Newsletter – 10th February 2021
Did you enter my competition? URGENT ACTION REQUIRED
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 28th 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):
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One of the things that made the release of the 1911 Census so exciting was the inclusion of information that had never been recorded in a British census before, such as the number of years that a couple had been married, and the number of children born to that marriage.
Neither of those questions were asked in 1921, but those who were married or widowed were asked to state the total number of living children and step-children below the age of 16, and indicate how old each one was last birthday. The form is quite complex, so I wouldn't be surprised if some householders made mistakes in answering these new questions – after all, there were quite a few mistakes in 1911 (though ironically some of the inadvertent errors turned out to be helpful to family historians).
What else is different? Each person is asked to give their age in years and months, an enhancement that might enable some of us to finally track down missing birth certificates. Birthplaces of those born outside the UK were to be given as country and state, province, or district – in 1911 this extra detail was only required for those born in the British Empire.
But perhaps most intriguing of all is the requirement for children to state whether their parents are still alive – where children were living with their parents at the time of the census it's unlikely to reveal anything unexpected, but it might throw up some surprises for those who were in an orphanage or other institution, at boarding school, or living with other relatives.
Finally, a reminder that although the 1921 Census was planned for Sunday 24th April, industrial unrest resulted in it being postponed until Sunday 19th June, even later in the year than the 1841 Census, which took place on 6th June.
The England & Wales census is due to go ahead as scheduled on 21st March (as is the Northern Ireland census, although the planned censuses for Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have been postponed until 2022).
But if we’re going to hold a census during the pandemic, doesn't it at least make sense to collect some information related to the pandemic? Wouldn't it be good to know who is furloughed, who is working from home, who is studying remotely, who has recovered from COVID-19, and who has been vaccinated? Even if the government don’t want this information, I bet that future generations would like to know – and I reckon that the family historians of the future would also like to know which households are shielding and which households are bubbling (and with whom).
Thankfully once in a century events only happen around once a century – but isn’t that all the more reason to collect data that could inform policymaking in the future? One thing you can be sure of – this won't be the last pandemic, though hopefully it'll be the last in our lifetimes.
Oldest person in Europe survives coronavirus
At nearly 117, a French nun has become the oldest person in the world to survive COVID-19. You can find out more in this BBC News article.
Closer to home – and closer to my age – Stanley and Mavis, a couple in Bolton who are in their 80s have reunited for the first time in a year after being kept apart by the pandemic. Stanley has dementia, so it must have been really difficult for both of them - there's a short video clip of the reunion in this Guardian article.
Much of the language we use in connection with the current pandemic is war-like, for example, we talk about 'fighting' the virus as well as describing doctors and nurses as being 'on the frontline'; in Britain we've even involved the army in the distribution of vaccines and test kits.
So it is salutary to note that in the week before Christmas the UK death toll from COVID-19 passed the number of British civilians who died in the Second World War.
Seven leather-bound volumes in a display case just outside St George's Chapel at Westminster Abbey record the names and addresses of 66,375 British civilians who died as a result of enemy action in World War 2. Two smaller books which were added in 2017 include several hundred more whose deaths were discovered through more recent research. For more information see this page on the Westminster Abbey website.
Nearly 60,000 of the records can be found at Ancestry:
You can also search at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, although it's rather more difficult to negotiate. I found a free index for Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire on the GENUKI website – there may be other similar indexes elsewhere (if so please post the information in the relevant county section of the LostCousins Forum).
Did you enter my competition? URGENT ACTION REQUIRED
Nearly 2000 people entered my New Year Competition, but I'm going to delay the announcement of the prizewinners for a few more days to give all entrants an opportunity to check their entries – sadly three of the winning entries have incorrect information (ie it doesn’t match the census), so those entries will be disqualified if they're not corrected.
Remember, at LostCousins we don’t have family trees, we have census entries – and matching entries input by cousins who have never met depends on both entering the same information. It's not difficult – all you need to do is follow the instructions on the Add Ancestor form – so there's really no excuse for getting it wrong.
Of course, in the real world people do still make mistakes – so I make it as easy as possible for members to check their entries against the census. For all censuses (other than the US censuses) I provide an arrow you can click to carry out an automatic search of the census.
Tip: if you don’t get any results, or the head of household is missing from the search results this usually indicates that the census references are incorrect; click your relative's name and check the advice on the Edit Ancestor form, and if you still can't see where you have gone wrong check the FAQs.
The most common mistakes relate to forenames: typically middle names are included where the census shows none, or full names are given where the census shows only an initial or an abbreviation (eg Wm or Willm). Always follow the advice on the Add ancestor/Edit ancestor form because, even though you might feel uncomfortable entering information you know (from other sources) to be wrong, your objective is to match your cousins' entries.
Tip: the optional part of the form allows you to enter corrections and additional information; none of this is used in the matching process, and where it is shown on your My Ancestors page it appears in italics, as a reminder that the underlying entry differs.
Why have I not contacted the three potential prize-winners directly? Because it is very unlikely that they're the only ones to have slipped up – in these particular instances the discrepancies are sufficiently small that a match with a cousin wouldn’t be completely missed (possible near matches are indicated on your My Ancestors page by a ! symbol), but that won’t always be the case – especially if the age or census references are wrong – so it's well worth taking a few minutes to check your entries if you haven’t done so previously.
Tip: bear in mind that for some censuses we use the information transcribed by FamilySearch, whereas for others it’s the information handwritten on the census form that matters. But you don’t need to remember which is which – just follow the advice on the Add ancestor/Edit ancestor form.
By the way, if any of those three entries remains uncorrected all of the other prize-winners will move up one, and I'll draw an extra entry – so the number of prizes handed out will remain the same.
Researchers with ancestors from Wiltshire are particularly well catered for – not only are the parish registers from 1538-1916 online at Ancestry, Findmypast have well over 6 million transcribed entries from parish registers.
Key record sets at Ancestry include:
Transcribed entries at Findmypast include:
As you can see, the Findmypast transcripts include more entries from the 20th century. However the coverage varies enormously depending on the parish – this list shows the coverage by parish and by event. Many, but not all of the Findmypast transcripts have been provided by Wiltshire Family History Society.
The Wiltshire Record Society is an interesting source of information; members receive the society's publications, usually one each year. New members can purchase copies of earlier publications – subject to availability – but many are out of stock, sadly including the 2010 book Gleanings from Wiltshire Parish Registers which was mentioned recently in an article by Alan Crosby in Who Do you Think You Are? magazine. I don’t have any ancestors from Wiltshire – to the best of my knowledge – but no family historian can cease to be fascinated by the minutiae of parish registers.
Wiltshire Record Society publications from 1939 to 2002 can be downloaded free in PDF format, and even if you don’t have a connection with the county you might still find some of them useful. For example, the insights into taxation records in the extensive introduction to Two Sixteenth-Century Taxation Lists, 1545 and 1576 could well inspire you to seek out similar records for other counties.
If you have British ancestry, and especially if some of those ancestors came from Wales, you'll find this history of health care in Wales over the past two centuries very interesting (note: it is in PDF format).
Not every adopted person wants to connect with their birth mother and siblings. Here's what Caroline told me:
"I have researched my birth mother's ancestors a little but my heart was not in it somehow, I was so happy with my adopted parents and family it didn't seem right.
"I had discovered my identity some years ago, I was adopted during rationing and my mother was given my ration book which had my birth mother's name and address on it.
"She was 18 and unmarried, lived in the next town to us, very near to my adopted grandmother, and I have discovered that when she married she lived in the road parallel to our road. I may have passed her in the street or in the local shops, she had 3 children so I have siblings! She would be 90 now.
"I wonder about my father. All I know (from my parents) is that he and my birth mother had an affair, he was her boss - much older and a married man. When she did marry, age 22, it was to a man 15 years older than she. On their marriage certificate he is a bachelor, but I do wonder if it was my father and they married once she was over 21?"
So far Caroline hasn’t been tempted to use DNA to confirm her father's identity – it's very unlikely that he's still alive, but she could also have siblings on that side of her tree (she'll certainly have cousins, of course).
Did you know that wine glasses have increased in size pretty consistently since 1700? This PDF chart from the British Medical Journal reveals all.
Carry on camping
The games known as soccer (or association football) and rugby derive from ball games that have been played throughout much of recorded history, though the rules were only set down in the mid-19th century. Less well-known is 'camping', which was played in England (especially East Anglia) until the early 19th century.
There is a long description of the game in an 1823 book entitled Suffolk words and phrases; or, An attempt to collect the lingual localisms of that county (the book is available free at the Internet Archive – the entry begins on page 63). What I found particularly intriguing was the mention of a snotch which was awarded for carrying the ball to the opposing goal – it reminded me of the snitch in Quidditch (Harry Potter fans will know what I'm talking about).
According to Wikipedia camping was originally played in the middle of a town, the objective being to carry the ball to the other side, but later it was played in the country – this entry on the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website describes a site near Swaffham. Apparently the game could be quite rough, resulting in serious injuries or death, so perhaps it's not surprising that it seems to have died out.
There is an article about camping in the January 2021 issue of The Local Historian (the journal of the British Association for Local History) – I'm looking forward to reading it.
Last week a woman was banned from hospitals in Hampshire and Sussex after repeatedly filming empty corridors and posting them on the Internet as 'evidence' that there is no pandemic, whilst a man was arrested for distributing leaflets that compared the vaccine roll-out to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where hundreds of thousands were gassed in the WW2.
I'm not a psychiatrist, so can't give an opinion on the mental state of those two individuals, but I don’t think it's possible to explain away this sort of behaviour simply by calling it delusional. There was an interesting article in the Financial Times recently by Tim Harford, whose name some of you will recognise – normally FT articles are behind a paywall, but I was able to read it, so try following this link and see what happens.
If you’re faced with a friend or relative who believes in one or more conspiracy theories, how should you deal with them? This BBC article has some useful suggestions – though since some conspiracy theorists believe the BBC is run by far-right extremists, and others reckon it’s controlled by communists, perhaps you shouldn't let on where you found the advice!
On Saturday I had my first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneva vaccine. Then, over the weekend, I read articles suggesting that it might not be effective against the South African variant, which has already made its way to the UK - although the numbers are very small compared to the UK, or Kent, variant (which is currently the dominant variant across most of Britain, responsible for over 90% of positive tests).
The good news is that whilst the South African variant seems to be more transmissible than the original strain, the evidence so far is that it doesn't have a transmissibility advantage compared to the Kent variant. This means that the measures which are currently reducing the level of infection in the UK – see table below – should have a similar effect on both strains.
Daily cases numbers: 7-day average
11 January 2021
18 January 2021
25 January 2021
01 February 2021
08 February 2021
The one measure which won’t be as effective against the South African strain is the vaccination programme, but this won’t have contributed much to the reductions so far, since it takes up to 21 days from the first dose for the protection to become active.
Looking at the weekly changes it seems reasonable to assume that so long as we stay in lockdown the incidence of the South African variant should reduce by about 20% per week. So whilst it's likely that the total number of cases in the UK to date far exceeds the 147 that had been detected by genomic sequencing at the time of writing, even if there are currently 100 cases a day we could expect that to fall to around 80, then 64, then 51 and so on in successive weeks.
Even if a few people arriving in the UK are infected with the South African variant it wouldn’t make much difference to the trend – this isn't a situation where one person could start a new wave of infection. I'm confident that as long as we stay in lockdown both the Kent variant and the South African variant will continue to decline – so anyone in the UK who is offered a vaccine should take up the offer, since the current scientific thinking is that none of the known variants are likely to cause serious illness in someone who has been vaccinated.
Note: wherever you live in the world, having a dose of one of the approved vaccines makes sense – there is no evidence that having one vaccine now will prevent you having a different one later, and booster jabs to cope with emerging variants are already being developed.
One of the few delights of the pandemic has been sitting down at 5 o'clock to watch the Coronavirus Updates from Downing Street, certainly when either Matt Hancock (the Health Secretary) or Boris Johnson is at the podium.
Of course, it’s the experts that I really want to hear from, especially Professor Jonathan Van Tam. JVT (as everyone calls him) is our equivalent of Dr Anthony Fauci, and if – like me – you greatly respect the clear way that he answers questions you'll love this Channel 4 programme broadcast on 27th January (I suspect the link might only work in the UK, but try it anyway).
Not everyone loves JVT – if you watch the Channel 4 programme to the end you'll notice that even though the answers he gives are clear, logical, and make perfect sense, the members of the public who asked the questions are all dissatisfied. Why? Because they didn't get the answers they wanted.
Life's like that sometimes - and so is family history. LostCousins members who come to me with their problems don’t always get the answer they want – I don’t have a magic wand, so the best I can do is give them the correct answer, which invariably involves more effort than the magic wand solution they wanted. There are times when you can cut corners, but when corner-cutting doesn't work, the only answer is to do things by the book, tedious as that might be for the Facebook generation.
Which reminds me, my wife has just started researching her own family tree: I think she'll do well because as a gardener she's used to planning ahead, as a keen tapestry stitcher she knows that patience is a virtue, and as someone who has multiple postgraduate qualifications she clearly knows how to research!
Note: I've just realised that I've yet to watch the 8 disk DVD set which includes all 37 surviving episodes of Hancock's Half Hour – you can get your own copy here.
One of the less healthy benefits of watching the Health Secretary at 5pm is the opportunity to partake of a small snack, something to sustain me when I get back to work answering emails or writing newsletters.
During the early part of January the snack usually consisted of a cup of tea and a homemade mince pie, and I've missed them so much that I made another batch of fat-free mincemeat last weekend, and have taken a pack of filo pastry out of the freezer with a view to making mince pies in time for this afternoon's press conference (that didn’t work out). With snow on the ground I've also gone back to wearing Christmas jumpers – in this topsy-turvy world we can get away with all sorts of sartorial transgressions!
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......
There's a big weekend ahead – on Friday morning I'll be in the virtual audience for Gardeners' Question Time, on Sunday it's our Wedding Anniversary, then on Monday it’s the 50th Anniversary of Decimalisation in the UK. But keep sending the emails – I'll answer them as soon as I can.
© Copyright 2021 Peter Calver
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