Newsletter - 9th December 2016
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 25th November) 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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I recently surveyed the most prolific LostCousins members - the ones who have entered the most relatives on their My Ancestors page - to ask them what message they'd like me to pass on to their cousins. They'd do it themselves, of course, but for the fact that they don’t know who their 'lost cousins' are.
I don't either - but I do know that everyone reading this newsletter has scores of cousins they've yet to be matched with. So here are some good reasons why you should complete your My Ancestors page - not from me, but from your cousins:
"We work best when we work together"
"I need you to add your relatives"
"I found a whole army of cousins in New Zealand........ my third cousin was also the catalyst for finding closer cousins in Devon including the first cousin of my father."
"The more names you add to your "My Ancestors" page the better the chances of finding a lost cousin."
"Meeting my American cousin online meant that I found out that my 'mystery' photograph was our mutual great-great-great-great grandfather; I knew his name, birth and marriage dates and places, but now I have a whole host of fascinating stories about him!"
"My 'found' cousin in Louisiana revealed another lost cousin who bears my great grandfather’s name, and our links to some amazing stories of 19th century American social and industrial history. Wow!"
"This is a perfect possibility of finding out more about your roots and, with your information, helping others to discover their origins."
"The best tip for uncovering your family history without any hint of uncertainty has to be Lost Cousins."
Are you prepared to give an hour of your time to make one of your cousins happy?
The three-week trial ended on 30th November - and whilst it seems to have been a success from the point of view of family historians, who have obtained better quality images at a cheaper price, the GRO will no doubt have many different factors to take into consideration. But there are still two more phases: the next will be 3 hour PDFs (at a premium price, one that no family historian will pay); the third and final phase will be PDFs of register entries that have not yet been digitised (at £8 each).
If you've been frantically making use of the new online indexes of births and deaths you'll probably have come across the wording 'occasional copy' in the search results. I had a shrewd idea what this might mean, but rather than guess I invited the GRO to provide an explanation:
These are going to be instances where the original registration has been amended in some way, requiring an “occasional copy” to be sent to the Registrar General (ie to supersede the original Quarterly Certified Copy).
They won’t be late registrations, which would be sent in with the Quarterly Certified returns for the relevant quarter.
Family historians being inquisitive souls, we inevitably wonder what change has been made - so I also asked whether it would be possible to obtain a copy of the original entry:
If a change has resulted in a re-registration of a birth, the new entry effectively supersedes the earlier one. The earlier entry remains in the index, but would have to be identified in the usual way and a copy of that earlier entry specifically ordered.
GRO would routinely issue the latest entry unless the customer specifically requests and references the earlier entry and if the earlier entry was provided, GRO would enclose a covering letter stating that this Certificate cannot be used for Official Purposes.
I'd be very interested to see any examples of such 'certificates' - do let me know if you manage to get hold of one!
Researchers in Australia were particularly pleased with the PDF trial, because they received the information quicker than they would have done otherwise - but it’s the enhanced indexes that have brought success for so many, as this email from Aileen in Tasmania demonstrates:
"the advent of ages in the death index allowed me to eliminate 24 out of 25 possible deaths in the indexes and I have now found the correct . I don’t have the financial resources to purchase 25 certificates on the off-chance of getting the correct one - who does? My great grandfather married twice and I am descended from the second marriage. All I was trying to do was prove he wasn’t a bigamist. I now have the death certificate of his first wife, thirty-five years after I started looking for it. She died in 1862 , aged twenty two, of Tb which she had suffered from for six months. Although the family had been living in Gateshead in County Durham, they had apparently gone back to Alston, Cumberland (where the family originated) at some time after the 1861 census, and Mary died there. Her husband was left with two baby daughters and, probably realising that his wife was dying, went back to Alston where he would have had family support. He married again in Tynemouth in 1864 and his second wife was also from Alston although she had gone to Tynemouth with her widowed father and her siblings at some after the 1861 census.
In the last issue I questioned whether pages might have been torn from the BMD registers during the 19th century when members of the public had access to them (you can read the article here). Whether nor not this actually happened remains to be seen, but thankfully the GRO registers are only copies - the originals are held by the local registrars.
However these things do happen - Cynthia wrote from Australia to tell me that when she visited the town of Castleisland, in County Kerry, she was only allowed to look at the registers under the supervision of the sacristan, who told her that "visitors had on several previous occasions torn relevant pages from the registers"!
Just because a record is 'official' doesn't mean that its accurate, and last month I presented some examples of different errors - you can read the article again here. Since then I've been inundated with other examples, including this birth certificate which Jean sent to me from Australia:
When Jean obtained this certificate in 1974 she couldn't be sure that it was the right one - if it was, then the birth had been registered by the child's grandmother, but she was described somewhat unhelpfully as 'Occupier', and the maiden surname shown for the mother was completely wrong. It was, in fact, the maiden surname of the grandmother's mother - the child's great-grandmother! It was only when 40 years later Jean was able to track down the family Bible, that she could be certain that it was the right birth entry - the Bible confirmed Henry's birthdate as 17/12/1846.
I won't say that the error was the result of the way that the registrar worded his questions, because I got my knuckles rapped by a former registrar the last time I said it - but clearly the communication between William Snell, the registrar, and Grace Denville (actually Denbow or Denboll) was not as effective as it might have been!
A month ago I warned that the ages of some infants are shown incorrectly because a child who died aged (say) 9 months might be shown as having died at the age of 9 years. Because the original indexes show the age at death from 1866 onwards it's possible to check one set of indexes against the other, and when I compared the first quarters of 1870 and 1890 I found that around two-thirds of the children who died under one year old according to FreeBMD didn't show up if I carried out a similar search in the GRO's new indexes. Not only does this mean that when we're searching for infant deaths we could have difficulty finding them, we might also order the death certificate for someone who purportedly died at the age of 18 years, only to find that the age at death shown on the certificate is 18 months.
This all sounds like bad news - and to an extent it is. But when we're searching the new death indexes between 1837-65 we’re generally going to be looking for our direct ancestors - who are likely to have been upwards of 24 years old when they died - so the chance of confusion is greatly reduced. I can't rule out the possibility that some infants who died at between 24 and 30 days old are recorded in the new indexes as that number of years old, but there won't be many.
There's even a positive side - by comparing the new and old index entries for deaths after 1865 we'll often be able to work out how old infants were - in months - when they died, without ordering the certificate. For example, my great aunt Ellen Wells was born on 19th March 1898 (her birth register entry was shown in the last newsletter), and she is recorded in the original death indexes for the second quarter of 1898 as being 0 years old when she died:
However, the new indexes show here as being 1 year old - so I can deduce that she was shown on her death certificate as 1 month old.
In some cases knowing the age at death in months might enable us to determine more accurately when a child was born, bearing in mind that 42 days were allowed to register a birth, but just 5 to register a death in the 1836 Act for the registering of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England (you'll find a transcription here).
The death of Ellen's younger twin Alfred was registered in the first quarter of 1898 - and he is shown in both indexes as 0 years old at death. His very short life might explain why his birth was registered first, even though Ellen was the older of the two twins - I don't have Alfred's death certificate (his birth certificate was in the last newsletter), but I strongly suspect that his birth and death were registered on the same day.
Alfred and Ellen Wells were twins, but as you'll recall from the last issue, because they were born on different days the times of their births aren't recorded on their birth certificate. That article prompted several members to write in with examples of twins who were born around the time that the clocks changed, producing confusing results. For example, this online news report tells the story of twin boys born in Massachusetts at 1.39am and 2.10am - except that the clocks went back an hour, so the second birth was recorded at 1.10am, making it appear that the younger twin was the elder of the two.
Talking of times on birth certificates, it seems that in the 19th century some registrars adopted the Scottish system of recording the time of birth in the register even when it wasn't a multiple birth. Colyn wrote from Australia with three examples from Uxbridge where the registrar, Thomas Collett, had included the time of birth. These dated from 1847-52, and Colyn also included an earlier entry from 1843 where the time wasn't shown - even though it was the same registrar.
In August 1937 a baby girl was found abandoned on the South Downs, near Sompting in West Sussex. Now a sprightly 80 Anthea Ring is still hoping that it might be possible to track down her family: "It would be wonderful to be reunited with my family, just to know who they are", she told the Worthing Herald.
DNA testing has generated some new leads, as you can read in this newspaper article. Is there some way you can help?
Although I mentioned in the Stop Press of the 15th November issue that Findmypast had opened an additional 2 million entries from the 1939 National Register, some of you may have missed it - or not realised the implications.
2 million entries is a significant number - it works out at an average of 2 entries per page, so it's very likely that most of the pages you've already downloaded are out of date, and whilst it might not be one of your relatives who has been revealed, you won't know until you look. When I first downloaded the register page which includes my father and his parents there were 12 closed entries out of 38 (there were also 6 blank lines); this reduced to 11 when I submitted my father's death certificate. Now there are just 5 closed entries on that page - so it's well worth rechecking the pages you've downloaded in the past!
Although our primary goal in researching our family tree might be to get back as far as possible on each of our ancestral lines, most researchers also explore the branches - our collateral lines. Partly we do this because in looking for the baptisms, marriages, and burials of our direct ancestors we inevitably come across information relating to others with the same surname - and our insatiable curiousity means that we want to know whether they are relatives of ours and, if so, how they fit in. But as we become more experienced we realise that there will be clues hidden among those branches - the names of marriage witnesses or executors, perhaps - and that many of the branches, perhaps most, will ultimately lead us to living relatives, our 'lost cousins'.
Tracking branches forwards in time requires very different techniques from those we use when we're working backwards on our direct line, but there's one thing that they have in common: it's much more difficult to track our female relatives because - annoyingly - they usually change their surname when they get married. Because birth certificates usually give the mother's maiden surname it's relatively easy to track our direct ancestors - as long as they had at least one child after the commencement of civil registration in 1837 - so getting back to the late 18th century isn't a problem. It's when we want to work forwards that we run into problems.
Up to now the task of tracking female relatives who married in England or Wales between 1837 and 1911 has been extremely challenging; although we could find possible marriages in the GRO indexes at sites like FreeBMD, verifying that it was indeed our relative who married, and identifying who they married was usually far from easy (unless the marriage register wasn't online - which it usually wasn't). Whilst we could hypothesise that a particular entry in the marriage indexes was our relative, there are typically 2 or 4 marriages on each register page, thus 2 or 4 possible spouses - which meant that identifying the correct husband required corroboration from some other source.
Usually we turned to the censuses, hoping that we could identify the married couple on the following census - if the forename, age, and birthplace of the wife tallied with what we knew about our cousin then there was a good chance we'd found the right marriage. This might sound easy, but it wasn't: finding a household on the census can be difficult at the best of times, whether because of errors made by the householder, the enumerator, or the transcriber. Whilst the birthplace of a child is highly likely to be recorded accurately whilst the child is living at home (what mother forgets where she was when she gave birth?), as soon as the son or daughter leaves home, whether to marry or take up employment, the level of accuracy plummets. And of course, when it comes to the prospective husband, all you knew was the name in the marriage indexes - you didn't know where or when he was born, or what his occupation might be.
Here's an example from my own tree. My 1st cousin 3 times removed Caroline Long was baptised in Great Barton, Suffolk on the 3rd October 1845; she was recorded on the 1861 Census as a 16 year-old domestic servant in Bury St Edmunds, but can't be found on the 1871 Census, at least not as Long. First I checked to see whether a Caroline Long had died in Suffolk between 1861 and 1871 - one had, but she was an infant. A search at FreeBMD reveals two possible marriages in Suffolk, both in Thingoe registration district, which includes the village just outside Bury St Edmunds where Caroline was born:
By clicking on the page numbers I can see who else is recorded on the same pages:
There are three possible spouses: William Smith, Charles Durrant Diggon, and Henry Hardy. Bearing in mind that Caroline was only 16 in 1861 - and that Smith is a rather common surname - I decided to start with the 1862 marriages. Diggon is a nice unusual surname so I decided to find Charles Diggon and his wife on the 1871 Census. Naturally I started by searching for Caroline, his presumed wife, since I knew her age and birthplace - but there were no results.
Next I searched for Charles Diggon, guessing that he was born in Suffolk in order to limit the number of results, but allowing a wide age range. Only one result popped up, which showed him married to a woman named Sarah - it seemed pretty likely that this was Sarah Cracke, and that Caroline Long had married Henry Hardy. Of course, that still didn't mean it was my Caroline - she could still be the one who married in1861, or she might not have married at all.
Now I searched the 1871 Census looking for a Caroline Hardy born in Suffolk around 1845. This search produced two results, both in the Suffolk village of Whepstead, which is a few miles to the south of Bury St Edmunds: one Caroline Hardy was 26 (the right age), but married to an Edward Hardy (wrong forename), and supposedly born in Whepstead (wrong place, but the enumerator could have got it wrong); the other was 28 (too old) but married to a Henry Hardy (right name), and born in Barton (a fair approximation to Great Barton). And there was still the Caroline Long who married William Smith to investigate….
I wasn't prepared to make the assumption that Caroline Long had married Henry Hardy without finding more evidence - but I was reluctant to spend £9.25 on a marriage certificate for someone who wasn't in my direct line. So I gave up this line of investigation - until this week.
Why it’s so much easier now
Last month the GRO published new online indexes of births which show the mother's maiden surname for all legitimate births from 1837 to 1915 (the original indexes only give this information from the third quarter of 1911).
Note: for a guide to the new indexes of births and deaths see this article.
Whilst there are no new marriage indexes in prospect the birth indexes are arguably more useful - because they allow us to solve two problems rather than just one. First they make it much easier to check who our female relatives married, because most brides give birth in the first couple of years of their marriage; second, they tell us who their children were, so we can add twigs to the branch.
Returning to the Caroline Long investigation I searched the new indexes for Hardy births where the maiden name was Long. I searched across the whole country (since it isn't currently possible to search by county), but these were the only results from Suffolk:
HARDY, HARRIET JANE
GRO Reference: 1863 S Quarter in THINGOE Volume 04A Page 423
GRO Reference: 1865 M Quarter in THINGOE Volume 04A Page 489
GRO Reference: 1868 M Quarter in THINGOE Volume 04A Page 471
HARDY, WILLIAM JAMES
GRO Reference: 1869 D Quarter in THINGOE Volume 04A Page 468
These births neatly matched the children of Henry & Caroline Hardy recorded on the 1871 Census - and whilst it didn't prove that it was the right Caroline Long, it was a step in the right direction. It was now worth spending some time searching for the Caroline Long who married William Smith so that I could eliminate her from consideration. It turned out that she was aged 30 in the 1871 Census (far too old), and shown as born in Stanton, not Barton. Having eliminated two of the three marriages I was almost ready to add Henry Hardy and his offspring to my tree. My final check was to make sure that there wasn't another Caroline Long who could have married Henry Hardy. FreeBMD shows just two Caroline Longs born in Suffolk between 1838-48:
Clearly one of them is the Caroline born in Stanton, and one is my cousin born in Great Barton. But given the discrepancy in the census ages, and bearing in mind that the children of poor parents were often baptised late, I decided it would be good to confirm which was which - so once again I turned to the new indexes, which revealed the mothers' maiden surnames:
GRO Reference: 1842 M Quarter in THINGOE Volume 13 Page 480
GRO Reference: 1845 S Quarter in THINGOE Volume 13 Page 484
Bray is the surname of my great-great grandmother - Caroline's mother was her sister. So now I was confident enough to add Henry Hardy and his children to my tree, and his household from the 1881 Census to my My Ancestors page. I printed out the census transcription using Findmypast as it's the only site that sets out all the information neatly on one page. You don't, of course, need a subscription to view the 1881 transcription at Findmypast or Ancestry - it's free.
Note: I timed how long it took to enter Henry, Caroline, and their 7 children - it was 2 minutes and 39 seconds, an average of just under 18 seconds each. It just goes to show that completing your My Ancestors page isn't the long arduous task you might have thought it was!
By 1881 the eldest daughter, Harriet Jane, had already left home - so guess what? Time to start on the next generation!
I'll leave it to you to figure out which Harriet married Thomas and which married Edward - it's a chance to check your understanding of the techniques in this article.
Tens of thousands of family historians, ranging from beginners to experienced LostCousins members, have enjoyed the free FutureLearn course Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree - so I was delighted to learn from LostCousins member Jill that there's a third presentation starting in January.
You can find out more and sign-up here - it really is free, no matter who you are or where you live.
As regular readers of this newsletter will know, my advice is NOT to publish your tree online where anyone and everyone can see it - but many people do, even though it's just as easy for your cousins to find you at Ancestry when you have a private tree.
It is possible to share information about living people with those you invite to share you tree, but it will still be hidden from everyone else. At least, that's the theory…
This week I was contacted by a LostCousins member who was extremely distressed to discover that she and her children were displayed on a public tree at Ancestry. Knowing how seriously Ancestry take privacy issues I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes - and I suggested that she wrote to Ancestry to point out what had gone wrong. Here's an excerpt from the reply she got:
Shouldn't their Customer Services representatives know and understand what their policy is? I'm sure this is an isolated incident, but the fact that Ancestry didn't put it right when it was pointed out to them is extremely disappointing. It's not as if they don't realise how important it is to maintain the trust of their customers…..
I've been writing about DNA testing for about a decade, and throughout this time there have been companies using slick marketing to convince (some might say fool) customers to buy from them.
Over the years most of those companies have fallen by the wayside, but not all of them. One particular company has come in for a lot of criticism recently, and this recent Buzzfeed article explains why.
There's a simple rule when it comes to DNA - if you think you understand it you're probably wrong! So never test with a company that hasn't been favourably mentioned in this newsletter, no matter how convincing their patter might be, unless you check with me first.
In a similar vein the More or Less programme on BBC Radio 4 looked closely at the recent 'revelation' that EastEnders star Danny Dyer, subject of the first Who Do You Think You Are? of the new series, is descended from King Edward III. LostCousins member Andrew Millard was the expert chosen to analyse the statistics - I also chose to refer to his online analysis when I wrote about this topic almost exactly 2 years ago (you'll find the original article here).
To listen to the radio programme please follow this link (I believe it will work wherever you live).
You can still buy Family Finder (autosomal DNA) tests at the heavily discounted price of $59 (reduced from $99) at Family Tree DNA, the company that I chose for most of the tests I've bought for myself and family members.
If you've already tested now's the time to invite key cousins to test - most people will be happy to oblige when you explain why. If you and your cousin match with the same person it helps to pinpoint where on your tree the match is - and if you don’t. that can also be useful information.
You can support LostCousins by using this link when you place your order - thanks!
Tip: a DNA test makes an unusual Christmas present, and might be just the thing to get 'someone close to you' interested in genealogy!
In May of this year I mentioned that I'd been diagnosed by my GP as suffering from idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage with no identifiable cause - and I received a lot of helpful advice and information from other sufferers.
But GPs don’t always get it quite right - it's difficult without carrying out an examination - and when I underwent tests in late June there was no evidence of a slowing down in the speed at which signals travelled through my nerves. I was invited to see a consultant in November, and she believes that the damage is currently confined to the smaller nerve fibres; and while she thinks that on balance it is idiopathic, she suggested that I might possibly be deficient in vitamin B1.
It's certainly worth considering - up to that point I had been struggling to understand why my symptoms had suddenly worsened in the second half of last year. Two key sources of vitamin B1 are breakfast cereals and bread: I stopped eating breakfast cereals regularly some years ago, around the time that the first symptoms developed, then drastically cut my bread intake last summer, when I decided to get fit and lose weight.
I'm only mentioning this in case there's anyone out there who has been misdiagnosed. In the meantime I'll continue taking my vitamin pills - 100mg of B1 a day and keep my fingers crossed.
It's much easier to look after the health of our computer than our own health, so it always surprises me how many apparently sensible people rely on Windows Defender or some other free program to protect them against viruses. This is the time of year when Computer Shopper publishes its annual review of security software, and when I tell you that Windows Defender gets just 2 stars out 5 I think you'll understand why I'm writing this!
Once again the security software I use - Kaspersky - comes top. The packages from Norton and Trend Micro also get 5 stars, but the thing I like about Kaspersky is the price - my wife and I have a lot of computers between us, and to be able to protect them, our tablets, and our smartphones for around £20 a year is a real bargain.
Tip: the links in the preceding paragraph are for Amazon UK; you can support LostCousins when you follow these links to Amazon.com and Amazon.ca (even if you end up buying something completely different).
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 - but I'll be back before Christmas with yet more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2016 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