Newsletter – 28th July 2021



Developments at the GRO? BREAKING NEWS

Sometimes the old ways are the best

Another way to search at Ancestry

Findmypast plan major Scottish records launch

Tracing Royal Navy Officers

The Da Vinci code

Roots revisited

A very good time to research your family tree

It ain't what you do (it's the way that you do it)

Hullabaloo at a Welsh funeral

Gardeners Corner


Peter's Tips

Stop Press


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



Developments at the GRO? BREAKING NEWS

Five years I was one of a number of representatives from the world of genealogy who attended informal meetings with staff from the General Register Office, some of which included the Deputy Registrar General (who actually runs the organisation – the Registrar General is just a figurehead).


The good news is that I've been invited to attend another meeting next month – this time it's a virtual meeting, which is probably just as well in the current circumstances. I don't know what they're planning and, even if I did, I couldn’t tell you. But these are some of the things on my personal wish list:



Of course, the chances are that none of items I've listed will be proposed – so please don't be disappointed if your wish doesn’t come true!



Sometimes the old ways are the best

When a new resource becomes available we sometimes forget the old way of doing things – just look at how the availability of takeaway food and ready meals has produced a generation that can't cook (and, perhaps more importantly, can't pass that skill on to their children)!


It's the same with the GRO indexes of births and deaths – because the indexes at the GRO's own site have been recompiled from the source registers with additional information included, it's tempting to think that the indexes we used to use are redundant. That would be a big mistake – for a start, the modern indexes have been compiled from microfilmed copies of the registers, making it more difficult for 21st century eyes to interpret Victorian handwriting. By contrast, the clerks who compiled the contemporary quarterly indexes would have worked from the original register pages, and would have been more familiar than a modern transcriber with the styles of handwriting.


But it's not just about transcription errors – whilst there's information missing from the contemporary quarterly indexes that can now be found in the modern indexes, such as the mother's maiden name for pre-1911 births, there are times when it works the other way round. For example, if the name of the father of an illegitimate child was recorded in the register the birth would be indexed twice, once under the father's surname and once under the mother's surname.


Note: it's important to differentiate between multiple register entries and multiple index entries for the same register entry – if two index entries refer to the same register entry they'll show the same volume and page number..


For example, when the birth of my great-grandmother was registered in 1842 the names of both parents were recorded in the register, even though they weren't married – and the entry was indexed twice, as you can see from these FreeBMD search results for the page on which her birth was registered:



Of course, these entries don't appear together in the quarterly index, which is strictly alphabetical – the only place they appear together is in the register held by the GRO, and the corresponding register held locally. Neither of these registers can be viewed by members of the public, but we can buy copies of the entries, either as PDF files or in the form of certificates.


The index entries for Emily Buxton and Emily Roper both relate to the same register entry. However, when the GRO created their new indexes the birth was indexed just once, under the surname of the father:


Had that been how the birth was originally indexed I'd never have found it – it was only when I purchased the certificate that I found out the name of the supposed father (and 15 years later I was able to confirm his identity thanks to Ancestry DNA). Notice that the mother's maiden name isn’t shown in the index.


Recently I was contacted by a member who was unable to find her relative's birth in the new GRO indexes. This was another illegitimate birth, as you can see from the FreeBMD search results below:



All but two of those birth entries can be found in the new GRO indexes (though Botting has become Bolting); the two which can't be found are:



Clearly these relate to the same register entry, and the reason it appears with two different surnames in the quarterly index must be because the father's name is shown in the birth register, even though the parents weren't married. You can see young Richard here in the 1871 Census:


All Rights Reserved. Used by kind permission of Ancestry and The National Archives


Note that Richard is shown as the grandson of the head of household, but there's no indication who his father was, though it seems likely that he's the illegitimate son of one of the three unmarried daughters. The 1881 Census confirms this:


All Rights Reserved. Used by kind permission of Ancestry and The National Archives


Note that Maria, who was unmarried in 1871, is now claiming to be a widow; she has also knocked a couple of years off her age, but that's hardly unusual.


Why is there no entry for this child in the new GRO birth index? It may have been indexed incorrectly – unfortunately there is currently no way to search the index without including a surname, and the fuzzy-matching options won't pick up every misspelling.


Tip: Findmypast have updated their birth indexes to include the Mother's Maiden Name for most pre-1911 entries, so it's worth starting your search here if you're looking for multiple births to the same parents, or need a more flexible search than the GRO site offers.



Another way to search at Ancestry

If you use the parish records at Ancestry, as I do, you may have found it frustrating that the search form differs according to the record set. For example, if you search the Staffordshire baptisms from 1813 onwards the form has lots of fields, including:



You probably won't need to use all of these fields, but if the person you're searching for has a common surname you'll either want to limit the number of results, or else make sure that the ones you're interested in are near the top. The search above produces this manageable list of results:



To the best of my knowledge I don’t have ancestors from Staffordshire. However I do have ancestors from Oxfordshire – but when I search the corresponding Oxfordshire records the options are much more limited:



This search produces a disappointingly short list of results:



Does this mean that there were no John Smiths born in Oxfordshire between 1848 and 1852? That seems most unlikely given how common the surname is.


The reason, as LostCousins Forum member Pauline pointed out, is that most baptism records don't include the date of birth – you can see this when you look at the Staffordshire results above. That's why it made sense to use the Any Event field rather than the Birth field – an option that you don't have when searching the corresponding records in Oxfordshire.


However, if I remove the birth year and search the Oxfordshire baptisms again I get 1313 results, far too many – even if I had the time to look through page after page of results there's a good chance that my befuddled brain would miss the very result I was looking for. What I really need to be able to do is use the Staffordshire form to search the Oxfordshire records….


The good news is that you can often cajole the Ancestry site into doing what you want, and I'm going to describe a new way of doing it that I discovered recently.


Each record set at Ancestry is numbered, for example Oxfordshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1915 has been allocated the number 61057, whilst Staffordshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1900 is 62292.


To search the Oxfordshire records using the Staffordshire search form go to the Staffordshire records and carry out the search you'd like to perform in Oxfordshire. Now take a look at the URL in the command line of your browser – it'll look something like this (I've highlighted the number of the record set in red):


Carefully replace 62292 with 61057 and press the Enter (or Return) key on your keyboard – then gaze in wonder at the results:



Instead of 1313 results, or none at all, we now have precisely 5 baptisms from the right period, and with the correct parents. It might seem a bit technical, but it’s really simple in practice – all you have to do is exchange one 5-digit number for another.


Note: in this particular case you can achieve the same results by choosing Birth, Marriage & Death, including Parish from the main Search menu and specifying Oxfordshire, England as the precise location. However, this won't always work as well – it all depends on what information you're starting with – so it's worth having the technique I've described above as a standby.  


Changing the URL in the command line is a useful trick that you can also use when you're searching the censuses. When I looked up Richard Duddleston and his mother Maria in the 1871 and 1881 censuses for the previous article I started by searching in 1871, then simply changed the date in the URL from 1871 to 1881 to repeat the search in the next census:


You could accuse me of being lazy, but I like to think that I'm being more efficient – not only does it save me time, it reduces the load on Ancestry's servers. If you want to try it out yourself, follow this link.


The same trick works at Findmypast:


Again you can try it out yourself if you follow this link.



Findmypast plan major Scottish records launch

On Thursday 29th July Findmypast are holding a virtual launch for a major collection of Scottish records – I will update this article with information about the records as soon as it becomes available.


UPDATE: Findmypast have released an enormous collection of Scottish parish records, with more than 10 million entries. You can find out more here.


Note: some readers may be unaware that Findmypast is a Scottish-owned company – they are part of the DC Thomson group which is based in Dundee.



Tracing Royal Navy Officers

There's an excellent guide to tracing the service records of Royal Navy officers on the Family History Federation website. Whilst I don’t have any ancestors who became officers I still found Ian Waller's article a fascinating read – you'll find it here.



The Da Vinci code

For most Britons the initials JCVI stands for one thing, and one thing only – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which has come to prominence during the current pandemic because of its role in determining who gets what vaccine and when.


But there's another JCVI in the US, and it's the J Craig Venter Institute, named after the man who led the private sector project to sequence the human genome. They're trying to determine whether the remains purported to be those of Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise Castle can be conclusively identified by comparing DNA extracted from the remains with the DNA of Leonardo's living relatives. According to this research paper 14 male line descendants of Leonardo's family have been identified – it will be interesting to see the results of the DNA comparison in due course. For an easier read see this CNN article.



Roots revisited

In the 1970s Alex Haley's novel inspired many, especially African Americans, to research their ancestry; a quarter of a century later Jen Reid decided to find out what she could about here own ancestors. You can hear her story (or read a transcript) at the BBC Sounds website.



A very good time to research your family tree

Wherever you are in the world there's one activity that's not only healthy but totally risk-free – researching your family tree online. I expect that like me, you've spent more time researching your family history over the past year than you would have done in normal times


Up against a 'brick wall'? Of course, you are – in fact, you've probably got dozens of them. The further you get back the more lines there are to research, so the more 'brick walls' you'll have. A beginner might think it strange that the most experienced genealogists have the most 'brick walls', but they'll learn soon enough!


With so many 'brick walls' to tackle it's an impossible task for one person, but it doesn't have to be that way – all we need to do is find people who can help, and the obvious candidates are fellow researchers who are up against some of the same 'brick walls'. You might think that people like that don't grow on trees, but actually they do – and it’s your tree that they're growing on!


Connecting and collaborating with cousins may be the route to success, but how can you find the cousins who are both experienced researchers and willing collaborators? Simply complete your My Ancestors page by entering as many as possible of your relatives from 1881.



It ain't what you do (it's the way that you do it)

A common refrain that I hear from LostCousins members is "I've been a member for X years, but I've only found Y lost cousins", where X is a large number and Y is often only 1.


If truth be told there are no rewards for long service at LostCousins – other than the pleasure of reading this newsletter, of course. Someone who joins today and enters Z relatives from the 1881 Census is likely to make just as many matches as someone who joined 10 years ago, but has only entered the same number of relatives.


I was reminded of this by an email I received a few days ago from a very supportive long-time member who mentioned that sadly she'd only had one match so far, which was with someone who had joined much more recently. Interestingly the new member had 12 matches to her one – but when I looked closely I soon realised this was because he had entered 12 times as many relatives from the 1881 Census.


Both had entered the same number of direct ancestors – the big difference was in the number of relatives from branches. It's really important to remember that ALL of our living cousins are descended from the branches of our tree, so the best way to connect with them is to track each branch and twig through to 1881, then let the LostCousins system bridge the gap between 1881 and 2021.



Hullabaloo at a Welsh funeral

The second burial register entry below intrigued Anthea so much that she asked me whether I'd seen anything similar before:


Image © Welsh Archive Services; used by kind permission of Findmypast


I haven't seen the term 'Hullabaloo' in a register before but perhaps someone reading this has? My guess is that the incumbent didn’t approve of, and perhaps didn't understand, the ceremony – it’s certainly quite a contrast with the previous entry!


Note: in case you're having trouble deciphering the name of the parish, it's Yspytty Ystwyth. I wonder how many that would score at Scrabble?



Gardeners Corner

Many thanks to everyone who wrote in to express their appreciation about my peony article. While Peter maintains terrific momentum for regular writing, sadly my novice enthusiasm nose-dived as the fine weather turned to heavy rain and battalions of slugs came out to destroy much of my hard work. Worse still, when I asked a number of gardening friends "how do you really deal with slugs?" I discovered that they use a range of truly barbaric methods which are too nasty to speak of. The more humane is much better and usefully lists slug-resistant plants.


But enough about slugs – this month I've decided to write about roses, and you'll find my article here (Peter said it was a little too long to include in the body of the newsletter). I hope you enjoy it as much as you enjoy your gardening – Siβn.




Some LostCousins members have reported that they didn’t receive the email notifying them that the last issue (14th July) had been published – if you are one of them please accept my apologies and follow this link to see what you missed.


By the way, my decision to start that newsletter with a long article about England's COVID-19 strategy was always going to be a controversial one. I'd avoided commenting on the pandemic in the two previous issues, but I knew that England's decision to open up despite having more daily cases than any other country in the world was confusing – not just for those of us who live in the UK, but also for those around the world who have cousins in the UK (as all readers of this newsletter do).


The vast majority of the emails I received in response were from members who were greatly appreciative of the clear way I explained what was happening, and why. However, there were a handful who felt that the content was inappropriate for a family history newsletter, and in one sense they were right – the mainstream media should really have grasped the nettle themselves.


What has happened over the past week has confounded all the pundits – instead of continuing to rise, case numbers in the UK have fallen quite dramatically. There seem to be three key factors: the hot weather, the start of the school holidays, and changes in behaviour – the first two are the easiest to predict! This article by the BBC's Head of Statistics, Robert Cuffe, offers some useful insights – well worth a read whether you live in the UK or not. (Robert is a statistician, not a journalist; he is also a statistical ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society, the organisation to which I've belonged for the past 30 years.)



Peter's Tips

One of my favourite meals is also one of the easiest to cook – just so long as you have the ingredients in your fridge or freezer. Start by thinly slicing a piece of peeled ginger root into batons 2 or 3 inches long; repeat the process with a couple of red chillies, then shred a handful of spring onions, using the green parts as well as the bulbs.


Put these to one side whilst you prepare some sea bass fillets (one per person is sufficient, and quite expensive enough); score the skin a few times so that the flesh shows through, then fry in a little hot oil (I use sesame oil for this dish) until the skin is brown and crispy and the flesh is almost cooked. Carefully turn the fillets over and fry for a minute longer, then put them in the oven to stay warm.


Now add the ginger and chilli batons to the frying pan; when the ginger is cooked add the spring onions and a little rice wine vinegar (if available); allow to sizzle for a minute or so.


I serve the fish on a bed of rice with the ginger, chilli, and onions scattered on top; add a sprinkling of soy sauce if liked. Last night I experimented with fried mushrooms and steamed sugar-snap peas as vegetable accompaniments – the latter were definitely more successful than the former, both visually and taste-wise; I might try water chestnuts next time. But a very tasty and enjoyable meal nonetheless!



Stop Press

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......



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2021 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? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.