Newsletter - 27th September 2019

 

 

LostCousins is totally FREE this weekend ENDS WEDNESDAY

Save £20 on Ancestry DNA ENDS SUNDAY 6TH

2021 Census has begun

Adoption matters

Dead in a ditch

Article 50

Unanimous Supreme Court decision puts 'dictator' in his place

Everyone in Britain - on a map

Parliamentary Archives - a source of family history?

LostCousins member finds connection between politicians' forebears

Bristol parish registers online at Ancestry

Findmypast launch tree-to-tree hints & open 1939 records

Many are called, but few are chosen

Online genealogy course starts next month FREE

Education resources on record office site FREE

Conference lectures online FREE

Siblings Reunited

Growing up in London: further extracts

Review: Misjudged Murderesses

Peter's Tips

Stop Press

 

 

The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 19th September) 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):

 

 

To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!

 

 

LostCousins is totally FREE this weekend ENDS WEDNESDAY

From now until midnight on Wednesday 2nd October LostCousins will be totally free, whether youíre a new member or an existing member. It's your chance to connect with the cousins you've already found who are waiting in the New Contacts area of your My Cousins page - but itís also an ideal time to add additional entries to your My Ancestors page so that you can find even more cousins.

 

Did you know that the average LostCousins member with British (or mostly British) ancestry has 200 relatives amongst the LostCousins membership who are 6th cousin or closer? But right now the most 'lost cousins' that anybody has found is 60, and do you know why that is? It's because some of their cousins haven't been nearly as diligent as they have - indeed, I suspect that quite of few of you reading this article have yet to entered your first relative from the 1881 Census!

 

So the aim of this free weekend is two-fold - firstly to attract new members to the site (so this is one time when I approve of the use of social media), and secondly to encourage the lazy so-and-sos who haven't entered anyone on their My Ancestors page to do the decent thing. (Please don't send me an email explaining why you donít have the time, because if you have the time to write me an email you have the time to enter some relatives!)

 

Note: if you're wondering why you'd want to connect to 200 'lost cousins' when you already have upwards of 20,000 genetic cousins as a result of testing your DNA with Ancestry, take another look at this article from the last issue.

 

 

Save £20 on Ancestry DNA ENDS SUNDAY 6TH

There are two key advantages in testing with Ancestry - one is that itís the only way to get access to the world's largest genealogical database of DNA results (or to put it another way, you'll find far more genetic cousins than if you tested elsewhere).

 

The other major advantage is that Ancestry keep things simple - they don't expect their customers to be DNA experts, so they shield them from the most of the nuts and bolts and do much of the spadework for you. ThruLines is a major breakthrough because it uses both DNA and family trees to deduce how you are connected to genetic cousins.

 

Until midnight on Sunday 6th October members in the UK can buy an Ancestry DNA test for £59 rather than the usual £79 (both prices exclude shipping) - please click this link so that you can support LostCousins. This offer is at Ancestry.co.uk only, and for UK residents only; if the link appears not to work, please log-out from your Ancestry account, then click the link again.

 

You donít need to wait for your test results to arrive, because there's plenty to do while youíre waiting - see my Masterclass. If you follow the advice in the Masterclass you'll get the best results for the least amount of effort - if you try some other approach you're likely to get confused and frustrated. (Just because something is free, or recommended on somebody's blog doesnít mean that you should be using it!)

 

Note: if Ancestry launch offers in other territories during the currency of this newsletter I'll update this article with additional links.

 

 

2021 Census has begun

I heard this week from a LostCousins member who was involved in the rehearsal for the 2021 Census - 4 areas across the country were selected, and she happens to live in one of them.

 

I also know that at least one LostCousins member has been working behind the scenes, planning for the rehearsal - it's good that family historians are involved, even if we donít necessarily believe that the right questions are being asked. If this is really going to be the last census of its kind, it will be a great shame that people arenít going to be asked to provide their birthplaces - this is a question that was last asked in 1951.

 

 

Adoption matters

Sarah wrote in with this bitter-sweet story:

 

"About 20 years ago my husband asked me to look for his birth family. At the time we couldnít afford a computer, so after several phone calls to the adoption department at the local council, we were put in touch with After Adoption Yorkshire (now closed). We discovered that the adoption records where held by The Catholic Children's Society (Westminster)'

 

"The file had more information than my husband expected. We now knew that he was given up at the age of 5 months in 1970, had the names of both birth parents, and knew that the maternal grandparents were Polish. By this point we now had a computer and had joined Friends Reunited and Genes Reunited, so we also obtained the birth mother's birth and marriage certificate.

 

"With the help of the electoral roll we managed to locate his maternal grandad in this country. We went back to the agency with an address and they sent a letter to grandad on our behalf. We got a reply, confirming that we had the right person and that he was in touch with the birth mother, his daughter, and would pass a letter on. My husband had high hopes

 

"There was a reply to the letter, but his birth mother didn't want any contact - and claimed she'd never married, which we knew was not the case because we had letters from the birth mother to her social worker telling her she was getting married and could she ask the new parents for a photo of baby to show to new husband. We also had the marriage certificate.

"Some months later, my husband found his birth mother on ĎFriends Reunitedí and there were pictures of her, her status divorced and retired. You could see who he looked like! At the same time I had done a family tree for my husband using his pre-adopted name and the ancestors I had found. I got a 'hot match' on Genes Reunited - there was my husband on his birth mother's tree with extended family! What was going on?

 

"After some discussion we clicked the Make Contact button, asking for further info. While waiting for a reply from the mother, one of her cousins got in touch. The cousin knew about my husband, in fact it seems the whole family did! The cousin assumed he was in touch with his birth mother, although the cousins themselves where not. The cousin supplied more info on the maternal polish side and some photos.

 

"Eventually birth mother replied asking if I was the said cousin and would be happy to reconnect. I then clarified who I was, that I was married to X on her tree and was happy to answer any questions, and that X would happily have some email contact. There was no more contact. The tree stayed on Genes Reunited, even though we thought it might disappear.

 

"Years later his birth mother appeared on Facebook, so my husband sent a friend request: it was not accepted. Sadly it was time to let it go after several failed attempts. Now he is just interested in his ancestors through grandad - where they were born, why they came to this country and when. So far we have not had any success.

 

"Unfortunately we did find that his grandmother died before we located her. Finding the birth father was not going to be possible, there was a name, but no definite age or location. But to this day my husband cannot understand why his birth mother put him on her family tree, if she didn't want any contact."

 

I've suggested to Sarah that DNA could help track down her husband's birth father - so perhaps there will be a follow-up article in few months' time?

 

This tale from Elizabeth (not her real name) is rather unusual - though she's not the only LostCousins member who was a foundling (and I know that many more are descended from foundlings):

 

"I was adopted in the 1950s. Not so unusual given this was during the peak period post war for adoption. I differ, though, as I am a 'foundling' - a Dickensian term which sums up what I am. Left near to a mainline railway station in 1955 in a large city. No trace in the newspapers of my finding was ever published and I had absolutely nothing to go on. I was given a name but donít know who by. In many ways I was in a worse position than foundlings taken in by the Foundling Hospital London as they were usually left with little trinkets, whereby if their parents came back for them they could be identified. Eventually adopted, my unusual start in life was shared with me when I was a teenager.

 

"Fast forward 25 years. In England & Wales the law changed in 1976, making it easier for adopted people to search for their birth parents. I obtained my original records from the adoption agency that arranged my adoption, and was able to glean a little more information (not much, but better than nothing) from my files, though nothing to identify who I was or where I came from.

 

"A few years after this happened my husbandís mother was approached by an intermediary from a reputable charity (now defunct) who was helping a man who had been adopted. It transpired the woman is his mother's daughter - from a relationship in the 1940s - and had been living less than twenty miles from where we now live. Because this reunion was handled so well, with a lot of support from a trained intermediary, we have a very positive ongoing relationship to this day.

 

"Time continued to pass by and I was still trying hard to find my origins, using the media extensively as there was not much else I could do. Whilst there is a government register for those in the adoption triangle to register on for contact in England and Wales (see the GRO site for more details), it was a bit tricky for me as I couldnít prove who I was in the first place!

 

"Eventually I gave up hope and carried on with life. In late 2009 my first grandchild was born, and guess what? One of her other grandparents is a foundling too ( who says lightning doesnít strike twice); this grandparent had also been adopted.

 

"Meanwhile I was researching my adopted family's family tree. Two years ago I accessed my adoptive father's war records. In the records is an entry referring to the birth of a son in 1944. Given my parents didnít meet till post war, I contacted the war records agency to see if there was a mistake. To which they said highly unlikely! I am guessing this baby was probably adopted but as I only have his two first names and I know he is not registered in my father's name (a very unusual surname) it's tricky to find him, except possibly through LostCousins.

 

"Over the past few years I have watched the growth in use of DNA and thought how useful it could be to find my adoptive father's son. If I was a blood relative it would be possible for me to find him, but of course my DNA wouldnít be a match for him. I then began to think about DNA as a way forward for myself.

 

"This was a massive consideration for me. Those in the adoption triangle have been using social networks for many years, and I was always concerned for them as they would have immediate direct contact with new family members. Of course, for some it works out - but sadly for many others it doesnít. People can be blissfully unaware of the can of worms they are potentially opening, and the effect they could have on their own life and the lives of others.

 

"I understand adopted people and birth relatives use these sites for many reasons, not least because there is no or relatively low financial cost. Some may be in countries which do not have such liberal laws as England & Wales. An adopted person in conducting their own search through records and having some control in this more gradual approach, gives more time for one to come to terms with what they find, step by step. I do acknowledge this is much harder for birth relatives but they are able to now make contact with adopted relatives through appropriate agencies.

 

"Those in the birth triangle who have found their long-lost family members are able to access support from registered intermediaries who have the expertise to help with reunions. Sadly there are insufficient skilled intermediaries, and even where they are available there may be a financial cost as well as a long waiting list.

 

"With DNA I knew I would probably be presented with a lot of new cousins all at once, and would not necessarily know of their relationship to me. So I knew this was a life changing decision to take as I would also learn of my genetic heritage. I have been lucky having an expert in the field of DNA to help me as well as a good network of support and I have and am continuing to use an intermediary as, in a nutshell, after 60+ years I have found out who I am and where I come from (so can finally use your site Peter in my own right!).

 

"Itís still early days in my reunion and I am gradually learning about my story with a lot more to find out. My greatest sadness was in learning how close my birth family lived and worked to me. We would definitely have walked past each other, and also used exactly the same buses and trains - it was within a mile of where I was brought up and lived for many years.

 

"I would strongly advise anyone searching for birth and adopted relatives to go down a more formal route when they are able to, as opposed to using social networking sites, and to use an intermediary if they can. Searching will then be at their own pace and when they are ready. In England & Wales It is not too hard to search for relatives when you have your birth name, and the law there has also been changed to allow other relatives access to some information. Those in the triangle are also able to legally record their wishes if they do not wish for contact from a relative, and whilst this may be a hard thing to hear, it saves a lot of potential anguish in the longer term. The laws are different in Northern Ireland, Eire and Scotland.

 

"As for DNA, be prepared for a surprise - and also quite a lot of hard work establishing who is who, as whilst you find new cousins it is not clear what their relationship is to you. So a lot of work has to be done, and as with any search, mistakes can be made. It is certainly not as straightforward as making an immediate match.

 

So my extraordinary tale is told (well I think itís a little unusual)."

 

It's wonderful that Elizabeth has been able to discover so much due to her hard work and persistence. But all this was only possible because her mother ensured that she was found. The baby in this next story was not so fortunate.....

 

 

Dead in a ditch

On 28th February 1981, an infant boy - hours old, tears frozen on his face, umbilical cord still attached - was found dead in a ditch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A woman in the community named the baby 'Andrew' and offered to pay for his funeral, which 50 people attended.

 

Fast forward 35 years to March 2016: with DNA technology advancing the remains of the baby are exhumed, in order that a DNA sample that might identify the parents can be taken. 3 years later, in March 2019, police charged the mother with murder, having tracked her down after investigators uploaded the infant's DNA to a genealogical database.

 

When the Golden State Killer was caught there were relatively few who criticised the route that led to capture of this serial killer and rapist - but the Sioux Falls case has been more divisive. Some empathise with the mother, who may felt she had no other option; others believe that without identifying the mother itís impossible to know what the circumstances were; still others believe that taking a life is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances.

 

You can read more about this controversial case here. The trial was supposed to take place this month, having been postponed from June, but it has been postponed again, this time until April 2020 (apparently to ensure that all of the witnesses will be available). But what I'd really like to know is, who was the father of the poor child? Surely if the mother could be identified from the DNA sample, the father could also be identified? It takes two to tango - shouldn't he also shoulder some of the responsibility for this tragedy?

 

Note: ISOGG (the International Society of Genetic Genealogy) have added a page to their wiki with a long list of FAQs relating to investigative genetic genealogy - itís well worth reading, especially if you have any concerns about how your own DNA results might be used.

 

 

Article 50

Amazingly, this is the 50th article in the LostCousins newsletter since the start of September - the fact that I've published as many as 4 newsletters this month is a reflection of the way that the genealogy world comes to life once the summer is over. Looking back 12 months I note that there were also 4 newsletters - plus an update - in September 2018.

 

Of course, not all LostCousins members live in the northern hemisphere - there are around 12,000 readers of this newsletter in Australia, New Zealand, and other countries south of the equator, and they're some of the most enthusiastic family historians I've met. Perhaps someone coming from a country where most of the population are the descendants of immigrants is more likely to be interested in their family tree?

 

Mind you, if you go back far enough, most of us are immigrants - itís salutary to remember that the first people to be called English were the Anglo-Saxons, members of Germanic tribes which came to Britain in the 5th century, and it has been estimated that even after dilution by later invaders, including the Vikings and Normans, between 25-40% of the genetic make-up of the modern day English population still comes from those continental Anglo-Saxon roots.

 

In practice few of us are able to trace ancestors prior to the introduction of parish registers in 1538 except, perhaps, on a handful of lines where we have fortuitously found 'gateway' ancestors who connect us to the aristocracy. Knowing that weíre descended from William the Conqueror (as most of us are) is one thing - being able to prove how weíre related is much more difficult!

 

.

Unanimous Supreme Court decision puts 'dictator' in his place

On Tuesday morning, the justices of the Supreme Court gave their unanimous decision in a case that has divided a nation - they determined that the remains of General Francisco Franco, Spain's dictator from the end of the Civil War until his death in 1975, should be exhumed from the huge mausoleum where they currently lie, and reburied next to his wife in El Pardo cemetery north of Madrid. You can find out more in this BBC News article.

 

 

Everyone in Britain

This wonderful map plots every inhabitant of Britain, based on where they live. Try zooming in and out - it's a great way to get a sense of where the main centres of population are, and how sparsely populated other areas are by comparison. Click the 'Labels' box to see names of towns and cities, and 'Background Map' to add roads.

 

It really does seem to show everyone - at the maximum zoom level I could identify the dot that represents my wife and myself! Now, just imagine if we could see where our ancestors were at different points in time, and follow their migrations..... some DNA testing companies provide graphical representations of population movements, but of course they're based on limited evidence, and donít attempt to indicate where specific individuals were.

 

Note: there are bound to be minor discrepancies since the map will have been compiled from publicly-available information at a point in time. Please don't write to me if you spot something wrong - I didn't create the map, nor do I know who did. Bear in mind that people living at the same address may well be shown as a single dot (as in the case of my wife and myself, mentioned above). But otherwise feel free to post comments in the 'Latest Newsletter' area of the forum - perhaps it will be possible to discern some pattern in the disrepancies that members report.

 

 

Parliamentary Archives - a source of family history?

You probably wouldn't think of looking in the UK Parliamentary Archives for information about your ancestors, but in fact there are 5 Research Guides grouped together under the Family History heading.

 

Currently only the Protestation Returns of 1642 are online (see my article from March 2017 and the page I created with links to all of the surviving returns); other records held by the archive include Papist Returns (these rarely give names, though the 1767 returns are an exception), Naturalisation Records, Deposited Plans, and Opposed Private Bills. You'll find more details here.

 

 

LostCousins member finds connection between politicians' forebears

Several members spotted this article, which appeared in the Yorkshire Post but has no doubt been republished elsewhere - research by a diligent LostCousins member has revealed a close historical connection between the families of two British politicians whose views are diametrically opposed, Boris Johnson (the Prime Minister) and Jeremy Corybn (Leader of the Opposition).

 

The newspaper headline incorrectly suggests that their ancestors were living next door - the actual connection is slightly more complicated, as you'll see when you read the article. But well done, Denny, for spotting this connection - I've awarded you a free LostCousins upgrade!

 

 

Bristol parish registers online at Ancestry

Earlier this month Ancestry added over 5 million parish register entries for Bristol - including scans of the registers - which should be great news for anyone who has ancestors from the area. Sadly it didnít help me - my ancestor Mary Wheatley is shown on censuses as born in Bristol around 1804, but neither she nor any of her known siblings are in the collection.

 

Bristol is a difficult area to research because it straddles two counties (Somerset and Gloucestershire), and there are even a few parishes in Wiltshire that might be recorded as 'Bristol' in a census. Hopefully you'll be luckier than I've been so far....

 

Bristol, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812

Bristol, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1918

Bristol, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1935

Bristol, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1994

 

Tip: Ancestry also have parish registers for Gloucestershire and Somerset. In addition you'll find millions of transcribed entries for Somerset, and just over a million for Gloucestershire, at Findmypast - of course, many of these will duplicate entries at Ancestry, but it's a great way of overcoming transcription errors..

 

 

Findmypast launch tree-to-tree hints & open 1939 records

From Thursday Findmypast users who have uploaded trees have begun to receive hints based on the trees of other users. It will be interesting to see how useful this new feature proves to be - please post your experiences on the LostCousins Forum (see the next article if youíre not currently a member).

 

Also from Findmypast this week: Monday 29th September is the 80th Anniversary of National Registration Day, and to mark the occasion Findmypast have opened an additional 79,000 records from the 1939 Register.

 

 

Many are called, but few are chosen

The LostCousins Forum is a great place to discuss family history topics with other members, but admission is limited to those who are taking part in the LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world. The minimum requirement is a Match Potential of 1, but this is a target that most family historians with British ancestry could reach in less than an hour, simply by adding relatives from the 1881 Census to their My Ancestors page. Indeed, you may have reached it already.

 

You'll find your Match Potential on your My Summary page - it's shown near the top:

 

 

If you donít qualify for membership of the forum you can still view most of the discussions by navigating to WWW.FORUMS.LC - but why not spend that time adding to your My Ancestors page instead, so that you can visit the forum with your head held high?

 

 

Online genealogy course starts next month FREE

Hundreds of LostCousins members have already benefited from the free courses run by Strathclyde University using the FutureLearn platform. Although the course is described as designed for those at beginner to intermediate level, I know a lot of very experienced researchers who have benefited from getting back to basics.

 

The next presentation starts on 28th October, but you can join part way through. Find out more, and register here. It's open to family historians from around the world, and isnít specific to the records of any one country.

 

 

Education resources on record office site FREE

Many record offices have useful research guides on their website - and very often they're of general interest, rather than specific to the area the record office covers. But these pages on the Essex Record Office website are a little different - you'll find PowerPoint presentations designed for use by teachers in the classroom (with accompanying notes).

 

 

Conference lectures online FREE

Also free online are lectures from the MyHeritage LIVE conference held in Amsterdam earlier this month - you'll find them here. I wasn't able to be there, and haven't yet had an opportunity to listen to the lectures, but DNA guru (and LostCousins member) Debbie Kennett was very positive about the event when I met her at the Royal Institution in London this week.

 

 

Siblings Reunited

This story from Roy is a wonderful example of how families can connect - and for once it doesnít involve adoption or DNA, but serendipity!

 

"Although I am not adopted I had a brilliant experience using Genes Reunited accidentally some 13 years ago. My parents were divorced at the end of the war and I never knew my father. I thought he was born about 1919 in the West Midlands and, after the divorce, remarried in Scotland. End of.

 

"I had just started doing family history in 2006 and was trying to find a flexible online family tree program, without great success. My wife, Jan, was alongside me in our then home office and said 'Let me have a look at this one on Genes Reunited.' So she put in my name, her name, and the name of our two children. Although she was intending just to experient offline, she hit the wrong key and it got posted.

 

"Two weeks later she had an e mail via Genes Reunited saying 'I think my husband might be related to your husband!'. To cut a long story short I discovered a half-sister and two half-brothers living in Scotland. We get on like a house on fire and have very similar interests. We are all thrilled to be reunited.

 

"The photo was taken in the garden of my home in September 1944.Dad was a wireless operator in the RAF; he went to France near the end of 1944 and was stationed first at RAF Le Bourget and then at RAF HQ in Paris. He wasn't demobbed until March 1947. I still don't really know the real reasons for the divorce(I have a very fond letter he wrote to my mother in 1945) but it was clearly acrimonious. She would never talk about it and I was nearly 11 when she said that my dad was not coming back.

 

"When I met up with my 'new' family in 2006 I discovered that Dad had met a Scottish war widow working as a nurse in Paris, and they married in 1951. Dad died in 1973; my mum died in 1991, and his second wife in 1999. It is nice to know that all their children now get on so well."

 

At a time when there is so much acrimony in public life it's good to see ordinary people coming together.

 

 

Growing up in London: another instalment

An article on the BBC News website this week prompted me to choose a passage from page 66 of this superb book:

 

"Nothing has changed out of recognition since the 1930s more than health care and the way we treat illness and pay for it. The only free treatment then was that provided by clinics which dealt with simple childrenís ailments more common in those days, like boils. Many diseases were more-or-less untreatable. There were very few vaccines and no antibiotics for the civilian population until the end of World War II. The NHS vaccination regime has since stamped out so many dangerous childhood diseases that we have almost lost our collective memory of them. They included diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, mumps, chicken pox and German measles (rubella). Any of them could kill you, especially if you were poor and undernourished. Tuberculosis, TB, was still untreatable and was a slow but sure death sentence in almost every case. The air in cities was polluted by smoke from coal fires, and there were many more children with respiratory problems in Britain than there are today.

 

"Itís worth summarising the vaccination regime now in place for the newborn child, to remind us what this generation has escaped. At two months there are three vaccinations. The first is a five-in-one vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough, and Ďhibí, a dangerous bacterial infection once mistakenly considered a type of flu (and, incidentally, the first free-living organism to have its entire genome sequenced, in 1995). The second protects against pneumococcal infection, the third against rotavirus, a highly infectious stomach bug.

 

"At three months babies are vaccinated against meningitis C and septicaemia. Various booster doses for these are administered in the first year, then the MMR vaccine, a three-in-one against measles, mumps and rubella. Itís this vaccine that in 1998 caused a scare that it could cause autism. This was later completely rebutted, but widespread reporting of the claim led to a sharp drop of MMR vaccinations in London, down to 63% at its worst. In consequence there was a major mumps epidemic in 2005, and in 2006 a big increase in cases of measles, which in 2008 was declared Ďendemicí, meaning that it was once more sustained within the population."

 

And the news article? It was this one, which reported that uptake of all 13 vaccinations for the under-fives has fallen in the past 12 months. Last month we also learned that the UK has lost its measles-free status, according to the World Health Organisation (there were nearly 1000 cases in 2018, twice as many as 2 years earlier). As a child I caught measles, scarlet fever, and chickenpox - but thankfully I was spared mumps, which seemed to affect so many of my friends, and was protected by the BCG vaccine against TB (which, before the War, had killed my uncle, and nearly killed my father).

 

Growing Up In London, 1930-1960 is out of print, but you can download a free copy in PDF format when you log-in to your LostCousins account and go to the Peter's Tips page.

 

Note: if you have forgotten how to log-in, you can request an instant email reminder by clicking here and entering your email address (as shown in the email which told you about this newsletter).

 

 

Review: Misjudged Murderesses

We might have one of the best legal systems in the world, but in the 19th century the British legal system left much to be desired - even in murder cases defendants could be unrepresented at trial, or defended by someone who had been appointed at the last minute.

 

In Misjudged Murderesses: Female Injustice in Victorian Britain Stephen Jakobi, himself a solicitor, picks eight cases where wives were alleged to have poisoned their husbands, and re-examines the evidence (or lack of it). For the earlier cases he is forced to rely on contemporary newspaper reports; for later cases the Home Office files have survived. Neither source makes for easy reading, but then Victorian prose is rarely easy on the eye - which is, perhaps, why many of us know the great stories through films and TV adaptations rather than from the original books.

 

It's certainly appalling to think that so many lives depended on hearsay and circumstantial evidence - and in one case, where Queen Victoria took a personal interest, the poor woman was held in prison for years even after the authorities accepted that her conviction was unsafe. At least she wasn't the victim of judicial murder, like some of the others in the book.

 

I took a particular interest in the first case, because it involved a family in Clavering, just a few miles from where LostCousins is based: Sarah Chesham was acquitted of poisoning her son in 1847, but in 1851 she was charged with murdering her husband. Another case I found of particular interest was that of Priscilla Biggadike, also charged with murdering her husband: she supposedly claimed to have found a suicide note in her husband's pocket, but she destroyed it. The fact that her husband was believed by other villagers to be illiterate hardly helped her case, and as the author doesn't refer to their marriage register entry I thought I'd look it up myself:

 

© Lincolnshire Archives; used by kind permission of Findmypast

 

As you can see, neither the bride nor the groom was able to sign the register - and whilst that doesnít prove that Priscilla couldnít read, it strongly suggests that her husband wouldnít have been able to write a suicide note.

 

The author concludes that most, but not all, of the women were innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted, and for which several of them swung. It's a timely reminder of the dangers of capital punishment - if you execute the wrong person there's no way you can bring them back.

 

I donít think it would be appropriate to say that I enjoyed reading the book, given the subject matter, and the fact that so many of the women were wrongly convicted, but I'm certainly glad that I read it - and whilst some of the reviewers on Amazon found that it was a difficult book to read, that's hardly surprising for a serious non-fiction work. It was published in paperback at £14.99, but there were brand new copies available on Amazon for just over £10 (including shipping) when I checked just now.

 

Note that the book isn't due out in North America until November, but you might be able to get a copy now from Wordery.

 

Amazon.co,uk††††††††††††††††††† Amazon.com†††††††††† ††††††††† Amazon.ca††††††††††††††††††††††† Wordery

 

 

Peter's Tips

We're all getting older, a fact that most of us would probably prefer to forget - but for some of us it's difficult to ignore. Anyone who was born in the autumn of 1950, as I was, is presented every year with a reminder when the vehicle registration plates change on 1st September - last year it was 68, this year it is 69, and next year, well, I hate to admit it, but it will be 70!

 

Note: registration plates used to change once a year, but this put too much pressure on the motor industry, so there are now two changes each year.

 

Two weeks ago I recounted the tale of how, 30 years ago, I contested a parking fine - and won. So I was glued to the radio on Wednesday when You and Yours, the consumer programme on BBC Radio 4, broadcast a story about unfair parking fines - you can listen to it here (itís 22 minutes in from the start of the programme).

 

But this week I'm going to talk to you about three-legged ducks. In 2010, and again in 2017, I wrote in this newsletter about one of my favourite dishes, Confit of Duck, which is reasonably inexpensive and very easy to cook. For at least 10 years I've been buying packs of 2 duck legs from my local supermarket, and although the price has risen over this period from £2.50 a pack to £4, itís still one of the cheapest gourmet meals around.

 

In the early days the packs weren't branded, but for some years they've been sold under the Gressingham brand. Every pack is clearly marked as containing 2 duck legs, which is ideal for two people - although, since duck confit keeps well in the fridge, I usually cook two packs at a time in a large Pyrex casserole dish.

 

On 3rd September I bought two packs of Gressingham duck legs from the supermarket only to discover, when I started to assemble the ingredients, that each pack contained not 2 large duck legs, but 3 smaller ones. This had never happened before in all the years I'd been buying duck legs - and nor should it, since the packaging still stated that there were 2 in the pack. Had it been an isolated incident I probably wouldn't have done anything, but as both packs were the same it was evident that someone in Gressingham Foods had decided that they could vary the contents without any warning - so I went to their website and lodged a complaint (quoting the 'Sell By' date so that they could identify the batch). Two weeks later this letter arrived:

 

 

Isn't it annoying when you raise an issue with a retailer or supplier only to get back a standard letter that could have applied to almost any complaint about almost any product. Yes, they enclosed vouchers which covered the cost, but they hadnít begun to address the problem - there were still three-legged ducks on sale this week. Personally I think they're quackers.....

 

I can understand that there might have been logistical reasons why they had to switch from packs of 2 to packs of 2 or 3 - but surely they could have updated the packaging to reflect this? Currently they are in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 - and so, arguably, are the supermarkets that sell their products.

 

 

Stop Press

This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......

 

 

That's all for now - I'll be back in October with more news and articles from the world of family history. But in the meantime I hope you'll do your best to connect with your 'lost cousins', especially this weekend, when so many of them will be reaching out.

 

 

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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins

 

© Copyright 2019 Peter Calver

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