Newsletter - 8th June 2019



More Irish BMD registers online FREE

Looking for help?

British Newspaper Archive hits 32 million pages

Success story: unravelling a tangled web

Father's Day DNA offers

Closest-known relative of Native Americans found in Siberia

Was the world's oldest woman an impostor?

Recycled gravemarkers found in wall

Do you remember the farthing?

Review: My Ancestor was a Leather Worker

Review: The Legitimacy of Bastards

Review: The Sinclair Betrayal


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The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 24th May) 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!



More Irish BMD registers online FREE

For decades family historians with Irish ancestry lamented the lack of records available online, but whilst nothing can bring back the 19th century censuses that were destroyed, there are millions of BMD register entries and parish register entries that you can view completely free of charge (if you go to the right website).


Birth registers for 1917 and 1918, marriage registers for 1864-1869, and death registers for 1967 and 1968 have now been added to the collection at the free Irish Genealogy website. The collection now includes the following:


Births 1864 to 1918

Marriages 1864 to 1943

Deaths 1878 to 1968


Note: although other sites may charge to search their indexes of these records, it might be worth it if they offer enhanced search features (this has certainly been the case in the past).



Looking for help?

A lot of my time is spent answering questions from LostCousins members, and whilst I'm very happy to do this, I can't respond immediately to every email - so it's very much in your interests to check whether the answer you're looking for is on the website.


For example, the FAQs page has answers to dozens of the most frequently asked questions - and given that LostCousins has now been in operation for 15 years it would be surprising if any member came up with a question that hadn't been asked before.


But there is also information to guide you on the pages that are used most frequently - for example, on the My Ancestors page there's loads of information that explains how to use the page, what the various symbols mean, and so on. However it isn't displayed permanently - you have to click a link near the top right of the page:



If you're wondering why such useful information isnít shown all the time, itís because it would fill the whole screen, so you'd have to scroll down to see the relatives you've listed.


On the My Cousins page there's a smaller amount of information, so itís shown by default - though you can hide it if you want. It's just as useful, though - especially if you've just had your first match and are wondering how the system works.


But the most important advice of all is shown on the Add Ancestor (and Edit Ancestor) forms. To emphasise how crucial it is, it begins with the word IMPORTANT (in capitals), so in theory you can't ignore it, but in practice some people do. Not only might this lead to confusion and wasted time, it will also mean that matches with cousins are missed.


Note: the Add Ancestor form changes according to the census you are using - and so does the advice. But there's one thing that applies across all censuses - you must never enter information that wasn't included in the census



British Newspaper Archive hits 32 million pages

There are now over 32 million pages from historic newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive (also available through Findmypast if you have the right subscription).


Parish registers, BMD certificates, and censuses only reveal the barebones of our ancestors' lives, but newspapers, especially local newspapers can help to paint a picture. For example, I found this cutting from 1872 which mentions my great-grandparents, John Calver & Emily Buxton:


Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; used by permission of Findmypast


Shopkeeper? I didnít know that my ancestor was a shopkeeper in the 1870s - as far as I knew he didnít have a greengrocery shop until turn of the century, by which time the family had moved to East Ham, in east London.


Less than a year after this article appeared the family had moved from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk to Acton in west London (their son Ernest Albert was born there on 13th March 1873). I canít help wondering whether this move was in some way prompted by their experience?



Success story: unravelling a tangled web

Few, if any, of our ancestors would have supposed that one day their descendants would be researching them - if they had, they might have left rather more in the way of clues, and rather less in the way of 'red herrings'. Nick's great-grandmother seems to have gone out of her way to make it difficult for anyone to track her down.....


"Nobody in the family knew my great-grandmother by any name other than Eileen Russell, and that's how she appears in the 1911 census with 3 children.


© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by permission of Findmypast


"Between then and her death in 1958 her timeline could be pretty accurately mapped, including a marriage in 1911 and another in 1920. But there was nothing prior to that.


© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by permission of Findmypast


"The only birth information to go on was her birthdate of 24th January 1877 (shown in the 1939 Register, above - she had married Charles Stanley Mott in 1920) and her birthplace of Kildare, Ireland (taken from the 1911 Census). However, the birth and baptism records for Kildare returned nothing that fitted.



"Searches for her father Frances Henry Russell or William Henry Russell, or her mother Helen Violet Margaret Russell nťe Russell (depending which marriage certificate you trusted), also yielded nothing. This was a 'brick wall'.......


"A minor breakthrough came after locating a Daily Mail article from 1910. Sheíd apparently married in 1902 as Violet Patricia Nevill (widow) and had a baby in 1908 (my grandfather) using the name Eileen Russell to register him. The fact that her husband had been stationed in India for several years, so couldn't have fathered the child, constituted more than adequate grounds for divorce, hence the interest in publishing an article about it in the newspaper!


"However, more research involving Russells & Nevills produced a blank. Was she really a widow in 1902 or had she reinvented herself? Iíd seen this scenario somewhere before - probably in one of Peter's newsletter articles.


"Anyway, a common denominator on the 3 marriage certificates (besides her being eternally 28, and all of her husbands having military connections) was that her father had held various ranks in the Royal Horse Artillery. So eventually I hired a researcher to track him down - but six months later the researcher threw in the towel! 'Eileen Russell' had done an exceptionally good job of covering her tracks. However there's one type of record that doesn't lie - and so a DNA test it had to be.....


"As soon as I received the results from Ancestry I noticed that my 3rd strongest match (a 3rd cousin) had no one in his tree in common with mine. He did, however, have a line of Russells originating in Ireland, which I followed down to the Prewer/Russell family and their youngest daughter Ethel Frances Prewer (born 1877). Although it was the wrong name she looked a good candidate because no online trees had any data on her beyond a marriage in 1895. Furthermore, her extended family had been living in or around the Woolwich Barracks since the censuses began (all connected with the Royal Artillery).



"To cut a long story short, her birth certificate from the GRO confirmed 24th January 1877 as her date of birth - though she was born in Eastbourne, not Kildare. Then I found her first husband in the 1901 census (in prison for theft) and discovered a daughter born at the army base in Curragh Camp - so there, at last, was the Kildare connection.


"She was clearly my GGM and had reinvented herself after the disgrace brought upon her family. All confirmed within 2 weeks of getting my DNA results!


"The next hurdle is to identify the father of my grandfather - it was this affair that led to Eileen/Ethelís divorce in 1910. She took that secret to the grave, but my fingers are firmly crossed!"


For Nick taking a DNA test was a last resort - and that's exactly how it should be. DNA isnít a substitute for conventional, records-based, research and anyone who thinks that it is will be wasting their time as well as their money.



Father's Day DNA offers

Sunday June 16th is Father's Day in Britain - so some of the major providers of DNA tests are offering discounts (some of which extend beyond Britain).


Almost all of the discounted tests are autosomal tests, which can be taken by anyone, male or female (though it usually makes sense to test the earliest generations). The exceptions are the Y-DNA tests sold by Family Tree DNA - these can only be taken by males. (UK only) - £59 plus shipping until midnight on Wednesday 12th June (Australia & New Zealand) - $89 plus shipping until Monday 10th June


Family Tree DNA (worldwide) - Family Finder $59 plus shipping until Monday 17th June


Family Tree DNA (worldwide) - Y-DNA from $129 plus shipping until Monday 17th June


Finally, there's an opportunity to save £10 on a Doggie DNA test from Wisdom Panel (part of Pedigree Petfoods) - follow this link and use the code FathersDay2019



Closest-known relative of Native Americans found in Siberia

The ancestors of indigenous Americans including Native Americans and Canada's First Nations people came from Siberia tens of thousands of years ago across a land bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska when sea levels were lower than they are today, just as the island of Britain was once connected to mainland Europe.


Whole genome analysis of the remains of a woman who lived in north-eastern Siberia about 10,000 years ago show that she shares two-thirds of DNA with living Native Americans - this makes her their closest known relative (though not necessarily their ancestor, as implied by the headline of the article in Science magazine).



Was the world's oldest woman an impostor?

Everyone knows that Jeanne Louise Calment was the world's longest living human being when she died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days - but could everyone be wrong?


Recently published research casts doubt on the claim, suggesting that when the real Jeanne Calment died her family pretended that it was her daughter Yvonne who had died, and that Yvonne took Jeanne's place - part of an elaborate charade to avoid crippling death taxes.


You can read more about the controversy in the New Scientist article. Right now I'm open-minded, but perhaps one day DNA will provide definitive proof?



Recycled gravemarkers found in wall

This article from Australia reports an extreme case of recycling!



Do you remember the farthing?

The Royal Mint stopped minting farthings in 1956, and at the end of 1960 any remaining coins in circulation ceased to be legal tender. As a boy I used to buy sweets which were 8 for a penny, or 2 for a farthing - notably Fruit Salads and Black Jacks (the latter had packaging that would now be regarded as un-PC - you can see an example here).


There was recently a consultation to consider whether to withdraw 1p and 2p coins, which are now worth less (in real terms) than the farthing was when it was withdrawn. This BBC article has an interesting chart showing the value (in modern currency) of different coins at the times they were in circulation.



Review: My Ancestor was a Leather Worker

It might not be the 'worst job in history', but the process of tanning hides, transforming them into leather was certainly one of the smelliest. And yet tanneries were often found in or close to the centre of towns and cities!


My great-great-great-great grandfather Johann Jacob Kuehner lived in Long Lane, Bermondsey - a stone's throw from the site of Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge was yet to be built, but the reputation of Bermondsey as a source of leather was already well-established - indeed in the 1790s, when my ancestor was working there, around half of all the finished leather in Britain had originated in Bermondsey, and many of the tanneries which processed it were situated on Long Lane.


A lot of leather workers in Bermondsey were immigrants, often from Belgium or Holland (though my ancestor came from Germany) - this suggests that they were either better qualified than the locals or prepared to do jobs that the locals didnít want to do.


When I started reading this book, one of the 'My Ancestors was a.....' series from the Society of Genealogists it hadn't crossed my mind that there were other leather workers in my family tree, but then I came to the part which described the work of bookbinders - and I remembered that two of my ancestor's great-grandsons worked as bookbinders. It could have been a coincidence - they were born long after their great-grandfather died - but who knows?


Leather was a key raw material, not just for cordwainers and bookbinders, but also for glovemakers, hatmakers, harness-makers, and saddle-makers. Other uses included the manufacture of sports equipment such as footballs and cricket balls, as well as bellows, musical instruments, purses and wallets, sporrans, drive belts, and much more besides.


The book includes information on relevant guilds and lists a number of firms involved in the leather trade, but is also dotted with interesting snippets. For example, everyone knows of Charles Booth, whose investigations into poverty in London were ground-breaking, but did you also know that he and his brother ran a successful business which dealt in skins and leather?


There are over 250 pages in this book, which goes to show what a diverse industry it was. If, like me, you have ancestors who worked with leather itís well worth picking up a copy - but donít pay through the nose (the published price is £9.99, or about US$13, but when I looked just now some sellers were asking high prices). There's also a Kindle version, which could work out a lot cheaper if it's available where you live.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††



Review: The Legitimacy of Bastards

If you're one of the fortunate few who have managed to prove your descent from a 'gateway ancestor', someone whose status or historical significance means that their ancestry is well-documented, your family tree very probably extends to mediaeval times (or even earlier), and in this case it's likely that one of more of your mediaeval ancestors was born outside marriage.


Prior to the introduction of parish registers in 1538, and the 1601 Poor Law which put the responsibility for supporting the poor on the ratepayers of each parish, there was little cause for the legitimacy of the children of the poor to be recorded. But the situation was very different for the rich aristocrats, because the inheritance of wealth and titles was often determined by the legitimacy - or illegitimacy of the intended heirs.


As someone who has yet to discover a 'gateway ancestor' I didnít expect to find this book particularly useful or interesting, but - as so often happens - my expectations were confounded. I learned about the different ways in which illegitimate children could be legitimated, and the ways in which rich men could manipulate the inheritance laws to achieve their goals. Terms that previously had seemed obscure and irrelevant, such as entail, escheat, and enfeoffment are put into context using examples from the period.


The differences between canon law and common law led to complications, but also provided opportunities to manipulate the system - for example, until 1215 marriages between couples related in the seventh degree (ie 6th cousins) or closer were forbidden by the church, which meant that many honestly contracted marriages were technically illegal.


Some disputes dragged on for decades and across generations. A wealthy landowner with no surviving legitimate sons might prefer his illegitimate son to inherit, rather than his legitimate daughters - but there were all sorts of pitfalls.


There are ample examples, and nearly 60 pages at the back of the book are devoted to an annex of the Dramatis Personae to aid the reader in keeping track of the hundreds of individuals referred to - some of which appear in different chapters and in different contexts. I doubt there can be many gateway ancestors who are not related to one or more of them.


I read the hardback (£25), but itís also available in Kindle format (£14.40). However if you can pick up the hardback at a good discount - there were copies available for under £17 (including UK shipping) when I checked - it's probably the best option. Using the links below will enable you to support LostCousins (even if you end up buying something completely different!).


Please note that the book wonít be officially available in North America until July/August, but you may be able to order it now from Wordery (and their competitive prices, which include worldwide delivery, can be displayed in most major currencies).††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Wordery



Review: The Sinclair Betrayal

Reading genealogical mystery novels is one of the most pleasant parts of my job, and when the novel comes from the pen of MJ Lee it's a particular treat, because he weaves into his storylines carefully-researched historical events, which often prompt me to carry out research of my own.


In The Sinclair Betrayal the eponymous hero is at last investigating her own family history, a journey that takes Jayne back to the dark days of the Second World War, and the bravery of the men and women in the Special Operations Executive, who risked their lives in countries occupied by the Axis powers.


However the biggest shock for Jayne comes right at the start, when she discovers that her father is still alive - but rotting in prison.


He's not there for fraud or bank robbery, but for a cold-blooded murder, the shooting of a civil servant in his own home and for no apparent reason. You can imagine the impact this discovery has on Jayne, a former police officer!


I very much enjoyed the book, and as you'll see from the next article it inspired me to do some sleuthing of my own. Currently itís only available as a Kindle book - but remember that you donít need a Kindle to read it, because there are free Kindle apps for most computers, tablets, and smartphones.


And whilst you donít need to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one, you'll find it more rewarding if you read them in sequence (if you follow the links below you can click on the author's name to see a list of other titles):†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††




As so often happens MJ Lee's novel inspired me to do some research of my own. I started by Googling my old boss, Basil Irwin, who was the Managing Director of the bank I worked for after leaving university in 1972. I knew that he had won the Military Cross while serving with the SOE - though I didnít discover that until well after leaving the bank in 1974.


It was Basil who was responsible for my very first visit to Stansted Mountfitchet, the Essex village where LostCousins is based. The two of us were due to visit a company together - probably in the autumn of 1972 - and it made sense for me to travel up by train to Stansted and for the two of us to continue to our appointment by car. It was quite an experience - he picked me up from the station in his Rolls Royce, the first and (to the best of my recollection) only time I've had the privilege of travelling in a 'Roller'.


A quarter of a century later, when my wife and I moved to Stansted, I discovered that Basil was still living in the same house - and so we met up on several occasions to discuss 'old times', usually over lunch at a local hostelry. Sadly I was on holiday abroad when he died in 2000 - I learned afterwards that in his will he'd set aside £5000 to pay for the champagne at his wake!


Although I knew that Basil had won the MC I never once asked him about his wartime experiences, but I was very fortunate - Google managed to find almost 3 hours of recorded interviews that Basil gave in 1987 in the Oral History collection of the Imperial War Museum, and I could listen to them online!


In the same collection there are many other recordings relating to the SOE, including a short lecture from 1998 which explains the origins of the Special Operations Executive. One of the names mentioned in this lecture was that of Major General Sir Stewart Menzies, who was the head of MI6 from 1939 until his retirement in 1952. That was another connection to Stansted because Lady Menzies, his widow, lived in the house where LostCousins is now based for about 20 years from the late 1950s onwards, both before and after her husband's death. (Apparently they had a most unusual marriage - living on opposite sides of London and meeting up once a week in the city.)


I was so fascinated by the first lecture that I decided to listen to the one that followed it - given by the military historian Michael Foot, who had himself been in the SOE. He said that one of his erstwhile colleagues had passed away just 2 days earlier, and when he mentioned the name you could have knocked me down with a feather - it was Robin Brook, who had been the Chairman of the bank where I worked.


The final coincidence was when I looked at a chronological list of the heads of MI6 - Stewart Menzies's immediate predecessor was Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, and he was succeeded by Major General Sir John Sinclair. When you read The Sinclair Betrayal you'll discover that Jayne Sinclair's paternal grandfather was called..... John Sinclair!



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......



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2019 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?


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