Newsletter - 23rd February 2020
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 31st January) 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!
Nearly 1500 members took part in this year's competition - congratulations to everyone who entered on playing your part in the LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world.
The top 5 prize-winners have been notified and have either received their prizes, or will do shortly. Many thanks to Findmypast, British Newspaper Archive, Simon Orde (author of Family Historian), Stephen Molyneux (author of The Death Certificate), Nathan Dylan Goodwin (author of The Sterling Affair), and Family Tree magazine (organisers of Family Tree Live!) for providing such a wonderful array of prizes.
The top prizes have been spread all over the world: the winners were Dawn in Cheshire, Deb in Virginia, Elizabeth in Australia, Gill in Maidenhead, and Stephen in Japan.
But there are more prizes to come - to find out whether you have won one of them just log-in to your LostCousins account and look for a message on the home screen. I'll be posting one message a day over the next week, and the prizes will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis (so log-in and log-out each day to give yourself the best chance).
Some of my Surrey ancestors are 'brick walls', so I was delighted when Findmypast recently published millions of parish records for the county, all with links to the relevant parish register pages. Although Ancestry made available parish registers for most of Surrey a few years ago, I'm hoping that with records at two sites I'm going to be able to solve some of the mysteries that have been holding my research back.
You can check out the Findmypast Surrey collection by following this link.
These quick links to the key resources at Findmypast will be useful whether youíre a subscriber or not:
1881 British census (FREE transcription)
1939 Register (England & Wales)
* these parish register links will take you to the baptisms for the county
It's not unusual to hear about lost and stolen possessions that turn up many years later, but this story of ring that reappeared nearly half a century later on a different continent is pretty exceptoional!
In the same week I heard this story about a missing purse that turned up 63 years later.
It's hard to believe that my ancestors didn't own a Bible - even those who couldnít sign their own names might have been able to read - and yet the only Bibles I inherited were 20th century editions that came from my parents.
I'm always so envious when I hear from fellow historians who have in their possession a family Bible inscribed with information from their family tree that doesnít exist in any public record office - so please treat the question at the start of this article as rhetorical!
Of course, when I look at my tree it's obvious what has happened - most of my ancestors came from large families, and whilst family stories could be passed down to all of them, only one could inherit physical possessions like the family Bible. My father inherited from his grandfather - and clearly greatly-prized - a bound volume of Boy's Own Paper dating from 1879, the first year of publication, but there are no inscriptions. I wouldnít even have known it came from my great-grandfather had Dad not written this fact down on a piece of paper which was tucked inside the front cover.
When civil registration commenced in the 19th century (1837 in England & Wales, 1855 in Scotland, 1864 in Ireland) it was no longer so important for families to record the information themselves - and this means that the cousins in possession of my ancestors' Bibles could well be 4th, 5th or even 6th cousins of mine.
This means it's pointless to attempt to track down the Bibles - we all have far more 4th, 5th and 6th cousins than we can possibly count, let alone contact - but it's yet another reason to connect with researchers who share your ancestry, whether through a specialist site like LostCousins or Genes Reunited, or through a multi-purpose site like Ancestry or Findmypast. †
Connecting with cousins, especially cousins who share our interest in family history, offers the prospect of sharing a wide range of objects and information - not just family Bibles, but also photographs, medals, diaries, scrapbooks, and embroidery samplers, as well as postcards and other correspondence.
Although registration of stillborn children commenced on 1st July 1927 in England & Wales, it wasn't until 1939 that similar provisions came into force in Scotland.
I recently discovered a paper entitled Stillbirth registration and perceptions of infant death, 1900Ė60: the Scottish case in national context which, whilst focusing on Scotland, will be of interest to anyone who has an interest in this difficult topic.
It isn't currently necessary - or possible - to register the birth of a stillborn child if the period of gestation is less than 24 weeks, though there have been attempts to lower the limit. This Briefing Paper prepared by Catherine Fairbairn of the House of Commons Library sets out the position as it stood in 2018 (it's in PDF format so might open either in your browser, or in a separate app such as Adobe Reader).
There was a time when the family tree of the human race was thought to be quite straightforward, but recent discoveries - many made as a result of DNA analysis - have made it clear that things arenít as simple as they once seemed.
This article in Science magazine shows just how complicated things have become - and no doubt there are even more surprises to come.
The average LostCousins member has been researching for longer than I have, so most people reading this †will have 'brick walls' in the 16th and 17th centuries - a time when people not only spoke differently and spelled differently, they also wrote differently. Indeed until 1733 many official documents were written in Latin, and even after that date some clergymen (and they were all men) continued to use Latin in parish registers.
Tip: if you encounter Latin during your research this guide on the National Archives website might help.
But even when scribes and clergymen were writing in English their handwriting can seem indecipherable to modern day researchers - and that's why Reading Early Handwriting 1500-1700 is so invaluable. The growth of interest in family and local history, and the availability of documents online means that - as Dr Mark Forrest, the author of this excellent book points out, there are more documents from the Tudor and Stuart eras being read now than at any time since the 17th century.
We're all used to handwriting where one letter looks much like another - even the 1939 Register has many examples where the letters m, n, u, v, and w can be easily confused. But go back to the period covered by this book and it gets worse, much worse - not only are there many different ways of writing the same letters, many of them look to modern eyes like completely different letters.† And, as if that wasn't difficult enough, scribes would abbreviate frequently used words in ways that made them completely indecipherable to anyone who hasn't read this book.
I now know why I find it so difficult to read old documents, even when a transcript is provided - and whilst £10 might seem a lot for an 88-page book, it's less than you would pay to have a single page transcribed by a paleographer. Highly recommended!
At the beginning of the 18th century there were more than 100 capital offences in England, and by 1815 †there were more than 200.† However, as Gary Dobbs points out in A Date with the Hangman: a History of Capital Punishment in Britain if you committed a crime in the 18th or early 19th centuries the chances of being caught were minimal - "there were no police forces to speak of and no detectives at all".
However, for anyone growing up in the 1950s and 60s the concern was not so much about whether the guilty should receive the ultimate punishment, but whether it was also being meted out to the innocent. The case of Timothy Evans was particularly troubling, but there was also concern regarding Derek Bentley and James Hanratty (though Hanratty is now thought to have been guilty). The case of Ruth Ellis, who murdered her abusive partner, was also controversial.
Much of the book is taken up with lists of the murderers who were executed during the 20th century, generally with only brief details of their crimes and victims, though cases of particular interest are accorded considerably more space. I didnít spot the name of any of my relatives amongst the victims, the perpetrators, or the executioners, but no doubt some of you will be less fortunate.
Whilst the book is primarily about hanging, other forms of execution are briefly mentioned, some of them extremely grisly - it's certainly not a book for bedtime reading!
It was only last month that I reviewed The Indelible Stain, the second book in the Esme Quentin series of †genealogical mysteries from Wendy Percival - but I enjoyed it so much that I couldnít resist starting on the third book in the series when I found myself at a loose end while travelling. And having started, I just had to finish it, even though there were other things I should have been doing!
The plot is cleverly-crafted: it starts innocently enough, with Esme offering to research her friend Ruth's aunt, but at the same she's working on a completely different case with Max, a journalist colleague of her late husband. However, things are not what they seem, and before long Esme is wondering whether the two cases are connected in some way.
Talking of connections, one of the clues Esme comes across is a photograph of 'Typhoid Mary', who was a super-spreader of the deadly disease - indeed, as I mentioned in a newsletter article in 2010, it's just possible that she was indirectly responsible for the death of my great-uncle, who died of typhoid in New York in 1893. And naturally my thoughts turned to the coronavirus that originated in China but is now spreading around the world (this BBC article explains why super-spreaders can be so dangerous).
Anyway, I canít tell you more without giving away too much of the plot - and I certainly wouldnít want to spoil your enjoyment of this excellent novel. You donít need to have read the previous books in the series, but you'll enjoy all of them - so why not read them in order? (Just follow the links below.)
I read the Kindle version of The Malice of Angels, which is a bargain at just £2.99 (remember, you donít need a Kindle - a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop will do). But it's also available in paperback at £9.99, and one advantage of having a real book is being able to lend it to your friends!
It was quite a coincidence that MI6 - British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909-1945 was in my pile of books for review because both The Malice of Angels (by Wendy Percival, reviewed above), and The Sterling Affair (by Nathan Dylan Goodwin, reviewed below) have plots which involve the security services.
But the coincidences donít end there - Robin Brook, one of the operatives mentioned in the book, was the Chairman of the merchant bank where I worked in the early 1970s, whilst the brother of Nigel West, the author of the book, was my main competitor when I started in the software business in the late 1970s. And to cap it all, Lady Menzies, the widow of Major-General Sir Stewart Menzies (who was head of MI6 from 1939-52), lived for many years in the very building where LostCousins was founded - and is still based.
Although the book covers the period from the foundation of the Secret Intelligence Service in 1909, most of it is devoted to the period from 1939-45 - but whatever period he's writing about, itís clear that the author is encyclopaedic in his knowledge.
There's a uniquely British tendency to focus on things that go wrong, but there is sufficient detail in the book to help the reader understand how and why things went awry - whether it was inter-departmental infighting or an over-reliance on the 'Old Boy' network.
I read the hardback, but the book is also available in Kindle format. There are also cheap second-hand copies of the 1985 paperback edition available - I haven't read it, so canít comment on the differences, but I suspect that it might suffice for the general reader.
Nathan Dylan Goodwin's latest genealogical mystery novel is a blockbuster in more ways than one - it's by far the longest instalment in the Forensic Genealogist series featuring Morton Farrier, and because many of the key characters were involved with the Security Services during the Cold War it has enough twists and turns to make your hair curl.
Since founding LostCousins I've come across several instances in which a birth certificate passed down within a member's family wasn't the correct certificate - it simply fulfilled a purpose, perhaps to obtain a passport or claim a pension. And anyone who has read of watched The Day of the Jackal will know how easy it was to assume the identity of a child who had died.
And that's how The Sterling Affair begins - with an elderly lady arriving on Morton Farrier's doorstep claiming that the brother who has just died, leaving her a legacy of £90,000, had actually passed way in 1944.
Intertwined with Morton's research into his client's story is a mystery that involves his own family, one studded with themes that will be familiar to regular readers of this newsletter. Indeed, the events of the book are as much of a roller-coaster ride for Morton as they are for the reader.
If youíre an avid reader of Nathan Dylan Goodwin's books you wonít need to be convinced to buy this latest instalment in the Forensic Genealogist series - but if you're not, now's the time to start, because The Sterling Affair is a real cracker!
I read the Kindle version, but it's also available as a paperback - indeed one lucky member has one a signed copy in my New Year Competition!
What do you do when you meet a celebrity? You ask for their autograph. At last, thatís the way it normally, works, but when I met Sir Geoff Hurst last month I turned the tables by giving him my autograph.
How come? Well, when Geoff Hurst, the only man ever to score three goals in a World Cup final, was knighted in 1998 I wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to The Times †- which they graciously chose for publication - so I thought the least I could do was give him a framed and signed copy of my letter.
Talk about irresponsible - this BBC article about a young man who claims to make a fortune as an online trader can only lead to disaster. You donít need to be a genius to figure out that for everyone who makes a profit there's somebody else who makes a loss.
Let's hope that none of your grandchildren fall for this fairy tale.....
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......
I'll be back in touch soon - in the meantime, enjoy reading the books I've selected!
© Copyright 2020 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?