Newsletter - 1st June 2015
Why Baroness Scott proposed BMD change EXCLUSIVE
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Why Baroness Scott proposed BMD change EXCLUSIVE
Many of us have tried over the years to persuade the General Register Office and the Government to create a service more appropriate to the needs of modern family historians, but it was only when Baroness Scott of Needham Market proposed an amendment to the Deregulation Bill towards the end of last year that we could at last see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As legislation passes through Parliament many amendments are proposed - but few are accepted. However in this instance the case she made was so convincing that the Government decided to support it - and the rest is (family) history!
Baroness Scott graciously accepted my invitation to write an article for this newsletter to explain why she started researching her own family history - and what the next step will be, now that the Deregulation Act has become law.
I guess that I must be one of many thousands of people who have been inspired to start researching their family by the BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" programme. It was only some three years ago that I began what has turned out to be one of the most rewarding activities I have ever been involved with.
Of course, some of my colleagues in the House of Lords have their family history at their fingertips; descended from some of the oldest families in the country, their lineage is a matter of public record. But I am from a more modest family, my father from a long line of West Yorkshire textile workers, my mother from the marriage of a Welsh mother and Irish father.
I started with my father's family, not least because Leadbeater seemed like a more promising avenue to explore than my maternal grandmother born Mary Jones in Cardiff!
Thanks to the digitisation carried out by the West Yorkshire Archive Service, I had managed to do a lot of work on my father's side without having recourse to paying for the copy certificates, although there were a couple of points where, rather grudgingly, I had to. My great-great grandfather's birth certificate dated 1883 gave his mother's maiden name as Whitecomens, a name so unusual that I couldn't find another example of it anywhere. Ordering his younger sister's birth certificate revealed that in fact it was White-Cummings!
But it was researching my mother's Welsh ancestry which proved the value, and highlighted the expense, of using BMD certificates. My granny's birth certificate showed her father, John Jones, was a master mariner and her mother Jane, nee Roberts. He did not appear on any census during their married life, so I had no idea of his birthplace or parentage. From the 1911 census I knew roughly when they had married, and found around 16 marriages between John Jones and Jane Roberts in the right timeframe. For about 6 months I resisted taking the next step, but finally, started ordering the certificates, one at a time, and on the 6th attempt, I found one which recorded a mariner. Using the address given for Jane, and with the father's name given, I was quickly able to confirm that I had the right one.
This isn't an expense which everyone can meet, and it made me determined to try to change the legislative framework in order to allow a cheaper and less onerous way for genealogists to get the information.
By coincidence, it wasn't exactly a new issue to me. More than a decade ago, long before I started my research, I had been a member of the House of Lords committee which looked at deregulation proposals. This had been put forward then by the GRO, but they had also put forward a number of other proposals which would have had a big impact on modern registration, and we felt that the package was too far reaching for the regulatory reform procedure to be appropriate.
When I spotted that the Government were bringing forward a Deregulation Bill in 2014, I spotted an opportunity to deal with the issue, as the regime for historic certificates is a classic example of regulation which hasn't kept pace either with demand, or modern technology.
It became clear to me early on that in order to get Government to agree to do this, the GRO would have to be fully on board, and that the best approach would be to introduce what is known as "paving" legislation. What this means is that my amendment sets out the outcome we seek to achieve i.e. that the information from historical records can be issued in a form other than watermarked certificates, but the detail of how it's done is left to secondary legislation drawn up after extensive consultation by the GRO.
So that is where we are now. The GRO have a duty introduced by the 2015 Deregulation Act, to come forward with proposals relating to historic certificates, and I look forward to seeing the consultation on all the different options. It's really important that we all engage with that process so that the final legislative changes really reflect the way family historians use the certificates.
So many people around the world can trace their roots to English and Welsh ancestors, and I believe it's right for the UK Government to make it as easy as possible for them to do their research.
Copyright © 2015 Baroness Scott of Needham Market
When we find new cousins one of the first things most of us do is exchange copies of the BMD certificates in our collection - but is it strictly legal to do this?
There's a useful guide to the Reproduction of birth, death and marriage certificates on the National Archives website - you'll find it here. The good news is that provided you don't attempt to pass the copy off as an original certificate you can pretty much do what you want so long as you acknowledge Crown Copyright, and comply with both the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.
The Data Protection Act primarily protects individuals against the misuse of their personal data by organisations; as a private individual you are not bound by the letter of this particular law, but I would suggest that you consider yourself bound by the spirit of the law, especially if you plan to publish personal information.
An infant child cannot give permission for their personal details to be published - so was it morally wrong for newspapers (and this newsletter) to publish the birth certificates of Prince George and Princess Charlotte? In those instances the information on the certificate was already in the public domain - what made them interesting was seeing how it was presented. For example, someone wrote to ask why no surname was shown - a very good question, and one that I was only able to answer definitively after referring to the Royal Family's own website.
Tip: no matter how convinced you are that you're right, I'd suggest that you don't post information on online forums unless you have verified it against a credible source - and ideally provide a link to that source so that others can check it themselves. This adds credence to your post and reduces the chance of spreading misinformation, which is a common problem with forums - although not the LostCousins Forum, which is carefully moderated (check your My Summary page to see whether you have been invited to join).
A couple of years ago I wrote about the increase in baptisms prior to the introduction of Civil Registration on 1st July 1837, so I was interested to see that there was an extensive article on this topic in the latest issue of the Genealogists' Magazine (the Journal of the Society of Genealogists).
The author, Gwyneth Wilkie, reported research which showed that there were 41,757 baptisms in February 1837, compared to an average of 28,328 in the previous 5 years (two of which were leap years), and that in June 1837 the figure was 44,898 compared with an average of 31,463. The fact that there were two surges can be accounted for by the fact that the original date set for the introduction of Civil Registration was 1st March, and it was only on 24th February that the Home Secretary, Lord John Russell announced that it would be delayed until 1st July.
(Sadly this delay meant that the second marriage of my 4G grandfather on 12th June 1837 was recorded in the old-style registers, so the name of his father was not recorded.)
Why did parents rush to have their children baptised? It seems that some of the clergy circulated misleading information about the new registration system - or, at least, information that could interpreted incorrectly - but as you can see from this article from the Manchester Courier of 4th March 1837, which is part of the newspaper collection at Findmypast, there were also rumours that the fee for baptisms was to rise dramatically, figures of 5 shillings, 7 shillings, and even 8s 6d being quoted (at that time the fee for registering a baptism typically ranged from 1s to 2s 6d).
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Used by permission of Findmypast.
The misinformation also resulted in some parents failing to register the births of children who were born after 1st July 1837 - it seems that some were under the impression that baptism and registration of a birth were alternatives. This might seem ludicrous to us now, but when you consider that marriage in a register office was being introduced as an alternative to marriage in a church it's not really surprising that this mistake was made.
Note: Lord Russell, the Home Secretary who oversaw the introduction of Civil Registration in 1837, was the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, and helped to bring him up after the child's father (his eldest son), died. He became Earl Russell in 1861, and died in 1878; second son George inherited the title - you may recall that in the last newsletter I mentioned his conviction for bigamy!
Glancing through articles from the Manchester Courier in the British Newspaper Archive I noticed that I November 1834 a coach-builder and two of his employees appeared before magistrates for "exercising their worldly calling on his premises on the Sabbath-day". The employees were fined 5s each, plus costs, and the employer had to pay 27s.
Most of us grew up in a culture where it was the norm for wives to adopt their husband's surname on marriage - but according to this BBC article this hasn't always been the case in England. At one time married women had no surname at all - referring to a court case in 1340, the author of the article says that when a woman took a husband, she lost every surname except 'wife of'.
The article implies this is a direct quote, but I haven't been able to verify this (and I'm not convinced that the word 'surname' would have been used in 1340). Nevertheless, we've probably all seen parish registers entries along the lines of "Elizabeth, wife of William XXX" or even "the wife of William XXX was this day buryed".
In the US the pioneer of women's rights, Lucy Stone (1818-93), refused to take her husband's surname when they married in 1855; one could imagine Eleanor Roosevelt doing the same had her husband's surname not also been Roosevelt (Franklin Delano Roosevelt was her father's 5th cousin; she was a niece of Theodore Roosevelt). It has long been the fashion for married women in the US to retain their maiden name as a middle name, for example 'Hillary Rodham Clinton', and there's an unfortunate tendency for family historians from the US to retrospectively, but incorrectly, apply this convention to their English ancestors.
Note: I used to wonder how the well-known genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak got her name - it turns out she married a previously unrelated gentleman with the same surname.
In modern England there are many different approaches (some of them are listed here), though as recently as 1994 a survey showed that 94% of married women had taken their husband's surname. When a double-barrelled (ie hyphenated) surname is adopted the order of the names is a matter of choice, although traditionally it's the maiden surname that comes first. Whether the husband adopts the same combination or retains his own surname also varies.
Nowadays many more women retain their maiden name, as did my wife when we married, although sometimes only in their professional life. Far less common is for the husband to adopt his wife's surname, though I have an example in my own tree of a couple who did this when they married in 1951 (I can't provide details because living people are involved). Also in my tree is a husband who changed his name by deed poll prior to his marriage - because his future wife refused to marry him unless he did!
Sometimes you'll see a gravestone where the wife is recorded under her maiden surname, perhaps followed by "beloved wife of....". This seems to happen most often where the wife's family was sufficiently prominent to have their own area in the churchyard, but I haven't carried out any formal research into the matter. But beware middle names that are also surnames - you might think that the inscription "Mary Stables..... wife of William Aldam" is telling you that Mary's maiden name was Stables, but in fact it's her mother's maiden name. (This Wikipedia page does little to dispel the confusion.)
Note: in Scotland things were quite different: see, for example, this article at Scotlandspeople.
I'm sure that, like me, you've often wondered what proof of identity couples were required to present to the registrar - or the vicar - prior to their marriage. It seems that until very recently they weren't required to provide anything.....
One of the fascinating discoveries that I made when reading Professor Rebecca Probert's latest book Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved?was that, until section 28A was added to the Marriage Act 1949 by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, a registrar had no power to request couples to submit evidence as to their name, age, or marital status. It's snippets of information like this that make books like this so useful!
If you decide to buy Rebecca's latest book (or any of her previous works - Marriage Law for Genealogists is another classic) you can support LostCousins by using one of the following links :
The words 'Friend' and 'Like' seem to have lost all meaning since they were appropriated by Facebook - but that's not all we need to worry about. As this week's New Scientist editorial says:
"If Facebook was a country it would be the world's most populous nation... Other social media giants would also appear in the top 10.
"But what kind of countries would these be? In Facebookland the authorities choose what news you see and suppress updates they consider to be unsuitable... the statute book is vague about what constitutes an offence and the sanctions meted out seem arbitrary and draconian. Summary exile is common.
"It sounds like a police state."
The author argues that we need to rebuild online social networks as real communities, and quotes the words of Thomas Paine, the Norfolk-born philosopher who inspired the American Revolution: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
This is certainly something I aimed for when I opened the LostCousins Forum on a trial basis more than 2 years ago: my vision was of a community where people take care in their communications, help rather than harangue, and accept that - even though we have a shared interest in family history - others are likely to have very different backgrounds, aspirations, and priorities.
Of course, most of the people who use Facebook and similar sites are just like you and me. However, the way we behave on the Internet isn't always the way we would behave if we met the same people face to face, partly because we often have difficulty communicating our thoughts in writing - research conducted 10 years ago found that we over-estimate our ability to do so (surprisingly the use of emoticons, or smilies, seems not to help, perhaps because they can be ambiguous). This isn't a new phenomenon - even before the advent of the Internet it was well-known that much of the information we communicate is non-verbal.
When we're communicating with cousins we've never met we need to be particularly careful. Our cousins may share our ancestors, but their family trees will look very, very different from ours - because even a 1st cousin only shares half of our ancestors, and the proportion halves each time the common ancestor is pushed back a generation (thus a 4th cousin only shares 1/16th of our ancestors). This is one of the reasons I recently enhanced the My Contact page at LostCousins (see this article from the last issue): if we only look at things from our own perspective it becomes much harder to communicate and co-operate.
Special guardianship is a long-term placement, and can be an alternative to adoption or care for children whose parents neglect or abuse them - but what isn't clear to me is whether children will have the same level of access to their records in the future as they would if they had been adopted.
In April New Scientist revealed that doctors in Boston were planning to sequence the genomes of healthy newborn babies (this was predicted in a 2008 article in The Guardian, although sadly their prediction that the cost of full-genome sequencing would have fallen to just $100 by 2012 didn't come true).
Is it possible to have too much information? There are certainly some who would argue that having more won't necessarily lead to a better outcome, and this is more likely to be true if the patient (or, in this case, the patient's parents) aren't able to properly interpret the data.
This seems to have been the reasoning by the FDA's decision to stop 23andMe marketing DNA tests for medical purposes in the USA - however in Britain, Canada, and certain other countries you can still get this information, along with genealogical matches. Follow this link to find out more if you live in Canada, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, or Finland; if you live in the USA follow this link for a purely genealogical DNA test.
Not so long ago the question would have been "Should you test your DNA?". But nowadays it's hard to understand why anyone would want to ignore the valuable contribution that DNA evidence can make to our knowledge of our ancestry.
I think it's wonderful that there are two completely separate frameworks that we can use to construct our family tree: one based on the written evidence that has survived, and the other based on the traces of our ancestors' genes that we carry in our own bodies.
However, although most of us accept that DNA evidence is important, few family historians really understand how to use DNA tests. It's perhaps not surprising, because whilst the concept behind the inheritance of DNA is simple, for a long time many testing laboratories marketed their DNA tests in a way that made them appear more complicated (some still do, I'm afraid).
My advice is to forget about ethnicity: in a very few cases DNA testing may help to support a family story, but those instances are few and far between. Forget too about mtDNA tests - the ones that track your direct maternal line. Unless you test your full mtDNA sequence (which is expensive) and get an EXACT match you may struggle to find your common ancestor - because she could have lived 500 years ago, and relatively few of us have been able to trace our maternal line back that far (it's the most difficult line of all to trace, because the surname changes with every generation). If you do want to take a full mitochondrial sequence test you won't have much choice about who to test with - Family Tree DNA are the only major company offering these tests.
Y-DNA test are great in one respect - because Y-DNA passes from father to son there's a correlation with surnames, which are usually inherited in the same way. So if you get a reasonably close match with someone who has the same surname as you, you can be fairly certain that the two of you are cousins (though the connection could be a long way back). Y-DNA tests are ideal if you are running a One-Name Study, or if - like me - you want to find out as much as you can about the origins of your surname.
If you have an illegitimate ancestor in your direct male line you might be able to deduce the surname of the man who sired the unfortunate child - and by finding the right person to take the test you'll sometimes be able to do the same for other illegitimate male ancestors. Family Tree DNA are now the only major company offering Y-DNA tests to family historians - but they would be the best choice in any case, because they have by far the biggest database of past results to match you against. Don't even consider using a company like Oxford Ancestors - at £199 their test is extremely expensive, and it only covers 15 markers, too few for genealogical purposes. At Family Tree DNA you can test 37 markers for just $169 (£110).
The test which has come to the fore in recent years is the Autosomal DNA (atDNA) test. Autosomal DNA is inherited from both parents, which means that it has the potential to help you to knock down 'brick walls' in any part of your tree, and as with Y-DNA tests you can find out more by getting your cousins to test as well. However, even if you're the only person to test, there's a good chance of identifying new cousins (I've already found two confirmed cousins and another that I'm virtually certain about), which is not bad for a test that can cost as little as $99 (about £70).
The reason you'll get lots of matches when you take an atDNA test is because, in effect, every part of your ancestral tree is being matched against every part of everyone else's tree (everyone who has tested, that is). In fact, the challenge is not to find matches, but to figure out how you’re related to the person you've been matched with. Ancestry DNA aim to help by comparing your uploaded tree with other trees uploaded by other Ancestry users who have tested - but I've yet to find out how well that works as I don't have my test results back yet. Ancestry has a large database of results (over 700,000), but it is heavily-dominated by people who live in the USA, as until recently their test was only available there - so if you live in Europe you're less unlikely to find close cousins.
As I mentioned earlier in this newsletter 23andMe offer additional information for testers who live outside the US - but you'll also be paying more for the privilege. Follow this link if you live in the USA, or this link if you live elsewhere. They also have a very large database (over 900,000) but many of those who tested will have done so for medical purposes, so may not be researching their family tree.
Family Tree DNA have the smallest database (about 140,000) but they have a much higher proportion of testers from outside the USA - my first two confirmed matches are with cousins in Australia. For those who live outside the USA their Family Finder test is also the cheapest, by a significant margin, so their database is likely to continue to grow. However, if you test with Ancestry you can transfer your results to Family Tree DNA for $39, giving you access to both databases.
All my results and matches so far have been from Family Tree DNA, but whichever of the three big companies you choose for your atDNA test you can also upload your results to the free GEDmatch website. In fact, PLEASE do this since otherwise half your cousins won't be able to find you!
John Grenham, a genealogy expert who writes for the Irish Times has analysed Irish births from 1864-1913, taking all six million births listed in the GRO birth indexes over the 50 year period, and mapping all the surnames against the 136 Superintendent Registrars’ Districts. You can search by surname here.
The timing is perfect - next month 390,000 images of Catholic parish registers from 1,091 parishes across Ireland will be made available online, but they won't be indexed, so having some indication of the area your ancestors might have come from will be crucial.
Over 1.2 million records from Lancashire Quarter Sessions covering the period 1648-1908 are now available at Ancestry. Your ancestors don't need to have been charged with an offence to be included - they may have been a witness, or a petitioner.
Patient and staff records from London's Royal Bethlem Hospital (better known as Bedlam) for the period 1683-1932 are online at Findmypast - you can search them here.
The cost of a 24 hour subscription to the parish registers and wills online at Essex Ancestors will double from £5 to £10 with effect from Monday 8th June - the cost of other subscriptions is not changing: for example, it will still cost £30 for a month or £85 for a year.
Essex Ancestors is a service provided by Essex Record Office - there are 585,000 images from registers for over 400 parishes; there are 175,000 images of wills from Essex and eastern Hertfordshire which cover the period 1400-1858.
On the Europeana 1914-1918 website I discovered a letter written by a mother to her son which was never delivered - because, unbeknown to her, he had been killed two weeks earlier. Were the kisses on the final page written at the same time, or were they later added by the distraught mother? I suspect the latter, but we'll probably never know.
Much of the material we see from the Great War comes from official sources, so I was interested to discover some notebooks and diaries from the Great War Archive at the University of Oxford (one of the institutions involved in Europeana). But there's much, much more on the site - over a million items, in fact (to view some of them you'll need to follow a link to the site of the partner institution).
It has been reported in the financial press that Ancestry.com has been put up for sale by its controlling owners, the private equity firm Permira. Ancestry's subscription revenues have increased by two-thirds since the company last changed hands in 2012, and there are now more than 2.1 million subscribers. The price that is being suggested values those subscribers at over $1000 each!
Would a change of ownership affect subscribers? Probably not - Ancestry has been controlled by investors for many years. However if the company were to be bought by a large media concern we might see some changes - hopefully positive ones.
Over-60s are being challenged to come up with tales of adventurous holidays for a travel book to be published later this year - and since there are people reading this newsletter in over 100 countries around the world I'm sure many of you will have some very interesting tales to tell. You can find details of the competition here - the closing date is 14th June (be sure to check out the full terms and conditions).
I've mentioned on a number of occasions in the past that I'm planning to defer my UK State Pension when I reach 65 later this year, and suggested that others who have already qualified, or will do so before 5th April 2016 might want to consider doing the same. It was therefore interesting to see an article in the April 2015 issue of Significance magazine (which is published by the Royal Statistical Society) confirming how advantageous this can be, given certain assumptions.
There is a government guide here that gives all the facts, but please bear in mind that everyone's position is different - seek independent financial advice if you are in any doubt.
The Daddy of all Mysteries, Jess Welsby's book about her search for the father she never knew is now available in Kindle format (you can see my review here). You can support LostCousins if you use one of the following links (even if you end up buying something completely different):
After my last newsletter a member asked me whether it was right to buy from Amazon in view of their apparent reluctance to pay UK taxes - then just a few days later Amazon announced that they are restructuring their European operations in a way that will lead to them paying significantly more UK tax. (I'd love to tell you that they were responding to pressure from me, but it seems this is something they've been working on for a long time!)
If you followed my tip about the Amazon Fire Phone, which was on sale without a contract at £99 (a saving of £200 on the usual price), I hope you've been as impressed as I have. We don't have 4G where I live, but when I went into London recently I was amazed by the difference in speed (I had my previous phone with me for comparison). As anticipated I was able to use a GiffGaff SIM, even though the phone is locked to O2 - that's because GiffGaff runs on the O2 network. If you want to try out GiffGaff yourself follow this link to get a free SIM (you'll get £5 extra credit when you top up).
By the way, one of the great things about GiffGaff is that calls between GiffGaff users are free (within the UK), just so long as you have topped up within the last 3 months - and since most of my calls are to my wife this makes a BIG difference to our costs. Incidentally GiffGaff came top - yet again - in the Which? magazine survey, which I feel is just as important as the low prices.
Any updates or corrections will be recorded here.
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
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