Newsletter - 27th February 2015



Northamptonshire registers online NEW

Royal Navy records at Ancestry

7 million articles from Irish newspapers

Australian census under threat

Aunt Betty was a WW1 spy - or was she?

Writing about your family's history

What constitutes proof?

Your chance to prove yourself

Using Y-DNA to verify your research

Verifying your research using autosomal DNA

Analysing old family photographs

Church graffiti reveals plague victims

Did rats really cause the Black Death?

Organising your research

What's in a name?

Meet Jefferson Tayte

Review: The Surnames Handbook

How long does your PC take to boot?

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 13th February) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-14 click here. Or use the customised Google search below (that's what I do):


Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).


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!



Northamptonshire registers online NEW have made available online indexed register images for Northamptonshire which include 781,000 baptisms and 478,000 burials covering the period 1813-1912.


Tip: you won't find these records listed under 'Recently added and updated collections' because the release date has been erroneously entered as 2014, rather than 2015.


Royal Navy records at Ancestry

Ancestry have also added nearly 388,000 records of Royal Navy Seamen from ADM188 at the National Archives; the records include seamen who began their service between 1900-18 and list the ships they served on as well as some personal details


Tip: if you don't have an Ancestry subscription the same Royal Navy records appear to be available through Findmypast


Other Royal Navy records at Ancestry include:


Naval Officer and Rating Service Records, 1802-1919

Naval Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972


7 million articles from Irish newspapers

With the addition of 1.6 million new articles since January, there are now over 7 million articles from 65 Irish publications in the newspaper collection at (you can also access them from other Findmypast sites if you have a World subscription).


Australian census under threat

The Australian government are considering scrapping their census after 2016 according to this article.


Note: until very recently Australian censuses were destroyed once the statistical information had been extracted.


Aunt Betty was a WW1 spy.... or was she?

Last Sunday the Independent published the tale of Ethel Raine, known to her family as Aunt Betty. The headline reads " Ethel Raine: The untold story of a woman who spied for Britain during the Great War", and the information in the article seems to have been gathered by her grandson.


But is the story true? As anyone who has written to me asking for advice will know, I don't take things at face value - and when I attempted to verify some of the details in the article I ran into a brick wall. For example, the newspaper article says that Ethel was 27 years old in 1915, which means she would have been born in 1887/88. But it also says that she was the daughter of Sir Walter Raine, who was MP for Sunderland after the Great War.


Walter Raine, who was knighted in 1927 according to his obituary in the Glasgow Herald of 20th December 1938, was indeed MP for Sunderland between 1922-29, but as he was only 64 years old when he died it seems extremely unlikely that he was Ethel's father. He didn't marry until 1899, and would have been no more than 14 when Ethel was born.


I then found an earlier article, published on the website of the Hull Daily Mail on 18th December. This doesn't mention Sir Walter Raine at all, but says that she was born in Sunderland and that she was 86 years old when she died in 1974. This suggests that she is the Ethel Stonehouse whose death was registered in Holderness registration district in the 1st quarter of 1974, and whose birth date is given in the death index as 3rd June 1888.


There is an Ethel Raine who was born in Sunderland in 1888, and her birth was registered in the second quarter of 1888. My guess is that she's the Ethel Raine aged 12 who is living with her father William, an Inland Revenue clerk, on the 1901 Census, but it is only a guess - maybe someone reading this can pick up the baton and find out more? (She appears on a few Ancestry trees, but they give her year of birth as 1895.)


Oh, and by the way - the Hull Daily Mail tells us that Edith's job was "to supervise soldiers’ leave throughout the war". Hardly the job of a spy - it sounds to me as if she was more Miss Moneypenny than Pussy Galore.


Tip: don't believe anything you read, unless you have verified it yourself!


Writing about your family's history

These days most family historians have computers, word processing programs, and printers - some of us even have our own websites. This means it's easier than ever before to write about our family and share our stories with others.


But what sort of story are you going to write about your ancestors and their families - will it be strictly limited to documented facts, or will you enliven it by adding stories handed down within the family, and by making reasonable assumptions about the reasons for the decisions that your antecedents made?


Few of us are going to spend hundreds of hours writing about our family history unless there is an expectation that our living relatives will want to read it. Indeed, some you may feel that your family stories are so interesting that they deserve a wider audience - over the years I've published some wonderful articles written by members. For the general reader these help to breathe life into a subject that they might consider rather dull (or at least, would have done before Who Do You Think You Are? launched in October 2004).


But how will family historians of the future interpret what you've written? Will they know that you've embellished the facts in order to make the story more interesting and, if so, how are they supposed to tell proven facts from plausible fiction.


Are you in danger of turning family history into family mystery?


What constitutes proof?

One of the topics we’re going to be discussing in Portugal next month is the Genealogical Proof Standard. There are five key elements:



I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the debate, which I'll be reporting on in a future newsletter, but I'd like to draw your attention to the final two elements, as in judging the entries for the challenge in the last newsletter I noticed that quite a few of the entrants didn't even mention evidence that contradicted their conclusion. To be fair, I didn't ask them to do this, and in most cases they had the right answer - but it got me thinking about the more general issue.


The fact is, it's very tempting to ignore contradictory evidence - as anyone who listens to politicians or reads about miscarriages of justice will know - but since we as family historians are cheating ourselves when we twist the evidence to fit a particular version of events it seems a pretty futile exercise. Perhaps there's a conflict between the psychological need to finish what we're doing (so that we can move onto something else), and the imperative for family historians to keep an open mind until the evidence eventually becomes so overwhelming that there can be only one answer.


When you're trying to explain something that your ancestors did or didn't do, don't stop at the first plausible explanation. It might be right, but it might not, and if you gamble everything on your guess being right you could lose the lot (for example, if you end up tracing the wrong line).


Your chance to prove yourself

The feedback I've had from members who took up the challenge in my last newsletter has been very positive - for example, Leonie wrote that "I have found this journey really entertaining", Sally commented "Great fun", and Alison said "What a great challenge!".


To encourage more of you to exercise your undoubted skills on a real humdinger of a challenge I'm adding some extra prizes. Mary has already won the prize for the first correct entry, but I also offered a free LostCousins subscription for the person who submitted the best entry.


I've now decided that instead of a single prize for the best entry I'm going to give out up to TEN subscriptions. Five of these will go to current LostCousins members who submit the best entries, but five will be reserved for new members (ie members who join on or after the date of this newsletter), so you might want to publicise the challenge to the family history societies, online forums, and Facebook groups to which you belong.


It's a great opportunity to prove that you've "got what it takes" - not so much to me, but to yourself! All the information you need can be found here, and you've got until Monday 16th March to send in your entry.


Using Y-DNA to verify your research

DNA testing isn't something you should only consider when you want to knock down 'brick walls' - it can also provide you with a means of verifying that your research is correct.


In the simplest case you (or a male relative) might take a Y-DNA test. You would expect that at least some of the matches you get are with people who have the same surname (since Y-DNA is passed down the male line), and most of the time that's what will happen.


But what if the most common surname on your list of matches is a different one entirely? This could indicate a Non-Paternal Event (NPE), ie one of the ancestors in your direct paternal line was adopted, or illegitimate, or the product of an extra-marital liaison (it's rather like the recent discovery that King Richard III's Y-DNA didn't match that of the descendants of John of Gaunt.). This doesn't mean that the research you've carried out is wrong, because the NPE could have been many generations ago, but it should set alarm bells ringing.


At this point you should consider asking a distant cousin who bears the same surname to test. If their Y-DNA is a close match for yours, this confirms that the NPE did not occur in the generations since your nearest common ancestor. It also confirms that your research back to that point is correct - so the more distant the cousin the better.


Of course, you might instead discover that your distant cousin's Y-DNA isn't a match for your own. In this case, the next thing to ask is whether he is getting matches with people who bear his surname - if so, this suggests that there is a NPE in your line of descent from the supposed common ancestor, or that there is an error in your research back to that point.


Note: my cousins and I tested with Family Tree DNA, who have the world's largest database of genealogical Y-DNA results.


Verifying your research using autosomal DNA

When I wrote about autosomal DNA testing last June I described it as the 'lucky dip' of DNA tests - because you simply can't predict what you'll discover.


Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is inherited from both parents, who inherited it from their parents and so on. At each generation roughly half of the DNA passed on comes from each parent, and so if you look back 10 generations just under 0.1% (on average) of your DNA has been inherited from each of your 1024 8G grandparents.


However, in practice you won't have received inherited DNA from every ancestor, and the further you go back the less likely it is that you've inherited any detectable DNA from a given ancestor.


But that doesn't mean that atDNA tests are useless - far from it. The pattern of inheritance means that when we get a match the common ancestor could be in any part of our tree, not just in our direct paternal line, and whilst it might not be possible to look back many generations, most of us have unresolved puzzles within the last 5 or 6 generations (I certainly do!).


When you get a match with a distant cousin you already know it helps to verify the research that you've both carried out - as far back as your nearest common ancestor(s). However the fact that you don't get a match with a distant cousin doesn't have the same negative connotations, because you will have inherited different parts of your DNA from the ancestor(s) your share, and it's quite feasible that there won't be any overlap.


Of course, when you test your atDNA you'll also get matches with cousins you don't know - but that's a story for another day.


Note: I tested with Family Tree DNA because their database has more results from Europe than any other testing company - and if you live in the UK their Family Finder test is by far the cheapest option.


Analysing old family photographs

I mentioned earlier this month that Jacqueline was very pleased with the analysis carried out by 'photo detective' Jayne Shrimpton, and in view of the positive response from readers I asked Jacqueline to write an article about her experience:


I have long considered sending my photos to an expert but never got round to it and a recent special offer by Findmypast to its annual subscribers of 15% off Jayne's service finally galvanised me into action. I already knew the photos to be of my 2x great grandparents, Henry James Sweeting, born in Bethnal Green, East London, in 1836 and his second wife, Elizabeth Donne, born in Greenhithe, Kent in 1835. They married in 1860 in Westminster; Elizabeth died in 1911 and Henry in 1930. Although they look like a pair, they are clearly not, since the vignette style 3/4 poses show Elizabeth standing facing slightly to her right and Henry sitting astride a chair with his arms resting on the back, also facing slightly right. Henry rose from poverty in a silversmith's family to become a successful business man in Camberwell and the photos appear to be of them in early middle age. Although they are in identical high quality mounts, there is no photographer's identification on them except that they both have the same number written in pencil on the backs. Over the years, I have cut out experts' photo datings from family history magazines and assembled a fairly formidable "encyclopaedia", and bought several books of dating historical and family photos, but I was not satisfied with my conclusions; I also took them in to the /Gallery of English Costume/ in Manchester for the opinion of a curator. I was lucky to catch a young man who off the top of his head, said they were probably from the 1870s. However, I was still puzzled by the dates of the two because Elizabeth's hat seemed to be of a short lived style from the early to mid '80s, and I also wondered why they were taken at all since they were high quality studies of a married couple but not taken together.


Well, it seemed to be easy for Jayne who almost by return of email sent me a side and a half of A4. She opened the report by looking at the photos together. She said "Your large photographic prints on substantial mounts were not a common format used for original photographs, but they do exemplify the manner in which photographic reprints and enlargements were commonly presented."


She went on to say that photos could be copied and enlarged and mounted in such a way as to form "significant portraits suitable for displaying" in frames or for hanging. "Apart from the generous dimensions of the mounts, one sign of copies...was that often the portraits were given an artistic vignette treatment," the central image fading out around the edges.


She went on to explain why this might happen. Sometimes a pair of reprints "would be ordered because one or both of the subjects had died and the new pictures became special 'memorial portraits', by which family members could remember the deceased." The style of the card mounts suggested the early c20th. They could have been made following Elizabeth's death in 1911 by Henry or one of their children. She said that in such a case "the original photographs ... did not necessarily have to be a matching pair...Sometimes the 'best' surviving likenesses of a man and a woman might be used." So that was a very plausible reason for the "why?"


She then went on to examine the photos separately; they may have been, but were not necessarily, taken at the same studio at a similar, but not the same time. Very likely; they lived in Camberwell, not far from Peckham Rye for some 20 odd years once Henry began to make his way. Jayne said that "men's appearance can be hard to date very closely from fashion clues" since their suits "were essentially rather uniform" but she looked at the style of the pose, his beard, and the collar of his lounge jacket to come up with a date of c 1876-1884.


"When a married person visited the studio alone for a single portrait, usually they were celebrating a personal occasion, such as a landmark birthday." She judged him to "be aged about 40 or thereabouts" in the photo. Henry was 40 in 1876. Elizabeth's pose is typical of the 1870s and '80s, as is the seat used as a studio prop. Her daytime costume was of a style called "/cuirass/ ... developed in 1874/5, continuing in an increasingly extreme form into the early 1880s. This would suggest a date range of 1875-79" for the original. As for the hat which fooled me as to the date of the original, it goes to show that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! It was not a hat at all but "the ornate day cap of a married woman, still considered an important accessory for mature women in the mid-Victorian era." Jayne concluded that she too was probably celebrating a personal occasion and she too looked to be "aged 40 or so". This fits in well with Jayne's dating of 1875-9 since Elizabeth was 40 in 1875 - "her milestone birthday." These were the probable answers to "when?"


This report answered all my questions in a very satisfactory way; no amount of poring over my personal and online images could have done it for me. And it all cost just a little more than a BMD certificate, with the benefit of a very friendly "after-sales service".


You'll find full details of Jaynes Shrimpton's services and pricing if you follow this link.


Church graffiti reveals plague victims

This BBC News article tells how names scratched on a church wall identifies three Cambridgeshire sisters who are thought to have perished in the plague of 1515 (it predates the introduction of parish registers in 1538).


The inscription was found by volunteers from the Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey (goodness knows what they were doing in Cambridgeshire). I wonder what else we might discover from graffiti?


Did rats really cause the Black Death?

Another BBC article suggests that the spread of plague across Europe was caused not by black rats, as previously assumed, but by gerbils from Asia. Analysis of tree rings has shown that there is no relationship between the weather in Europe and the timing of outbreaks - which would have been expected if rats were the primary cause. The next step is to analyse plague DNA recovered from the remains of victims.


As a result of famine and plague the population of England fell by between one-third and one-half during the mid-14th century, and didn't recover until the 16th century.


Organising your research

I often get emails from members asking how they ought to organise their research, and as I haven't written about this topic since 2010, I thought I'd briefly summarise what I do:


I have two parallel sets of records, written records and digital records. Any unique documents that come into my possession, for example photographs or original certificates, are scanned in - just in case something happens to the original. When I find a household on any of the censuses I save the image on my hard drive, then load it into Irfanview where I trim off the margins and adjust the brightness and contrast before printing it out.


The folders on my hard drive closely emulate the files in my filing cabinet - I have a folder for each of my ancestral lines (ie one for each surname borne by a direct ancestor), and within that main folder I have subfolders for the collateral lines that I've researched in the most detail.


I'm not suggesting that what I do is the best way to organise your records, and it's certainly not the only way - but it has worked well for me for well over a decade, so it might work for you too.


What's in a name?

More than 400 years ago Shakespeare questioned whether names are important, but I think it's fair to say that they still are, especially if you're a horse called Brian.


Brian was training to become a police horse, but a police spokeswoman said the mounted section tended to give their horses "god or war-related names, such as Odin, Thor or Hercules" - this BBC News story tells of the outcry that ensued.


When we're researching our family history we tend to assume that the names by which we know our ancestors are the ones that we'll find in official records, in parish registers, and on censuses - but usually we'll be wrong.


Meet Jefferson Tayte

How can you meet someone who only exists in the pages of Steve Robinson's genealogical mysteries - it sounds impossible, doesn't it?


In fact the answer is simple - you need to be in the story! And you can do just that if you win the charity auction that's currently taking place on eBay (you'll find it here). The auction ends on 8th March, so don't delay - I've already placed my bid! It's a very good cause - the proceeds go to CLIC Sargent, the charity that helps children with cancer (it was one of the charities I chose to benefit from donations when my father died).


Note: although I've never featured in a novel myself (yet) the fictional genealogist Morton Farrier did use the LostCousins website to crack his last case - see this article from December.


Review: The Surnames Handbook

I've had a really bad cold for the past 10 days, so I've used this as an opportunity to catch up on my reading and do some of the accounting and filing that I'd normally leave (and leave, and leave). The one book I was able to read from beginning to end was The Surnames Handbook, by Debbie Kennett (who will be telling us all about DNA in Portugal next month).


You might think, from the name, that it's a dictionary of surnames - but it's actually much more useful than that. Debbie reviews the existing literature on surname origins (she certainly doesn't hold back from criticism - or praise), then tackles the issues that we need to consider if we are going to research the bearers of our own surname, even if it doesn't blossom into a full one-name study. For example, she surveys the pre-1600 resources that are available to us - and points out that there are only two English families which can reliably trace their descent in the male line before the Norman Conquest.


I came away realising that there were parts of my tree which would benefit from a different approach - where there are rare surnames which may have a single origin I could start from the earliest recorded instances and work forwards, rather than always working backwards.


For example, the earliest recorded English bearer of the surname Vandepere was a carpenter called Launcelot, who worked in Canterbury in the mid-16th century (and seems to have been a freeman of that city). I haven't been able to make a connection between him, and my earliest Vandepere ancestor, who lived a century later, but by working forwards from Launcelot as well as backwards from my John I'm going to have a much greater chance of success.


The Surnames Handbook is available as a paperback or as a Kindle book - and it's absolutely crammed with information, links, references, and useful advice. I wouldn't describe it as light reading, but the best books on family history never are: buy it, read it, and keep it handy!


How long does your PC take to boot?

There was a time when I'd have time to make a cup of coffee while my PC booted up, but these days I barely have time to blink. Since I replaced my hard drive with a solid-state drive it boots up in about 20 seconds - and I now use the original hard drive for backups.


By the way, it's not simply quicker to start up - everything seems to be faster - and whilst solid-state drives are more expensive to buy, because they don't have moving parts they're said to be more reliable and longer-lasting.


Right now you can buy the same SSD for about the same as I paid at Amazon or, for a little bit more, direct from the manufacturer. It comes with an OEM version of Acronis True Image to clone your old hard drive to the SSD, and this works even if the drives are different capacities. In my case I went from a 1TB hard drive to a 512GB SSD, which wasn't a problem because I'd only used 386GB.


Peter's Tips

Just one tip this time - go back to the beginning of the newsletter and glance through the articles you skipped the first time!


This week I confirmed something that I'd suspected for some time - that some readers of this newsletter cherry-pick the articles, not realising that there are often hidden nuggets (the titles aren't always an accurate guide to the contents). And please don't make the mistake of assuming you know it all, because none of us does - not you, and certainly not me.


Stop Press

This is where I'll post any last minute additions.


Next time you hear from me I'll probably be at Genealogy in the Sunshine - wish me luck!


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver


You MAY link to this newsletter or email a link to your friends and relatives without asking for permission in advance - but why not invite them to join instead?