Newsletter - 24th June 2016



Centenary of the Battle of the Somme approaches

65 million military records free at Findmypast STARTS MONDAY

Love letters from the Somme

Lost Films of the British Army

Don't expect meaningful DNA results

The randomness of DNA: good news and bad news

Why are so many of our DNA cousins in the USA?

Joker insists that Gotham 'doesn't exist'

Book review: The Patient Will See You Now

Breaking down brick walls at the SoG

Don't dilly-dally over Daly

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


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Centenary of the Battle of the Somme approaches

The Somme valley is one of the most beautiful parts of France, but a century ago the peace and tranquillity was dominated by the war of guns and the cries of injured soldiers. There were so many British casualties on 1st July 1916, the first day of this 5 month battle - 57,470 in all, of whom 19,240 lost their lives - that most people back in Blighty would have known someone who was killed or injured. Indeed the memorial at my old school lists three boys whose lives ended on that fateful summer's day.


Next Thursday, 30th June, there will be an overnight vigil at the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. While representatives of the armed forces keep watch at the tomb, thousands of members of the public are expected to pay their respects throughout the night.


The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will attend a service signalling the start of the vigil at Westminster Abbey, whilst in France the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will be at the Thiepval Memorial, which bears the names of more than 72,000 British soldiers who died on the Somme and who have no known grave. In all over a million men, from both sides, died during the battle.


BBC Two will be broadcasting from these and other memorial services between 7.30pm and 9.30pm; this BBC page offers a brief, but informative, guide to the long battle.


In less than two weeks I'll be attending a lunch where Professor Gary Sheffield, one of the leading historians of the Great War will be speaking - I'm hoping I might be able to persuade him to write a short article for this newsletter.


65 million military records free at Findmypast STARTS MONDAY

In recognition of the importance of next week's commemoration, from Monday 27th June until Monday 4th July all 65 million military records at Findmypast can be accessed free via the following links:


You will need to register (or log-in, if you've registered previously), but you certainly won't need to provide credit card details.


Findmypast are also offering free access to their UK and Ireland census records next week - because it was taken just a few years earlier you'll probably find the 1911 Census particularly useful (and remember, you can enter relatives from 1911 on your My Ancestors page whether they were recorded in England, Wales, or Ireland).


Tip: 8 million of the military records you'll discover at Findmypast aren't available at ANY other site - I found my grandfather's Great War service record which I had previously assumed was amongst the 60% of WW1 records to have been destroyed in WW2, because it wasn't in Ancestry's collection.


Love letters from the Somme

Brian Boyd, from Belfast, joined the Young Citizen Volunteers at the age of 19, and was sent to France to join the 36th Ulster Division. From there he wrote to his sweetheart, Lily, and those letters have recently resurfaced - you can read the story here, on the BBC website.


There's also a Belfast connection to a story the Essex Record Office recently posted on their blog, having discovered this article from the 16th February 1917 issue of the Chelmsford Chronicle:

Image Local World Limited/Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD and used by kind permission of Findmypast


Note: until 30th June you can get a I month subscription to the British Newspaper Archive for half-price - see this article for more information.


If you look up the marriage in the GRO indexes you'll find that the bride's surname was indexed as Benham, not Potter. This is because, as the author of the blog points out, Clara Elizabeth Benham was the daughter of an unmarried mother who later married a gentleman named Potter.


Charles Kydd and Clara Potter agreed to marry before they had even met - and as there's no sign of any children having been born to the couple, so you might wonder whether it was truly a match made in heaven. Nevertheless they were still together when the next war began, as you can see in this extract from the 1939 Register, which shows them living in Billericay, Essex:


Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by kind permission of Findmypast


According to the register Charles was working as a civil servant and acting as an Air Ward Warden in Westminster, so I don't suppose they saw a lot of each other. I wonder, did they move to London so they could spend more time together? Clara's death in 1943 at the age of 59 was recorded in Pancras registration district.


Lost Films of the British Army

Keeping up morale is always important during wartime. Just over a year ago I wrote about Calling Blighty, a series of short films made in the final years of World War 2 which allowed servicemen and women in the Far East to send personal messages home to their family and friends - you might argue that it was the forerunner of Skype. The films were shown in cinemas to specially-invited audiences, but only 48 of nearly 400 films are known to have survived.


23 of the surviving films feature personnel from the north-west of England, and there is a searchable database of over 600 names here - each one is linked to the relevant film clip.


On Sunday 26th June, between 8pm and 9pm, Channel 4 will be showing a documentary entitled Messages Home: Lost Films of the British Army - it will be well worth watching, I'm sure!


Don't expect meaningful DNA results

Someone asked me recently which of the DNA testing companies will provide the most meaningful autosomal results. The simple answer is - none of them! In isolation DNA results mean very little - they're just a jumble of letters - but they acquire meaning when they are compared with results from other people.


Of course, most DNA testing companies will claim to tell you something about your ethnicity - but as I pointed out recently, Ancestry reckon my brother's ancestry is 20% Irish, which is virtually impossible, given how far I've traced back without finding any Irish ancestors in our tree.


I've uploaded my brother's results to FamilyTreeDNA - they reckon he's 40% Scandinavian, 40% British Isles (including Ireland) and 20% Southern Europe; but they tell me that I'm 59% Western & Central Europe, and 41% Scandinavia. We have the same parents, so how can our ancestry be so different - of course, the answer is that it can't!


The truth is, DNA tests are pretty poor at telling us about our origins hundreds or thousands of years ago. One of the reasons for this is the simple fact that we haven't inherited any DNA at all from most of our ancestors!


Note: some the tests that 23andMe offer are designed to provide health-related information - these may have some value on their own.


The randomness of DNA: good news and bad news

If you test your autosomal DNA you'll get hundreds or thousands of matches, and naturally you're more likely to get matches with close cousins than distant ones - since close cousins are more likely to share large segments of DNA (this page from the ISOGG website gives the statistics).


However, the fact that you're more likely to match with close cousins doesn't mean that most of the matches you make will be with close cousins - in reality the majority of your matches will be with cousins who are so distantly related that you wouldn't expect to share any significant amount of DNA with them.


How can both of those statements be true? What you have to remember is that we have many, many more distant cousins than we do close cousins - according to this article, calculations by Ancestry DNA found that on average a Briton has 193,000 living cousins who are 6th cousins or closer, but that almost of them are 5th (17,300) or 6th (174,000) cousins. The article doesn't give a figure for the numbers of 7th and 8th cousins, but clearly they're likely to be in the millions.


According to the ISOGG chart I mentioned earlier, 8th cousins share (on average), just 0.000763% of their DNA, which equates to just 0.05cM - in other words, it's such a small amount that it would be dwarfed by the DNA that is shared by chance. So, as you can imagine, I was amazed when Ancestry claimed to have found a match with an 8th cousin - a connection that was backed up by our family trees.


What Ancestry don't provide is any detail of a DNA match - but fortunately my cousin had uploaded his results to the GEDmatch site, and there we could see that we shared an amazing 24cM segment of DNA. A segment this length would be more typical of 3rd cousins than 8th cousins, so you might be wondering how this can happen.


With each generation DNA is diluted by half, since every child has two parents, each with their own set of ancestors. If you refer to the ISOGG chart you'll see that 3rd cousins are 7 degrees apart, and on average their shared DNA amounts to 1/128th (1 divided by 2 to the power of 7). Similarly 8th cousins are 17 degrees apart, so on average their shared DNA amounts to 1/131072 (1 divided by 2 to the power of 17).


If I tossed a coin 17 times, on average it would come up heads 8.5 times - but 1 time in 131072 trials it would come up heads every time. Those are long odds, but then we each have millions of 8th cousins, and we each have 22 pairs of autosomes (chromosomes that are inherited from both parents). So now it doesn't seem quite so surprising that two 8th cousins share such a large segment of DNA on one of those chromosomes!


Nevertheless, when you find a DNA match with a very distant cousin, always consider the possibility that you have another, closer, match on a different line that is yet to be found. Something else to bear in mind is that in isolated or close-knit communities where few people married outsiders the gene pool would be smaller, and this would inevitably make matches appear closer.


Note: amongst the useful tools at GEDmatch is one that will analyse how closely -related your parents were before they married - whilst few people knowingly marry their cousins, there must be many who do so unwittingly.


The fact that DNA can sometimes reach back further than expected can be good news - but it can also cause confusion if we don't take the possibility into account when we're trying to work out how we're connected to our DNA cousins.


Why are so many of our DNA cousins in the USA?

It's the randomness of DNA inheritance which explains why, even though I know of very few relatives who migrated to the USA, most of my DNA matches are with people living in America (it's probably the same for you).


Until relatively recently the vast majority of the family historians taking DNA tests lived in the USA, which means that as things stand I'm probably far more likely to be matched with 8th cousins in America than 4th cousins in England (again, it's probably going to be the same for you).


One advantage of using the GEDmatch site is that the email addresses of your matches are shown, so that it's sometimes possible to identify the country where they live. When I looked through my 2000 matches this morning there were 70 Comcast and 22 BellSouth addresses (American) but only 7 BTinternet addresses (British), and 6 Bigpond addresses (Australian). Similarly there were 153 addresses compared with just 8 addresses, and 292 addresses compared with just 6 which ended in; there were 24 .ca addresses (Canada), 12 ending in (Australia), and 8 which ended (New Zealand).


Of course, an address which ends in .com doesn't necessarily indicate that the owner lives in the US (all my email address end that way), but the very small number of addresses (just 2, apart from the Hotmail and Yahoo ones previously reported) certainly tells a tale. Amongst my 2000 matches there no Virgin or Tiscali addresses, and only 2 NTLworld addresses - even though these are popular in Britain.


Over time the ratio will change, and probably quite quickly - because not only have British and Australian researchers been slower to take up DNA testing, I suspect they're also less likely to have uploaded their results to GEDmatch. If you haven't uploaded your results to GEDmatch yet please see the hints I provided earlier this month.


Joker insists that Gotham 'doesn't exist'

Residents of the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham were told that it didn't exist when they phoned a council helpline, according to this BBC news story.

Book review: The Patient Will See You Now

I ordered this book in April, while I was waiting to see my doctor - the conceit of the title, that the patient should call the shots (as customers do in almost every other field), amused me; the fact that this disruptive book was written by a doctor intrigued me. Eric Topol, the author, is a practising cardiologist and a professor of genomics.


Even before reading the book I was already sold on the main premise, that we - the patients - could contribute so much more, if only doctors were prepared to communicate more to us about our illnesses, and were prepared to listen more carefully to what we can tell them.


The author sees a lot of potential in low-cost devices, often based around smartphones, that can carry out tests on the spot - or can monitor vital signs with a view to providing early warnings. I think he's absolutely right, although his enthusiasm for Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes is probably waning now that the company has voided thousands of results produced by its proprietary Edison devices (see this Forbes article from last week for more information).


Because he's writing largely about the US there are parts of the book, especially relating to overcharging and unnecessary testing, that don't apply in the National Health Service, although they might be relevant to private healthcare in the UK. Whilst we sometimes complain about the NHS, after reading this book it was clear that many things, such as waiting times for GP appointments, are worse in the US, despite the vast amount of money (a massive 18% of GDP) that's spent on healthcare.


What resonated most with me was the way in which the medical profession has traditionally held information back from patients - a habit that dates back to Hippocrates, who wrote that physicians should conceal "most things from the patient" including "the patient's future or present condition."


When I obtained my medical records recently I was able to confirm that in 1977 I fractured two vertebrae in my lower back, information that was not disclosed to me when I was X-rayed in the Casualty Department of King George Hospital, and only became apparent when I visited my GP, in some considerable distress (me, not the GP), a week later.


The Patient Will See You Now is a thought-provoking book - if you're fed up with being treated like a child by the medical profession, why not take it along to your next appointment (at least you can read it while you're waiting!).


I bought my copy at a discounted price through, where you can also read other reviews, but if you're in Australia you might find it's cheaper from The Book Depository, because postage is included in their prices (thanks to Jenny for the reminder). If you're in North America you can support LostCousins by using these links to and


Note: after writing this review I noticed this article on the BBC website which describes how smartphones are enabling volunteer doctors in the UK to help save lives in Zambia.


Breaking down brick walls at the SoG

During July there will be a series of evening workshops at the Society of Genealogists in London which will focus on different ways of breaking down 'brick walls'. The first two workshops will be run by Else Churchill and John Hanson respectively, who were leading speakers at Genealogy in the Sunshine in 2014 and 2015, whilst the third will be run by professional genealogist Dr Geoff Swinfield.


Rather than give you all the details here it's better if you look at the SoG website because there are lots of other interesting events at the SoG in July - you'll find a complete list here.


Tip: the events are open to all - why not make the most of your visit by spending some time in the SoG Library, which has an amazing collection? The fees for non-members are quite modest (they're listed here).


Don't dilly-dally over Dr Daly

I've just opened up a special area of the LostCousins forum where you can post your comments about the Daly case (if you're a member of the forum) and check what others have written - just follow this link. This will avoid duplication of effort, and hopefully enable us to progress by leaps and bounds.


This fascinating murder case may have been decided by the courts 76 years ago - but the question is, did they come the right decision, given what we now know about the doctor?


Peter's Tips

Last month I was at the Rocha Brava resort on Portugal's Algarve coast to discuss Genealogy in the Sunshine - which I'm hoping will be held there in late March 2017. As usual I hired a car, and as usual I didn't take out extra insurance, since it would have cost more than I was paying in rental - instead I handed over my credit card so they could take a deposit of 800 Euros. I've done the same thing on many occasions in the past - after all, I'm not going to hit anything!


But a couple of days into the trip I noticed a big dent over the front wheel arch - ouch! I didn't let the prospect of losing 800 Euros spoil the trip - the sun was shining, and the discussions were progressing well, but I certainly wished I'd followed the advice of a friend of mine, to take out a policy with Insurance4CarHire, who offer cover that costs a mere 39.99 a year for unlimited European rentals (up to 60 days per rental).


Fortunately the story had a happy ending - when I returned the car the person checking it over didn't bat an eyelid when he saw the dent, because it had been there all the time! I simply hadn't noticed it when picking up the car (because it was night-time), and I had somehow missed it the following day, probably because I walked round the other side with my shopping. When I later referred to the photos I took with my mobile phone when picking the car up I could make out the dent, so I didn't dream the whole thing.


This may have been a false alarm, but it was also a wake-up call - believe me, that's the last time I'll rent car abroad without the protection of a policy from Insurance4CarHire!


This morning we woke up to discover that the UK will be leaving the European Union - and whatever your personal view on that might be, the fact is that right now overseas researchers can buy subscriptions denominated in UK pounds a lot cheaper than yesterday. In fact, for many people outside the UK a LostCousins subscription is cheaper today than it has ever been!


Stop Press

This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......


That's all for now - I hope you make some interesting discoveries in the military records.


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


Copyright 2016 Peter Calver

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