Newsletter – 31st May 2021
Last chance to save 30% at the British Newspaper Archive ENDS MIDNIGHT
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 24th May) 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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Last chance to save 30% at the British Newspaper Archive ENDS MIDNIGHT
You've got just hours to save 30% on a 3 or 12 month subscription to the British Newspaper Archive offering virtually unlimited access to over 300 million articles from millions of issues, mentioning billions of names and places – the offer ends at 11.59pm (London time) on Monday 31st May.
If you've subscribed in the past you'll know that one of the best features is the ability to restrict your search to articles added to the archive after a certain date, which means that if you're repeating a search you don’t have to plough through hundreds of results that you've previously viewed.
Unlike most of the websites that I use to research my family history the British Newspaper Archive isn't aimed solely at genealogists – it's an amazing resource for social historians and local historians. Indeed, when I'm using the site I frequently get side-tracked by an interesting article and find myself researching a topic that's completely unrelated to my family.
This offer isn’t exclusive to LostCousins, but you won't be supporting LostCousins unless you follow my link:
BRITISH NEWSPAPER ARCHIVE – SAVE 30% ON 3 & 12 MONTH SUBSCRIPTIONS (ends 31st May)
You should see the message "You've saved 30%" against the 12-month and 3-month subscriptions. Please note that the discounted price only applies to the first 3 or 12 months, so if you want to lock in the savings for the longest possible period, purchase a 12 month subscription (it works out at just over £1 a week, which shouldn’t break the bank).
Tip: these days many people have browser extensions such as adblockers that prevent 'tracking' (it’s also an option in most browsers); if you want to increase the chance that your purchase supports LostCousins please follow the advice here before you click the link to make your purchase.
There was a lovely post on the LostCousins forum this week about the discovery of a grainy photo in the British Newspaper Archive – it had appeared in the Northampton Chronicle for 7th June, 1915.
Reading the article I can imagine the sadness that reading the report must have brought to those who knew this soldier, one of many Britons who lost their lives in the Battle of Auvers Ridge. However it's counterbalanced by the joy that the unexpected find has brought to his descendants – because no other photographs have survived it’s the first time they've ever seen him!
(Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.)
There is a wealth of information locked away in archives, but as more and more become accessible online it's an opportunity for us all to add to our knowledge of our family's history.
Tip: newspapers have photo archives and these often contain unpublished images – as well as better-quality versions of the photos that have appeared in print. I don't suppose that many of these archives go back to the early 20th century, but if you find a photograph that's really special to you it's certainly worth asking.
As of 4th May an impressive 97% of households in England & Wales had submitted their census returns, but the Office for National Statistics (ONS) continues to persuade and cajole non-responders to fill in the forms (the opportunity to submit a return online ended on 17th May). According to the ONS:
If people refuse to take part, they could be taken to court and issued with a £1,000 fine and criminal record. The census non-compliance operation will begin on May 25.
I'm sure that no readers of this newsletter are in danger of being fined – nobody cares more about the census than we do! Which brings me on to the contribution made by LostCousins members who worked on the census: I have it on good authority that the articles What was it like to be a census enumerator in 2021? and Observations of a Census Field Officer found their way to the ONS where the feedback was much appreciated.
LostCousins might be one of the smaller family history sites, but we punch above our weight!
The implications of the recently implemented changes in marriage procedure are gradually becoming apparent: it seems that – as I predicted last year – the first casualty will be church marriage certificates. I received this email from a LostCousins member who has direct experience:
I have recently become the 'Appointed Person' to register marriages at our Independent Evangelical church here in Wales. We were told earlier this month to take all our documents to the Town Hall. They then proceeded to keep the actual certificates book, and cross through the remaining spaces in the book where we would normally keep our copy of a marriage and return that book to us. I don't know if this is the same for the Church of England (or the Church in Wales in our case) but it looks like we're not even going to be able to offer a 'ceremonial' certificate.
I'm sure that some enterprising company will produce ceremonial certificates – indeed they might have done so already. Do other members have direct experience of the changes?
Note: it was interesting to see that the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, waited until after the introduction of the new system before marrying the mother of his latest child. In so doing he was the first Prime Minister to marry during his period of office for almost two centuries.
I've always been fascinated by chance and probability, and whilst I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea, family historians simply can’t ignore it. For example, we all know that John Smith is a common name, so we'd be crazy to assume that the first baptism or birth registration we find is the right one.
Even if a name is rare across the country as a whole it might be fairly common in a particular part of the country. The reason that some surnames are so common is because they originated in multiple places at multiple times – occupational names like Smith are a good example. But if you know roughly where your ancestor originated what matters most is not how common the name is across the whole country, but how common it is in the region you’re searching.
For example, there are only 410 people with the surname Pallant in the 1881 Census, but 280 of them were born in Suffolk. My own surname is so unusual that I spent much of my youth telling people how to spell it - but in 1881 at least 809 of the 1348 Calvers on the census had been born in either Suffolk or Norfolk.
An experience nearly half a century ago underlines the difference: when I made a purchase at an auction in Saxmundham in 1975 they didn’t ask me how to spell my surname, as they always did at auctions in the London area; they asked me what my initial was.
Forenames aren’t evenly distributed around the country, either. On my mother's side of my tree there are only 9 relatives called Roger who were born prior to the 20th century, but 6 of them are from the Pepperell line – which originated in Devon, where the forename is relatively common.
When you're trying to assess how likely it is that a particular entry relates to your ancestor, and not to someone with a similar name, it would be foolish not to take into account how common the forename and surname are. It would be equally foolish to assume that you've found all of the possible entries – even if all of the parish registers for a particular county have been transcribed and indexed there will be some entries that have been mistranscribed, some that have been misrecorded, some that have been omitted from the register, and – unfortunately – some registers that have been lost, or damaged.
In the next article in this series I'll be looking at how we adjust our probability estimates when we discover new information.
I couldn't help laughing when I read that research by a large genealogy company has discovered that Friends stars Matthew Perry and Courtney Cox are 11th cousins.
What made it so amusing? The reality is that we all have hundreds of millions of cousins who are 11th cousins or closer – probably more than the population of North America. So it would have been more surprising if someone had managed to prove that the two actors aren't related!
More importantly do you know what an 11th cousin is? Or a 5th cousin twice removed? If those sorts of questions normally have you stumped, the next article will solve the problem once and for all.
In the days before calculators were invented it was common for tradespeople to use Ready Reckoners rather than work out by hand (or in their head) that a dozen items at one shilling and fourpence halfpenny each cost 16/6d.
The problem with using a Ready Reckoner – or, for that matter, a modern calculator – is that you don't learn anything by using them. So when someone produces a chart that gives the relationships between two relatives on a family tree my immediate reaction is to suggest that the best diagram for working out relationships – and explaining them to others – is a family tree.
Working out how two cousins are related is not only really simple when you do it using a family tree, it’s instructive. So how does it work?
Start by identifying the two cousins and their common ancestor(s) – if you're using a print-out of your tree you could mark them using a highlighter pen.
Now count the number of generations from each cousin to the common ancestor(s). If the cousins are of the same generation the result will be the same for both – for example, for 1st cousins it’s 2 generations to their shared grandparents, for 2nd cousins it's 3 generations to their shared great-grandparents, and so on.
The simple rule is, deduct 1 from the number of generations – thus the mutual ancestors of 7th cousins are 8 generations back.
It's slightly more complicated when the cousins are from different generations – in this case you deduct 1 from the lower of the numbers, whilst the difference in the number of generations tells you how many times removed the cousins are. Thus if you counted 3 and 4, you’d be looking at 2nd cousins once removed; if you counted 2 and 5 they'd be 1st cousins three times removed.
I haven't included a diagram because the only diagram that matters is your tree. Try it out a few times using examples of cousins you know, until it's second nature (as it is for me).
When my wife offered to write an occasional article for the many gardeners amongst the newsletter readership it seemed that Gardeners Corner would be a good name for the column. It was only later that I remembered one of the key landmarks in the days when I commuted to London was Gardiner's Corner in Aldgate – an enormous roundabout on the edge of the City which was named after Gardiner's department store (which was destroyed by fire as recently as 1972 – there's a photograph on this site).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy her first column – if so, it could be the first of many!
I first planted peonies well over 20 years ago, at the beginning of our gardening adventure on the southern fringes of a small ancient wood. The garden contained only a handful of shrubs and was overrun with rabbits and muntjac deer. Having read countless books and articles about plants that might be resistant to the local wildlife, shrubby peonies (paeonia lactiflora) seemed a good bet for a complete amateur - lactiflora in their name refers to the milky sap which is an irritant to human hands and furry creatures. They are Himalayan in origin, thriving in mountainous terrain; hardy, tough, reliable – and super impressive when in flower.
This week they are set to explode from tight bud balls into a riot of ruffled, glamorous colour! There are dozens of plants now, the youngest bearing 5 or 6 and the oldest well over 20 flower buds. What began as an effort to plant something that would not get eaten has become one of my rules: if there is room for another peony, plant one. They have never been browsed, are low maintenance and are close to foolproof. As a cut flower they have more perfume than most roses and will open in the vase from bud into showstoppers. I tend to leave cut stems in water for a couple of hours in a room where the earwigs can be disposed of; better than them crawling up the walls in the sitting room!
Peonies are rhizomes - like bulbs, they build much of their energy through leaf photosynthesis after flowering. So cut back the flowering stems when they are spent, but leave the foliage alone in summer until it starts to blacken. Then cut down to just above soil level and rake in a little general fertiliser (don’t overdo it) before winter. Peonies flourish in sun or lightly-dappled shade – as soon as the days begin to lengthen you will see deep red foliage nudging up, even when the nights are still below freezing. At this point, it’s helpful to push some stakes or supports into the ground because the weight of the flowers might otherwise cause them to droop. While single varieties like “white wings” are more easily accessed by bees, double varieties like “Sara Bernhardt” are longer lasting and more fragrant, and hence good for cutting. I try to find room for both.
Plant your peonies in ordinary garden soil with a little fresh compost. The golden rule is not to plant them too deeply, and ensure reasonable drainage (to prevent rot). Buds spring from the rhizomes and these need to surface quite quickly. So just cover the rhizome with an inch or so of soil, firm in gently and water well for the first year and in dry Spring months.
There has been much written about never moving a peony – they are famously long-lived and can become very big and settled after a long while, but I have moved smaller peonies without difficulty. Do it when they are dormant; dig out the whole root ball, and take the opportunity to cut off some of the rhizome to create new plants before relocating. I plant ground covering hardy geraniums in shades of pink or blue (such as “Roseanne”) between the peonies to provide summer interest and suppress weeds; these enjoy similar growing conditions, blend well with the residual peony foliage and can be cut back to encourage a second round of flowering through to early autumn.
At this time of year, if you lack peonies blooming in your garden you might think that it’s a mere pipe dream until supplies appear for the autumn planting season. However, now is the time for bargain hunting! Towards the end of spring, suppliers tend to offload excess stock of peony rhizomes at heavily discounted prices. One potted peony plant can cost £15-20, but buying 6 rhizomes for under £15 in late spring is somehow more attractive. Soak them in cool water for a few hours, pot up in well-draining soil in large individual containers – again, not too deeply. Place in a sunny spot and water the emerging plants (they will take a few weeks to get going) throughout the summer. By autumn they will start to die back, but you will then have six garden-ready plants that will race ahead in the spring and beat the roses into flower, year after glorious year. And that £20 potted version will probably only be one season ahead of your six!
Finally to tree peonies (suffriticosa) – these are the larger, exotic cousins often depicted in classic chinoiserie prints. Though more expensive to buy they can grow to sizeable specimens well over six feet tall, flowering in May and June. The Chinese names reflect the sheer beauty of often striped, ruffled and bi-coloured hybrids in a wider range of combinations than the lactifloras. The large leaves are attractively fine and dissected. Tree peonies need similar growing and planting conditions, but don’t cut them back at all. Leave them intact to overwinter and shoot from the tips in spring. They can be fickle to move, so find yours a nice permanent spot with good drainage and mid-afternoon shade. One in the right spot in your garden will make a magnificent investment!
Here are some links to current bargains (apologies if they're sold out by the time you read this):
Packs of 6 peonies for £11.99 (with further discounts for multiples)
Do you know someone who deserves to win the first Findmypast Community Award? Head over to their blog to find out more.
© Copyright 2021 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? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.