Newsletter - 28th July 2017
Last chance to save at Findmypast ENDS SUNDAY
Save on DNA tests at Ancestry ENDS THURSDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 19th July) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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Last September I mentioned the Cynefin project at the National Library of Wales aims to repair and digitise around 1,200 tithe maps and transcribe over 30,000 pages of index documents with the help of a small army of diligent volunteers.
I'm delighted to say that the project is complete, and the records can be found here, at a new website set up by the National Library of Wales. Best of all, it's free!
Those of us with ancestors from England aren't so fortunate - but most of the surviving records for English counties are online at The Genealogist (you can save £20 on a Diamond subscription if you follow this link), and many of the maps are now in colour. But there are more than 500 tithe maps for Cheshire online at the website of Cheshire Archives & Local Studies which are free - you'll find them here.
Ancestry's collaboration with the London Metropolitan Archives continues with the release of two new datasets, with 268,000 and 178,000 records respectively:
Last week Findmypast added nearly 5 million transcribed records for the county of Somerset, including 2.1 million baptisms, 250,000 banns, over 1 million marriages, and 1.5 million burials. The following links will take you direct to the relevant search pages:
The years of coverage are given by parish for the baptism index, but not for the other indexes.
Returned from the Front project tracks WW1 grave markers
We're all familiar, even if only from photographs, with the Portland stone memorials that are massed in seemingly endless rows and columns in war cemeteries - but they weren't the first grave markers. Typically soldiers who were killed were buried in small local cemeteries, their graves marked with simple wooden crosses - and some 10,000 of them were sent to the soldiers' families after the war.
My wife recently came across the papers that her father was given when he left the Royal Navy just after the end of the war - I was quite surprised to see how much information there was. Amongst the 4 foolscap pages of form S.459 were his personal details, a list of all the ships he served on with the start and end, annual assessments of his character and efficiency, each signed by the captain of the ship on which he was serving, plus swimming qualifications and other examinations passed, medals, good conduct badges awarded, and a schedule of time forfeited (thankfully blank).
Because he was a Signalman there was also a separate form S.1246, also 4 foolscap pages, with his examination record (including the scores on each part of each qualification), and spaces for other information, most of which were blank in his case.
If your father or grandfather served in the Royal Navy during World War 2 have you inherited similar documentation (and how much does it differ from the service record held by the Navy)? I'd be interested to hear from readers who have made similar discoveries, or who can shed more light on these documents.
Last chance to save at Findmypast ENDS SUNDAY
At Findmypast.co.uk you can save on 12 month Britain and World subscriptions; at Findmypast.com (the US site) you can save on Premium subscriptions. All of these subscriptions include the 1939 Register, probably the most important British release since the 1911 Census.
This offer isn't exclusive to LostCousins, but you can support LostCousins when you use the following links:
Right now there are two ways you can get a free LostCousins subscription, worth up to £12.50 - one is by winning it in my Summer Competition (you'll find full details here); the other is by purchasing a new Findmypast subscription using one of the links above - just make sure that when you click the link you can see the words 'LostCousins' on the browser command line when you arrive at the Findmypast site.
(If you don't see those words check that you haven't disabled tracking in your browser - and ask me for help if that doesn't solve the problem.)
To claim your free subscription forward to me the email receipt that Findmypast will send you (you can use any of the LostCousins email addresses, including the one I wrote from to tell you about this newsletter). Please make a note of the precise time of your purchase in case the email doesn't arrive - I must have that time to confirm your entitlement. Your LostCousins subscription will run from the date of your Findmypast purchase unless you already have a subscription, in which case I'll extend it by 12 months.
The BBC Watchdog programme recently lived up to its name by checking out doggie DNA tests, as you can see from this exposé (you probably won't be able to see this clip if you live outside the UK, but it's well worth having a go).
DNA: the Bad, the Good, and the not so Ugly
Ever since I started writing about DNA more than 10 years ago I've had to balance the good against the bad - and for a long time the bad side seemed to be winning. It wasn't that DNA tests couldn't be useful to family historians, it was the fact that the marketing claims made by the companies selling the tests were frequently overblown.
Thankfully many of the companies selling tests of dubious value, or using questionable marketing techniques to sell over-priced tests, have fallen by the wayside. Recently the BritainsDNA group of companies stopped taking orders - some of their tests may have been useful, but they were over-priced and over-hyped. Debbie Kennett, genealogist, DNA enthusiast, Honorary Research Associate at University College London, and long-time member of LostCousins wrote on Twitter "They had what was a good test in its day but ruined their reputation with over the top marketing."
To add to the confusion it's not just as simple as Y-DNA, mtDNA, and atDNA - just because a test looks at (say) Y-DNA doesn't mean that the results it generates can be compared against all other Y-DNA tests. For example, if you’re male and take an atDNA test with some companies it will provide some results from your Y-DNA - but you wouldn't be able to compare those results against those of potential cousins who have taken a standalone Y-DNA test.
Technical note: the two are incompatible because the chips used for atDNA testing look at SNPs (changes in individual DNA letters) whereas Y-DNA tests look at STRs (short segments of DNA that are repeated many times).
Similarly, a DNA test that is marketed as a paternity test, or one that is used by police forces, won't be compatible with genealogical DNA tests.
Even today the marketing of most DNA testing companies can be misleading, because it tends to focus on ethnicity - which for most family historians reading this newsletter is an unhelpful concept. Even if the ethnicity estimates are correct, they're telling us where our ancestors were likely to have been a couple of thousand years ago, which is well outside the range of records-based genealogy - on other words it's unlikely to help us knock down any 'brick walls'.
Technical note: although all of our DNA is inherited from our ancestors, we don't inherit DNA from all of our ancestors - in fact we only inherit DNA from a small minority of them (see this article by geneticist Graham Coop for more information). A DNA test can only tell us about our genetic ancestors, those from whom we have inherited DNA.
For those of us who live in Britain, or are of British origin, the ethnicity estimates are virtually meaningless because of the migration that has taken place over the past 2000 years. Where the results start to be of interest is when they look at where our ancestors were a few centuries ago, and that's why the test from Living DNA, and - to a far lesser extent - Genetic Communities at Ancestry are more useful.
So please don't write to me querying the ethnicity estimates that you've been provided with by Ancestry, or Family Tree DNA, or 23andMe - as far as I'm concerned they're meaningless, so there's no way I can make them more meaningful for you!
Tip: the Living DNA sale is continuing - you'll find more details and links to offers here. Although it's too early to say how accurate the breakdowns they provide are, there are two key advantages for those of us with British ancestors. One is the higher resolution they offer - they break down the British Isles into 21 areas, some as small as a single county; the other is the timescale
After all that doom and gloom, here's what's good about DNA - and why it is incredibly exciting. Very simply, it can lead you to answers that you can't or won't find in written records.
How does it do this? In much the same way as LostCousins, but instead of matching you to cousins who have found the same relative on the census, it matches you to cousins who share some of your DNA. Another difference between LostCousins and autosomal DNA testing is that whilst at LostCousins you get a small number of matches, but you always know how you're related to the cousins you find, with DNA you get large numbers of matches, and it's hardly ever obvious how you're connected to your DNA cousins.
In a future article (hopefully in the next newsletter), I'm going to set out the key techniques that I use to sort through the thousands of DNA matches that I have and figure how I'm connected to some - not all - of my DNA cousins. If you've already got your results but aren't sure what to do next, that's the article to look out for.
If you haven't tested yet, my advice is to start by testing with Ancestry - not because they're the cheapest, but because they have by far the biggest database of autosomal DNA results (it was 4 million, but looking at the rate that I'm getting new matches I suspect it's now well over 5 million).
Tip: there's currently a sale on Ancestry DNA tests in the UK and some other countries - see the article below for the latest information.
THE NOT SO UGLY
If we inherit our looks from our parents - and without a doubt there are similarities between parent and child in most families - then those traits must somehow be encoded in our genes. Last week a research paper was published which identifies links between facial characteristics and specific genes (it's a preprint, which means it hasn't been peer-reviewed yet).
Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day it was possible to create 3D-representations of our ancestors from their DNA - assuming, of course, that we had samples of their DNA in the first place? This research certainly seems to be a step in that direction.
Note: there's another reason why this paper is of interest to me - one of the authors is a DNA cousin of mine!
Save on DNA tests at Ancestry ENDS THURSDAY
There are currently big savings on DNA tests at Ancestry - for example, at their UK site the cost is down from £79 to £59 excluding delivery, which is £20 for the first kit, and £10 for each additional kit ordered at the same time.
At the US site the reduction is from $99 to $79 excluding sales tax and delivery, also a useful saving; additional kits are just $69 each (you may also be able to get free shipping by entering the code FREESHIPDNA).
Tip: you may need to log-out from Ancestry in order to take advantage of the discounted prices; after logging-out, click the link below a second time.
I can't see whether there are similar offers at the Canadian and Australian sites, but I am including links so that you can check yourself - I'll update this article based on the feedback from readers. And remember, it's only when you use the links I provide that you'll be supporting LostCousins.
Tip: some members who have bought Ancestry's DNA test have been offered a discounted subscription afterwards - will you be one of the luckty ones?.
SAVE £20 - ENDS THURSDAY 3RD AUGUST
SAVE AT LEAST $20 - ENDS THURSDAY 3RD AUGUST
no sale at present
Debbie Kennet spotted this wonderful true story in the Washington Post and shared it on Twitter - it demonstrates how DNA testing, combined with good old-fashioned research, makes it possible to solve mysteries that a generation ago would have remained unsolved.
Virtually all of the cells in our body (red blood cells are an exception) contain a complete set of our DNA, the genetic blueprint that defines who we are. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes packed into each cell nucleus, and whilst the nucleus is smaller than the width of even the finest human hair, if the DNA in any one nucleus was stretched out in a straight line, rather than scrunched up (as it normally is), it would be around 7ft in length.
In Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding How Our Genes Work, Kat Arney sets out to tell - in less than 300 pages - the story of how our understanding of genetics has developed over the past 60 years, since Watson & Crick identified the structure of DNA. And amazingly, she does it without any diagrams - forcing her to explain everything in words rather than leaving it to the reader to figure things out for themselves.
I can't claim to have understood everything that I read, but I did get to grips with most of it - at least at the time I was reading it. How much of it has actually become integrated into my knowledge is a different matter - I suspect I'll keep dipping into the book to check my understanding of some of the topics!
How does one set of assembly instructions generate so many different types of cell, and ensure that they all end up in the right place? How can human beings, the most intelligent creatures on the planet, manage with fewer genes than a water flea, or an apple? Why is so much of our genome filled with junk that appears to have no function whatsoever? And why haven't the promised health benefits come to pass - what has gone wrong? Kat Arney deals with all of these issues and many, many more - not always providing definitive answers, though, because there still lots of unanswered questions. Indeed, answering one question often leads to more unanswered questions, just as each 'brick wall' we knock down in our family tree leads to at least two more.
This isn't a book for everyone - just as I don't need to know what's under my car's bonnet in order to drive it, you don't need to know precisely how DNA works in order to use it as a tool in your research. But if, like me, you are insatiably curious, and want to gain a better understanding of the science behind the jargon, or an appreciation of just how much - or how little - the leading scientists really know, then this book is a great way to extended your knowledge.
I managed to get a good-as-new hardback copy of the book at a very good price from an Amazon Marketplace supplier (although I had to wait for it to arrive from the US), but it's also available as a Kindle book or as a paperback. As usual you'll be supporting LostCousins if you use the links below (even if you end up buying something completely different!):
I had some interesting responses to the puzzle in my last newsletter:
"can you tell me who was born a Marquis, became a Knight, ended up an Earl, but is best known as a Lord? Oh, and he also had a recipe named after him....."
Several readers plumped for the Duke of Wellington or the Earl of Sandwich, although neither of them fitted all of the facts, as they would have discovered had they done a little more research.
The clue was, of course, the word 'Marquis' - in England this spelling of the title is usually only seen on pub signs, notably the Marquis of Granby (it is said that he has more pubs named after him than anyone else). The more normal spelling is 'Marquess' - but a Marquess is ranked more highly than a Baronet or an Earl, so it would be very unusual for someone to end up with a lower-ranked title than the one he was born with.
Since 'Marquis' is clearly not a title, it must be a surname - and the most famous person to bear that surname was Frederick James Marquis, knighted in 1935, created a Baron in 1939, and finally made an Earl in 1956. However he is best known as Lord Woolton, and the recipe is, of course Lord Woolton Pie, a vegetable dish created during the Second World War by the head chef at the Savoy Hotel, and recommended by the Ministry of Food as a nutritious meal at a time of rationing.
I'm glad to say that most of the entries were correct - although since only a dozen or so readers submitted an entry it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the perspicacity of the readership as a whole! Perhaps the rest of you were focusing on winning the autograph of Queen Mary which is the first prize in my Summer Competition?
One reader had a bit of an advantage over the rest of you - Philip told me "Lord Woolton is on (the edge) of my family tree, being the husband of my grandmother's cousin. My grandmother used to say during the war that although her cousin was the Minister of Food she could not even get an extra pat of butter!"
Here in Essex the summer weather has veered from one extreme to the other, with temperatures well into the 30s at some times, and heavy rain at others - and this could well explain why the blackberries are both earlier this year and rather plumper than usual. Hopefully they'll make up for our poor crop of rhubarb, which was ended by the dry hot weather in June.
This year I once again resisted the temptation to harvest elderflowers since last year's Blackberry & Elderberry jam (with a hint of lemon) was a great success - but the elder trees in our garden are mostly in shady positions, so I won't be able to start harvesting the berries for a few weeks yet. We get very few blackberries in our garden - the brambles tend to grow in places with too little water and/or too little sun - but there are plenty growing wild along the footpaths and bridleways.
I've just noticed that Findmypast now show the number of records in each dataset when you use the A to Z of record sets; I know I'm going to find this really useful, and I suspect you will too.
There's lots more that I would have liked to include in this newsletter but I ran out of steam… however there's always the next issue!
© Copyright 2017 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