Newsletter - 20th August 2017
Win the Queen's granny's autograph ENDS SOON
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 28th July) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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The old proverb "blood is thicker than water " emphasises the importance of family relationships and, not surprisingly, they're crucially important at LostCousins - because the site exists for one reason, and one reason only, to connect cousins who are researching the same ancestors, wherever they live - a third of all matches made involve members on different continents!
LostCousins is the only site where, having found someone whose tree connects to your own, you can see instantly whether the other person is a cousin of yours (ie someone who shares one of your bloodlines), or only related by marriage. Anyone who has used sites like Ancestry and Genes Reunited will know that the vast majority of people whose trees overlap with yours aren't cousins (even assuming that they've got their research right, which sadly isn't always the case), so it's difficult to know which connections to focus on and which to leave for another day.
To find out how you're connected to the contacts you make at LostCousins simply click their name (or initials) on your My Cousins page. This displays the My Contact page for the relationship, showing all the relatives you've both entered, and how each of you are related to each of them.
Of course, the output of any computer system is only as good as the data going in (you may be familiar with the term GIGO, or "garbage in, garbage out") so it's dependent on you specifying the correct relationships for the relatives you enter on your My Ancestors page, ie:
Someone from whom you are directly descended, ie a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent etc
It's a good idea to print out the blank Ancestor Chart and fill it in - it shows who your direct ancestors are going back 5 generations, and also gives their Ancestor Numbers (entering these not only helps me to help you, it makes it easier for your own cousins to work out precisely how they are connected to you, without needing access to your tree)
A person who shares a direct ancestor with you, ie a cousin (no matter how distant); most people on your tree are blood relatives
Someone who is connected to your tree only by one or more marriages or relationships; a typical example is someone who marries a cousin (though it isn't necessary for them to have been legally married, or even to have lived together)
If you were adopted this category applies to ALL of the members of your adoptive family, past, present, and future; it is also used for other family members who were adopted, whether or not it was legally sanctioned.
You can use this category (sparingly) to enter someone who you believe could be a relative of yours, but where there is too little information to identify whether or not it is the correct census entry (for example, when someone is in domestic service and the name/birthplace combination is a common one); the aim is to connect with someone who can either confirm your hypothesis or disprove it
Other categories (employment, lodger, One-Name Study,
One-Place Study etc)
These should only be used when you enter people who are not connected to your tree in any way; only enter someone who is not related to you if there is some meaningful purpose in doing so (otherwise you'll be wasting your time and that of other members who are related to those individuals); do not enter people simply because they were living in the same household as your relatives
NEVER use this category - it is there for historical reasons; if you already have 'unknown' entries on your My Ancestors page please choose a more meaningful category or delete them altogether
These relationships are shown in order of importance; if someone qualifies under more than one heading (for example, all direct ancestors are also blood relatives) you should give priority to the relationship which is highest up the list. But always remember, it's about how the people you enter are related to YOU, and not how they are related to somebody else. This is why, rather than entering someone else's relatives on your own My Ancestors page you must open a separate account for them (even if the other person is your spouse or partner).
If you have inadvertently entered someone else's relatives on your own My Ancestors page you can quickly and easily copy them to a new account using the Refer a Relative option on your My Referrals page (don't open the new account until you have the referral code, and don't delete the relatives from your own page until you have logged into the new account and checked that they are listed). You can use the same email address for the new account just so long as the password is different.
Tip: to amend or delete an entry on your My Ancestors page simply click the person's name; always edit an existing entry rather than creating a new one.
Win the Queen's granny's autograph ENDS SOON
You've just got time to enter my Summer Competition, which ends at midnight on 31st August - and the top prize is an autograph of Queen Mary, the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II (there are also 30 LostCousins subscriptions, worth up to £12.50 each, still to be won).
It costs nothing to enter and search for your 'lost cousins' at the same time. People write to me sometimes saying things like "I've got quite enough cousins already", "I know all my cousins", or "My cousins don't have any useful information".
Well, 'lost cousins' are very, very different - for a start they all they know things you don't about your family tree. And they're keen family historians like yourself, otherwise they wouldn't have joined in the first place. Do you realise that, if your ancestry is mostly British, there are around 200 LostCousins members who are your 6th cousin or closer, ALL of them researching the ancestors you share?
You'll find full details of the competition and how you can enter here.
In the last newsletter I asked whether the records held centrally by the Royal Navy contain information that isn't included in the documents handed to sailors when they left the service. There were many responses from readers who had inherited their father's records, but most hadn't sought a copy of the records retained by the navy.
However Tony, got back to me with some very useful information. First he advised me that the Victualing and Pay records can include details of postings which aren't shown in the Service Record itself - and commented that "Often in my research I have found small side notes on the Victualing & Pay Records which point to other aspects associated with their service eg 'Identified as suitable for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) training or posting', 'Re-assignment to secret bases for participation in development and testing of new devices' - e.g. Hedgehog (Forward throwing depth-charges) etc."
He also pointed me in the direction of an amazing website which includes histories for around 1000 Royal Navy vessels from the WW2 period, including most of those that my father-in-law served on:
I was particularly interested in following up on a story that my father-in-law recounted a few months before he died. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's for some years, but he had a particularly lucid spell one evening when we were all dining at the house of some friends in the village - he told us about a time during his WW2 service when he had to work his way across America because he'd missed his ship in New York, and needed to catch up with it in California.
There was no sign on his Service Records of any disciplinary action, so at first sight the story seemed quite unlikely to be true - but when I looked at the itineraries of the vessels he had served on it all became clear. Between May and December 1941 he was serving with HMS Phoebe, but on 27th August the ship was on support duty off the coast of Libya when it was struck by a torpedo in an Italian air attack, causing major underwater damage. The vessel made it to Alexandria where emergency repairs were carried out, then the Phoebe sailed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York for the job to be done properly, arriving on 21st November 1941 (the ship didn't leave until April of the following year).
My father-in-law's service record shows that in December 1941 he transferred to HMS Orion, which had been under repair at the Mare Island US Navy Yard (just north of San Francisco) since early September (the Orion eventually sailed to Plymouth in March 1942). So the story Arthur told us seems to have been half-true after all - he may not have missed his ship, but he clearly travelled across the US from coast to coast to get from one ship to the other.
Tip: the naval history website that I linked to above also has information from other periods, and even for other navies - it's well worth a look.
This week Findmypast added around 2 million transcribed register entries for parishes in the county of Buckinghamshire. I don't know of any ancestors of mine from the county, but I have ancestors from adjacent counties, so I'll certainly be having a close look in case I can break down any of my 'brick walls'.
Some years ago I suggested that FreeBMD (now Free UK Genealogy) should invest some of their accumulated funds upgrading the FreeREG and FreeCEN sites. FreeREG was indeed upgraded a couple of years ago, and now it is FreeCEN's turn for an upgrade - you can try out the new site here.
Note: although the census information at FreeCEN is free, it isn't complete. You can see the coverage here.
No matter how much experience you might have as a family historian, it would be understandable if, when the results of your DNA test came through, you were completely flummoxed about what to do next. There's a simple reason for this - we're used to working backwards from what we already know, so there's a clearly defined path, ie: find our ancestor's baptism in order to discover (or confirm) who their parents were, then find the parents' marriage, then find the baptisms of the parents and so on, working back a generation at a time.
But when we're matched with a genetic cousin, someone who appears to have inherited an identical segment of DNA, we're faced with a very different challenge. Most of the matches we make with DNA cousins will be many generations back, since we have many more distant cousins than we do close cousins. The final column of the table below indicates roughly how many cousins you might expect to find if you and they all took the Ancestry DNA test:
Based on Table 2 from: Henn BM, Hon L, Macpherson JM, Eriksson N, Saxonov S, Pe'er I, et al. (2012) Cryptic Distant Relatives Are Common in Both Isolated and Cosmopolitan Genetic Samples. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34267. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034267
Revised using Ancestry DNA estimates for the chances of detecting cousins and the expected number of 1st to 6th cousins for those of British ancestry; the numbers for 7th to 10th cousins are my own guesstimates
Of course, in practice only a small fraction of your cousins will have tested - even Ancestry, the biggest providers of autosomal tests, have only sold 5 million tests - but you can nevertheless reckon that the cousins you're matched with will be distributed roughly in proportion to the figures shown above. In other words, over 99% of your matches will be with relatives who are at best 5th cousins, and could well be 8th cousins or even more distant.
Tip: Ancestry won't show any of your DNA matches as more distant than '5th to 8th cousin', but it's very likely that amongst them there are many who are more distant - possibly as many as half of them. Once you get beyond 3rd cousins the length of the shared segment(s) is only a very rough guide to how closely you are related - you could share a 7cM segment with a 10th cousin, but no detectable DNA with a 5th cousin.
You and your 5th cousin shares the same great-great-great-great grandparents. Now, I don't know about you, but I certainly can't say who all of my 4G grandparents were - indeed, I don't even know for sure who all my 3G grandparents were. I've got several 'brick walls' in the last 5 generations - and most researchers, including my DNA cousins, are probably in the same situation. Go back another generation and there are even more gaps - and it just gets worse from then on.
In other words, most of the ancestors that link us to our DNA cousins are on the other side of a 'brick wall' - and this could be a 'brick wall' in your own tree, in your cousin's tree, or even in both trees. What a challenge!
At this stage it's important to remind ourselves why we took a DNA test! Surely the primary reason we tested was to knock down 'brick walls' that conventional research couldn't breach? If our 'brick walls' have resisted our efforts for years (or even decades), the opportunity to knock them down using DNA is surely well worth grasping - even though it will mean that we have to adopt a new and unfamiliar strategy, and utilise somewhat different techniques?
How to process your DNA matches
I'm going to assume for the purpose of this article that you tested with Ancestry - but don't stop reading if you tested elsewhere because the general principles are the same wherever you tested.
At Ancestry you'll typically have 5000 to 15000 matches with cousins, and of those all but about 1% will be with 'distant' cousins, ie where the estimated relationship is 5th cousin or more distant. So the obvious strategy is to focus on the 1% on the basis that if you can't make head or tail of those matches, your chance of resolving the more distant matches is negligible.
Strategy 1: search by surname
However, that 'obvious' strategy would be wrong - my experience has shown that a much better approach is to search the trees of your matches by surname, in the hope of identifying cousins who have the same surname in their tree as one of your 'brick wall' ancestors. Here's how to go about it:
Strategy 2: search by birthplace
As you will have discovered when working through your list of surnames, most of the time the surname of the ancestors you share with a DNA cousin doesn't appear in both trees - indeed, it's quite possible that the surname of your common ancestor doesn't appear in either tree!
The problem is, when your female ancestors married they generally took their husband's surname. This makes it more difficult to research female ancestors whose children were born before the commencement of civil registration, since baptism registers don't usually give the mother's maiden surname - usually the only solution is to find the marriage. (By contrast you can continue researching your male ancestors even if you can't their marriage.)
Of course, this problem doesn't simply affect you and your research - it affects your cousins too; most researchers' tree become increasingly sparse with each generation. If you've only identified 10% of your 256 6G grandparents and your cousins have only identified 10% of theirs, the odds of finding out how you're related to a 7th cousin simply by comparing the names in your trees are pretty remote.
Another way to figure out how you are related to your DNA cousins is to look for geographical overlaps - and here's how to go about it:
3: look for overlaps with the more unusual components of your ethnicity
Most readers of this newsletter have mostly British, Irish, or western European ancestry. But some of you will have Jewish ancestors, or ancestors from outside Europe, and whilst ethnicity estimates can be quite misleading, they do provide another way of analysing your matches.
Here's what Ancestry show for one of my DNA cousins:
If Ancestry had detected a Jewish component in my own ethnicity this would be one of the matches I'd be looking at very closely.
Strategy 4: look for the 'elephant in the room'
Because we all have 'brick walls' in our trees there are parts of our ancestry that are a closed book - yet there will inevitably be clues amongst our matches, if only we look for them. For example, if - like me - you don't know of any Irish ancestors, but have lots of matches with cousins who do, you might begin to wonder whether one of your 'brick walls' is concealing a connection to Ireland.
I can't provide you with a step-by-step guide - it's all about awareness (Louis Pasteur said that "chance favours the prepared mind").
Although more people have tested their autosomal DNA with Ancestry than all of the other companies added together, everyone can find more matches by uploading their results to the free GEDmatch site, and those who tested with Ancestry can also upload them to Family Tree DNA.
Downloading your results from one site and uploading them to another is a remarkably simple process - just so long as you know where to start. Ancestry users seem to have the most problems, though I can never figure out why - all you need to do is log-in, go to your DNA home page, then click SETTINGS at the top right. On the next page you'll see DOWNLOAD RAW DNA DATA at the right - click this button, then enter your password on the pop-up and tick the box below, and then click CONFIRM.
Within the next couple of minutes you'll receive an email with a link 'Confirm Data Download' - click this link and you'll be taken back to the Ancestry site. Finally click DOWNLOAD RAW DATA to download the Zip file. Where this file ends up depends on your browser settings, but mine can be found in the Downloads folder, so I'd suggest looking there first.
Tip: if your email from Ancestry doesn't arrive check your spam folder; the address it is sent from is AncestryDNA@ancestrydna.com so you could try adding that address to your address book.
Uploading your data to GEDmatch is very easy - simply log-in (or register if you haven't already done so) then click the Generic Upload link on their home page:
The only difficult part is waiting for them to process your data - it could take a day or two before you are able to search for matches. However if your initial aim is to look more closely at a match you've found at Ancestry, you don't have to wait - just so long as your DNA cousin has uploaded their results and told you their kit number (this is allocated by GEDmatch).
I'll be writing more about GEDmatch in future newsletters, but there's lots of guidance on the GEDmatch site, and you’re not going to break anything if you experiment. One word of warning: not all GEDmatch pages have a link to take you back to the home page, so you might need to use the browser back button (or else you could open GEDmatch in other tab).
Tip: GEDmatch are currently working on GEDmatch Genesis, which is in the beta testing stage (so you can try it out); currently GEDmatch Genesis offers the only way for those who tested at Living DNA to search for cousins.
I was recently contacted by a LostCousins member who, having taken a DNA test, found a previously unknown half-brother who had been adopted. I can't go into more details for reasons of privacy, but what a wonderful discovery!
I'm hoping that one of these days I'm going to find a previously unknown 1st cousin. Soon after I began researching my family tree I was informed by my aunt, then in her late 80s, that her mother - my maternal grandmother - had told her a story which suggested that my grandfather had fathered a child in between his two wives. It certainly seems quite feasible, since there was an 8-year gap between the death of his first wife and his marriage to my grandmother, but trying to track down that child in the records is nigh on impossible.
This story in the Toronto Tree - published by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society - is also fascinating. The wonderful thing about DNA is that in some cases we're able to answer questions about parentage that even our ancestors couldn't!
Family Tree DNA are currently offering discounts on Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal (Family Finder) tests. They're the only major company offering Y-DNA and mtDNA tests for genealogists, but when it comes to atDNA they have strong competition from Ancestry, who have a much larger user base.
Follow this link to support LostCousins and save $30 on a 37-marker Y-DNA test, $40 on a full-sequence mtDNA test, or $20 on the Family Finder atDNA test. You can save even more if you purchase more than one test for the same person (since they can use a single sample), but bear in mind that Y-DNA and mtDNA tests only tell you about a single line, so are not for everyone. Family Tree DNA sell worldwide at the same US dollar price - only the delivery charge varies - and no ongoing subscription is required.
Tip: if you test your autosomal DNA with Ancestry you can transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA to search for more cousins, but it you test with FTDNA you can't transfer your results to Ancestry - this is one of the key reasons I re-tested with Ancestry earlier this year.
Ancestry Canada are currently offering a $30 discount on autosomal DNA tests - please follow this link to support LostCousins.
Ancestry UK are offering discounts to some customers - try this link (if it doesn't work first time log-out from your Ancestry account, then click the link again).
Living DNA are still discounting their prices in many territories (see the links below), and they're also giving a 15% discount on personalised ancestry books when you use the code LDNAUKBOOK17 (in the UK) or LDNAUSBOOK17 (in the US).
Living DNA offer a more detailed analysis of your ethnicity and one that is more relevant. One LostCousins member has been able to confirm a family story about the exotic origins of his great-great grandfather thanks to Living DNA identifying DNA from Sindh, now in Pakistan.
Perhaps DNA testing could also prove whether the tartan-wearing villagers of Gurro, in the Italian Alps, are really descended from Scottish migrants (see this BBC article for more details)?
There was a big fuss this week about the plans to silence the chimes of Big Ben, probably the world's most famous bell, for several years in order to protect the hearing of workers who are repairing the tower. As someone who grew up hearing the sound of Big Ben just before the start of the news on the Home Service it got me thinking…. and I realised that it was only because of the invention of radio that most people, even Londoners, were able to hear the bell striking.
A century ago our ancestors could have gone through their entire lives without once hearing Big Ben strike the hour. So is it really worth risking the health of the maintenance staff just so that we can keep up a modern tradition? I don’t think so. Big Ben will be back - that's all we need to know!
I took some holiday earlier this month - hence the late publication of this newsletter - but I did manage to reply to most emails promptly. Mobile phone coverage is improving on the Norfolk Broads, where we were staying, though there are still many places where I have to put my SIM card in a MiFi dongle and connect a 4G aerial in order to get a usable data connection. I only wish it was possible to buy a smartphone which supported the use of an external aerial!
But even with an aerial I can’t always get data coverage on the O2 network, so I keep on hand an EE SIM (my latest EE SIM cost just £7.48 for 2GB of data valid for 30 days from activation - I bought it here). I like to travel, but I can't bear to be out of touch for very long.
Whilst I did pick blackberries from the hedgerows, as usual at this time of year, I was delighted to discover damsons, mirabelles, and cherry plums growing wild - so as soon as I've sent out this newsletter I'll be putting on my pinny and cooking them up! Have you found any special treats this summer? It amazes me how few people seem to be interested in foraging these days - is it a generational thing?
In 10 days' time I'll be meeting with Findmypast - do you have any suggestions that you would like me to pass on to them? Not about new record sets (since you can be sure that they're already doing what they can), but the way the site works. This is my one chance in the year to talk to the people who can really make a difference, and I'd like to make the most of it.
Finally I'd like to send my best wishes to a very special LostCousins member - my 1st cousin once removed, Karen, who has just had an operation to remove a brain tumour.
I've just heard that Ancestry are offering free access to their UK & Ireland records this weekend, from Friday through to Monday. This link will list the records that are included in the offer. UPDATE: earlier in the weekend it was impossible to access parish registers under the offer, but Ancestry have now fixed the problem.
Until next time,
© Copyright 2017 Peter Calver
Please do NOT copy or republish any part of this newsletter without permission - which is only granted in the most exceptional circumstances. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or any article in it without asking for permission - though why not invite other family historians to join LostCousins instead, since standard membership (which includes the newsletter), is FREE