Newsletter - 26th March 2016
Free access to Ancestry's British records ENDS MONDAY
LostCousins is free for Easter ENDS TUESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 9th March) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):
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!
Free access to Ancestry's British records ENDS MONDAY
Until Monday you can get free access to the UK and British Commonwealth records at Ancestry.co.uk - just follow this link. It's a great opportunity to research your collateral lines and add more relatives from the 1881 Census to your My Ancestors page!
Tip: Ancestry is currently the only subscription site to provide the Scotland 1881 census references, so this is an excellent time for anyone with Scottish ancestors to collect the data. Note that whilst all of the census references are included in Ancestry's subscription, some are found under 'Source Citation' and some in the main body of the transcription. †
Don't confuse the free weekend with the 14-day trial - they are two different offers. If you decide after the weekend that you'd like to subscribe to Ancestry click this link to save 30% on a Premium subscription (which includes all UK & Ireland records).
Sites like Findmypast and Ancestry face a difficult challenge - how can they make their site appealing to beginners without reducing the utility for more experienced users (as most LostCousins members are)?
Both came up with a similar solution: provide a simple and easily-accessible search of all their records, so that beginners can be sure to get some results from their first search, but offer more advanced searches of specific collections and record sets.
Here's how they did it - they provided a Search all records option for beginners, and made it the first option in the Search menu:
At the same time they offered two routes for more experienced users who were familiar with their record collections and knew what they were looking for. The first option for experienced users is to choose a collection of record sets, such as Census & Electoral Rolls or Birth, marriage, death & parish records; the second is to home in on a specific record set using the Card Catalogue (at Ancestry) or the A-Z of record sets (at Findmypast).
When you search one of the collections you can filter the search results in order to focus in on a particular record set - so at first glance, there's no reason to go straight to an individual record set. However, as the following examples from Findmypast show, when you search across a range of records sets you can miss the very records you're trying to find!
The Search form below is the one you'd get if you started with the Census, land & surveys option from the Search menu:
It might look pretty comprehensive at first sight, but just look at what you get if you go straight to the 1881 Census from the A-Z of record sets (sorry it's so small but I had to reduce the scale to fit it all in!):
As you can see, there are LOTS more boxes on the form, which means that you've got a much wider range of search options. In particular you can search on the place of birth, which isn't an option when you search all censuses at the same time - and for a good reason too (the place of birth isn't shown in the 1841 Census).
Of course, as any experienced user of these sites will tell you, filling in more boxes on the Search form is usually a big mistake - it's something you should only do when you get more search results than you can handle. Beginners usually assume that the more information they enter, the more likely they are to find the records they're looking for - but in reality it works the other way round.
The smart approach is to fill in only the information that is most likely to lead you to the right records. So, for example, if you've got an ancestor with an unusual first name that might be the only piece of information you enter.
I generally try to avoid entering birthplaces when searching the census - because even if my ancestor knew where she was born (and many didn't) there can be many different ways of writing it down. For example, I've seen birthplaces for people born in London which are as imprecise as 'London', or 'Middlesex' - or as precise as the name of the street.
At Ancestry the difference between the Search forms is not quite as pronounced, but that's mainly because Ancestry offers fewer options (for example, you generally can't search by address or occupation).
Trying to find a record set in the Card Catalogue at Ancestry is rather more difficult than searching the A-Z of record sets at Findmypast, but fortunately Ancestry offers a neat feature to make it easy to jump to the records you use most frequently using user-definable Quick Links. This article from my January 2014 newsletter describes how to set up your own links, and to get you started, here are the links that I have on my Ancestry home page:
Of course, I've chosen those links to reflect my own research interests - you'll no doubt want a different list. I'm hoping that Findmypast will offer a similar quick links feature at some point in the future.
I don't believe that anybody should be prevented from connecting with their own cousins by lack of funds, so to complement Ancestry's offer LostCousins will also be FREE this weekend.
Even better, my offer won't end until midnight on Tuesday - which means that you'll have plenty of time to find your relatives on the censuses, enter them on your My Ancestors page and connect to the new cousins you've been matched with. To take advantage of this offer simply:
(1) Log-in to your LostCousins account (if you can't remember your password you can get an automated reminder)
(2) Check your My Cousins page for new matches - click Make contact or Accept invitation
(3) Go to your My Ancestors page and click the Search button to look for more matches
(4) Add more relatives to your My Ancestors page and click Search again to look for even more matches
See the next article for some tips to help you find lots of new cousins.
Tip: it doesn't matter if your cousins don't respond during the offer period, just so long as you find the match and click 'Make contact' this weekend. And if anyone doesn't reply within 14 days I'll chase them up on your behalf (how about that for service!).
Beginners often make the mistake of assuming that their direct ancestors are the only people they need to enter on their My Ancestors page. They are important, of course, but realistically most of us already know our 1st cousins and many of our 2nd cousins - who are the relatives who share our grandparents and great-grandparents.
There are big advantages in finding 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins - not least of which is that someone who is researching our ancestors from a different perspective will often have a better insight into the 'brick walls' that inevitably bring our research on a particular line grinding to a halt. But it's not just about exchanging past research and collaborating in the future - sometimes our cousins carry the answers we're seeking within their DNA.
You'll get most matches at LostCousins when you enter the members of your ancestors' extended families who were recorded in the 1881 Census - so the winning strategy is to trace your collateral lines forwards until you get to 1881, then enter them all on your My Ancestors page. I suggest you aim to trace collateral lines from the 1841 Census onwards, but if you can start further back you'll be even more successful!
I'm sure everyone reading this will
empathise with the LostCousins member who penned the
In response to your question for our feelings on the subject of contacting living relativesÖ. I am sorry that this is at such length, you can take from it what you wish, but I hope it will help you to understand how painful it is to be rejected and denied information that only they can supply. I hope you find the contrasting examples useful Ė but please donít use my name if you quote Ė as I am still hoping for a change of heart.
The article about contacting living relatives had resonance for me. I would not dream of telephoning anyone. I found my fatherís cousin by sending polite and sensitive letters (some people of a certain age still find illegitimacy uncomfortable) to all 11 men in the country, sharing the same name, until one of them contacted me. Bill was delighted and told me everything that he knew about my fatherís parentage. His mother, (my grandmotherís sister,) married at 39 and had him at 40, so I had thought she was a spinster or childless, but I found that he was the informant on her death certificate. He knew the family history, but as he was 20 years younger than my father, and a life-long sheltered bachelor, there were finer details that his mother and live-in aunt did not discuss with him, as it would have been inappropriate.
My grandmother gave birth to my father out of wedlock, when she was 20. Bill, her nephew, confirmed who my biological grandfather was. I had already worked it out from things my father had said. His mother, (comfortably off as her father left her money and a house), became engaged to marry Arthur in 1922, and he promised to raise my father as his own. After they were married, he reneged on his promise, went to the home of the biological father, and demanded that he pay for my father to be fostered. This was done, and my father had a loveless and deprived upbringing by a bachelor and his sister, whom he had to call Mr and Mrs rather than Mum and Dad.
His mother went on to have 3 more children in the 1920s, and died in 1942. My father, Arthur and the other 3 children were in touch a few times in the 1960s, but I was not aware of their children. Grandmotherís only daughter had two sons whom I did meet, as a teenager and the families exchanged Christmas cards. One of the boys appeared to be willing to meet up a couple of years ago, but then they, their mother, and their other cousins are now refusing to share information about our grandmother and the circumstances of my fatherís conception.
As my grandmother and biological grandfather were both free to marry and both financially comfortably off, I need to know why they did not marry and, if my grandmother was violated, as this is what I believe. She was deeply religious and had a high profile in her community and church. She would not have had a casual relationship. I would like my cousins and step Aunt, to tell me what they know about our Grandmother. After she died, she often saw Billís mother. I have sent them copies of photos that I have, and originals of their mother and aunt and uncle Ė which had been sent to my late father. I have also sent them information on the family back to 1745. They donít respond. One had agreed to meet- and now won't reply to my pleadings.
†I grew up with no siblings and thought I just had 2 cousins in England, who were distant (it turned out that they are actually 1st cousins!). It turns out there are probably another five 1st cousins, the children of my father's other siblings. I was in regular contact for the 5 years I knew him. I have sent them begging letters. I just want to know about my grandmother. I have read about her in the papers of the time, and she and Billís mother sound so kind, and their father, born 1850 and widowed when the girls were toddlers, was described as an ďexceptional fatherĒ.
Another example: my husbandís mother (born 1904) was adopted. We found two much older brothers that she did not know about. One of their children is now over 90. We found him a few miles from our home. He is too uncomfortable to meet up, and of course his father probably did not know that his parents had had a daughter after the boys left home, let alone given away their much younger sister. We can accept that. He is not knowingly withholding information that would complete the picture, but are in touch with his offspring.
I just think it is very sad that somebody could have priceless information and not share it. I, on the other hand, spent an age tracking down the son of my fatherís pilot, and was able to tell him that the father whom he did not know, was greatly admired and that he saved the life of his crew on several occasions. I have sent to my motherís maternal cousins in three different countries the tree which took me years to compile, and provided their children with photos of their great grand parents. I cannot tell you how much pleasure that gave me. Other friends have done the same Ė giving cousins, somewhat removed, photos of their grandparents and parents as children etc.
I enjoy the TV programmes about reunions between lost relatives (though they can feel voyeuristic), and sharing the joy for those who can finally put the last piece of the jigsaw into place, concerning close relatives. What a pity the value of this cannot be given more publicity. We all want to know if we are who we think we are, and the circumstances explaining what made our parents who they were.
Who could knowingly withhold such a gift?
There will always be some who prefer to keep quiet about the past, and choose to keep their family skeletons in the closet. Fortunately people like that don't become LostCousins members - it's the last thing they'd do - so when you find a 'lost cousin', you can be sure that they joined the site in order to share information rather than hide it!
Of course, even that doesn't guarantee that the cousins you're connected with will share their information with you - if you joined late, or if you've been slow completing your My Ancestors page, you could well find that some of your cousins have passed away or developed dementia by the time the connection is made. In many cases I'm able to put members in touch with a close relative who has taken over the research, but this isn't always the case.
There are two things you can do to minimise the possibility that your family connections are lost. One is to complete your My Ancestors page - as soon as you can, and as comprehensively as you can (remember that it's the members of your direct ancestors' extended families recorded in 1881 who are most likely to connect you to your living cousins).
The other is to complete these vital boxes on your My Details page - it'll only take a minute of your time, but could make an enormous difference to your cousins:
Since 1837 there have been two ways to obtain birth, marriage, and death certificates for England & Wales: from the local register office, or from the General Register Office.
However researchers are faced with a conundrum: whilst locally-sourced certificates are preferred because they're more likely to be accurate (and may show the original handwriting of our ancestors), the only indexes that cover the entire country are the GRO indexes. A further confounding factor is that it can be considerably more expensive to order copies from local register offices - gone are the days when you could walk into the register office and come away half an hour later with the required certificate (without paying a premium price).
Although it's still very early days, I'm hoping that when the GRO takes advantage of the provisions of the Deregulation Act it might be possible to create new indexes that offer cheaper and easier access to local certificates.
The references in the present indexes relate to the GRO copies of the BMD registers - they're little or no help to local registrars, whose records are indexed by sub-district. However, I've established that the data transcribed from the birth and death registers during the abortive DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project included the sub-district† and date of registration - key pieces of information that might make it easier (and thus cheaper) for local registrars to locate the entries in the original registers, allowing a reduction in the price if ordered via the GRO. And I'm sure that many more certificates would be ordered if researchers could simply click an entry in the online index.
However at this stage this is simply speculation on my part, so I'd be interested to hear the views of local registrars - I know that there are some amongst the LostCousins membership, and no doubt there are other members with close contacts in register offices.
Note: births to 1934 and deaths to 1957 were scanned and transcribed during the DoVE project; local BMD indexes do exist for a few areas - see the UKBMD site for more details.
A genealogist in Illinois has claimed that Donald Trump is related every one of the 43 Presidents of the United States, including Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton (see this news article for more details). Since the most distant connection (to Franklin Roosevelt, not Barack Obama as you may have suspected) involves a number of marriages it's clear that Donald Trump must be at least as closely related to Hillary Clinton as he is to FDR.
Even if the research is correct it's only telling us what we already know - because ultimately we're ALL related, as Anthony Adolph pointed out in this newsletter recently (although I suspect that another Adolph.0. who would have been most uncomfortable with that statement!).
DNA is a complex topic, and whilst I've attempted to explain in a series of articles how DNA is inherited, and therefore how DNA tests can be used to supplement the information available from conventional records, the emails I get from members suggest I haven't done a very good job!
For example, this week I received an email which began with the sentence "Y-DNA: I've read your article in the newsletter and it seems sceptical of the value of DNA to establish truths."
The reality is that Y-DNA testing offers a highly-accurate way of determining whether two men share the same ancestor in their direct paternal line. But it only works for that single ancestral line: a Y-DNA test tells you absolutely nothing about any of the other lines - this means that it doesn't matter how many of their other lines two male relatives might share, unless they share their direct paternal line a Y-DNA test would come up negative.
If you were interested only in that single line - for example, if you were a lawyer trying to settle a paternity dispute - a Y-DNA test would be ideal, especially if it doesn't matter who the father was in the event that the test proved negative.
Perhaps I should remind you at this stage that a single DNA test usually tells us nothing about the recent ancestry of the individual who tested, so when I referred just now to a test being negative, what I really meant is that there wasn't a match with another, specified, DNA sample. In a paternity case the two samples being matched might be the Y-DNA of a male child and his putative father.
However, it's important to remember that it's not only Y-DNA that a son inherits from his father: half of his autosomal DNA (atDNA) comes from his father - the other half comes from his mother, as does his X-chromosome and his mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). This means that another way to investigate paternity is to compare atDNA - indeed, if the child was a daughter, rather than a son, it would be the only option.
There are two reasons why atDNA tests (such as Family Finder) are often preferable even when Y-DNA is an option:
Nevertheless, autosomal DNA tests aren't always the answer - because the mixing at every generation limits their reach (in effect the resolution of the test decreases by 4 times with every generation); this means that even where there is a connection between two individuals it might not show up. By contrast, Y-DNA is passed almost unaltered from father to son and so Y-DNA tests can reach back many generations - certainly back to the start of parish registers in1538.
The aim of this article is to remind you that in many cases you will have a choice - the obvious test isn't always the best one. This page on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy wiki includes statistics for the average amount of atDNA shared by cousins of different degrees; some of you might also be interested in the simulation carried out by Paul Rakow (there's a link from the wiki).
One of the best-loved and most-repeated TV series of all-time, Dad's Army was never intended to present a realistic view of the Home Guard, but for many of us it's all we know about the organisation that would have defended Britain's shores in the event of an invasion. So I was very interested when I heard about Stephen M Cullen's book In Search of the Real Dad's Army - which certainly helps to redress the balance between fact and fiction.
By the end of June 1940 nearly 1.5 million men had registered to join the Local Defence Volunteers, forerunner to the Home Guard - and by the end of the war 4.6 million had served at some time or other. There must have been many of my relatives amongst them (and yours too), but with the exception of 80,000 records for Durham the records aren't currently available online (you can search the Durham records here).
There shortages at first: uniforms and weapons were limited, and some of the weapons pre-dated the Great War - but with true British spirit they made the most of what they had. The German enemy had been able to conquer Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands in days, and in 1940 Britain fully expected to be invaded.
So-called Fifth Columnists were thought to have played a key role in Germany's earlier successes, and in the summer of 1940 the Local Defence Volunteers were on full alert. Sadly mistakes were made: Cullen reports that on the night of June 2nd/3rd four innocent people were killed in separate incidents, whilst on 22nd June a noisy exhaust prevented a driver in Romford, Essex from hearing a challenge, and four passengers were killed outright.
The book gave me an insight into an aspect of World War 2 that I hadn't previously known much about, and I suspect you'll find it equally interesting. Because this book has been out for a few years you can pick up a copy at the substantial discount to the cover price, but the biggest bargain is the Kindle version, at a mere £1.59!
As foreshadowed in the previous issue I'm currently reading Kindred, Steve Robinson's latest Jefferson Tayte novel. It's not due to be published until 12th April, so all I can tell you at the moment is that the story begins in Germany, where Jefferson is researching his own origins (readers of earlier novels in the series will know that he was adopted). But suffice it to say that if this newsletter is bit shorter than the last one, it's because I can't wait to get back to the book!
You can support LostCousins when you pre-order Kindred (or purchase anything else from Amazon) using the following links:
I've just finished reading Kindred - I simply couldn't put it down! Also see the opening article for an Ancestry offer that I've just heard about.
That's all for this issue - I'll be back soon with more news from the wonderful world of family history..