Newsletter - 31st January 2020
New Year Competition - donít miss out! ENDS SUNDAY 2ND
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 22nd January) 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!
It's not a pleasant thought, is it? We all have illegitimate ancestors, yet in most cases we donít know the circumstances in which they were conceived. DNA will tell us who the father was, with a bit of effort on our part, but whether our bastard ancestor was conceived in a moment of passion or one of terror is often impossible to determine.
It's a topic that we often skirt around, using language like "took advantage of her", when what we really mean is that he "forced himself upon her". No doubt there were some instances in which the son of well-to-do parents genuinely fell in love with a servant girl, as recounted in The Indelible Stain, but how much more common it must have been for the scion of an upper or middle-class family to woo a lower-class girl with false promises in order to get his wicked way. Others will have relied on their superior physical strength.
Our pregnant ancestors didnít have the option of a legal abortion, even when they were carrying the child of the man who had raped them - then again, if they had we might not be here today. (Plenty to think about there!)
Until 1841 rape was punishable by death in England & Wales, but it wasn't until the passing of the Offences against the Person Act of 1861 that there was a legal definition of rape, and even then securing a conviction was difficult. You can find out more on this page at the official UK Parliament website (a mine of information).
Almost a year ago I reported that King Albert II of Belgium (who abdicated in favour of his son Philippe in 2013) was facing a demand to submit to a DNA test from Delphine BoŽl, who was claiming to be his daughter. Now, following the results of a court-mandated DNA test 85 year-old King Albert has admitted being the father of the child, now aged 52 - which under Belgian law could entitle her to one-eighth of his estate.
You can read more about the story in this Guardian article.
There is no monarchy to protect in France - but some might suggest that itís the politicians who need to be protected from DNA tests, and that has certainly been one of the effects of the legislation that has banned DNA tests up to now. But there are proposals to legalise DNA tests for purely genealogical purposes, as you can see from this page. It's in French, but if you use the Chrome browser Google will translate if for you - and they do a jolly good job in most cases.
But legal barriers haven't prevented some French citizens from testing as this recent newspaper article demonstrates. Again itís in French - if you donít use Chrome the headline reads "How Corinne, 65, discovered an American sibling thanks to a DNA test", and later in the article it is suggested that as many as 100,000 French people may have already tested.
Last week's announcement that the US firm 23andMe are letting go of 100 staff may have come as a shock to some people, but it probably wouldn't have been a great surprise to readers of this newsletter - you'll know that Ancestry and MyHeritage have both recently entered the market for health-related DNA tests, which up to now has been dominated by 23andMe.
It's also quite possible that the market for genealogical DNA tests has peaked - you might recall me mentioning last year that around half of active LostCousins members had already taken an autosomal DNA test (mostly with Ancestry), and it's inevitable that the fashion for giving DNA tests as Christmas and birthday presents will eventually decline, if it hasnít already. Last summer, Illumina - who make the 'chips' that power most affordable DNA tests, including the tests offered by all the big names - announced lower earnings, and said that they were taking a cautious view of the market.
Does this mean that the naysayers have won? Quite the reverse - it's because so many tests have been sold that the market has declined. Taking an autosomal DNA test is like completing your My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site - itís something you only need to do once (at least until there is some great new discovery).
Autosomal DNA tests are modern miracles, but if you want to †answer questions about your family tree, simply taking a test isnít enough. Your genome contains thousands of DNA segments that you've inherited from your ancestors, but theyíre not labelled to tell you who they came from, which means that when you find a genetic cousin you wonít usually know at first how they're connected to you, ie who your common ancestors were.
Why does it matter? Well, if you tested in order to knock down some of the 'brick walls' in your tree, you need to know which of your genetic cousins are related through those specific ancestral lines - otherwise it's incredibly difficult to develop a theory as to how you and specific genetic cousins are connected (and itís likely to be virtually impossible when the connection is on the other side of a 'brick wall')
Since you'll have upwards of 20,000 genetic cousins (if you tested with Ancestry) there's an enormous amount of valuable data, but clearly you can't afford to spend even an hour looking at each one. So what's the answer? Some people assume that the best approach is to start with the closest matches - but it's neither the best nor the easiest way to go about things.
In fact the simplest solution is to follow the advice in my DNA Masterclass. I donít waste time on theory, instead I explain what to do in practice, and it's so easy that anyone can do it. Best of all, it will save you time and eliminate much of the frustration that you might otherwise experience. The strategies in the Masterclass will focus your attention on the genetic cousins who are most likely to help you knock down your 'brick walls', so that instead of being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of matches you can target the ones that can really make a real difference.
The first step is to complete your My Ancestors page, focusing on the 1881 Census, so that you can connect to the 'lost cousins' who have already tested. For example, on my own My Cousins page I have 12 cousins who have tested their DNA, which is a wonderful resource - not because they each have tens of thousands of DNA matches of their own, but because amongst their matches will be some that they share with me. If a cousin shares a match with you, it helps you pinpoint the part of your tree where you connect to that particular match.
Of course, you could simply pay for all your known cousins to test - assuming they're agreeable - but it would be expensive and unnecessary. You have dozens of 'lost cousins' who have already tested - all you need to do is find them, and that's why your My Ancestors page is crucial. Some people find it hard to grasp the fact that entering dead cousins from a census can lead to living cousins but, believe me, it does - and LostCousins has been working miracles for nearly 16 years!
Tip: every time you figure out how youíre connected to a genetic cousin, youíre completing a piece of the jigsaw, and the more pieces you can fill in, the easier it is to deal with the rest. Remember that you have 'brick walls' in EVERY part of your tree so ignoring some parts while focusing on others isnít a great strategy.
New Year Competition - donít miss out! ENDS SUNDAY 2ND
The chances are you havenít entered my New Year Competition yet - even though it's really easy. I'm not going to repeat all the tips from previous newsletters - you'll find them here - but I am going to remind you of the fantastic prizes on offer, which include a 12 month Pro subscription to Findmypast and a 12 month unlimited access subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, as well as books autographed by the authors, the brand new version of Family Historian (when it's released), and free tickets for Family Tree Live!
Remember, there's no need to send in an entry - simply add relatives to your My Ancestors page. Anyone who is a direct ancestor or blood relative (eg cousin) will count as one entry, and when you enter relatives from 1881 they'll count double!
Tip: remember to check your entries using the grey arrow symbols - it only takes a few seconds to make sure you've got it right, and if you haven't you could miss out on a prize (as one person did last year).
In the past week several members have written in with questions about how they should enter relatives on their My Ancestors page- but in each case I was able to tell them that the advice they were seeking is shown on the Add Ancestor form.
Context-sensitive help is a fancy term for information that is there when you need it. It makes life so much easier for users that we've always had it at LostCousins. (Some you will know that before I started researching my family history I spent 20 years designing user-friendly software, software designed for people who wouldn't read the manual even if there was one.)
However, because most other websites aren't as thoughtfully designed you might not realise that LostCousins offers context-sensitive help, even when it's right under your nose! For example, on the My Ancestors, My Cousins, and My Referrals pages look for the red question mark †and the word Help. You canít miss it - once you know itís there.
Similarly, on the Add Ancestor and Edit Ancestor forms you'll see the word IMPORTANT followed by advice on how to complete the form (the advice differs according to the census, so that's a good reason for putting the advice right there in front of you).
Lower down on the form, where you select the appropriate relationship for the person youíre entering, you'll see a brief description to the right - for example, when 'direct ancestor' is selected it reads 'a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent etc', whilst when 'blood relative' is chosen it reads 'one who shares your ancestry, but isn't a direct ancestor'.
Did you know you can be 'logged-in' at a website even though you've closed your browser, or even switched off your computer? Recently I told members about a Findmypast offer, but explained that if the link didnít work they would need to log-out from their Findmypast account and click the link again.
Some members assumed that they couldn't be logged-in unless they had the Findmypast site open in their browser. But actually it doesn't work quite like that - unless you explicitly log-out, you'll remain logged-in (assuming you ticked the Remember me box when you logged-in).
There are some good reasons why it suits us to stay logged-in at sites like Findmypast and Ancestry - for example, it allows us to follow links to records on the site without having to log-in each time. This is particularly useful when you're using the grey arrow symbols †to check the entries on your My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site.
So long as youíre using your own computer there's a lot to gain by staying logged-in at the sites you use regularly - but don't stay logged-in if youíre using someone else's computer, especially a computer in a library.
Earlier this month I wrote about some of the slang expressions used by British soldiers in the First World War, but it was the article about cordite being produced from conkers collected by children that inspired Margaret to write from New Zealand about the collection of ergot by herself and other children in the Second World War.
Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye and some other cereals which is known to cause spasm, fever, and hallucinations in humans - some believe it was a factor in the Salem witch trials. The headline in this January 1942 newspaper article reads "BRITAIN NEEDS ERGOT" and refers to a drug that was used to treat wounds, a drug which prior to the war had been sourced from continental Europe.
When I was younger the most fascinating newspaper stories were invariably accompanied by fish & chips. Sadly it has long been illegal to wrap fish & chips in old newspapers, but I occasionally come across a faded newspaper in a box of other items. One such newspaper, the Daily Mail of August 5, 1970 has a headline on page 3 which read "Jabs for the girls to beat measles", referring to German measles, also known as rubella. Although generally mild, rubella can cause serious problems for the children of women who contract it while pregnant.
Note: the headline was intended to resonate with the phrase "Jobs for the boys".
The same article reported the death of a boy following vaccination against measles, but urged parents to continue vaccinating their children. Anti-vaccination movements are not new - this BBC article describes the mid-19th century protests against smallpox vaccination. If you use the customised Google search at the start of this or any other LostCousins newsletter you'll find that I've written on several occasions in the past about vaccination registers and/or certificates.
There's a census in the USA this year, and one in the UK next year - and there are LostCousins members involved in the preparations for both.
Pamela is looking for people to help with the US census:
"Have you ever wondered what it was like to work as a census enumerator? We spend so much time with census records, sometimes rejoicing, sometimes cursing the bad handwriting or misspelled names. Well, the US 2020 Census is beginning to ramp up, and weíre looking for folks to help count the population of this massive country. Census positions provide the perfect opportunity to earn extra income while helping your community. Census jobs offer great pay every week, flexible hours and paid training. People can apply for 2020 Census work if they are at least 18 years old, a U.S. Citizen, and if they have a valid Social Security number and email address. Males born after Dec 31, 1959 must also be registered with the Selective Service System or have a qualifying exemption. There is no age limit, many retirees find census work to be an enjoyable way to get to know their communities. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability and applies to census job positions. Applications are being taken now and training should begin sometime in February.
"Applying is easy. Visit https://2020census.gov/en/jobs.html to learn more, then click on Apply Now. Potential applicants can also call 1-855-562-2020 or use the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339 for TTY/ASCII to learn more, or for assistance."
In the UK there's a questionnaire to complete if youíre interested in working on the census in England & Wales - you'll find it here.
I think I may have mentioned how my new (to me) smartphone nearly ended up being carted away with the recycling. Well, a family in Scotland took it to the next level when they inadvertently threw away their elderly mother's life savings, which had been stuffed into gravy tins. The story did have a happy ending, however, as you'll see from this newspaper article.
"Taking The Michael" is a variant of "taking the Mickey", which is a bit like winding somebody up. At least, that's probably how thousands of customers of the insurance company Aviva felt when they received an email addressed to "Dear Michael", even though it wasn't their name (you can read all about it in this BBC article). These sorts of mistakes are easily made by careless people - I can certainly remember receiving emails and even letters addressed to "Dear firstname" or something similarly ridiculous.
In 2018 only 689 babies in England & Wales were given the first name Michael, which put it in 74th position in the top 100 boys' names (down from 22nd in 1996). But in 1943 there were over 22,000 Michaels, and at a literary lunch I attended on Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting one of the more famous Michaels of 1943 - the comedian, actor, and travel writer Michael Palin.
†Just last week his fellow Monty Python star Terry Jones died (he was only 77); then on Tuesday Nicholas Parsons, another great name, passed away at the age of 96 (he was still working at the age of 95). In the circumstances I thought we might have 2 minutes silence at the lunch, but apparently Nicholas Parsons left instructions that it should be "Just a Minute". †
One traditional name that has grown in popularity is Edward, up from 45th in 1996 to 24th in 2018 - and this was the name given by hospital staff to the foundling discovered abandoned on a doorstep in east London last weekend (see this Guardian article for more details).
Another entertainer who kept going well beyond retirement age was Frank Sinatra. But when he sang "And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain" he was probably thinking of the curtain in a theatre - but for anyone one who has ever attended a cremation service it's hard not to be reminded of the curtain that closes as the coffin disappears from sight.
This week a LostCousins member sent me a link to some quirky YouTube videos posted by a user who goes by the soubriquet 'Ask a Mortician'. As family historians we tend to spend more time wandering round graveyards than most, and I found the short documentary about the crypts of New Orleans strangely fascinating - I suspect it would also have appealed to Oliver Clock......
It's not often that I review a book that isnít connected to family history in some way, but I enjoyed reading The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley so much that I couldn't resist sharing it with you. It'll certainly be a hit with anyone who enjoyed The Rosie Project, but this book is likely to appeal to a wider market - because we all know people like Oliver Clock, the unlikely hero of the story. In fact there may well be one or two Oliver Clocks reading this right now.
First of all, a bit of personal background - mine that is, not Oliver's. When I was in my late 30s I was looking for a room to rent in the Harrow area, and one of the rooms I took a look at was over a shop. Well, not exactly a shop, it was the premises of the local undertaker, and the only access was through a room filled with coffins, not all of which were empty. I'm ashamed to say that whilst the room on offer was very nice, and the rent was reasonable, I simply couldnít imagine myself getting a peaceful night's sleep in a place like that. Which leads me on to Oliver Clock....
Oliver runs the family business, Clock & Sons Funeral Home, which had been started by his grandfather in 1939. Oliver took over when his father died unexpectedly, 12 years before the start of the book, but he's both helped and hindered by the ongoing presence of his mother. Now nudging 40, Oliver is unmarried and unpartnered, though he has feelings for Marie, the woman who provides the flowers for the funerals he organises: unfortunately she's already married.
Oliver knows that he needs to change, hence the resolutions of the title. When I was around Oliver's age I had a yellow notepad on which I'd write down 'To do' lists, lists of tasks that I rarely got round to doing, but which somehow haunted me a little less when they were written down in blue and yellow. You will understand why Oliver and I clicked from the start when I tell you that the very first chapter of the book is entitled 'The Yellow Notebook', and describes how Oliver uses it to record his resolutions - it's a 'To do' list of sorts, and like me he doesn't seem to put most of them into practice..
At first Oliver Clock didnít come over as a very endearing character, but the more I read, the more I liked him and wanted him to succeed - especially when a chain of cut-price funeral directors opens up in the area and threatens to disturb his cosy existence. It's a roller-coaster ride as Oliver struggles to manage himself, his business, and his personal life during a period of turbulence and change.
The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock is one of those books that you'll have trouble putting down, because there's always something that draws you back in. I read the Kindle version, but I've just ordered the paperback so that I can lend it to friends and relatives - it really is that good, and as 59% of reviewers on Amazon have given it 5 stars I'm clearly not the only one to be captivated. Congratulations to Jane Riley on a very good first novel!
No prizes for guessing that I'm currently reading The Sterling Affair, the latest book in the Forensic Genealogist series from Nathan Dylan Goodwin. You could win a signed copy of the book in my competition, but don't let that stop you buying a copy, because I'm sure you won't to despoil your autographed copy by reading it!
I'm aiming to review The Sterling Affair in the next issue of the newsletter, but because itís the longest book of the series so far, I'm not going to make any promises. But if you want to buy the book without waiting for the review (and given this author's track record, who wouldn't?) †please use the links below so that LostCousins can benefit. It may only be a few pennies, but - in the words of the supermarket advert - every little helps!
Do you think itís healthy for young children to send Valentine's cards? Take a look at this article and see whether you agree with the mother from Plymouth.
Last year I signed up with a new electricity supplier called Symbio Energy - the cost is very competitive, but they keep ignoring the meter readings I send in. I guess they canít accept the fact that some of us are doing our best to reduce energy consumption!
But donít let my experience put you off switching - just donít switch to Symbio (there are dozens of other companies to choose from). Nothing to do with family history? True - unless you consider that if you haven't switched suppliers in the past 3 years, you're probably overpaying by so much that the amount you would save by switching would pay for a subscription to Ancestry or Findmypast (maybe both).
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......
© 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?