Newsletter - 11th December 2019
GEDmatch partners with Verogen BREAKING NEWS
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 29th November) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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GEDmatch partners with Verogen BREAKING NEWS
The mostly-free GEDmatch website, which I've always thought of as the LostCousins of DNA, has recently been in the news because of its ability to crack previously unsolvable crimes. Now it has been taken over by Verogen - a business which used to be part of Illumina, the firm that makes most of the chips used for consumer DNA tests.
Verogen describes itself as a forensic genomics company, and provides services to forensic laboratories. When Verogen was spun-off from Illumina in 2017 the stated aim was to bring "an unprecedented focus on accelerating growth of Illuminaís leading next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology in the forensic genomics market". It isnít a field that I follow closely, so I canít tell you whether they've succeeded.
Note: this page describes what Next Generation Sequencing is, for those who would like to know.
How will GEDmatch users be affected? It's hard to tell at this stage, not least because the site crashed when I tried to log-in on Tuesday! I'll update this article if additional information is forthcoming.
It has been some time since I actively encouraged the use of GEDmatch - useful though it can be to some of us, my experience of watching how others use it suggests that it can be counter-productive for the vast majority. Indeed almost all of the time, effort (and considerable expense) I put in before testing with Ancestry in 2017 turned out to be wasted - a tragedy for me, but because the lessons I learned are incorporated into my Masterclass, itís a windfall for you!
Latest: this NBC News article provides some insight into the future of GEDmatch.
These days it's not that unusual for people to live to 96 - but when baby Caillie was born in October 2016, Vera Sommerfeld of Lethbridge, Canada became a great-great-great grandmother. Now, I donít know about you, but one of my 32 great-great-great grandparents died in 1835, 115 years before I was born, and even the longest-lived (she lived to nearly 88) missed my arrival by 43 years. I didnít even get to meet any of my great-grandparents, and 2 of the 3 grandparents who were still alive in 1950, when I was born, were dead before I started school.
You can read the BBC's 2016 article about Vera and her family if you follow this link, and this week there was a new article in the Guardian (Vera is now 99). Apparently there's only one documented example of someone living long enough to greet the arrival of a great-great-great-great grandchild, and she was 109 at the time - can any LostCousins members match that?
As you can see from this extract from the 1939 Register, Ernest William Cawcutt was just coming up to his 30th birthday when war broke out in September 1939:
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by permission of Findmypast
However he didnít go off to war. Whether that was because his job as a statistics clerk for the gas company was regarded as essential to the war effort, or because he had some disability I can only guess, but one thing I do know is that his interest in statistics led to him keeping a notebook crammed with information that - 80 years on - provides fascinating insights into what life was like on the Home Front.
Yesterday I walked round my local supermarket - whatever I wanted, all I had to was reach out and put it in my trolley: in went a turkey, apples, oranges, fresh figs, chestnuts, and much more. The only constraint was that I had to pay for it all when I got to the checkout.....
By contrast, Christmas 1941 was not a time of plenty, and despite rationing the shops were half-empty: indeed, according to Ernest Cawcutt's notes there was no fresh fruit at all, no nuts, and very few sweets. And whilst there was a little poultry on sale the prices were "very high".
Ernest Cawcutt wasn't a relative of mine - though he might well have worked for North Thames Gas, one of the companies that provided me with a holiday job when I was at university. The fact is I stumbled across his notebook by chance, when glancing through an auction catalogue.....
This week there was a sale of London-related ephemera, photographs, and artwork at the international auction rooms just down the road from the home of LostCousins - and Ernest's little notebook was one of the items up for sale. It was described as having belonged to an ARP warden, although there's no evidence from the 1939 Register that Ernest Cawcutt served in this role, and because the personnel records haven't survived - see item 7 in this Research Guide at the National Archives website - we may never know for sure.
Over the coming weeks and months I'm going to feature snippets from Ernest's notebook - it'll be interesting to see whether they bring back any memories!
Have you downloaded your free copy of this wonderful book yet? You'll find it on the Peter's Tips page of the LostCousins website (remember to log-in to your account first - if you've forgotten your password you can get a reminder here).
In the meantime here are some extracts to whet your appetite - and as it's nearly Christmas they're on the subject of food:
"Our diet was highly predictable Ė Sunday roast, Monday cold with bubble and squeak, Tuesday shepherdís pie. Mid-week escapes me, possibly liver and bacon, but Friday was fish, though we were not Catholics. Mum, obsessively hygienic, always wore an apron in the kitchen and often rubber gloves. Yet on liver and bacon days she coated the liver with flour sprinkled onto a newspaper (to keep the worktop clean) with a cigarette drooping from her lips. I longed to see the ash drop onto the meat, but she always seemed to focus at crisis point and tap it into the sink."
It was very similar for me when I was growing up in the 1950s (except that my father and mother didnít smoke). Liver and bacon is still one of my favourites, and I add a spoonful of Marmite to the gravy, just like my mother did.
"Iím too young to remember what food was like before rationing, and what you havenít had you donít miss. The moment I got home from school Iíd make myself some bread and dripping, or marge, colourless and greasy stuff that tastes not at all like butter,o r todayís you-canít-tell-the-difference margarine. I much preferred the dripping,
though the idea of it now has no appeal whatever. Butter would be wonderful but there was so little of it on the ration that it was strictly off-limits. An apologetic coating of jam, which was also on ration, but bread wasnít, so I could fill myself up with that."
I just caught the end of rationing - but it was only when I asked my mother to explain why I had to eat more eggs than she and my father did, that I was told that my ration was higher than theirs. According to Ernest's notebook (see the previous article) eggs were rationed from 1st July 1941 onwards.
Last month a paper was published which looks at the rates of so-called extra-pair paternity, where the mother is married, but not to the father of the child - in this situation the husband is often described as a cuckold, a term which derives from the cuckoo's habit of leaving its eggs in the nests of other birds. Although there has been speculation that in the modern world the rate is as high as 30%, DNA studies have shown that the actual rate is closer to 1%.
A team in Belgium headed by Maarten Larmuseau looked at whether, in earlier centuries, social class made a difference. Using data from Belgium and the Netherlands they found that this was indeed the case: the overall rate was 1.6%, but amongst farmesa and well-to-do craftsman it was only 1%, whereas amongst labourers and weavers it was 4%, rising to 6% in densely-populated cities in the 19th century.
One of the first things we learn when we start to research our family tree is that records aren't perfect - and neither were our ancestors. We are continually frustrated by births that weren't registered, baptisms that weren't recorded, illegitimate children whose father is unknown, incorrect ages and fathers' names on marriage certificates, wrong ages on death certificates - and that's without the more exotic hurdles such as foundlings, adoptions, cuckolded husbands, bigamous marriages, late or non-existent marriages, and changes of name.
We don't have a time machine, so we can't go back and ask our ancestors to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. However we do have evidence that our unsuspecting ancestors left behind, but which won't be found in any archive or record office - segments of their DNA that we and our cousins have inherited.
I know that some genealogists take the view that using DNA is somehow cheating, but it would be absolutely ludicrous if we ignored some of the evidence, wouldn't it? I know some people say "It's my DNA", but it isn't really - apart from the odd mutation every single base out of the 3 billion pairs has been inherited from our parents, who in turn inherited them from their parents, and so on. What is true is that, with the exception of identical twins, we all have a different combination. Even brothers and sisters have very different DNA even though they've inherited it from the same parents.
There are three key benefits from using DNA as part of our research. One is the way in which it can corroborate the written evidence and family stories that have been passed down over the generations; another is the way in which it can corroborate the research that we've done based on the written evidence - after all, just because the evidence has survived doesn't mean that we've interpreted it correctly.
But arguably the most important benefit is the opportunity to knock down 'brick walls' by using DNA evidence to fill in gaps in the records, or to point us in the direction of records that we wouldn't otherwise have thought to search - I'm thinking particularly of those all too frequent cases where an ancestor materialises in a parish without any evidence of his or her origins.
Some readers may remember that in 2012 I wrote about people who carried the DNA of others in their bloodstream. I was reminded of this when my attention was drawn to a New York Times article which reported on the experience of the recipient of a bone marrow transplant.
This is relatively new technology - although the first such transplant took place in 1956, it involved identical twins, and it was only in 1985 that the first transplant involving an unrelated donor took place. It's very unlikely, therefore, that the genetic genealogists of today are going to be confused - but it does serve to remind us how important it is that the records of today survive for the benefit of the genealogists of the future.
It seems that as men get older, an increasing number of their white blood cells lack the Y-chromosome that the man inherited from his biological father (red blood cells donít contain DNA). According to this article in The Atlantic studies "have linked loss of the Y chromosome in blood to cancer, heart disease, and other disorders", though it isnít absolutely clear which is cause and which is effect. Nevertheless, one expert quoted suggests that the disappearing Y chromosome is a sign the body is allowing DNA errors to accumulate, and that could be a precursor to cancer.
Men produce sperm cells throughout their lives, so could this phenomenon result in older men fathering more daughters than sons? Some of your may remember that in 2013 I reported research from the US which suggested that this was indeed the case for fathers over the age of 55, although subsequent analysis of LostCousins members' family trees didnít support this.
Note: if you want to check your own tree and have a Windows PC the free Family Tree Analyzer program will do it for you - and much more besides. You can download it here, but if you need support please donít contact me, as the members of the LostCousins Forum are in a far better position to help.
Family Tree DNA have discounted prices until Christmas - but their Y-DNA test is the only one I'd generally recommend, and even then it might not be the best option. Unless you're taking part in a Surname Project the chances are that testing your Y-DNA wonít provide any useful information, so if your 'brick wall' is within range of autosomal DNA (ie it's in the last 5 or 6 generations), Ancestry DNA is a much better bet (and it can tell you about any of your lines, which makes it really cost-effective).
Prices below exclude shipping.
Ancestry.co.uk (UK only) - reduced from £79 to £59 until 24th December
Ancestry.com.au (Australia/New Zealand) - reduced from $129 to $89 until 25th December
Ancestry.com (US) - reduced to just $99 to $59 until 31st December
Ancestry.ca (Canada) - reduced from $129 to $89 until 25th December
Remember, you can transfer Ancestry DNA results to most other sites in order to get more matches, but you canít go the other way. The only way to get exposure to the world's largest genealogical DNA database is to test with Ancestry - which is why I re-tested with them in 2017.
But with each book that I read my opinion of the author goes up, and it wouldn't surprise me if one day he's competing for the Booker Prize. Indeed, when I reviewed The Subtle Thief of Youth last year I wrote that of all the authors whose work I've reviewed in this newsletter, only Ian McEwan (nominated for the Booker six times, winner in 1998) is in the same league.
Set on a fictional island off the Pacific coast of Central America, Casa Rosa could pass for a posthumously-published work by Graham Greene - and rather like my experiences with Greene's A Burnt-Out Case, I didnít, at first, think that I was going to like it. How wrong can one be? By the time I was on page 6 I was absolutely captivated!
Stuart Henry Rose, known to everyone as Harry, is not a perfect man - he's done things that you and I wouldn't approve of - but he seems to be, at heart, a good person. So naturally our instinct is to disbelieve the allegations.... and yet, there's that little nagging doubt. After all, we're seeing everything from his point of view - he may not be the narrator, but without a doubt he's the one pulling our heart-strings. Well, him and Gabriela, but she's surely too young and innocent to have been involved?
It's not a genealogical mystery - there's no genealogist amongst the cast of characters - yet the author has been researching his family tree for far longer than I have, and birth certificates are key to the story; even DNA has a bit part. And it's certainly a mystery - a young mother has gone missing even before the book begins. Why did she leave, where did she go, and what prevented her from returning?
I found I had to ration myself - I could easily have read this novel, all 256 pages of it, in a single sitting. But that would have been like drinking Chateau Lafite from the bottle - to get the most from this wonderful novel take small sips and roll them around in your mind!
Anyone who has read DJ Wiseman's other books will need no encouragement to read Casa Rosa - so this review is addressed primarily at those who are new to his work. The good news is that there's absolutely no need to read the author's other novels before reading this one, though if you decide to go on and read the Lydia Silverstream novels (as I suspect you will), I'd recommend you read A Habit of Dying before The Death of Tommy Quick.
Available as a Kindle book or in paperback, Casa Rosa is a delight to read - and I'd like to think that having created such an interesting collection of characters the author has plans for a follow-up. You can support LostCousins when you buy Casa Rosa (or anything else, for that matter) using the relevant link below:
The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe offers fascinating insights into the important role of midwives (primarily female midwives). Who were they, what training did they undergo, how much did they charge - and how did our poor ancestors manage to pay? I'm hoping to put together an article that will answer most of these questions.
This Christmas advert for a family-run hardware shop in Wales is really heart-warming. Produced for just £100 it can hold its own against the seasonal adverts that cost millions - and because it features three generations of the same family itís not only appropriate for this time of year, itís also perfect for a family history website. And no, LostCousins wonít earn a penny if you buy from Hafod Hardware, but I hope you'll support them anyway - innovative small businesses deserve to succeed.
DNA uploads to MyHeritage are free until 18th December, potentially saving you $29.
That's all for now - but I'll be back in touch before Christmas - see you soon!
© Copyright 2019 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?