Newsletter - 26th March 2019



Last chance to save 25% on Ancestry DNA in UK ENDS WEDNESDAY

Half of LostCousins members have taken a DNA test

Success story

Why you need your cousins to test

UK Biobank: 500,000 genomes sequenced by the end of 2020

Whole Genome Sequencing - the next stop for genealogists?

Bigamy appeal

Coroners may be allowed to investigate stillbirths

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 16th March) 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!



Last chance to save 25% on Ancestry DNA in UK ENDS WEDNESDAY

DNA tests aren't nearly as expensive as they used to be - if I told you how much I paid for my first tests you would be horrified - but for researchers in the UK a 25% discount on the cost of an Ancestry DNA test still represents a saving of £20.


First let me make something clear - you DON'T need to subscribe to Ancestry in order to take an Ancestry DNA test, or to contact the thousands of genetic cousins youíre matched with. But you do need to register as an Ancestry user, and so does anyone you ask to test - this is a safeguard brought in when the legislation triggered by the GDPR directive came into force.


Remember, you can only order DNA kits from your local Ancestry site - in fact, you'll usually be re-routed to your local site when you try to access the DNA section of an overseas site.


Note: if you've previously purchased an Ancestry DNA test you may need to log-out from your Ancestry account before clicking the link below. - £59 plus shipping SALE ENDS 11.59pm (London time) Wednesday 27th March



Half of LostCousins members have taken a DNA test

On your My Details page at the LostCousins site the very last question asks whether you have taken an autosomal DNA test (by far the most common type of test - indeed, itís the only one most companies sell).


Whilst only 15000 members have answered the question so far (it was introduced less than 3 years go, so most members wonít have seen it when they joined) I noticed this week that for the first time the number of members who state that they have tested is more than half of the total:


I have taken an autosomal DNA test (eg Family Finder, Ancestry DNA, 23and Me, Living DNA, MyHeritage):


51.2%†††††††††††††††† -†††††††† YES

35.1%†††††††††††††††† -†††††††† NO

13.7%†††††††††††††††† -†††††††† CONSIDERING IT


When you're matched with a cousin you can each see whether or not the other person has tested - this is extremely useful information because itís only when cousins also test that we're able to make the most of our own DNA matches.



Success story

DNA testing isnít just about finding tens of thousands of genetic cousins - it's also about answering questions and knocking down 'brick walls'. We all have illegitimacy in our tree, and with DNA we finally have a way of determining who the father really was - as this example from a LostCousins member demonstrates:


"I started my genealogy research over 30 years ago with one 'simple' aim - to try to find out who my father's father was. My dad was born in September 1912 in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire. There is no father's name on his birth certificate, nor on his and my mum's marriage certificate. My last name is in fact my grandmother's maiden name. She had already had a previous 'illegitimate' son in May 1910. She went on to marry in Little Marlow in 1915 and have four more sons. But she didn't change the last name of my dad or his presumed half-brother to that of her husband.


"My dad died in 1964, his elder half-brother in 1970. For reasons best known to herself my mum cut off all contact with the Buckinghamshire side of the family (the legitimate children of my father's mother) and we vanished from each other's lives.


"When I started to research our family I showed my dad's birth certificate and their marriage certificate to my mum and asked her if she and dad ever talked about his father. What happened then I saw happen again numerous times over the years - the shutters metaphorically came down over my mum's eyes and she said that they 'didn't talk about those kinds of things'.


"In the early 1990's I did trace one of my uncles from my paternal grandmother's marriage. Our family reunion was going splendidly until I mentioned the fact of my father's 'illegitimate' birth and again the shutters came down - it wasn't talked about I was told. It looked like I would never find the answer to my question. And now all the people who may have known the answer (because they were there) are dead.


"However, I continued to research the other branches of my tree until I was reasonably confident that I understood the lineage for 5 or 6 generations back.


"Over the past few years I have taken a number of DNA tests but, despite Peter's excellent articles on the topic, had never really felt I understood the potential for unblocking walls they offered. And then, one afternoon in-between Christmas and New Year just passed, I looked at the Ancestry DNA page for the first time in ages to see if there were any matches. I had four new likely 2nd cousins showing. One has no tree, one has an unlinked tree and the other two have very small trees of 18 and 12 people. I recognised none of the names.


"Second cousins share great-grandparents. Well, I knew an awful lot about three of my grandparents but nothing about my father's father. Luckily one of the two matches with a small tree has a reasonably unusual last name. I was very quickly able to work out who their great-grandparents were through their father's line - and they did not fit into my tree. To check my hunch I then found all four of their great-grandparents and none of them fitted into my tree. Could the link that Ancestry was showing be correct and we actually were 2nd cousins - and I had found my missing great-grandparents? It looked like it. But who was my grandfather?


"My putative great-grandparents (Thomas and Ann) lived from the late 1840's to the late 1920's in Wiltshire/Hampshire. I have been able to find 17 of their children - although 8 were dead by the time of the 1911 census. My father, as I have said, was born in late 1912 in Buckinghamshire - were any of the sons of Thomas and Ann in the right place at the right time? Looking at the 1911 census it turned out that three of them were.


"They were Albert Edward (a game keeper), Frederick Charles (a poultryman), and Michael Barnes (a police constable). All were single in the 1911 census and living a few miles away from where my grandmother was. A fourth brother - Alfred Edgar - emigrated to Canada with his family in 1928 and it is through this line that I am related to the two cousins with online trees. I have also been able to fit other people listed on Ancestry as DNA matches and born in Canada into this new family tree.


"It is now highly probable that one of the three brothers is my grand-father. Will I ever be able to say which one?Well, my father's first name was Charles so I'm inclining to Frederick Charles.In the meantime I'm trying to open lines of communication with my Canadian cousins and looking for photos (my dad was very tall for his age cohort and had what I can only describe as Prince Charles' ears). I am now trying to trace descendants of the three brothers to see if they would be willing to take a DNA test."


Even if it isnít possible to prove beyond all reasonable doubt which of the three brothers was the father (for example, if they have no living descendants who are prepared to test) the 'brick wall' has still been knocked down, because they all share the same parents - so, after 35 years of searching, this member's missing great-grandparents have at last been identified.



Why you need your cousins to test

If you follow my advice and test with Ancestry youíre likely to have upwards of 20,000 matches with genetic cousins, far more than at any other site. But it wonít be immediately obvious how your cousins are related to you - in fact, itís possible that you'll never know how the majority of them connect to your tree.


I'm going to assume that you've already followed the advice in my Masterclass - if so there's a good chance that by now you've found some 'lost cousins' who have already tested, or are considering doing so. This is great news - because the matches they share with you are almost certain to come from the part of your family tree that you also share.


The more closely they're related to you the more matches you'll share, but that's not necessarily what you're looking for. For example, a 1st cousin shares half your tree, so all youíre going to find out is whether the matches you share come from your mother's side of your tree or your father's. It's better than nothing, but what you really want to be doing is tackling your 'brick walls', and this usually requires more distant cousins.


The table below shows which 'brick walls' cousins of different degrees are most likely to help you solve:



Tree shared

'Brick wall' ancestor(s)



Parent or grandparent



Great grandparent



2G grandparent



3G grandparent



4G grandparent


In other words, the ideal cousin is someone who shares only the 'brick wall' ancestor(s) with you.

Shared matches can be used positively or negatively. For example, if a 1st cousin tests you'll find out which matches you share, and which you don't - enabling you to roughly split your matches into maternal and paternal.


But bear in mind that the more distant your cousins, the less likely it is that there will be a DNA match at all - the table in the Masterclass shows what the probabilities are. For example, there's only about one chance in three that two 5th cousins will have a detectable amount of shared DNA - so you probably shouldn't pay for a 5th cousin to test unless you've just won the lottery!


Finally, there's an enormous pool of cousins that you mustn't forget about - your DNA matches. They've already tested, so every match you can diagnose adds to your resources at no cost to you other than your time.


Note: please make sure you not only read the advice in my Masterclass, but follow it!



UK Biobank: 500,000 genomes sequenced by the end of 2020

Given how important DNA is to genealogy itís easy to forget that in the years to come it will be even more valuable in the field of medicine, and the UK Biobank (a registered charity) is one of the leaders in the field.


Their target is to sequence 500,000 genomes by the end of 2020, and the first 50,000 were made available to researchers this month - you can read more about the project here.


In case anyone's wondering, they didnít get the samples from one of the genealogy testing companies - the participants have all given explicit permission (and can withdraw at any time, though I canít think of any reason why they would want to). This link takes you to the participants area of the UK Biobank website.


Tip: if you want to know more about how genetics is or will be used to improve healthcare there are links to articles (mostly from the mainstream press, rather than specialist journals) here.



Whole Genome Sequencing - the next stop for genealogists?

Ever since the human genome was first sequenced between 1990-2003 at a cost of nearly $3bn I've dreamt that one day it would be possible for me to have my own genome sequenced (ideally for $1000 or less).


Last November there was an opportunity to purchase Whole Genome Sequencing from Dante Labs for the bargain price of Ä169 (the regular price quoted was Ä850). I didnít publicise this in the newsletter because at that price it seemed too good to be true, and I'd rather risk my own money than risk yours.


A month ago I received an email to let me know that that my DNA had been successfully extracted from the sample provided, and on Friday I got confirmation that the sequencing had been completed. Now all I have to do is wait for confirmation that my results are available, then figure out the best way of downloading 180GB of data (which is more than the capacity of my laptop hard drive).


What to do with it after that is a different question entirely.... as you'll see from this blog posting (which, believe it or not, I read before placing my order), I can't just upload it to one of the usual websites.



Bigamy appeal

I recently published a request from Professor Rebecca Probert who was seeking examples of unprosecuted bigamies in family trees. Here is Professor Probert's response:


Study of unprosecuted bigamists Ė preliminary findings


A huge thank-you to all those who have been in touch Ė whether by email or via the online survey Ė to provide details of bigamists who were never prosecuted. The information provided has been incredibly useful, whether it was a single data point or a richly detailed story.


I now have a sample of 355 (and rising!) to compare with those who were prosecuted and a few very clear findings have emerged.


First, those who were never prosecuted were likely to have travelled considerably further for their second marriage. Around a quarter of the sample for whom such information is available married overseas, often as far afield as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


Second, there are also a significant number of double remarriages in this sample Ė ie both spouses remarried bigamously. Clearly in such cases neither would have wished to prosecute the other! This also contributes to the higher number of female bigamists


Thirdly, quite a few waited a long time to remarry. This is particularly significant, as it was a defence to bigamy that the other spouse had been absent for at least seven years and the remarrying spouse had no reason to believe they were alive. So some of these individuals would probably have been acquitted even if they had been prosecuted for the offence.


Other trends that are emerging are the greater likelihood that the second marriage would take place in a register office and the propensity of both male and female bigamists for describing themselves as bachelor/spinster and knocking a few years off their ages!


And happily, most second marriages seem to have endured Ė again in sharp contrast to those that ended in prosecution.


I will be writing up the findings more fully for publication in a peer-reviewed journal and will include the full list of thank-yous then, but just wanted to share these preliminary findings and express my appreciation to you all once again. And if you havenít yet got in touch Iíd be delighted to hear from you!


Ironically, shortly after publishing this appeal I found the first example of bigamy in my own family tree!



Coroners may be allowed to investigate stillbirths

Until 1st July 1927 there was no way for the birth of a stillborn child to be recorded. Stillbirths are, thankfully, much rarer than they were in 1927, but they still represent 1 in 225 of all births in the UK.


According to this BBC article the government is consulting on whether coroners in England & Wales should be given the power to investigate still births, in the hope of driving the rate down even further. The consultation ends on 18th June.



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......



I'm sorry this newsletter is shorter than usual, but I've had a succession of sleepless nights (not worrying about Brexit, but suffering from a very painful sore throat which has spread to my inner ear). At least I've got plenty of books to read while I'm laying awake.


Hopefully I'll be hale and hearty by the time your emails arrive in my inbox, but if there is a short delay in replying I trust you will forgive me.


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2019 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?