Newsletter – 23rd August 2020



Are you being serfed?

Wills back to normal

Happy holidays #1 ENDS 31ST AUGUST

Happy holidays #2 ENDS 30TH SEPTEMBER

Thousands of years of genealogy experience

Adoption stories: Charlotte's web

We shall overcome

Seeing double?

A plague on both your houses

Would you join a vaccine trial?

Peter's Tips

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 14th August) 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!



Are you being serfed?

Many of my ancestors would have been serfs in medieval times, but I've always found it hard to fully appreciate the differences between serfs and slaves


The article How to tell a Serf from a Slave in Medieval England on the Legal History Miscellany blog goes into great detail so I'm not going to attempt to summarise it, but there's one thing you should probably keep in mind – go back 30 generations and you have over a billion ancestral lines, hundreds of times more than the population of England in 1066. So the chances are that I'm descended from all classes of society, and the same is probably true for you.



Wills back to normal

In July last year I revealed that the Probate Service had slashed the prices of wills for England & Wales from 1858 onwards by an amazing 85%, from £10 to just £1.50


Not surprisingly there was a flood of orders and in some cases members had to wait several months for the wills that they ordered. But this week I heard from Ray that two of the wills he ordered on 3rd August had been delivered well before the promised delivery dates, so it sounds as if the service may be back to normal.


If you have any recent experience of the service please add your comments to the discussion at the LostCousins Forum (but please do not write to me – I've got quite enough on my plate at the moment).


Note: if you have been invited to join the LostCousins Forum you'll find a link and a coupon code on your My Summary page. If you haven’t qualified yet, see the next article….



Happy holidays #1 ENDS 31ST AUGUST

Monday 31st August is a Bank Holiday in most of the UK, but the weather forecast for the coming week isn’t great. If you’re trapped indoors by the weather, or prefer to minimise face-to-face contact during the pandemic, why not connect with your 'lost cousins' around the world by completing your My Ancestors page?


From now until the end of August the LostCousins website will be totally free – this means that all members can initiate contact with someone new, without needing to contribute to the costs of running the site by purchasing a subscription.


Nobody should be prevented from connecting with their 'lost cousins' – that's why there are free periods every year, and why almost all of the censuses I've chosen are ones that are available free online.


However the main obstacle to members finding their cousins isn't financial – it’s a failure to appreciate that LostCousins isn’t a typical genealogical website where you put money in and get data in return. At LostCousins you can only get data out when you put data in, because it's your data that allows me to identify who your cousins are. I don’t have a magic wand or a crystal ball, more's the pity.


Of course, you won’t find 'any old' cousins at my site – you'll only find the ones who are researching their Family tree. A typical LostCousins member is the 'go to' person in their family when it comes to genealogy (or rather, in their branch of the family).


Family historians who are cousins have always connected in order to share past research and collaborate on future research, but as DNA becomes ever more significant as a means of knocking down 'brick walls', collaboration has become more important than ever before – many would say it is essential. Two people who share the same ancestors won’t have inherited the same segments of DNA from those ancestors – there may be some overlap, but only a little. For example, on average we inherit 12.5% of our DNA from each pair of great-great grandparents, but we usually share less than 1% of our DNA with our 3rd cousins.   


Please bear in mind that although the main page at the LostCousins site is called the My Ancestors page, that doesn’t mean you can only enter your direct ancestors!


Indeed, because ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree, you’re most likely to connect with them when you enter relatives from the branches. So even if all of your ancestors migrated from the British Isles long before the first surviving census you can still search for your British and Irish cousins provided you know who your ancestors' kin were, and have traced their branches.


Remember too that, whilst LostCousins is based in England, the censuses we use cover Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Ireland, the USA, Canada, and Newfoundland - so if you have ancestors who spoke English there are almost certainly cousins of yours on at least one of the censuses we use.


Tip: if there is more than one census to chose from, use the 1880/81 census if you possibly can, as that's the one your cousins are most likely to have used.   


LostCousins is all about cousins helping each other, so please don't restrict your entries to the lines where you need help - that would be downright selfish, and because I'm someone who calls a spade a spade I won't shy away from telling you. You don’t have to understand how LostCousins works in order to benefit – you only need to follow the advice in these newsletters and on the website.


The good news is that even though this free period comes to an end on Monday 31st August, it doesn't matter if your cousins don’t respond until later – it’s the timing of your invitation that matters. And unlike other sites, where your invitations can disappear into 'black holes', at LostCousins I'll investigate and send reminders (or take whatever other action is appropriate, which might include sending a personal letter, or phoning someone on the other side of the world).



Happy holidays #2 ENDS 30TH SEPTEMBER

Many of you will remember that a few years ago I ran conferences in Portugal under the Genealogy in the Sunshine banner.


Those of you who were lucky enough to attend will probably have fond memories of the Rocha Brava resort where we stayed, and where the sessions were held. Of course, it has changed a bit since then – guests now have access to an indoor heated pool from October through to April, in addition to the three open air pools, and there's a conference room in the remodelled reception building (we had to repurpose the Kids Club for the first Genealogy in the Sunshine).


Set in nearly 60 acres of lush gardens the Rocha Brava Village Resort lives up to its name: every apartment has its own entrance, every apartment has a fully-equipped kitchen including a washing machine.


This weekend the UK government have (somewhat belatedly) added Portugal to the list of countries covered by travel corridors. Normally at this time of the year Rocha Brava would be almost fully occupied, and any remaining apartments would be extremely expensive. But not surprisingly this year is different – not only are there dozens of vacant apartments, the prices are significantly lower as a consequence.


My wife and I bought a quarter-share in a one-bedroom apartment in 2008 and it was the second best decision we ever made (getting married was the best decision, of course). This year I took over as president of the Owners Committee and this has enabled me to negotiate an exclusive offer for LostCousins members: book before 30th September and stay before 31st December 2020, and you can save a further 10% on the published prices provided you book direct with the resort.


To claim your exclusive discount enter the code LCOUSINS10 when booking at the Rocha Brava website. This offer applies to members of your family, but please ask them not to publish the code on Facebook or elsewhere.  



Thousands of years of genealogy experience

Thanks to everyone who has responded to my appeal for members who are over 85 years old, still actively researching their tree, and participating in the LostCousins project to get in touch – it has been amazing. I haven't had time to read all of the replies in detail, let alone respond to them all individually, but I can tell you that the respondents have literally thousands of years of experience between them. At least one member has been researching since before I was born!


One of the reasons I was prompted to publish this appeal was an email I received not long ago from a member who wrote that now they were in their 70s it was time to give up family history. As someone about to enter my eighth decade I was horrified – but I now feel extremely reassured, particularly since one senior member told me that they didn’t even start their research until their late 70s!


Over the next few weeks I'm going to be publishing extracts from some of the responses I've received – I know that you will enjoy reading them every bit as much as I have!


Once again, thanks for responding – I promise to reply to everyone as soon as I possibly can.



Adoption stories: Charlotte's web

This article was written by a LostCousins member; some of the names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved, but the events are described as they happened.


If you're an avid viewer of the BBC programme Gardener's World you'll have seen several segments filmed in South Africa – not the South Africa we normally see on the news, but a country of rolling hills and glorious vegetation.


Charlotte has strong connections with South Africa. Her mother Dulcie was born there in 1911 to a couple from London. Dulcie's father had what was called a weak chest and was advised to seek a sun cure for this. As newly-weds they sailed to South Africa where he bought a farm in the Cape Colony, where in time he became a celebrated agriculturalist, his farm becoming a show place and literally on the international map.


Her parents were elderly when she was born, both being in their forties. Dulcie, a medical professional, never bothered to think too much about that, thinking that her mother possibly had some medical condition which inhibited fertility, such as a thyroid problem.


Dulcie was an only child, and her mother died when she was just five. Dulcie said that she used to think that her mother had gone to live in a cloud in the sky, and the African people on the farm used to tell her that every night her mother would come and look in her bedroom window to see that she was safe.


A few years after his wife died, her father married her widowed sister, who came with a son. And with this new development a sad chapter in Dulcie's life began. Her aunt-stepmother was truly awful to her on every level. Whenever Dulcie spoke to her father about this he'd reply that children shouldn't tell tales, and so that was where it was left (in later life though, he was mortified that he had not listened to her). When Dulcie was offered the chance to go to boarding school she jumped at it, as it would get her away from her unkind step-mother.


The workers on the farm, both black and white, had witnessed the way Dulcie was treated, and had always been very kind to her, trying to compensate in whatever way they could for her unhappy circumstances. Neighbouring farmers were equally kind.


Dulcie kept in touch with them. They included one very poor white family of "bywoners" [tenant farmers], the Bezuidenhouts, who had been hidden by her liberal father during the 1914 Afrikaner Rebellion so that the British couldn't find and arrest them. For this they were eternally grateful, just as Dulcie's father was eternally ashamed of the brutal action on the part of the British.


Years came and went; Dulcie did well professionally. But when she was 29 her beloved father died (this was in 1940). The Bezuidenhouts insisted on digging his grave as a mark of gratitude and respect, and it was a great honour in their culture to have the privilege of doing so.


Dulcie was now in Johannesburg, married with two children. Life pottered along merrily. One day, in the early sixties, the Bezuidenhouts announced that they were coming to see her. By then they had come up in the world a little and so could afford to travel.


"Jou ma was nie jou ma nie," they told her ["Your mother wasn't your mother"]. This really shook Dulcie, so she enquired of her step-mother if this were so. The step-mother confirmed that Dulcie had been adopted, but that the family had been sworn to secrecy.


The story was that Dulcie had been born to a poor Scottish family by the name of Miller, and that they couldn't afford to keep her. The adoption was private – there was no official adoption at that time – and there were no other details. Her adoptive parents' names had appeared on her birth certificate, concealing her true origins.


Upon hearing this tale, Dulcie's husband Robert dismissed it entirely, on the grounds that she was the dead spit of her father, and that this was the wicked step-mother coming up with yet more nastiness. So that's where everything remained, though in time Dulcie quietly accepted that she had indeed been adopted.


So Dulcie had an unsolved mystery which had remained with her for the rest of her life. But her daughter Charlotte was determined to find out more, and when DNA testing became affordable and reliable she decided to take the Ancestry test. Lockdown was just beginning – there would be plenty of opportunity to analyse the results and find the links to the Miller family.


So Charlotte spat into the little bottle and off went her sample to Ancestry. She soon had plenty of relatives! She wrote to many of them with her story, but inevitably most didn't reply – and of those that did nobody was able to confirm the Miller connection.


Most of the respondents were 4th cousins or more distant, but one day a 2nd cousin appeared. Vic was an Australian, and if the 2nd cousin relationship was correct it would mean Dulcie and Vic's mother were first cousins, and that Charlotte and Vic shared great grandparents! This was quite a breakthrough and whilst Vic didn't know how they were related he sent his family tree for Charlotte to peruse.


Charlotte pored over this family tree, whittling it down - after a great deal of time - to two possibilities. Meanwhile Vic remembered that his mother had inherited a little money from a relative in Pietermaritzburg, of all places – and he still had the documents relating to this. Shirley, a 3rd cousin, then appeared, and she was able to work out who Dulcie's father was. He was from England, but travelled a lot and was in South Africa for a time. His name remains private at the moment, but it wasn't Miller – for the purposes of the story we will call him X.


It then emerged that the story about a poor Scottish family was complete nonsense. Dulcie was born illegitimately to X and a partner for whom we had no details whatsoever: no name, no place of birth, nothing whatsoever, excepting that from the DNA test it seems she had some Irish blood. Whether she was South African, or happened to be in South Africa, we simply didn’t know. It is likely that the concocted story about the poor Scottish family was put out to conceal the unpalatable truth - illegitimacy - and so perhaps to make the baby more adoptable. It was a time in which the stigma of illegitimacy was very real.


Vic provided a copy of X's will, drawn up by a firm of lawyers in Pietermaritzburg which exists to this day. X had been a patient in the Mental Hospital; Charlotte found his file number on the Internet and a friend in Pietermaritzburg went to the local archives to look up the file - it was mainly correspondence between lawyers and doctors. X eventually left the Mental Hospital to return to England, sailing as a first class passenger (he was not poor), but alone.


Meanwhile, a fourth cousin, Jane, who seemed to be on Dulcie's mother's side, got in touch - she was living in Windsor. We told her that we had no information whatsoever, no name, nothing at all. Undeterred, Jane, clearly an ace at genealogy, set about searching. To our utter amazement, after a while she hit the jackpot: she and Dulcie shared great-great-great grandparents with her. She managed to work out that Dulcie was the child of a married woman - let’s call her Y - who had obviously had an affair with X.


Dulcie died some 25 years ago, but in 2020 Charlotte was able to discover the identities of the biological parents that her mother never knew - isn't that just amazing?


Thanks to Peter Calver of LostCousins, who both helped with tips and encouraged this seemingly impossible mission. What a journey, what a result!



We shall overcome

During lockdown I've been watching repeats TV series that I didn't find time for the first time around, such as the BBC series The Repair Shop. Last week one of the items brought in for repair was a painting by the Victorian mouth artist Sarah Biffin, or Biffen – I hadn’t heard of her before, and was amazed that someone born in 1784 with no arms and only vestigial legs could have survived, let alone had a successful career as an artist. According to Wikipedia she was commissioned to paint miniatures of the Royal Family, and the Royal Academy accepted her paintings.


Sarah was the daughter of Henry and Sarah Biffin, and the baptism entry records her unusual predicament:


© Somerset Archives and Local Studies; used by permission of Ancestry


A couple of months later another Sarah was baptised in the same church – her surname was Sotheby, which is a coincidence because in December 2019 a self-portrait by Sarah Biffin was sold at Sotheby's – estimated at £1200-£1800 it fetched an amazing £137500 (I suspect The Repair Shop helped to re-establish her credentials as an accomplished artist).


Another artist called Sarah came to my notice this week – Sarah Ezekiel is a London-based artist who suffers from motor neurone disease; also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, it is the disease that Stephen Hawking fought against for most of his life). Sarah Ezekiel paints with her eyes, using technology that converts her eye movements to brush strokes – you can see samples of her work in this CNN article.


What an example to all of us!



Seeing double?

Identical twin sisters who married identical twin brothers are both pregnant according to this online report. Although genealogically the children will be 1st cousins, genetically they'll be as similar as siblings.


Good luck to them – growing up in the limelight will be a challenge that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.



A plague on both your houses

Goodness knows what Shakespeare would make of the current situation, though one thing we can be sure of is that, in the years to come, modern playwrights will have plenty to write about – though whether they cast their works as comedies, tragedies, or whodunnits only time will tell.


We think of plague as something from history, but it hasn't been completely eradicated – this month a case was diagnosed in California and a young man died in New Mexico. This CNN article explains why plague continues to, well, plague us.


In the mid-19th century there was a cholera pandemic which circulated from 1846-60. In 1854 Dr John Snow famously performed a statistical analysis that linked a major outbreak in London to the Broad Street water pump, and at the British Newspaper Archive you'll find some interesting articles that were published in The Globe on 18th October of that year, one of which gives a breakdown of the deaths by water company.


(Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – used by permission of Findmypast)


My attention was drawn to these newspaper reports by Margaret in New Zealand, who discovered that her great-great grandmother had died of cholera in 1854 while visiting friends in London. It's a reminder that deaths are recorded in the registration district in which they occur, and not where the person lived.


London was a hotspot – over 1000 inhabitants were dying of cholera each week. But cholera wasn't the only infectious disease striking the capital – on the same page of the newspaper the Registrar General reported that over 100 were dying each week from scarlatina, more usually known as scarlet fever. Almost exactly a century later I was to be diagnosed with scarlet fever – fortunately it doesn’t appear to have had an long-lasting effects, though it was 6 months before I was able to return to school, and my tonsils were removed because it was thought they might harbour the infection.


It was precisely 57 years later that I next spent a night in hospital, after contracting dengue fever on a holiday in the Caribbean. I've mentioned this before, but the reason I'm bringing it up again is because it helps to highlight how the long-term effects of viruses are often under-estimated. Back in 2014, when I was recovering, I read on the NHS website that the symptoms could last for up to 2 weeks – in practice the lethargy lasted for 2 years, and even today there are some symptoms that still linger.


So perhaps I wasn't as surprised as most to learn that COVID-19 can have a lasting impact on those who have 'recovered'. It's yet another reason to stay safe and follow the medical guidance.


Note: since 2014 the NHS have updated their guidance related to dengue fever – they now say that the symptoms last for 1 week! Perhaps they should talk to their patients – if they don’t follow up, how are they going to know what actually happens in practice? I suspect the only way I could have got their attention would have been to become a death statistic.


This week I read one expert's warning that like plague, COVID-19 may never be totally eradicated – it's something the human race will have to live with. It's said that those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them - maybe this is our wake-up call?



Would you join a vaccine trial?

Someone asked me this question a while back, and my answer was "No, I'll leave that to the youngsters". But I hadn’t thought things through – it surely depends what stage the vaccine development has reached?


In Phase 1 trials a small number of healthy volunteers are vaccinated, the primary aim being to establish whether the vaccine is safe, what side effects there are, and how those side effects depend on the dosage. I doubt anyone of my age would be allowed to take part in those trials, but I wouldn't volunteer anyway.


Phase 2 trials involve a larger number of participants – usually hundreds or thousands – and are primarily designed to check whether the vaccine produces an appropriate immune response. The Oxford trials for their COVID-19 vaccine included over 1000 adults between the ages of 18 and 55. I wouldn't have qualified for that trial either.


If a vaccine passes through Phases 1 and 2 without producing any serious side-effects an even larger, Phase 3 trial begins.  Some participants in the trial get the vaccine, some get a placebo – but because nobody knows who gets what they're unlikely to alter their behaviour. In Phase 3 the main question is whether the vaccine proves effective – does it reduce the number of who contract the disease, and do those who have taken the vaccine have better outcomes?


I would certainly consider taking part in a Phase 3 trial (although sadly it doesn’t seem that this will be an option for the Oxford trial, as I'm a mile outside the catchment area). Of course, there's no guarantee that I would get the vaccine, or that it would be effective, but anything that reduces my risk of getting COVID-19 has to be worth considering.


Phase 3 trials depend on normal infection within the community, and if the level of infection is low it can take a long time before statistically meaningful results are available. Anyone who has been following the Office for National Statistics surveys which measure the level of infection in the community will know that when participants are randomly selected the proportion who test positive is very low. For example, the latest survey found just 63 positive results out of more than 135,000 tests.


For this reason some have proposed a Challenge Trial, where volunteers are vaccinated, then deliberately exposed to the virus. It's risky, but if it means that a vaccine can be made available earlier hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved. Some young people have already put their names forward according to this BBC article.



Peter's Tips

I've already made 4 batches of jam this year, totalling 20 pounds – and I've got bullaces and damsons to start on once this newsletter has been published. Here in Essex there has been a bounteous harvest of plums and their relatives, with one exception - we haven’t had a single greengage this year. But it has been more mixed in the apple department; for the second year in a row our Russet tree has let us down, though the Bramley has done fairly well.


I did make the Courgette and Ginger jam mentioned in the last issue, though I coudn't resist adding some lemon and apple too – it's absolutely delicious, so I'm planning to make some more as soon as I can. I also decided to spice up the Plum jam by adding a few sprigs of rosemary – it turns it into a confection that works just as well with savoury dishes.


Which reminds me, my wife discovered that the Spiced Blackberry, Elderberry, Sultana & Apple jam goes very well with pâté – and having checked it out myself, I concur! Do you have any unusual combinations that you'd recommend?



Stop Press

If you're trying to preserve your smaller Ancestry DNA matches, be aware that some matches previously shown as 8cM may in fact have been as small as 7.5cM, so matches you thought were safe might not be. If you use the surname and birthplace strategies in my DNA Masterclass it won't take long to identify the matches most likely to be of value in the future.



At this time of the year it’s not unusual for offers to be announced at the last minute – you might be hearing from me again very soon! But until then please focus on your living cousins – add as many entries to your My Ancestors page as you can.


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2020 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?