Newsletter - 7th January 2019



Exclusive stories of 2018 - why so many people read this newsletter!

Save 10% on Findmypast's top subscriptions EXCLUSIVE

Win great prizes in my New Year Competition EXCLUSIVE

Why 1881?

Confidentiality of US census data called into question

Missing entries in the GRO's own indexes: a summary

Understanding how the GRO's indexes were compiled

Why it's better to search the birth indexes at Findmypast

Adoption Matters

Another good news DNA story

Review: Connectedness

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 25th December) 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):



Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).


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!



Exclusive stories of 2018 - why so many people read this newsletter!

A lot of new members have joined LostCousins recently - largely thanks to existing members "spreading the word" - so the first issue of 2019 provides a good opportunity to revisit some of the biggest genealogy stories of 2018 which appeared FIRST in the LostCousins newsletter.


Being first isn’t easy when a newsletter only comes 2 or 3 times a month, on average, whilst competitors have daily blogs. So I have to be more pro-active, seeking out news and stories rather than waiting for press releases to arrive in my inbox.


The first half of 2018 was dominated by the identification of the Golden State Killer, and the implications that this has for genealogy - thousands of blogs, newspapers, and magazines commented on this development, whether or not they knew what they were talking about (many didn’t). Rather than jump on one bandwagon or another I took a practical approach in the first June edition of the newsletter, pointing out that DNA is virtually meaningless in isolation, and that the real key to identifying the suspect in the Golden State Killer case came from the public family trees that his distant cousins had uploaded. Food for thought!


There was good news in September for family historians with ancestors from London - I discovered that historic burial registers for the City of London Cemetery, one of the largest in Europe, were not only available online (something I'd been campaigning for since a handful of registers went online over a decade ago), but were completely free.


In November I broke the news that tens of thousands of entries were completely missing from the GRO's online birth and death indexes - not just individual entries that had been omitted or mistranscribed (that's the sort of thing family historians expect), but blocks of thousands of entries from the same register volume. Not good news, of course, but recognising that a problem exists is the first step towards getting it fixed.


Then in December there was more bad news from the GRO - I revealed that the cost of certificates and PDFs would be going up in February for the first time since 2010 (although in fairness the increases barely keep pace with inflation). In the same month I also disclosed how much money Essex Record Office collects each year by charging for access to online registers, why this might tempt Suffolk to follow their example, and explained why this would be bad for researchers.


But there was good news on Christmas Day - readers of this newsletter received a free short story from Nathan Dylan Goodwin, one of my favourite authors of genealogical mysteries.


During the year there were several exclusive Masterclasses, articles that tell you what you really need to know about certain topics - and leave out things that are more likely to hinder than help (which is probably why What to do with your autosomal DNA results is one of the most popular Masterclasses). These articles are updated periodically and republished, but all of the articles from the past decade are available online, and can be found using the customised Google search at the top of any recent newsletter.


Sometimes I devote an entire issue to an important topic. In May the 1939 Register also became available at Ancestry, so the following month I reminded readers about the special edition of this newsletter which gives the inside story of the Register, providing insights that help researchers understand how and why it differs from a census, and enabling them to search more productively.


In the autumn a series of articles entitled Adoption Matters began, looking at adoption from a whole range of different points of view - this series, which has proven inspirational for many, will continue in 2019. You'll find the latest instalment below.


There were also numerous offers through the year, some of them exclusive to readers of the newsletter, and some offering extra benefits to readers. Through my reviews I introduced readers to books and authors that they might otherwise have missed, some fiction, some non-fiction. Again, there are some examples below.


And through the Peter's Tips column newsletter readers heard about my bargain-hunting, as well as my foraging and jam-making,. They also picked up other useful tips - such as the refunds that are due to those who registered a Power of Attorney in England or Wales between April 2013 and March 2017 (some readers got refunds of over £100 as a result of my article). These may not be exclusive stories, but there are few family history newsletters that stray beyond the boundaries in this way!


So, if you’re a new member of LostCousins, you've now got a better idea of the sort of benefits that free membership provides - but please don’t forget that LostCousins is so much more than just a newsletter! Everyone who receives an email from me telling them that a new issue has been published is not simply on a mailing list, but also a LostCousins member.


The primary reason LostCousins exists is to connect family historians around the world who not only share the same ancestors, but are researching them - and whilst there are many sites that offer to do this, LostCousins is still the ONLY site that can do it automatically and with 100% accuracy, whilst maintaining a high level of privacy and confidentiality.



Save 10% on Findmypast's top subscriptions EXCLUSIVE

Until midnight (London time) on Monday 14th January you can save 10% on a 12 month subscription to the Findmypast site of your choice when you opt for the Pro or Ultimate subscription - the very best that Findmypast has to offer.


Pro and Ultimate subscriptions provide virtually unlimited access to ALL of Findmypast's worldwide records and newspaper articles - billions and billions of them. We all have relatives scattered around the globe - before I began researching my tree I wasn't aware of a single relative living outside of Britain, but now I am in touch with dozens of living cousins in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.


Nor did I expect to find my ancestors and other relatives mentioned in the newspapers - my family aren’t rich or famous - and yet, time after time I discover snippets of information that add flesh to my family tree. Family history is so much more than drawing lines and boxes on a chart - it's all about people, the people who have influenced who we are.


This offer is EXCLUSIVE to readers of this newsletter, but please use the links below to ensure that LostCousins can also benefit:


All Pro & Ultimate subscriptions are the same. The offer is open to former (lapsed) subscribers as well as new subscribers - but remember, you've only got a few days to take advantage of Findmypast's generosity.


Tip: Findmypast offer existing subscribers a 15% Loyalty Discount when they renew, so if you take advantage of this offer you'll probably pay even less next year!



Win great prizes in my New Year Competition EXCLUSIVE

This year's competition is bigger and better than ever before, with an amazing collection of prizes to be won - and the great thing about it is that to win, you only have to do what should come naturally to any LostCousins member, search for your 'lost cousins'.


(For those of you who've yet to begin searching for cousins, this is a very good time to put your excuses to one side and make a start, even if you can only spare 15 minutes - that's all it took for a previous winner of my annual competition!)


Every direct ancestor or blood relative you enter on your My Ancestors page between 21st December 2018 and midnight (London time) on Thursday 31st January 2019 represents an entry in the competition, and for everyone you enter from the 1881 Census you'll get a bonus entry.


Tip: a 'direct ancestor' is someone from whom you are descended, such as a great-great grandparent - most people just call them ancestors; a 'blood relative' is a cousin, ie someone who shares your ancestry.


Shortly after the competition closes I'll start picking relatives at random from all those entered during the period of the competition, and the lucky members who entered those relatives will be able to choose a prize from the list below (the first person out of the hat gets to choose first, the second person has next choice, and so on).


Here's what YOU might win:


This year's most valuable prize is a 12 month Pro or Ultimate subscription to the Findmypast site of your choice (worth up to £156), offering unlimited access to over 8 billion records and news articles, including the 1939 Register for England & Wales and the largest collection of British parish records anywhere online.


(generously donated by Findmypast, Britain's leading family history company)


With a Pro subscription (known as an Ultimate subscription at you can access any of Findmypast's historic records and newspaper articles, as well as their modern (2002-18) UK Electoral Register - and you can do this at any of Findmypast's four sites around the globe.


In 2018 Findmypast started selling DNA tests for the first time - powered by Living DNA, this autosomal test offers the highest resolution analysis of your English ancestry (normal price £79)


(donated by Findmypast)


Also on offer is a 12 month subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, the worlds largest online collection of newspaper from the British Isles - by my calculations there are over 360 million articles in this collection, which continues to grow.


(donated by British Newspaper Archive)




ONE copy of Family Historian v6 (kindly donated by Simon Orde, the designer and lead programmer of Family Historian)


Check out Family Historian now with a free 30-day trial - just follow this link. The winner of this prize will receive an activation code to turn the trial copy into a fully-functioning version of this amazing program.


FIVE autographed paperback copies of Hiding the Past, the first novel in The Forensic Genealogist series from Nathan Dylan Goodwin.


It's just over 5 years since I first became acquainted with Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist - and almost exactly 5 years since I introduced him to LostCousins members in my 17th December 2013 newsletter (you can read that original review here). But if you're lucky enough to win one of these books signed by the author I'd suggest you don’t read it - instead download the Kindle version and keep the paperback somewhere safe, because one day it might be rather valuable!




FIVE 12 month subscriptions to LostCousins


If you already have a subscription I'll extend it by 12 months


Even if you don't win one of these prizes there's a far greater reward at stake, and it's one that everyone can win - you could find a 'lost cousin'. Every single relative you enter is a potential link to another researcher who shares your ancestry - and whenever you click the Search button the LostCousins computer will compare every single entry you've made against the millions of entries made by other members!


Tip: unlike some websites, which update their databases at intervals, the LostCousins database is updated instantly - there is no waiting, whether you're entering a new relative or updating an existing entry.


This year your chances of finding a new cousin are better than ever before - for example, when you enter a relative from the 1881 England & Wales census there's 1 chance in 15 of an immediate match!


If you're new to LostCousins, or have forgotten how easy it is to enter relatives, see the Getting Started Guide on the Help & Advice page. If it takes you more than a minute or two to enter a household from the 1881 Census (and you’re not mentally or physically disabled) please ask for my advice - there must be some misunderstanding.


Tip: although there's the option to enter lots of extra information about your relatives on the second part of the Add Ancestor form, it won't be used in the matching process. The optional part of the form is primarily for your use. The only information I always enter, when I know it, is the maiden name of a married woman - this is automatically added to the Index of Maiden Names, so might help your cousins.



Why 1881?

I'm often asked why the 1881 Census was chosen as the focus for the search for 'lost cousins'. It's a good question - but I have an even better answer....


It's because, like almost all of the censuses we use at LostCousins, the 1881 census is available free online - which means that anyone with an Internet connection who has relatives on that census can search for their living cousins, irrespective of means. (See the Census Links page for a list of all the censuses we use - they cover England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada and Newfoundland. )


Why not use every published census, to provide those who do have subscriptions with more opportunities to find cousins? Because in practice it wouldn't work that way - it would create more work for members, but provide fewer connections to cousins. Why? Because to match two cousins requires them both to have entered the same person from the same census - and the more censuses there are to choose from, the less likely that is.


Here's another way of looking at it: if you were going to organise a family reunion, surely you'd ask everyone to turn up on the same day? And you wouldn’t ask them to meet you in a location that is costly to get to, would you. because you know that would mean that some people wouldn't be able to come.


LostCousins offers a special kind of family reunion - it brings together relatives who not only haven't met, but in most cases didn't even know that the other person existed. But it’s not like picking someone out of the phone book, or the electoral roll - everyone who belongs to LostCousins is researching their family tree, so you've got something in common before you've even met!



Confidentiality of US census data called into question

Family historians have come to rely so much on information from censuses that it wouldn’t be surprising if we sometimes assumed that census data was collected for our benefit. This has never been the case, as was brought home to us when we tried to persuade the Office for National Statistics to include a question about birthplace in the 2021 England & Wales Census - which could well be the last of its kind.


The reality is that governments commission censuses in order to be able to make more effective plans. The first censuses were primarily about counting people so that they could be taxed, or obliged to undertake military service - indeed, over the Christmas period many of us will have heard these words from St Luke's Gospel:


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.


(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)


And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.


There's some debate as to whether this particular census took place as described in the Bible - but it serves to underline the fact that censuses have been around a lot longer than some people think!


These days censuses aren't so much about raising taxes, but determining how and where taxes should be spent. Accordingly census data is sliced and diced according to the needs of local government, and even though the data is anonymised, it can be possible - in theory, at least - to identify specific named individuals by combining the anonymised census data with other sources. Indeed these 'other sources' are so numerous and (up to a point) comprehensive that after 2021 they may replace the censuses that we know and love.


This article from Science magazine describes how the US Census Bureau plans to introduce inaccuracies into census statistics in order to prevent the identification of individuals - something that many census users consider unnecessary. It's not of direct relevance to family historians, but it illustrates how our needs, and those of social scientists and planners, can conflict with the privacy of individuals.  



Missing entries in the GRO's own indexes: a summary

In my newsletter of 26th November I mentioned that another block of missing entries had been identified, but I haven’t provided more details up to now. There are approximately 3000 births missing from volume 12 in the September quarter of 1847 - it appears that of the 439 pages in the volume, only the entries on the very first page are in the index.


Here is a summary of all the blocks that I have identified as missing - you might want to bookmark this article for future reference:




1847 Q3 - the whole of volume 12 is missing except for the first page (about 3000 entries missing)


1860 Q2 - entries from volume 4B have been duplicated as volume 6C in Q4 (about 3000 entries duplicated)


1860 Q4 - all of the entries from volume 6C are missing (about 4000 entries missing)


1881 Q3 - the whole of volume 3B is missing (over 5000 entries missing)


1881 Q3 - the whole of volume 4A has been duplicated as volume 3B (over 7000 entries duplicated)


1902 Q4 - most of the entries from volume 11A are missing (around 11000 entries missing)





1863 Q1 - most of the entries from volume 2C are missing (about 2000 entries missing)


1863 Q1 - entries from volume 1C have been duplicated as volume 2C (about 4500 entries duplicated)



There are, of course, many smaller omissions which affect individual entries or sometimes an entire page of entries. If you think you may have found another missing block please follow the procedure described in this article before contacting me.



Understanding how the GRO's indexes were compiled

Until November 2016 there was only one set of GRO indexes for England & Wales, the quarterly indexes that were compiled soon after the end of each quarter. Many family historians, myself included, had the privilege of handling the original handwritten index volumes at the Family Record Centre, or at one of the previous locations where they could be inspected by members of the public, such as Somerset House or St Catherine's House. Some of the handwritten volumes were replaced with typeset printed copies when they deteriorated; later indexes were typewritten.


The information recorded in the indexes varied over time - for example, the age at death wasn't shown in the Death indexes until after 1865, and the mother's maiden name wasn't recorded in the birth indexes until the third quarter of 1911. Middle names were often abbreviated to initials. It's fair to say that the paucity of information in the early indexes often made it particularly difficult to identify the correct entries, leading to frustration and disappointment for researchers.


It’s these original indexes which are online at FreeBMD, Ancestry and other sites. Findmypast's indexes are based on those originals but with some additions (see below).


In November 2016 the GRO launched new indexes of historic births and deaths which were newly compiled from the registers they hold. Because they were compiled 'from scratch' it meant that errors and omissions in the original quarterly indexes were unlikely to be repeated, but inevitably new errors and omissions were introduced instead.


But the biggest benefit is the inclusion of information that was omitted when the original indexes were compiled - every forename is transcribed in full, and in the birth the mother's maiden name is shown from 1837 onwards (provided she was married to the father of the child). In the death indexes the age at death is shown from 1837 onwards - another significant improvement.


Things to bear in mind when using the new indexes:



But despite the flaws in the new indexes they've proved amazingly useful, allowing researchers to reduce or eliminate the possibility of ordering the wrong certificate, and sometimes providing so much information that it isn’t necessary to order the certificate at all!



Why it's better to search the birth indexes at Findmypast

Although the birth indexes at Findmypast are based on the original indexes, in many cases they've added the mother's maiden name, even before 1911 - presumably taking this additional information from the new indexes (other sites which host the original indexes haven't done this).


If you've used the GRO indexes you'll know that the search is limited and inflexible - for example you can only look for males or females, not both, and you can only search a maximum period of 5 years. Findmypast doesn’t have these limitations, so it's particularly useful if you're looking for several children born to the same parents, perhaps over a period of 20 years or more (since one search at Findmypast could do the job of 8 or more searches at the GRO site).


Another advantage of searching at Findmypast is being able to search by county, something you can’t do at the GRO site. You can even choose multiple counties (particularly handy if your ancestors lived near the county border), or multiple registration districts - something else that you can’t do at the GRO site.


Follow this link if you want to experiment - you'll be amazed how much you can find out with a free search!



Adoption Matters

The latest stories in this series look at adoption from the point of view of the adoptive parents.


"We have four children, two boys and two girls, now in their early 40's. My second son, Harry, is adopted.


"As Harry was partly black there was never any time that we could not discuss the fact he was adopted. The fact that he may at some point in his life want to find his birth parents was discussed and our support given for when it was the right time. We would have willingly had an open adoption where he could keep in touch with his birth parents but unfortunately, this being in 1976, the adoption agency would not allow it. I always felt so sorry for his birth father in particular as he had spent all the day with Harry prior to us picking him up.


"The first time Harry approached me about finding his birth parents was when he was 11. Upon asking his reasons he told me he knew his birth parents were very rich, lived in a mansion and could give him far more things than we could. I can't remember but he must have been refused something he really wanted at the time!! I said to him that I felt that was not a very good reason and when he came to me with a valid reason I would give him all the help I could.


"When Harry was 19 and had left home, he came over to see me one day to discuss finding his birth parents. He was so careful to tell me I was his Mom and he loved me, but he was curious as to who his birth parents were. As I had his birth mother's details and I figured she would still be in the same town I told Harry this and suggested I hire a private detective. It would only have taken a day's work, I was sure. I was very surprised when Harry said he was not ready for that and would contact an adoption service that would help him find his birth parents.


"The waiting list for the adoption service was two years once Harry had submitted his application; however, once he was at the top of the list it didn't take too long to find his birth mother. They met soon after and Harry found he had one brother from the same two parents and other siblings from other relationships. He also met with his birth father and spent some time with him and his wife and they got to know each other before his birth father passed away a couple of years ago.


"I have always felt happy that Harry could reconnect with his birth family. It has not affected our relationship at all and he feels complete. He very often calls me and says 'Hi Mom, I talked to Mom today' and gives me all her news. I have been in touch with his birth father's wife who has given me as much information as she can on Harry's birth family so I can fill out his genealogy for him."


The term 'open adoption' isn't defined by law in the UK, but this advice sheet published by the Family Rights Group provides a lot of relevant information (it is in PDF format). Has anyone reading this newsletter got personal experience of an 'open adoption'?


In the second example it was the adoptive parents who took the initiative in finding their daughter's birth relatives:


"We adopted one of our long term foster daughters in 1975, having had her since 1973. We never made any secret of the fact that she was adopted, and as she grew she began to ask more questions about her origins. I told her what i knew in ways that were appropriate to her age at the time the questions were asked.


"I was already into family history and used to spend time in the Family Records Centre when it was open.  One day nothing much was going right but I had some time to spare and, on a hunch, decided to look for our daughter's birth grandmother - I found her on the electoral roll. When I got home I wrote to her, emphasising to her that I could not guarantee that it would result in future contact, but asking if we might meet so that she could fill in some gaps for me.


"She was delighted and we met up.  She told me about her own background and family life, her daughter's life and the subsequent children she had given birth to, the youngest of whom had also been adopted.  She also gave me some photographs - and I had taken some for her. When I got home I wrote up our daughter's family story, as far as I knew it from her grandmother. I gave it to her and talked to her about her grandmother. The end result was that the two of them later met up and got on like a house on fire.


"Of the two middle half siblings, who had remained with their mother, the younger one - a half sister - was desperate to meet our daughter. She lives in Holland and so I arranged a trip so that they could meet and spend time together. She later met her half-brother, the next one down in the family. Whilst we were in Holland the sister we were meeting was desperate to find out about her father. She had found a newspaper article about the murder of a man in London and had questioned her mother about it - her mother had finally admitted that the man was her father. I told her that there would almost certainly be information available because of the murder. 


"Her written English is not brilliant, having been taken to Holland at an age where she was still getting to grasps with it, so I wrote a letter on her behalf, which she signed, giving me permission to explore this on her behalf, including accessing her Social Services file. As part of this I contacted the senior police officer who had dealt with the case and he came hot-foot to see me. He was brilliant. He understood her need to know about her father. He told me about all the children he had found during the investigation who had been fathered by this man and he also gave me his brother's contact details because he was someone he felt could be trusted. As a result she met her uncle and aunt, learned more about her father and was able to visit his grave when she came over to England for a visit.


"The Social Services file, which should have been redacted, not only told the story that our daughter's sister wanted but also gave me details of the other child who had been adopted. I contacted his adoptive parents (because he was then a minor), and produced a similar booklet for him to the one I had produced for our daughter. It was left to him to make contact if he wanted to do so.


Our daughter wasn't in any hurry to meet her birth mother but couldn't avoid it when her grandmother became ill. It broke the ice a little because the focus was actually on the grandmother and not on their relationship. They did meet up occasionally over several years after that and all four of the children were at their mother's funeral. They remain in contact with one another. Their grandmother has also since died.


"Although our daughter had no burning desire to meet her birth family, she admits that she feels more whole now she knows about her family roots and knows her closest family members. She hadn't realised quite how affirming it would feel to find people who looked like her and, in the case of her sister, sounded just like her. She has, more recently, done a DNA test and the day her results came out I was able to identify her maternal grandfather, whose first name was all we had. It appears that he also had at least ten children by different women around the world! Thanks to DNA our daughter now knows her racial origins, as well as her relatives, having had various garbled versions via Social Services!


"This is only my opinion, but I would say that any adoptive parent who is so insecure that they cannot cope with their child seeking their roots probably should not have adopted a child."


The final story of this issue also involves adoption in the 1970s, but in this case there has been no attempt to connect the child with his birth mother:


"In your recent newsletter, you invited responses from Adoptive parents. I am one such – an adoptive father - and my son will be 40 soon.


"Back then my wife and I were having problems conceiving, and decided after quite a long wait, to go down the route of adoption.  We went through quite a few ‘hoops’ with the Childrens Society (as it was then called), and eventually our contact came to us and asked us what breed of dog we had.  I think she knew, as it was a West Highland Terrier:  one of her expectant mums was about to deliver, had decided she couldn’t keep the baby and wanted a ‘Scottish connection’.  We fitted that description – I had started to do some digging into Family History (following up some research my uncle had started – not that easy in the late 1970s), and there was a possible link with Edinburgh back in Victorian times, not to mention a known Scottish surname.


"So – in a sense – family history research advanced our adoption chances (although our Social Worker would probably cite the dog as conclusive!). With further research and the benefit of the Internet, I have firmly established that my great-great-grandfather was born in Fife, moved to Edinburgh in the 1820s and then came south to London in the 1840s.


This, of course, is only the start of the story:  given the joy that having a baby son gives, we soon had a daughter of our own.  Sadly my wife died young (when our son was in his late teens), and now he is finally a father himself.  He is very loyal to me and although as an adult I have let him have any information we held on his natural parents, he has shown no intention of seeking them out.  Whether that will continue as he brings up his own son remains to be seen.


There will be more adoption stories in future issues - I hope you’re finding them as interesting and informative as I am. Adoption in England may not have been legally regulated until 1927, but there are 19th century adoptions in every family tree - it's something that indirectly affects all of us.



Another good news DNA story

This heart-warming story from Alan shows that, despite the scare stories we read in the press, DNA is an extremely valuable tool for family historians who have gaps in their tree:


"As I approached the age of 74 I decided to try and answer a question that had bothered me since my late teens. Was my mother's first husband, whose

surname I carried, really my father? To the best of my knowledge I had only met him once, when I was about 14, and at the time there was no hint that we had a connection - it was only afterwards that I found out who he was.  


"To start my quest I decided to get a full copy of a certificate of my birth registration. I had only ever possessed a short version which does not include the father's name. The full certificate duly arrived with a blank space against my father's name.


"My next step was to undertake a DNA test through Ancestry (as did my wife). After a couple of weeks my wife's results came in but a full 11 weeks passed before mine arrived. On the surface our results were similar, being primarily focussed on the British Isles and Europe. However, the devil is in the detail and whilst my wife had 100+ 4th cousins, mostly in the UK with ancestral migration patterns primarily around the South East of England, mine showed 1000+ 4th cousins in the USA with migration patterns focused in that country over hundreds of years.


"I proceeded to analyse some of the data contained in family trees attached to some of my cousins and, after a long learning process, came to the conclusion that Joseph M W and Martha A S were probably my great grandparents. The analysis is summarised in the diagram below - I've shown the amount of DNA shared with each of my cousins (the relationships shown are Ancestry's estimates, based on averages, so don't necessarily correspond to the actual relationships):



"At this point my free trial with Ancestry came to an end and I decided to try and come up with a strategy for finding my other great grandparents, through more distant cousins, before committing money (also Christmas was approaching fast). I felt fairly confident that I could achieve this next step but accepted that I may not be able to identify my father who may have to be shown as unknown in my much expanded family tree. Then there was a breakthrough!


"I logged on to my FamilySearch account which I have used extensively over the years for my wife's ancestors and those of my mother. I searched under the names of my newly discovered great-grandparents which revealed an extensive family tree. Ignoring the parents of my second cousins, I carried out assessments on my Ancestry account to find out the surnames of their children's spouses which occurred most frequently in my cousins' attached trees. I hoped that this would help me find my other great-grandparents when what may be the ultimate breakthrough occurred.


"The entry for a son of John W and Margaret B, namely Eugene W, had a memory entry. This showed that he had gone missing during a bombing raid on Cologne on 10th January 1945. This allowed a deeper analysis of his service life which showed that he was stationed close to my home town at the appropriate time. My birth was registered six days after he went missing, one day after the date of the official report!


"Soon after finishing the above write-up another second cousin DNA match appeared (~500cM), a 1st cousin once removed connected through Eugene's sister. I was therefore highly confident that Eugene is my father - I suppose it's a classic 2nd World War story.


"This newly discovered 2nd cousin immediately responded to my message to her, through the Ancestry system, with an overwhelming display of joy and encouragement. This first response from my lost cousins turned what had started as an intriguing academic forensic investigation into an emotional thunderstorm of tears and joy far beyond my expectations.


"Through this first contact I have been in touch her mother and uncle who continue to provide stories and photographs of my father and our family - I wish I could show you some of our email correspondence, and then you could better appreciate how much this discovery means to all of us!"


Alan was trying to identify his father, but DNA can also help to identify other unknown ancestors - for example, it enabled me to confirm the identity of my great-great grandfather.


So often I get emails from people who say "DNA can't help me because I don't know who my <insert ancestor here> was", and yet this is precisely the type of situation in which DNA is most helpful. To misquote the lager advert, DNA reaches the parts of your tree that conventional research can’t!


Note: when you read 'Connectedness' you may notice that there's a parallel with this true story!



Review: Connectedness

It's less than 3 months since I reviewed Ignoring Gravity, the debut novel from Sandra Danby, but given how much has been happening in the world of family history (to say nothing of the world-at-large) since then, it's not surprising that it seems longer, much much longer!


That first story inspired the Adoption Matters series of articles that has been running in this newsletter since November, and the second book in the series returns to the same theme - but whilst the character of Rose Haldane provides a link between the two, she doesn’t feature until Chapter 4, by which point the reader is inside the head of Justine (who is arguably the main character in this wonderful book).


When we first encounter Justine she is a highly-successful artist who has just been nominated for the Royal Academy - but we soon discover that she is haunted by her past, and in Chapter 2 we’re transported back to her student days when the crucial events took place. Her story is sad, but all too plausible - as anyone who has read the true-life stories in Adoption Matters will realise.


Although Sandra Danby's novels don't follow the standard format for genealogy mysteries they have all the same ingredients - but in terms of writing style this book is not only streets ahead of her first novel, it promotes her into my premier league - and if the third novel in the series is anywhere near as good it will confirm her position as one of my favourite fiction writers.


Read this book - you won’t regret it. But do please read Ignoring Gravity first, since it sets the scene for what happens in Connectedness. You'll find my review of Ignoring Gravity here.


Connectedness is available either as a paperback or as a Kindle book - I chose the Kindle version because I could read it on my phone, which was more convenient (and it was cheaper). But whichever version you choose please use one of the links below if you can:           



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I hope you've found this first issue of 2019 interesting - I'll be back soon with more news and tips from the world of family history.



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2019 Peter Calver


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