happening that we never really considered back in 1999 (yes, that is how long FreeBMD has been with us). Basically, the data set that we have transcribed is so huge that it seems very unlikely that anybody else would do it again, but WE own that data, and that means that it is only as useful as WE let it be.
If somebody else has a good idea about using that data to make it even more useful to genealogists, then they can’t do it, and unless we negotiate an agreement with them (or we develop the idea ourselves) that good idea will never happen.
Now that isn’t what we are about!
So, we want to say to all those people out there who think they can do something clever with that data “Go, do something clever”.
Some of them will do something clever and make some money from it. Others will do clever things for free, and still others will see people making money from the data and decide to do something similar for free. Basically, unless what somebody wants to do with the data is HUGELY clever, somebody else will do the same thing for free, so there will be little incentive for the pay sites to do simple stuff here, because if they do, somebody else will pull the rug from under them.
So, there you have it. People will be able to use our data. They can even charge people for their end product, but we are sure that there will be plenty of new FREE content created, and that anybody who created a paid-for version of FreeBMD, FreeCEN or FreeREG would make no money!
Above all, the existing FREE sites (or rather new, revamped, FREE sites in some cases) will still be there.
This isn't something that has been decided overnight - in December I reported that Free UK Genealogy would be holding a conference in London on 30th January, and included a key paragraph from the invitation I received:
The main reason to hold this conference is to begin a consultation process with our volunteer transcribers, past and present. We are inviting comments on a proposed Transcriber's Agreement. The agreements will secure the future of your transcriptions as resources free to access and use by all, forever, by making them open data. Open data is data that people are free to use, re-use and redistribute - without any legal, technological or social restriction - subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness. On 30th January we will also be launching a consultation on the wording of the agreement, and also on the way we will make the change to being an open data organisation.
What some transcribers didn't realise is that making the transcriptions Open Data would allow anyone to make use of them, including commercial websites such as Ancestry and Findmypast. However, as David Mayall's post makes clear, nobody is going to make very much money simply by charging for data that is available free elsewhere - they'll need to add value in some way.
Of course, this isn't the first time something like this has happened: the 1881 England & Wales census was transcribed by volunteers in a project co-ordinated by FamilySearch, and even today the transcriptions of that census at Ancestry and Findmypast are based on those efforts. That's why you can access the 1881 transcriptions free at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Findmypast (and why I chose it as the key census that we use at LostCousins).
I sincerely hope that all volunteer transcribers will realise that by making their transcriptions more widely available they’ll be doing an even greater service to the genealogical community.
Last week Findmypast added 2,518,039 new records to their England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 collection – you can search them here.
The new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, will ultimately decide what changes are made in access to historic birth, marriage, and death records, since the General Register Office is within her purview – so I was interested to discover that she is directly descended from Charles II and his mistress Barbara Palmer.
Palmer bore 5 of the King’s bastards before she was displaced in his affections by Nell Gwynn. Will Ms Rudd’s family history make her more sympathetic to our interests? I hope so.
Note: you can read more about the descendants of King Charles II in this Daily Mail article.
I'm very much in favour of family historians testing their autosomal DNA - it's wonderful to know that we can use the results to verify our research, find new cousins we might never otherwise have connected with, and knock down 'brick walls', especially in the case of illegitimacy or adoption.
What I'm against is the way that most companies that offer DNA tests oversell their ability to determine ethnic origins - and when I received an email from one of them headed "Where do I come from?", I knew what it was going to say.
Don’t fall for it: take DNA tests in order to extend your family tree and fill in the gaps where written records are unavailable, or hard to find. Don’t take a test because you want to know whether you have Viking ancestors – because we all do!
I have two German lines - but no real idea where in Germany they came from, which makes it very difficult to investigate any further. I recently wrote an article about the historic distribution of Irish surnames (you'll find it here) and I've recently discovered the Geogen site, which maps the distribution of surnames in modern Germany, though it's most helpful for the former West Germany.
If you're struggling to find places in Germany there's a gazetteer that has recently been indexed and linked to historic maps - you'll find it here. At the moment there's no Help information on the website, so I've uploaded a PDF copy of the press release, which explains how to get the most out of the site - you'll find it here. (Thanks to Jenny from the Anglo German Family History Society - and a longstanding LostCousins member - for this tip.)
In 2014 I wrote about the Archion website which is making available online parish registers for the Evangelical Church of Germany - there are 13 partner archives covering a large part of the country, as you can see from the map here. It's a subscription site, but there are lots of different options - a 1 month pass costs just under 20 Euros (about £17 at the current exchange rate). The site is in English as well as German, though obviously the records are in German.
Last year the National Archive of Ireland made available online Catholic parish registers for the whole of Ireland, and earlier this year indexed transcriptions of these registers went online at Findmypast and other sites (you'll find my March article here).
Now the Church of Ireland has made available a detailed list of parish registers showing which have survived, and - most importantly - where they are held. You'll find the list here.
In addition, a small number of registers have been transcribed and indexed as part of the Anglian Record Project.
Note: the Church of Ireland website is in the process of being updated, and the information can currently only be found on their beta site - I will alter the links in this article if necessary.
Collage, an online collaboration between the London Metropolitan Archives and the Guildhall Art Gallery, showcases over a quarter of a million photographs and other images of London. They can be searched by street, thematically, or by using keywords such as ‘workhouse’ or ‘laundry’ – use the Advanced Search if you’re not getting the results you want from a simple keyword search.
These photos chosen by the Guardian newspaper will help whet your appetite….
Seven years ago I published a series of articles in which I featured photographs of members’ ancestors – the challenge was to find the oldest person to have been photographed, that is to say the person who was born first. The articles ended in September 2009 with this article, in which I reported that Jeremiah Powell, born in 1750, was the earliest that LostCousins members had found.
I’ve recently come across a photograph (said to have been taken in 1840) of Hannah Stilley Gorby, who was reputedly born in 1746, which would make it even older. But to the best of my knowledge she isn’t the ancestor of a LostCousins member – unlike Jeremiah Powell – and furthermore there are some who would dispute whether this photograph really is of her.
Steve Robinson, the author who got me hooked on genealogical mysteries, is close to completing the 6th book in the Jefferson Tayte series – so now’s the time to catch up if you’ve missed one of the earlier books.
You can find them all instantly (and support LostCousins) by following the appropriate link below:
On Tuesday my wife and I attended a Literary Lunch that was organised as part of the Holt Festival – it was held at the Wiverton Hall Café, which some of you will know from the fascinating BBC2 documentary series ‘Normal for Norfolk’ (if you’re in the UK you can still view all 4 episodes here).
The strange thing was, we had made the booking long before watching the documentary – so we had absolutely no idea that Desmond MacCarthy and his family were about to become famous. In fact, we only decided to attend because we were planning a short holiday in Norfolk, so would be in the area.
Knowing from the TV series that Desmond had an interest in his own ancestry I asked him if he would be prepared to write a short article for this newsletter – and the photograph on the left shows him just after I popped the question!
Desmond is not only interested in his ancestry, he has just taken a DNA test in order to find out more – and whilst he couldn’t remember the name of the company, he told me that they were in Houston (which is where Family Tree DNA are based).
But the real coincidence came when I discovered that, not only does Desmond share my birthday, one of his cousins used to live in my house!
However, that wasn’t the only coincidence this week - yesterday my brother phoned: “I’m in your area at the moment”. “Do you want to stop by?”, I asked. “I think I already have”, came the response.
It turned out that my brother, who works for the Imperial War Museum, had been making the 70 mile journey from his home to Duxford, one of the IWM’s major sites, when his car broke down on the M11 motorway. Before calling the AA for assistance he used Google Maps to find his precise location, only to discover to his amazement (and subsequently mine) that he was right outside my house!
Coincidences are a fascinating psychological phenomenon – we seize on the few that actually happen, whilst disregarding the millions (or even billions) of events that weren’t juxtaposed. For example, my brother must have driven up and down the M11 on scores of occasions when he didn’t break down opposite my house – indeed, if I include my wider family there must have been hundreds or thousands of opportunities for one of them to break down nearby!
So, whilst coincidences like these make an interesting talking point, they don’t necessarily indicate that there’s something spooky going on…..
I often receive emails from members who ask me where they can find an article from a previous newsletter. Fortunately such questions are very easy to answer – there’s a Google search built into each newsletter which will allow you to quickly and easily search all of my online newsletters (which go back to February 2009).
It might seem a bit discourteous to suggest that enquirers carry out the search themselves, but I believe that sharing knowledge is more important than sharing information. Knowing how to do something is more valuable than having someone else do it for you – which is why I always encourage people to do their own research rather than employing a professional genealogist (except in those rare cases where specialist knowledge or location makes it the only feasible option).
I’d like to think that LostCousins members not only share information with the living relatives they find, but pass on techniques and useful tips that will help their cousins in their future research. As the Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
‘Social media’ is a term that fills many of us with horror – indeed, I often think that it would be more aptly-named ‘social terrorism’ given the verbal onslaughts that Facebook, Twitter, and other sites frequently unleash. But let us not forget that it’s also possible to connect with people online in an entirely positive way, especially at a site like LostCousins where we only connect with those who share common interests.
It’s now just over 12 years since the very first cousins met at the fledgling LostCousins site, yet in all that time not one LostCousins member has complained about something that another member has said. I believe that’s an incredible (and possibly unique) record!
But there are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. There are still people reading this newsletter who haven’t entered a single relative on their My Ancestors page, or who have only entered a handful of relatives. Some people say “I don’t have the time”, but it’s an excuse that wears a bit thin after a few months, and after 5 or even 10 years of membership it is positively threadbare. Everyone can find half an hour to enter a few dozen relatives from the 1881 Census (or one of the other censuses we use at LostCousins).
Another saying that resonates with me is “If you want something done, ask a busy person”. In other words, there are some people who are doers, and there are others who will spend more time arguing that they don’t have the time to do something than it would have taken them to do it in the first place! Nobody succeeds by doing nothing – so to anyone who is still dilly-dallying I would say, “be a doer, not a doubter!”
It wouldn’t be Peter’s Tips without a money-saving offer. Between Friday 5th and Sunday 7th August you can make extra savings at AllBeauty, the website that ships discounted perfumes, aftershave, and other cosmetics all over the world. Simply follow the link above - so that LostCousins benefits - and use the code SAVER1 (to save £3 on a £30 order), SAVER2 (to save £5 on a £50 order) and SAVER3 (to save a massive £10 on an £80 order).
Finally, the news item that most interested me this week was the one about blackberries ripening late this year (you can read it here). Last year I made Blackberry & Elderberry jam for the first time, and I’m looking forward to making it again this year – probably with a hint of orange to add extra fragrance. Will you be picking blackberries, and if so what will you be making?
This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......
That's all for now - I'll be back soon with more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2016 Peter Calver
Please do not copy any part of this newsletter without permission. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or email a link to your friends and relatives without asking for permission in advance - though why not invite them to join LostCousins instead as standard membership, which includes this newsletter, is FREE?