Newsletter - 25th April 2019
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 18th April) 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!
This astounding Daily Mail headline headed a story about Professor Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at Ghent University (Belgium) and director of the Bioethics Institute Ghent, who considers that genealogy websites threaten the privacy of sperm donors.
The newspaper report is based on an article by Professor Pennings †which was published in the scholarly journal Human Reproduction on 30th March. I donít have access to the full article, but reading the abstract it seems that the author is actually calling for users of genetic databases to exercise restraint, and show respect for the privacy of others, rather than suggesting an outright ban.
There are big differences between the ways in which different people approach their research into their family history. A few blinkered and totally self-centred individuals blunder around like a herd of bulls in a china shop, scattering confidential information like confetti, and seemingly unconcerned about who will be hurt. (Don't worry - anyone like this who dares to join LostCousins gets sent away with a flea in their ear!)
But most researchers realise that uncovering family secrets, even perfectly innocent ones, can have an unpredictable (and potentially disastrous) impact on others. Most of the time patience and tact are all we need - but occasionally we may have to accept that some stones are best left unturned, at least during the lifetimes of those most affected. The right to know, where it exists, does not gives us the right to impose that knowledge on others.
Wednesday 1st May will be the 15th anniversary of the day that LostCousins launched. I donít know how many of you reading this took a leaflet from me as I walked up and down the queue outside the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster, where the Society of Genealogists annual fair was being held, but perhaps I'll see some of you again this Friday when I visit Family Tree Live at Alexandra Palace.
Naturally the best way to celebrate is to find a 'lost cousin' or two. Now, I know that in these days of DNA cousins are two a penny, but there's a big difference between finding a documented cousin who is actually researching the ancestors you share, and a genetic cousin who might not have a tree at all.
Tip: you have
until Tuesday to win an Ancestry DNA test in our Birthday Competition - see the last newsletter
Tip: you have until Tuesday to win an Ancestry DNA test in our Birthday Competition - see the last newsletter for details.
If you were trying to find living relatives the hard way you'd research the branches of your tree to find out the names of your cousins, and where they were born, then make use of the limited modern resources - mainly electoral registers - to find out where they live.
Believe it or not, that's what I was doing back in 2002 for the few rare surnames in my tree. It seemed to be the best way of making contact with relatives who might be able to help me in my research. Not surprisingly, very few replied - and of those that did, most knew nothing about their ancestors. I knew there had to be a better way.....
Eventually I realised that, somewhat counter-intuitively, it was far easier to find cousins in the 19th century than the 21st century - because there are far more records that are open to us. Even better, a single relative in 1881 could be the ancestor of - literally - dozens of living cousins. All that was needed was a website that could make the link between 1881 and the modern day - and that's how LostCousins came about.
Finding a 'lost cousin' might seem like a miracle, but it's not - by and large you get out what you put in. The more relatives you can enter, especially from the 1881 Census, the more cousins you'll find. The next article will serve as a gentle reminder for many of you....
Of course they are - you knew that, didnít you? So why is it that many people reading this are under the impression that, having entered the households of their direct ancestors, there's nothing more that needs doing?
Remember, we all have far more distant cousins than we do close cousins - anyone who has taken a DNA test will know that more than 99% of their matches are more distant than 4th cousin. If you want to tap into this rich resource and knock down your 'brick walls' the conventional way, you need to track the branches of your tree and enter the relatives who were recorded in 1881.
A good strategy is to start in 1841 (or earlier if you can), then track each individual as they marry and have children. If your ancestors lived in England or Wales itís a LOT easier to do this now that the GRO indexes include maiden names going back to 1837.
In the last issue I drew readers' attention to a story on the BBC News website about a lady who lived to 99, but was discovered - after her death - to have her organs on the wrong side of her body, but her heart in the right place (a condition known as situs inversus with levocardia).
That particular condition is extremely rare, but there are readers of this newsletter who have similar anomalies - for example, Michael tells me that his appendix is on the wrong side, a condition that was only discovered when he was being prepared for surgery.
Jenny sent me a newspaper report relating to the inquest on her great-great grandfather, which revealed that he only had one lung, a condition that had existed since birth.
Another reader, David, has situs inversus, a condition that (according to Wikipedia) only affects 1 person in 10,000 - still, with more than 66,000 people on the mailing list for this newsletter there must be others out there! David writes:
"I was very interested in this story as I too have this (apparently) rare condition. As I am now aged 80, I am not convinced that it is, in itself. life threatening - at least, I hope not!
"About 30 years ago I had symptoms which took me to see my GP who, having palpated my abdomen, was concerned enough to refer me to a specialist. There I was further examined manually, had an ultrasound test and a barium enema - all with no obvious abnormal findings.
"I was then referred for a CAT scan and was laying on the table after the scan when the consultant came rushing in and started feeling my abdomen. He then announced that 'all' my organs were transposed. Happily, I was given a clean bill of health and sent on my way.
"I still have the X-Ray films in case I have to convince others in the event of future examinations. In fact, a year or so after that incident I was forced to visit A&E with very severe earache and was examined by a young doctor who gave me a complete medical examination. I told him about the transposed organs and he was extremely interested. As a result, apparently, this is now recorded in my hospital notes."
April 25th is DNA Day - it's the anniversary of the day in 1953 when James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and their colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA. Half a century later it was also the day when the Human Genome Project was declared to be effectively complete.
Not surprisingly suppliers of DNA tests have been jumping on the bandwagon, offering attractive discounts to persuade those who have been holding out to buy their first test, and the rest of us to buy additional tests for our nearest and dearest.
It used to be very difficult to figure out which test to buy, but now it's much easier. The biggest database of genealogical DNA - by far - is held by Ancestry. According to the ISOGG wiki Ancestry have sold around 15 million tests (the numbers quoted for Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage are 1 million and 2.5 million respectively).
The ONLY way to get access to Ancestry's vast database is to test with Ancestry - whilst many other providers accept transfers, Ancestry don't. So testing with Ancestry and transferring your results to FTDNA and MyHeritage to find a few more matches is an option - doing it the other way around isn't.
Please use the links below in order to support LostCousins (please log-out from your Ancestry account first, otherwise the link won't work). I'll update this article daily, so if there's an offer that's missing do let me know:
Ancestry.co.uk (UK only) - £59 plus shipping until Sunday 28th April
Ancestry.ca (Canada only) - $79 plus shipping until 11:59pm EST on Tuesday 30th April
MyHeritage (UK) - £59 plus shipping until Sunday 28th April (free shipping on 2 or more kits)
MyHeritage (US) - $59 plus shipping until Sunday 28th April (free shipping on 2 or more kits)
Note: for regulatory and other reasons Ancestry donít sell their test in every country, but even if you can't buy a test yourself, perhaps one of your relatives can help you out? For example, if one of your brothers or sisters lives in the UK you could ask them to test instead - they wonít get the same results or the same list of matches, but since they have the same parents and the same ancestors they'll be just as valid as your own.
At the end of the article in the last issue about the foundling who was abandoned in November 1918 I mentioned that I'd asked a key question when I first heard the story, and wondered whether any reader could guess what it was. As it turned out nobody could.
The question I asked was whether the baby was found before or after Armistice Day (11th November). My reasoning was that if it was before the war ended then it was likely that the mother had abandoned the child because its father wasn't going to be coming home - whereas if it was after the armistice was signed it was because the mother's husband was going to be coming home (but he wasn't the father).
Around 30 years ago I was sitting next to a magazine publisher at a software industry dinner - his name was Chris Anderson, and he wore a splendid striped blazer (I've wanted one like it ever since). These days Chris is the owner (or rather, curator) of TED, which describes itself as a media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan "ideas worth spreading".
Fake news has been around a long time - over the years I've featured several examples from 19th century newspapers in this newsletter - but itís only in recent years that the issue has threatened to destabilise society. Fortunately there are plenty of people who are aware of the problem, and are trying to come up with solutions.
This recent BBC article focuses on TED 2019, which took place in Vancouver last week. Fake news and other forms of misinformation were much discussed, and Roger McNamee, whose insightful book about Facebook I reviewed recently was interviewed by Chris Anderson.
Family historians are used to misinformation - we see it every day in online trees. At least if they're Ancestry trees we can post comments against individual relatives.
Edited by Debbie Parker Wayne, and featuring within its 400 large format pages 14 chapters written by leading figures in the field, Advanced Genetic Genealogy: †Techniques and Case Studies tells the reader almost everything he or she needs to know about using DNA for genealogical purposes.
Without doubt this is a major work - but should you buy it, and should you read it? I paid £35 for my copy, so itís certainly not an impulse purchase - but then neither is a DNA test. Unless you know what you're doing you might buy the wrong test, test the wrong people, or draw the wrong conclusions from the results. But whilst there's clearly an argument for buying the book before you test, unless you've already tested you're unlikely to have the basic knowledge to provide a foundation on which to build.
When I started researching my family tree I bought a copy of Ancestral Trails by Mark Herber - it provided a wealth of information about records - and for many this book will be the DNA equivalent. Some chapters will be more relevant to you than others - but the ones of most interest to me wonít necessarily be the ones of most interest to you.
Everyone who thinks they understand autosomal DNA should read Ann Turner's contribution (Chapter 8), which is entitled 'Would You Like Your Data Raw or Cooked' and gets into the nitty-gritty of segments, allele frequencies. At the end she writes "This chapter should leave you with the impression that the genetic genealogy companies have done an admirable job of making the raw data more tasty and digestible", and I couldn't agree more - I frequently warn researchers about the dangers of going 'off piste', but they invariably ignore me. Perhaps they'll take notice of Ann Turner?
Another of my favourite chapters was Michael Lacopo's 'Uncovering Family Secrets: The Human Side of DNA Testing' (Chapter 13), which should be required reading for everyone who finds themselves in possession of information that could help, harm, or otherwise impact on others. The preceding chapter, 'Ethical Underpinnings of Genetic Genealogy' by Judy Russell is another must read.
The book ends with Debbie Kennett's contribution, 'The Promise and Limitations of Genetic Genealogy', which looks to the future - including Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). Although the cost of WGS has fallen considerably the total number of genealogical tests is still very low, and there aren't many tools to make use of the vast amount of data that each test generates.
Perhaps the best endorsement I can give of this book is the photo on the right of my personal copy - you can see it is well-used, even though I've only had it for a week!
As usual you can support LostCousins by using the relevant link below when you make your purchase - even if you decide to buy something completely different.
I recently stayed at the beautiful Rocha Brava resort where the Genealogy in the Sunshine conferences were held in 2014 and 2015 - and was surprised to discover that bookings are well down this year, partly because of the political turmoil. If you've been thinking of taking a holiday in the Algarve now would be a good time, and if you choose Rocha Brava try mentioning my name - it might get you a better apartment (no two are exactly alike).
About half an hour's drive from Rocha Brava is the city of Lagos, which has a marina full of beautiful but very expensive boats. Hidden away in the marina is a wonderful Italian restaurant called Portofino's which seems to be the only restaurant in the world that serves Spaghetti Molfetese. I enjoy it so much that I'm learning to cook it myself - I'll let you have my recipe when I've finally cracked it!
Today I was picking rhubarb - for the second year running we've forced some of the plants in an attempt to make the season last longer. I donít know about you, but I feel so much happier when I can pick fruit from the garden or hedgerows, rather than having to buy it in the supermarket!
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......
That's all for now - I've got to figure out how to install a new (or rather, new to me) central heating thermostat. I decided it was about time that I could control the heating from my phone - it has to be more efficient!
© 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?
Books mentioned below
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Books mentioned below have been chosen by Amazon. To see a different selection change the Search terms and click 'Go'.