Newsletter – 14th July 2021



The new normal

Opening up in England

RootsTech London cancelled again

Hidden London tram station opens to the public after nearly 70 years

DNA isn't cheating

How DNA is inherited

Half cousin or full cousin?

Family, kinship and the Poor Law

Special K

Falling in love all over again

Review: Tracing Your Ancestors Using the UK Historical Timeline

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 28th June) 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!



The new normal

Precisely one year ago, on 14th July 2020, I wrote in this newsletter:


"The one thing we can’t do, at least in the UK, is go back to the way things were 6 months ago – and perhaps we never will. I'd like to think that some of the changes that have benefited the environment will become permanent – working from home more often and less business travel would make a world of difference (and perhaps a different world)."


As the Delta variant spreads around the world it has become clear that we are going to have to live with COVID-19, just as we live with colds and flu. The vaccines that have been deployed so far are remarkably effective, thank goodness, but they can't stop the virus circulating – they can only reduce the severity of the disease and, hopefully, help us keep the annual death toll to a level that society is prepared to accept.


Had the original strain been as infectious as the Delta variant it's likely that hundreds of millions of lives would have been lost during the time that it took to develop and thoroughly test the vaccines – we've been very lucky, but there is an awful lot still to be done.



Opening up in England

Wherever you live in the world, I'm sure you'll have read in the news that England is planning to drop almost all legal restrictions on 19th July, leaving it to members of the public to take whatever precautions against COVID-19 they personally deem necessary. (Other parts of the UK have a more nuanced approach.)


Many have commented that it seems a strange time to relax restrictions: daily infections are at their highest rate for months, and even now case numbers are doubling roughly every 2 weeks (at one point it was taking just 9 days). Removing restrictions will inevitably lead to even higher case numbers, with many predicting over 100,000 reported cases per day which, if you allow for the fact that some people who are infected don't get symptoms and some who have symptoms don't get tested, could mean that before long over a million people a week are contracting COVID-19.


If you haven't been following the scientists it may surprise you to know that there is some logic behind the move – by 19th July everyone over 18 who wants a vaccine will have had at least one dose, and most will have had both doses. Opening up next week will benefit the economy, but that doesn't seem to be the primary driver – it's actually an attempt to bring forward the next peak in COVID-19 infections so that it doesn't coincide with the seasonal peak in other respiratory illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia. This table shows how the vaccine has dramatically lowered the number of deaths as a percentage of cases three weeks earlier:





% of cases 21 days previously

3rd Dec



10th Dec



17th Dec



24th Dec




31st Dec




7th Jan




14th Jan




21st Jan




28th Jan




17th May



24th May



31st May



7th June




14th June




21st June




28th June




5th July




12th July






There are three groups which don’t have the protection of the vaccine: the smallest comprises those who have been advised by their doctors not to have the vaccine; the largest consists of healthy under-18s, who are at very low risk. The third group includes those who have chosen – for whatever reason – not to be vaccinated. Those last two groups are reservoirs in which the virus can flourish and will inevitably spread to some of those who have been vaccinated because, whilst the vaccines are very effective at preventing serious illness and death, they're not nearly as effective at preventing infection.


The vaccine programme in the UK has been incredibly successful – as I write over 87% of the adult population (18 and over) have received at least one dose, and almost two-thirds have received both doses. Amongst the over-50s, who are at most risk from COVID-19, the percentage who have received at least one dose is over 90%, far higher than anyone could have predicted a year ago, and were it not for the fact that the Delta variant is so much more infectious it would be job done – herd immunity would have been achieved.


 According to this article from The Lancet, R0 (the reproductive number) for the original strain was 2.5, meaning that if life had continued as normal with no precautions each infected person would, on average, infect 2 or 3 others. This makes it about twice as infectious as influenza, and I suspect that's largely because flu symptoms show up very quickly – whereas those who have contracted COVID-19 can be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Estimates of R0 for the Delta variant range between 5 and 8 – the Lancet article suggests it's nearly 7 – which makes herd immunity virtually impossible with the current vaccines, because whilst they are more than 90% effective at preventing serious illness and death, they're not nearly as effective at stopping milder infections. We also know that prior infection doesn't prevent someone catching the disease again, though like the vaccines it improves the odds.


It's possible that in time there will be even better vaccines, but for the foreseeable future the only way to get back to (near) normal is to maximise the proportion of the population who are resistant to COVID-19, either because of vaccination or prior infection, and at the same time to encourage individuals to take sensible precautions, such as handwashing and wearing masks in crowded indoor environments, including public transport.


So far the vaccination programme has provided most of the resistance – the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey found that around 9 in 10 adults in the UK have antibodies in their blood, only a little higher than the number of people who have had at least one jab. Unfortunately there are some sections of the community which have been sceptical about vaccination, and it's hard to envisage attitudes changing significantly in the near future.


I said earlier that there are two large groups that will act as potential reservoirs for the virus – those who have refused vaccination, and those who have not been offered it because of their youth. It wouldn’t be ethical to vaccinate children in order to reduce the risk to adults, because children are themselves at very low risk – in England only 25 under-18s died of COVID-19 during the first 12 months of the pandemic (see this BBC article for more information). Whilst the death of any child is sad, compared to the total number of deaths from COVID-19 it is a very small figure indeed.


Currently the prevalence of the virus in younger people is much higher than in older people – in England only around 1 in 600 of over-70s had the virus at the beginning of July, but the figure for 16 to 24-year olds was closer to 1 in 45, and even for 6 to 10-year olds it was 1 in 110. It's likely that as restrictions are relaxed the disparity will continue to widen.


Many have accused the Westminster government of putting out confusing and sometimes contradictory signals, but I suspect they're trying to get different messages out to different groups. The fact is, if younger people and those who are never going to come forward for vaccination acquire natural immunity by becoming infected over the next two months, it should help to protect the National Health Service against a winter surge.


But even after two vaccinations older people are far more likely to suffer serious illness than youngsters, so I'm going to remain cautious – in fact, I'm going to be more cautious. On Tuesday of last week my wife and I went out for a pub meal for the first time since 12th March last year – we saw it as a brief window of opportunity before the floodgates open on 19th July. I suspect that many readers of this newsletter will be just as careful as us.


Note: for more information see this BBC article; although I've written about England I suspect most countries in the developed world will be faced with similar decisions over the next year.



RootsTech London cancelled again

For the second year in a row RootsTech London has been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. Now FamilySearch have announced that RootsTech 2022, to be held next March, will be virtual and free.



Hidden London tram station opens to the public after nearly 70 years

Kingsway tram station in central London closed in 1952 – but after nearly 70 years it is going to be opening to the public for tours. See this article from The Guardian for more details and photographs.



DNA isn't cheating

When I began to research my family tree almost 20 years ago most family historians were still working with pencil and paper – it took quite a while before the use of computers caught on, and even now there are a few family history societies which still have separate computer sections.


There must be very few researchers reading this who doubt the usefulness of computers and the Internet, but I know that there are many who are still sceptical about DNA. Some don’t think it works, even though it has been proven time and time again that it does – others seem to think that it's cheating, and that making use of DNA somehow devalues the conventional records-based research that has been their mainstay for decades.


DNA isn't cheating, nor does it replace conventional research – what it actually does is to help us overcome gaps and deficiencies in the records, whether they're the result of misunderstandings, clerical error, deliberate deception, or the accidental loss or destruction of the records themselves. The key advantage of DNA is that it doesn't lie – it’s an audit trail that leads back to the ancestors whose DNA we have inherited.


If, like me, you've got 'brick walls' that you've been up against for the best part of 20 years then DNA is probably the only way you'll ever knock them down!



How DNA is inherited

When I first tested my DNA I was surprised to discover that I shared much more DNA than I expected with some of my cousins, and much less with others – it took me a while to realise just how random the inheritance of DNA is.


Whilst all of our DNA comes from our ancestors, how much we inherit from each ancestor varies enormously. True, you inherit half of your autosomal DNA from each parent, but after that it gets more variable – you certainly won’t have inherited precisely 25% from each grandparent, and even if you did, you wouldn't have inherited exactly the same segments as your siblings and cousins.


To get a better understanding of how DNA works take a standard pack of 52 playing cards, shuffle them, then deal out 13 cards – this represents the one-quarter of your grandparents' DNA that you inherited. You might imagine that each suit represents one of your grandparents – inevitably you'll have more cards of some suits than others.


Now take another pack of cards and repeat the process – this second hand of 13 cards represents the DNA of one of your 1st cousins. There will almost certainly be a different balance between the four suits, but if you compare the two hands carefully you'll see that some cards appear in both hands – they represent the DNA that you share with your cousin.


All of the cards come from identical packs, but which of those cards are in each hand is random. The number of cards that appear in both hands is very random, as you'll see if you repeat the exercise a few times (in my trials it varied from 1 to 4). The amount of DNA you share with your cousins varies in a similar way – and whilst the amount of shared DNA tends to be higher for close cousins and lower for distant cousins, deducing precisely what the relationship is from the amount of DNA you share is usually impossible.


In the following article I demonstrate a better way to work out a relationship, still using DNA, but doing it rather differently.



Half cousin or full cousin?

Recently a LostCousins member mentioned on the forum that they had a match with a 1st cousin once removed, but couldn’t be sure whether the other person was a full cousin (two common ancestors) or a half cousin (one common ancestor).


Here's how you might do it if you were in that position:



Let's supposed that Paula Harrison has a DNA match with Adam Smith, and can work out that they're both descended from John Smith, but isn't sure whether Adam is descended from Emma Brown or a different wife – which would make him a half cousin.


DNA is a bit like a jigsaw – with a jigsaw the more pieces you can put into place the easier it gets, with DNA the more cousins you can place on your tree the easier it gets to work out where other DNA matches fit in.


In this case what's needed are matches with descendants of John Smith's ancestors and separate matches with descendants of Emma Brown's ancestors. These matches need not be shared by both Paula and Adam, but unless Paula and Adam agree to collaborate Paula won't be able to see Adam's matches. Looking for shared matches is often the most practical solution in the short-term.


If Paula and Adam both have matches with descendants of John Smith's ancestors then that confirms their connections to John Smith; if they both have matches with descendants of Emma Brown's ancestors then that confirms their connection to Emma Brown. However if Adam doesn't have any matches with descendants of Emma Brown's ancestors it’s likely that he is descended from one of John Smith's other wives.



Family, kinship and the Poor Law

This short article from the Open University struck home for me, since I've recently discovered that another of my ancestors ended up in the workhouse – well worth a look.



Special K

There aren’t many people who have a single character surname. I stumbled across this one in the GRO death indexes for 1909:




Falling in love all over again

This story of a man with Alzheimer's who forgot he was married and proposed to his wife is really touching – I hope you'll read it!



Review: Tracing Your Ancestors Using the UK Historical Timeline

I was not expecting to find this book useful – for a start there is very little in it that would help experienced family historians, as almost all readers of this newsletter are, trace their ancestors.


And yet as I went through the book, adding tabs as I found information that was of direct interest to me, I gradually came to realise what a very useful book this is!


You can see many, but not all of the numerous tabs in the photo on the right of my review copy (some are hidden behind other tabs – there must be 30 or 40 in all).


There are two ways in which you can use this book – the most obvious is to put your ancestors' lives into historical context, and that's probably what the authors intended. But for me the best aspect of the book was making discoveries about records, or events, or changes in legislation that are going to help me in my future research.


If you have ancestors from the UK you're likely to find this book just as useful as I have – thoroughly recommended! Out now in the UK, out next month in other territories (but you can place a pre-release order now).                                                   



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......



This has been a rather different newsletter – some might not think there is enough family history content, but I suspect that future generations will see things differently!



Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2021 Peter Calver


Please do NOT copy or republish any part of this newsletter without permission - which is only granted in the most exceptional circumstances. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or any article in it without asking for permission - though why not invite other family historians to join LostCousins instead, since standard membership (which includes the newsletter), is FREE? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.