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Newsletter – 29th August 2023



LostCousins is completely FREE

Are you experienced?

When DNA throws up something unexpected

Ancestry DNA savings UK, US, Australia & NZ

Not Sophie’s choice

More information about the digitisation of Suffolk parish registers

An unusual marriage entry

Finding your way around the BMD indexes for England & Wales

Another fine mess

Society of Genealogists offer ENDS THURSDAY

Review: The Guinness Book of Records (1955 edition)

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 21st 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!



LostCousins is completely FREE

Many people think of LostCousins as a newsletter, but it’s so much more than that – the primary purpose of LostCousins is to connect family historians around the world who are researching the same ancestral lines. Not so that you can become friends (though you might), but so that you can collaborate on the ‘brick walls’ that you share. Most LostCousins members have been researching for over 20 years, so they’re much more experienced – and much more helpful – than cousins you’ll typically find at other sites.


I’ve always believed that nobody should be prevented from connecting with their ‘lost cousins’ just because they can’t afford it, so LostCousins is focused on censuses that are free – indeed 7 of the 9 censuses we use are free online, including at least one for each country. But that wouldn’t help if it was necessary to purchase a LostCousins subscription to search for cousins, because for some people even £10 a year is beyond their budget.


That’s why it’s ALWAYS FREE to enter relatives from the census on your My Ancestors page, so you can search for living cousins, and – equally importantly – they can find you. It’s ALWAYS FREE to correspond with an existing connection, whether or not you’ve exchanged messages before, and it’s ALWAYS FREE to reply to messages you receive from other members, even if they are new contacts. However if you want to initiate contact with someone new, rather than wait for them to contact you, you normally need a LostCousins subscription – but because I don’t want anyone to be prevented from making connections by lack of funds, each year there are times when the LostCousins site is COMPLETELY FREE.


From now until midnight on Monday (4th September) everyone will be able to initiate a connection with the New contacts shown on their My Cousins page, whether the connections are found during the offer period or have been found in the past. This applies to existing members and anyone who joins during the offer period.


To take full advantage of this opportunity please make sure that you’ve entered ALL the relatives you can from the 1881 Census, remembering that it doesn’t much matter where your direct ancestors were in 1881, because all of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree (you may know them as ‘collateral lines’). This means that the key relatives to enter are the ones from the branches – your ancestors’ brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, 1st cousins, 2nd cousins etc.


Tip: a good strategy is to start with all the relatives you can identify in 1841, whether or not you can find them on that census, then track each twig and branch until you get to 1881 (the GRO’s online birth indexes, which include the mother’s maiden name, have made the process so much easier).



Are you experienced?

Just a reminder that the more experienced you are, the more important it is to collaborate with other experienced family historians who are researching the same ancestral lines.


So don’t be put off by the fact that we use the 1881 Census to connect cousins – it’s in no way a measure of members’ achievements (after all, most of us are researching in the 1600s), simply a handy technique for achieving 100% accurate matching without either researcher needing to disclose information.


Also see When experience really counts in the last issue.



When DNA throws up something unexpected

Taking an autosomal DNA test is like setting off on a voyage of discovery – you don’t know what you’re going to find. There will be things that you hope to discover – clues that will knock down ‘brick walls’ – but there’s always a chance you’ll find something (or someone) you weren’t looking for, and certainly weren’t expecting.


Probably the most common situation is the discovery that you have a relative who doesn’t appear on your tree because they were adopted. These days adoptees looking for their birth family are extremely likely to take a DNA test, so even though the number of adopted children is small compared to the number of births (typically 1% or less), it’s likely that a significant minority of your matches will be with adoptees. Which, of course, helps to explain why quite a few people who take a DNA test don’t have a tree…..


What should you do when you discover someone who is so closely-related genetically that they ought to be on your tree? The most important piece of advice I can give you is to keep quiet about it – at least until you have figured out what the relationship is. Jumping to conclusions and blurting them out is not helpful – not only is there a high chance of getting it wrong, you risk hurting people.


How you proceed depends largely on whether you are able to collaborate with your unexpected and unexplained relative. If you work in isolation you’ll be limited by only seeing one side – even though there will probably be some shared matches, at Ancestry you can only see how much DNA you have in common with a shared match, and not how much they have in common with your unexpected cousin. So do your best to persuade them to collaborate – being careful not to appear judgmental (not least because, for all you know, one of your relatives might have forced themselves on one of the other person’s ancestors). “We have an interesting problem, let’s solve it together” is a good opening gambit. What you’re trying to do is find out where your trees connect, and who the common ancestor(s) are.


Note: sometimes there will be one common ancestor, sometimes there will be two – and this isn’t unique to unexpected and possibly undocumented, relationships. For example, my great-grandfather married twice and I’m descended from his first wife, so I have two common ancestors with descendants of her children, but only one common ancestor with descendants of the second wife. The descendants of the first wife are full cousins of mine, but the descendants of the second wife are half cousins.   


I’ll be returning to this topic in a future newsletter, but I’ll remind you now that near the end of my DNA Masterclass you’ll find a coloured chart, which sets out the range of shared DNA for just about every conceivable relationship between two DNA matches. There is hardly ever just one answer, so work through the chart writing down each of the possible relationships, and the range of shared DNA. These won’t necessarily be the same relationships suggested by Ancestry, though the list will be similar.


Ancestry US


Ancestry DNA savings UK, US, Australia & NZ

If you live in the British Isles you can save 25% on DNA tests from Ancestry.co.uk – the price is reduced from £79 to £59 until 8th September (prices exclude shipping). There are also big savings for Labor Day in the US until 4th September, and Father's Day in Australia/New Zealand, where the sale lasts until 3rd September.


Ancestry DNA tests aren’t the cheapest, but they’re by far the best – because ONLY when you test with Ancestry can you benefit from their enormous database of existing tests, AND the clever way that they integrate DNA with family trees (which means you get better results for far less effort than at other sites). Furthermore, when you follow the simple steps and straightforward strategies in my DNA Masterclass you’ll get the best possible results with the minimum effort – and without having to understand the technology behind DNA.


Please use the links below so that LostCousins can benefit from your purchase (note that you may need to log-out from Ancestry and click the link again).


Save 25% on AncestryDNA®


AncestryDNA® is only £59 + Shipping! Offer ends 8 Sept 2023


Save $40 off AncestryDNA® for Labor Day


Ancestry AU


AncestryDNA® Father's Day Sale. Valid from 22 Aug and Ends 3 Sep.


If you’re planning to buy tests for your relatives who are not actively researching, this article explains what they need to do to enable you to manage their tests.



Not Sophie’s choice

Many of you will have seen the story about the girl who was born a boy, but in circumstances where the doctors recommended an immediate gender reassignment, and told her parents never to reveal what had happened. In the event she was 22 years old when she found out the truth, by accident – and it hit her hard.


The article I read can be found here, but it is behind a pay-wall – however a Google search for ‘Sophie Ottaway’ should tell you all you need to know.


I don’t know how unusual Sophie’s story is, but I think it’s very brave of her to open up. She could even be a cousin of mine because I have Otteway ancestors in the 18th century and it’s not a particular common surname – even when spelling variations are taken into account.


Note: we shouldn’t worry about how our ancestors’ names were spelled in earlier centuries – even if they could read and write which many couldn’t. For example, my ancestor married in 1762 as Otteway, but when she was baptised her father’s name was shown as Ottiwell. As the vicar might have said, but almost certainly didn’t, where there’s a ‘well’ there’s a ‘way’….



More information about the digitisation of Suffolk parish registers

There’s good news from Suffolk Archives regarding the digitisation of the parish register holdings – it seems that Ancestry will be scanning the original registers, rather than working from microfilm, so we’ll have colour images, which is a particular advantage when it comes to interpreting early registers, which are often badly written (and badly organised), and sometimes damaged. To be fair, my writing is also pretty bad, and that’s without having to write with a goose feather!


For more details of the digitisation plans please follow this link and download the PDF file.



An unusual marriage entry

Mike sent me this marriage entry from Norfolk – and as you can see, it’s rather unusual in the way that the groom’s father is described:



It’s far from unusual to find someone described as ‘reputed father’ in a baptism register, but I’ve never previously seen this wording in a post-1837 marriage entry.


In this case the name of Robert Moy also appears in the birth registration, and in the baptism register – though without qualification. Was young Robert unsure about his parentage, or was the officiating minister simply being cautious?


Note: more often an innocuous-looking marriage entry turns out to conceal dark secrets – whether of perjury, bigamy, illegitimacy, or impersonation. As the saying goes, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for – so look out for a future article with an example that is very close to home….



Finding your way around the BMD indexes for England & Wales

Most LostCousins members have, like me, been researching their family tree for over 20 years – which is, of course, why connecting with other members who are researching the same ancestral lines is so helpful.


When we began there were no online indexes to the GRO registers of births, marriages and deaths – if I wanted to look up an entry I used to go to the Family History Centre in London. Others who started earlier will have visited St Catherine’s House, or Somerset House – the previous homes of those enormous books which contained the quarterly indexes, some of them handwritten originals from the 19th century, some typewritten replacements, and others typeset and printed.


These days there are plenty of online options: there are new indexes of births and marriages on the GRO’s own site, and these supplement their original quarterly indexes – which are online at Ancestry, Findmypast, The Genealogist, FreeBMD and other sites. Discrepancies between the GRO’s quarterly indexes and their new indexes aren’t necessarily errors – they are often the result of the difference in the way that they were compiled (for example, illegitimate births were indexed differently). Nevertheless Victorian indexers were better at reading Victorian handwriting than 21st century transcribers, so when there is a difference in spelling it’s usually the contemporary quarterly index which is correct.


If you believe you have found an error in the GRO’s new indexes and you decide to submit an error report to the GRO, always refer to their own quarterly indexes as the source of the alternative information, and not to the site where you found it. The transcription of the entry at FreeBMD (or wherever) may well be correct, but it’s still only a transcription – and you wouldn’t rely on a transcription in your own research, would you?



Another fine mess

In the 1950s there wasn’t much on TV, and of course there no DVDs, and no videotapes. But my Uncle Les (not really an uncle, but the husband of my mother’s best friend – and everything a kid could ever want from a real uncle) had a projector and some Laurel and Hardy silent movies. I don’t remember the titles, but I do remember Oliver Hardy saying more than once “Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”.


And that’s what I did in the last issue, when I ended my article about the delayed birth registration of the author Inez Holden with the comment that her parents would have incurred a fine. That was wrong on two counts – firstly because I used the word ‘fine’, rather than ‘penalty’, and secondly because I perpetuated the myth that births have to be registered with 42 days to avoid a penalty. In fact, as a former deputy registrar pointed out to me:


“The 1836 Act suggests that births were free to register up to 42 days, then an additional fee of 2s/6d to the Superintendent Registrar and 5s to the Registrar applied up to six months, after which it makes no provision for registration at all (although I suspect an application to the Registrar General could be made).


“The 1874 Act changed that so that although the requirement to register remained at 42 days, it was free to do it up to 3 months, after which fees of 2s/6d to both the Registrar and the Superintendent Registrar became payable. The Act also specified that after 12 months a birth could only be registered with the permission of the Registrar General. Other fees only applied if the registration was done by a ‘house call’.


“The 1953 Act (s5), which applies today, also confirms the free registration up to 3 months.”


To summarise, since 1874 there has been no penalty when births are registered within 3 months, so when the birth of Beatrice Inez Pagel Holden was registered on 11th January 1904, 51 days after her birth, her parents would not have had to pay. Mea culpa!


I suspect few were aware of the change in 1874 – perhaps because it was not publicised. I’ve certainly seen very few births where the recorded date of birth is more than 42 days prior to the date of registration, and since the 1939 Register was released I’ve noticed at least as many where the birthdate had been falsified in an apparent attempt to conceal the fact that more than 42 days had elapsed.


Do you have a relative who celebrated their birthday on a date other than the one shown on their birth certificate?


Society of Genealogists offer ENDS THURSDAY

You’ve got just 2 days to take advantage of the EXCLUSIVE offer I negotiated with the Society of Genealogists – you must join and claim your 5 free talks by the end of August. You’ll find all the details here.



Review: The Guinness Book of Records (1955 edition)

In 1958 my family moved house – we didn’t go very far, but in moving from a terraced house to a semi-detached we gained a side entrance. No longer did the coalman have to walk through the house with his dirty sacks; there was no more hauling of the dustbin from back garden to front through the kitchen and hall. And, above all, there was no need to take my bicycle through the house every time I went out for a ride.


In moving house we gained new neighbours. To be frank I can’t remember the name of any of our neighbours at the old house – other than Mr Mouse, whose name one couldn’t possibly forget. But I can certainly remember some of our new neighbours including the Carrs, who moved in next door not long after we arrived. Mr Carr was very kind to me – perhaps because he had no son of his own – and one day he offered to lend me his first edition of the Guinness Book of Records, published in 1955.


I was already fascinated by numbers, so I read it from beginning to end, discovering that Daniel Lambert was the heaviest man in Great Britain (he weighed 739 pounds on his death); that in 1278 Countess Margaret gave birth to 365 children (182 males, 182 females, and 1 hermaphrodite); and, more plausibly, that there were only three cases of quintuplet birth where all five children survived, the first of which was the famous Dionne sisters in 1934.


I recently purchased a second-hand copy of the same book on eBay, and have been happily reminding myself of the contents. Many of the records have since been exceeded or discarded – it is much easier to check facts these days. For example, Isabella Shepeard who died in Wales on 20th November 1948, was said to have been 115 years old, but I suspect that with the records available to us today we can prove otherwise (the 1939 Register shows her merely as ‘over 100’).


Inflation has taken its toll – I paid £16.45 for my second-hand copy of the book, which cost just 5 shillings (25p) when new. In 1955 the most expensive hotel rooms in the world, the Presidential suites at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, cost just over £50 a night, and the record transfer fee for a British footballer was a mere £34,000. Staying with sport, the British record for the 100 yard sprint was still held by Eric Liddell, later immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, whilst the record for the most centuries by a batsman was held by Sir Jack Hobbs (whose autograph my father got as a teenager in the early 1930s).


Note: it was interesting to note that Sir Jack Hobbs was described as Sir John (J.B.) Hobbs – though his Wikipedia entry avers that he was always called ‘Jack’.


Technology has also moved on: in 1955 there were fewer than 4 million phone lines in the UK, and even fewer televisions – but there were over 36 million telegrams sent annually. The words ‘computer’ and ‘electronics’ don’t appear in the index, whilst the highest altitude achieved by a rocket (unmanned) was 250 miles.


I noticed a glaring mistake which crept through – the shortest year is said to have been 1752, but in England it was 1751 (though 1752 was also shorter than usual). In 1955 my father was about to close down his one-man printing business and start a new career as a ‘corrector of the press’ – that error wouldn’t have got past him.


I found it fascinating to once again look through this book from my childhood – there were so many names, places, figures and fun-facts that had somehow remained at the back of my mind.


I was fortunate to be able to buy precisely the same edition (with green cover) that I read all those years ago, but if you want something more up to date, the 2024 edition of Guinness World Records is out in a fortnight’s time – the hardback edition is currently available to pre-order, and at Amazon UK you can secure a copy for the heavily-discounted price of £10!


Amazon.co.uk                            Amazon.com                                          Amazon.ca                     Amazon.com.au


Is there a non-fiction book from your childhood that you have recently repurchased and re-read?



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2023 Peter Calver


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