Newsletter – 19th July 2022
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 30th 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):
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This article on the Money Saving Expert website offers valuable advice on how we can all make life after death a little easier. That is to say, how we can make life easier for those left behind when we’re no longer around to help.
I don’t use social media any more than I have to – for me it’s a tool that comes in useful now and again, but goes back in the toolbox once I’ve done what needed doing, and I know that many reading this newsletter feel the same. But it’s also clear from the large number of people who belong to genealogy groups on Facebook (for example), that a sizeable minority of family historians are more intensive users of social media.
According to the MSE article some large providers now make specific provision for accounts to be passed on, but others haven’t, and this could lead to problems for some. Of course, one small site that was way ahead of the game (again!) is LostCousins – we’ve allowed members to specify a beneficiary for a least 15 years, and quite probably since we began on 2004, though I’d have to dig through the archives to be certain.
Note: enter your beneficiary’s email address in the box on your My Details page – it’s about half-way down the page. The person you choose need not be actively interested in continuing your research – what matters most is that it’s someone you trust to preserve what you have achieved for the benefit of future generations.
There has been a lot in the press recently about mothers who were forced to give up their children for adoption in the days when giving birth outside marriage was not only stigmatised, but often presented insuperable practical problems. But with advances in technology and changes in attitudes more complex issues arise, as in the case of Sarah Osborne, who was prevented from being named as the parent of her child by a registrar in 2014 – see this BBC News article for more details.
Perhaps one day there will be a legal judgement that supports the rights of mothers to be shown under their maiden name when their child marries? See these articles from May if you need a reminder about the ‘Looking Glass’ situation created by careless drafting of the new rules and regulations that were supposed to legislate for equality.
When I read Professor Probert’s latest work on marriage law, Tying the Knot I was struck by how many times legislation was passed in the 19th century to modify, clarify, or rectify marriage-related issues. But it seems that in the 21st century we’re heading the same way, with yet more proposals from the Law Commission announced today. You can download the full report here (it’s a PDF file) or for a quick summary see this Guardian article.
For 20 years I had an office a stone’s throw from Harrow & Wealdstone station, the site – in 1952 – of the worst peacetime railway disaster in the UK. On 8th October it will be the 70th anniversary of this terrible accident, which involved three trains – two of them express trains travelling at high speed, one of which had passed several warning and danger signals. The accident prompted the introduction of an Automatic Warning System to provide audible and visual alerts in the driver’s cab.
This week the Railway Work, Life & Death project will be releasing a new dataset, featuring details of around 16,000 British and Irish railway workers. The project looks at accidents to railway staff before 1939, transcribing and summarising details from official accident investigations.
Together with the existing data, the database will cover around 21,000 individuals, all transcribed by the project's excellent volunteers. The information recorded includes who was involved in an accident, what they were doing, where, when and why – and it's all available free, from the project website.
The project is a joint initiative of the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, working with The National Archives.
Eventually there will be over 70,000 records in the database but it’s likely to be some years before the project is complete.
Note: in a typical year there are (excluding suicides) around 40 fatalities on railways in the UK, fewer than 3% of the number of deaths on the roads – travelling by rail is exceptionally safe (in normal times).
All of my ancestral lines pass through London – though they may have originated in Devon, Bristol, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and goodness knows where else, at some point they or their descendants turned up in London. Consequently I spent many happy days researching at the London Metropolitan Archives before Ancestry put the parish registers and some of the other London records online around a decade ago.
On Tuesday evenings from 6th September to 8th November the Society of Genealogists will be running a course entitled Lost in London which will be open to genealogists around the world (though the timing might be awkward if you live in Australia or New Zealand). It’s not cheap, at £200 (£160 for members of the SoG), but if you’re struggling to find your London ancestors this virtual course could be worth its weight in Bitcoin. And even if you’ve found their baptisms, marriages, and burials you could discover more about their lives from resources that are less familiar.
You can learn more about what the course will cover here, and you’ll see that if you’re new to Zoom the SoG will arrange a free taster session if you contact them.
Note: the course I’m waiting for is the one that will help me discover the origins of my ancestors who seem to have arrived in London from Outer Space.
Although few of us can trace any of our ancestral lines before 1538, when parish registers were introduced in England, or the late medieval period when most ordinary people acquired surnames, I find it fascinating to learn about the origins of the human race and the connections between homo sapiens and other hominids, including Neanderthals and Denisovans.
Until fairly recently almost all the evidence came from the discovery of bones and other tangible relics, including tools and cave paintings, but once it became possible to extract and sequence ancient DNA scientists were able to learn much more about our ancestors – including when and whether they inter-bred with other hominids.
One of the leading researchers in the field is the Professor David Reich, who is featured in a recent article in Harvard Magazine which talks about his work and his discoveries – it’s well worth reading if, like me, you want to understand a little more about your distant ancestral origins.
Note: many DNA testing companies will tell you about your ancestral origins but often their analyses are based on just one or two of your millions of ancestral lines. I’d much rather know about the origins of ancient Europeans generally, than focus on such a small sub-section of my ancestry – because we’re all related many times over, once you get back far enough we all share the same ancestors.
Another recently published paper links a skull found in China and dating back 14,000 years to an ancient population that migrated to North America from east Asia – this article from New Scientist has more information.
This article by a LostCousins member demonstrates how long-held family secrets can come to light as a result of DNA testing.
“Like other Lost Cousins members I’ve been researching my family tree for a long time, and only recently decided to add a DNA test to the mix. It wasn’t going to do any harm and might in the long run aid my research.
“But it didn’t at first. For one thing my father’s county of origin was missing from the trees of my matches, and confusingly I didn’t match with his cousin. My siblings weren’t interested (they would be later), so I invented spurious reasons for the results – ‘I don’t have a Y-chromosome’, and ‘not enough individuals have tested in that county’.
“Matches appeared in my inbox, but I couldn’t place them in my tree until lockdown 2021 when an unknown 1st cousin popped up. It took a while for realisation to dawn: suffice it to say that I was broadsided by my emotions, and my inability to find out whose daughter I was. How could I have been so naïve when I first got my results - what sort of researcher was I? To make matters worse the mysterious 1st cousin withdrew any assistance as they didn’t want to upset their own cousins, so I was left to my own devices (and a husband who was steadily being driven mad by my constant questioning).
“Eventually I was able to find the family I belonged to, and identify one of the males as my father. Forty-eight hours later the ‘unknown’ matches fell into place, as did a 6th cousin with 185cMs who I’d been puzzling over (most 6th cousins don’t share any DNA at all). It turned out that rather like Peter (in this recent newsletter article) my cousin and I share both a great-great grandfather on our fathers’ side and a 5G grandfather on my mother’s side.
“My journey was serendipitous. I'd chosen the right male as my father, my 1st cousin resumed contact, introducing me to four more siblings and an aunt, and finally an older cousin on my mother’s side confirmed my story – she’d kept it secret for 70 years!”
Many thanks to the member who must remain anonymous for contributing that very frank account of their DNA journey. It can be traumatic making discoveries like these but, on the other hand, how much worse it would be if we didn’t find out and spent our whole lives researching the ‘wrong’ ancestors?
I’ve previously read and reviewed several books by Stuart Raymond, including Tracing Your Non-Conformist Ancestors, Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors, and (most recently) Tracing Your Poor Ancestors that I had high hopes for his latest book. Though primarily aimed at local historians, there’s such an enormous overlap between their interests and ours that I felt it was well worth reading – and so it turned out.
One unexpected bonus was the large number of references to past articles from The Amateur Historian, later The Local Historian, because currently all of the back issues are available free online at the website of the British Association for Local History (you’ll find them here).
As family historians we tend to focus on baptism, marriage, and burial registers – but there is so much more in the parish chest (metaphorically speaking, since the author reminds us that the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 required most records over 100 years old to be deposited in record offices).
Knowing when and where our ancestors were baptised, married, and buried might be crucially important to family historians, but it represents such a small part of their life story – and in many cases there is a lot more that we could discover if only we expanded our search to include sources such as muster rolls, manorial records, and tithe maps. And they’re just a few of the many sources you can read about it in this book.
And the further we get back the less adequate parish registers are for our needs: before 1813 baptism registers usually don’t give the father’s occupation, and may not even mention the mother; burial registers usually don’t give the age at death and may not even name the deceased, simply record ‘a child of’…, or ‘wife of…’. Before 1754 there are no marriage witnesses to provide clues, and we can’t be certain that widows and widowers will be identified. It’s at times like these that the clues we glean from other records can be vital to our research, especially when there are several families in the area with the same surname. Tax records and other less familiar sources may well fill the gap – provided we know of their existence, and that’s where this book will help.
There are so many useful links in this book that I’m looking for a smartphone app that will save me typing the URLs which, in some cases, fill two lines. Otherwise my only criticism is the failure to link to the web page that I created to provide easy access to the Protestation Returns in the Parliamentary Archives (it’s a great timesaver, as many of you already know).
If you have ancestors from England or Wales this book is well worth reading for the different perspective it provides, as well as the links to key articles in back issues of The Local Historian – a valuable resource in itself. Out now in the UK, and due for release shortly in other territories. Please use the links below if you can as you’ll be supporting LostCousins at no additional cost to yourself!
Almost exactly a month ago I highlighted the upward trend in COVID infections in the UK, and reminded readers that most people have little or no immunity against the latest variants.
The numbers have continued to rise, despite the good weather, so much so that in one week alone around 1 in 50 of the population of England contracted the virus, including several friends and relatives of mine who had successfully escaped infection during the first 2½ years of the pandemic. The one chink of light at the end of the tunnel is the promise of further booster doses for over-50s in the autumn, but in the meantime I’m going to continue being cautious.
As much of Europe swelters and record temperatures are recorded in England my wife has come up with some tips that might help in the garden…..
Gardening is a great test of adaptability, and not only of the plants that can to some extent cope with short term extremes. Thriving is all about adaptation - but even if we make our gardens more heat or drought-tolerant, there is still the vital question of watering. Here are some tips gleaned from recent sources, with apologies to our Southern Hemisphere, Western American and European cousins who have already experienced far worse devastation than a few shrivelled shrubs!
Understanding these differences can be crucial to plant survival and the investment of money, time and energy in your garden. Japanese Acers are excellent examples of the need to pay separate attention to moisture levels, drainage, and sunlight. All require an ideally loamy and slightly acidic growing medium which can hold a steady level of moisture with adequate drainage (waterlogging can easily kill them). But they need different levels of sunlight - more for red leaved varieties, midway for green-leaved specimens, and much less for variegated. But too much direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, leaving any variety struggling to survive.
If the plants struggle in the heat, at least you and I can seek shelter. And perhaps this is another benefit of container gardening – the ability to shift location according to season. I remember visiting Seville on a blistering day about 15 years ago, when I fainted in the heat and it was a struggle to find somewhere cool. Eventually we came across the Jardin Americano which has a gigantic slatted wooden structure where shade-loving trees and plants can flourish out of the Iberian heat. Perhaps a sail shade somewhere in the garden would serve a similar purpose?
Here is a great article on gardening with climate change, written by one of the professional team at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. Well worth a read!
I am loathe to recommend too many purchases during a drought. That said, there are some terrific bargains and delivery is quicker thanks to lower sales volumes (the beautiful acer on the right would normally be well outside my price range). The sites below are always worth a regular check for discounted items – I use them all:
Note: Peter asked me to mention that you’ll be supporting LostCousins if you make a purchase using any of those links.
There’s been a lot of debate recently about ethics in politics recently, with much of the criticism coming from people whose own ethics might reasonably be called into question (stones and glass houses come to mind). But on a lighter note I recently discovered this site which offers a series of increasingly testing versions of the classic ‘trolley problem’, which most of us have encountered at some time or another.
This morning I read about a boy who was sent home from school for wearing shorts on the very day when temperatures in the UK reached the highest level on record – and earlier this month it was reported that cinemas are banning teenagers wearing suits. Thankfully at my age nobody seems to care what I wear – apart from my wife, of course!
Whereas our ancestors would probably have spent most of their lives amongst a fairly small group of family, friends, and colleagues – only rarely crossing paths with people from different social circles – I imagine that most of us today can think of people we’ve met who went on to great things, leaving us behind in their wake. For example, at the age of 13 I played table tennis against the future editor of The Times, probably the most famous newspaper in the world – but little did I know where he was headed. Indeed, at that age I didn’t even know where I was headed. On the other hand, the amount of spin he put on the ball might have hinted at a career in the media (or politics)!
At the start of this year there were two serving Prime Ministers who I had met and spoken to long before they reached those exalted heights – but the chances are that by the autumn there will be none. I can’t say that I identified either of them as having the potential to reach such a high office – indeed, one of them of wasn’t even involved in politics when I met them. You can probably guess who one of those future Prime Ministers was, but can you name the other one? Please don’t write to me, instead post your guesses on the LostCousins Forum in the Comments on the latest newsletter area.
I used to watch a lot of cricket in the 1960s, mostly following Essex County Cricket Club. In those days county cricket was still played at Valentines Park in Ilford (within walking distance of my home), at Brentwood (where I went to school), and at two venues in Southend (where my cousin lived). When limited overs cricket was introduced it was so much more exciting that I longed for batsmen to be more aggressive in first class matches, especially test matches – and half a century later my wish finally came true last month, when Ben Stokes took over as England’s test captain and Brendon McCullum became head coach – in a three match test series against New Zealand the team scored an average of 4.54 runs per over, around twice what they’d managed previously.
But I’m afraid that I don’t have time to watch cricket these days – when you’re a family historian time is at a premium, which is why it’s so important for us to collaborate with our ‘lost cousins’!
Finally, a suggestion for anyone in the UK with an unlocked smartphone who’s worried about the planned strike by telecom engineers – order a free GiffGaff SIM now using this link, and if your landline or broadband goes down you can activate it within minutes.
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......
Right now it’s 39C in the shade here in Stansted, the highest temperature ever recorded, and it’s only 2.40pm, so it could get even hotter. Fortunately it’s a comfortable 24.5C in the house – so it’s a great opportunity to stay indoors and work on my family tree.
© Copyright 2022 Peter Calver
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