Newsletter - 23rd May 2016
Free tree hints all this this week at Findmypast ONE WEEK ONLY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 6th May) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):
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Free tree hints all this this week at Findmypast ONE WEEK ONLY
I'm not a great believer in online trees, but there's a big difference between Findmypast trees and those at other sites. Unlike Ancestry and FamilySearch, at Findmypast ALL trees are completely private, which means that (just as with LostCousins) nobody else can see the information you enter.
Note: this reassuring attitude goes right back to Findmypast's roots - as a spin-off from a long-established business providing services to lawyers, a respect for their customers' privacy came naturally.
But why would you want to upload a tree to Findmypast, especially if you already have a family tree program on your own computer? In a word, record-matching - it's a great way to find hidden information that you might otherwise miss. Whether you upload a GEDCOM file or create a new tree, Findmypast will beaver away behind the scenes looking for possible matches between the individuals in your tree and the billions of records in their massive collection.
Then, when you’re ready, those possible matches are presented as hints - which you can accept, reject, or mark as a 'maybe'.
You'd normally need a Findmypast subscription to take advantage of this feature, but from 9am (London time) on Monday 23rd May, until 11.59pm on Monday 30th May you can access any records that appear in hints completely free. You can find out more here.
Need some help understanding how this great feature works? Check out the videos on this dedicated page at the Findmypast site (there's also going to be a free webinar at 4pm on Wednesday - you should receive an invitation if you register at Findmypast, but if not check the Stop Press below).
Need an extra incentive to get started? Findmypast are giving away a free 12 month World subscription every day, and there's an iPad Mini for the overall winner.
Wondering if there's a catch? Well, Findmypast will expect you to register, if you haven't already done so - but that's hardly an onerous requirement. Also, the record matching only works with 1.8 billion of Findmypast's records - but since that works out at nearly 30,000 records for each recipient of this newsletter I don't think anyone is going to come away empty handed!
Of course, uploading your tree to Findmypast doesn't mean you have to remove it from other sites - it's simply an extra opportunity to fill in the gaps in your research, one that won't cost you a penny. And if you've currently got a tree at Ancestry but haven't downloaded it before you'll find Findmypast's guide to downloading an Ancestry tree invaluable.
There's an area on the LostCousins forum where you can post your comments and suggestions (if you're a forum member) or read what others have to say (if you're not) - you'll find it here.
Whilst everyone can benefit, this is a particularly great opportunity for beginners - if you know someone who is just starting (or re-starting) their research, why not forward a link to this newsletter?
It's easy to get the impression that information stored "in the Cloud" is safe and secure, but the reality is that things can and do go wrong. Earlier this year Rootsweb - which is hosted on Ancestry's servers - was hit by hackers, and some of the information was irretrievably lost; a few years ago there were problems at Genes Reunited which resulted in some users' trees being corrupted.
Even if you don't have a family tree program that runs on your own computer, and so depend on an online tree, you should always have a copy of your own tree on your own computer.
Let's suppose you have an Ancestry tree at the moment, but don't have a family tree program on your computer - you could download your Ancestry tree as a GEDCOM file, but how would you know that it had worked correctly? Here's a great way to confirm that the process works….. simply upload the GEDCOM file to Findmypast and view the resultant tree on their site.
Do it NOW and you'll be able to take advantage of Findmypast's offer, of free access to hinted records - a win-win, in other words.
Many of the new members who have joined in recent weeks first read about LostCousins on the forum set up for the FutureLearn genealogy course that ended a few weeks ago - and it seems that their level of enthusiasm is higher than average. Already several of them have written to thank me for finding their cousins, though it isn't my efforts but theirs (in completing their My Ancestors page) that are truly responsible for their successes.
Of course, when new members find new cousins they've usually been matched with members of long-standing, so their enthusiasm is likely to be infectious - I hope so, because there are many members who haven't added to their My Ancestors entries for 5 years or more (even though they've been active in their research over the intervening period).
When did you last add entries to your My Ancestors page, I wonder? You'll find the answer near the top of your My Summary page. Is your Match Potential (shown on the same page) still below 1?
If so, then perhaps you've made the common error of focusing on your direct line? Goodness me, if everyone did that we'd hardly get any matches! That's why I continually emphasise the importance of entering the members of your ancestors' extended families who were recorded in 1881. They're the links to the 3rd, 4th and 5th cousins who are such valuable contacts - not just for the research they share, but also for the DNA that they carry in every cell of their body.
Footnote: talking of new blood, I recall reading some research recently which suggested that replacing our blood with blood from younger donors can reduce the effects of ageing - so perhaps Count Dracula had it right all along!
Many of the occupations recorded on the censuses don't exist any more, so it can be hard to know how common our ancestors' occupations were - and sometimes we may struggle even to decipher what has been written, especially in the 1841 Census (because the enumerators wrote in pencil).
In 1844 James Gilbert published a useful summary of the occupations recorded in the 1841 England, Wales, and Scotland censuses - and whilst you can buy a reprint at Amazon, you can also read it free here.
Tip: you'll find another version of the data here on the HistPop website.
There are many websites which explain what old occupations involve - use Google or follow this link to one that I often find useful.
Many people with Irish ancestry don't know which part of the island their ancestors came from. If you're in this position then there are a number of useful sources that can help.
An 1894 book based on the records of the General Register Office not only shows the distribution of surnames, but also gives information about their derivation and ethnicity - you can download it free from Archive.org (I found the PDF version worked best for me).
The Irish Times website also has a useful surname guide - you'll find it here. In particular it gives synonyms, some of which seem quite unrelated, such as 'Tackney' and 'Sexton' (thanks to LostCousins member Peter for the tip).
On Friday Findmypast added an extra 1.4 million parish records for the City of Westminster (the West End of London) - amongst them there are more than 300,000 new baptisms, 409,000 marriages, and 517,000 burials.
This is the third phase of the project - so many of my ancestors passed through London in the 18th and 19th centuries that I can't wait for the rest of the records!
Tip: records for most of the rest of London are held at the London Metropolitan Archives and are online at Ancestry - you'll find them here.
For those with links to Bristol, the City Council has an excellent collection of historic maps back to 1750, aerial photos after the Blitz and a massive collection of historical street photos available freely here.
(Thanks to LostCousins member Howard for drawing my attention to this resource.)
Some of you may have noticed that whilst I've written extensively about Y-DNA, autosomal DNA, and mitochondrial DNA I haven't talked about X-DNA up to now.
I intend to remedy that in this article, although I'm going to start by reminding you what all these different terms mean….
The term autosomal DNA refers to the 22 pairs of chromosomes that we inherit equally from our parents - one chromosome in each pair comes from our mother, one from our father. We also inherit two more chromosomes - an X chromosome from our mother and either an X chromosome or a Y chromosome from our father. These last two are known as the sex chromosomes, because they determine gender - females inherit two X chromosomes whereas males have one X and one Y.
At first this all sounds quite straightforward, until you remember that each of our parents inherited 22 pairs of chromosomes from their parents (our grandparents). If our parents had passed on all of the DNA they inherited we'd have four sets of chromosomes, not two (and our children would have eight).
If you didn't already know the answer then I'm sure you've figured it out by now - the autosomal DNA that our parents pass down to us is a mixture of their own parents' DNA, but it almost certainly won't be an equal amount from each grandparent because the process of meiosis (in which the chromosomes are mixed) is essentially random. This means if you have siblings they won't have inherited the same mix of your grandparents' DNA as you have - only identical twins inherit exactly the same DNA.
Mitochondrial DNA, usually referred to as mtDNA, is passed from a mother to all of her children. However, because males cannot pass their DNA to their offspring mtDNA tracks the direct female line. Sadly mtDNA is limited value to genealogists because it mutates so slowly - even if you match someone else exactly, the chances are that your common ancestor lived upwards of 500 years ago. However it can have probative value - it was mtDNA that helped to identify King Richard III
Y-DNA is passed by fathers to their sons - that's why it usually follows the surname, and why Y-DNA testing is the cornerstone of most surname studies. Of course, not every male with the same surname has the same Y-DNA - quite apart from adoption and illegitimacy, which remove the link between surname and DNA, very few of the surnames which survive today originated with a single individual.
Now we're ready to address X-DNA. X-DNA is tested as part of an autosomal DNA test, such as Ancestry DNA or Family Finder from Family Tree DNA. Because we have 22 pairs of autosomes but only one or two X chromosomes we're much less likely to get meaningful matches on the X chromosome, but when we do it can be a welcome bonus.
If you're female you will have inherited an X chromosome from each of your parents; if you're male you'll have inherited only one X chromosome, from your mother. You might think this makes X chromosome testing more useful for females than for males, but as with so many aspects of DNA, it ain't that simple! Here's why: if I get an X-DNA match I know with absolute certainty that the shared ancestry is on my mother's side of my tree, which makes it a lot easier to figure out who the common ancestor was.
Actually it's not just my father's ancestors that can be eliminated - because sons only inherit X-DNA from their mother's there are many other ancestors who can be excluded from consideration. I've adapted the Ancestor Chart that so many members find useful, to show which ancestors provide the X-DNA that a male inherits from his mother:
You can download an A4-sized PDF by clicking here (the original chart can be found here). The boxes which are shaded represent ancestors whose X-DNA hasn't been passed down to me, and the percentages shown indicate the average amount of X-DNA that each ancestor has contributed (the actual figure could be very different).
The pattern of inheritance is different for females - they inherit an X-chromosome from both parents - and whilst I'm sure you could work it out for yourself, I'll put together another chart in time for the next newsletter.
If you look at the chart above you'll see that I inherited 100% of my X-DNA from my mother, and of course my brother did too. You might expect, therefore, that just as our Y-DNA matches exactly (because we have the same father), so does our X-DNA.
Autosomal DNA and X-DNA matches are measured in centiMorgans, usually abbreviated as cM (if you're interested in finding out what a centiMorgan is, this page on the ISOGG website tells all). Segments which are more than 10cM long generally indicate shared ancestry; segments below 7cM usually match by chance (unless you and your prospective cousin also have longer segments that match).
But this page from the free GEDmatch site shows how little of my brother's X-DNA matches mine: the green sections are where we match, and it's likely that these are all chance matches apart from the 10.7cM section which is highlighted in blue.
How can our X-DNA be so different when we both inherited our X chromosome from our mother?
It's very simple - like all females our mother had two X chromosomes, one inherited from her father (our maternal grandfather), and one inherited from her mother (our maternal grandmother). Clearly one of us has inherited X-DNA that comes mainly or entirely from one grandparent, whilst the other has inherited X-DNA that comes mainly from the other grandparent.
In a future article I'll explain how I was able to work out which son (mostly) inherited which grandparent's X chromosome - I think you'll find it fascinating!
Have you ever comes across the Fibonacci series? This is a mathematical function that pops up time and time again in nature, and it just so happens that it describes perfectly how many ancestors from each generation have passed their X-DNA to me.
Here are the first few terms of the Fibonacci series:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34……..
What you will notice is that each term in the series is the sum of the two preceding terms, for example 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5 and so on. This in itself is interesting (for some of us) but what's really important for me as a genealogist is the fact that these numbers also represent the number of ancestors from each generation who have contributed to my X-DNA.
If you refer to the chart above you'll see that I have inherited my X-DNA from 1 parent, 2 grandparents, 3 great-grandparents, 5 great-great grandparents, and 8 great-great-great grandparents - and whilst it's not practical to include more generations on a single sheet of A4 paper, I can assure you that there would have been 13 ancestors from the next generation (out of 64), 21 (out of 128) from the generation after that, and 34 of my 6G grandparents (out of 256).
Why might this be important? There are two reasons - the obvious one is that with fewer ancestral lines to consider it's usually going to be a lot easier to determine which ancestors we share with our X-DNA cousins (compared to resolving atDNA matches).
Less obvious, but equally important, is that because X-DNA is diluted less with each generation it has the potential to reach back further. I inherited an average of just 3.125% of my autosomal DNA from each of my 32 great-great-great grandparents, but between 6.25% and 25% of my X-DNA from 8 of them.
For this reason you'll often find that you don't share any meaningful segments of atDNA with your X-DNA cousins - though when you do, that's a bonus!
Today I received an email from Ancestry which was headlined "Special Offer - Get 20% off Ancestry DNA". Whoopee!
But sadly the offer isn't quite as special as it appears - Ancestry DNA have indeed reduced their price for UK customers from £99 (plus £20 shipping) to £79 (plus £20 shipping), but it's a permanent reduction, one that was announced well over a month ago, not a limited time offer. I think they're being a bit naughty billing it as a special offer, don't you?
There are advantages in testing with Ancestry, even though they're still significantly more expensive for UK researchers than Family Tree DNA - but there are also disadvantages, one of which is the need to continue subscribing to Ancestry. Another is the lack of tools - as is Ancestry's way, they try to do everything for you, but that isn't what I personally want.
Incidentally, the email from Ancestry was misleading in another way - the strapline was: "Just how international are you? Learn where your family likely came from and connect with your unique cultural roots in a whole new way."
The reality is that most people in the UK aren't going to find out much about their ancestors' origins because this is the sort of report you'll get:
I don't know about you, but that isn't going to be very much help with my research - especially since I've yet to find a single Irish ancestor.
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so built into the LostCousins system are all sorts of checks designed to spot the most common problems. There's even a 'near match' feature that spots entries which are similar but not identical, and flags them with asymbol (the Help information on your My Ancestors page explains what to do if you see one of these).
But some errors will inevitably slip through - which is why it's important to make good use of the symbols on your My Ancestors page. I originally put them there to help me check members' entries on their behalf - but I soon found it took me longer to list the discrepancies in an email than it would have done for the member concerned to do the whole thing themselves.
Clicking will automatically carry out a search for the household in the relevant census, and if you get no search results - or if the results you get don't include the right family - then the chances are that you've entered the census references incorrectly. Of course, most of the time you'll have got the references right, and the right family will show up - but why not take the opportunity to check for other errors?
Tip: the most common error is to enter a full middle name where only an initial is shown in the census.
Talking of mistakes, there's a one hour lecture at the Society of Genealogists in London on 22nd June entitled "Guidelines and Standards - How to avoid mistakes in Genealogy". If it lives up to its billing it could be the best £8 you've ever spent! You'll find more details and booking information here.
Why is it that, when we're looking for something it's always in the last place we look?
That apparent conundrum is easily answered - it's because once we've found what we're looking for we stop searching. Which makes perfect sense…. or does it?
When you're searching the GRO indexes to find a birth, I expect that - like most researchers - you stop when you find the birth you're looking for. But have you ever considered the possibility that the same birth may have been indexed under a different surname?
In the early 20th century registrars were ordered not to index an illegitimate birth under the father's surname even if his name appeared on the certificate (which by that time would have necessitated his attendance). How do I know this? Because about 10 years ago I paid around £18 for the privilege of spending an afternoon looking through the local indexes at an east London register office, and there were instructions printed in the index books.
But not long afterwards, possibly in the third quarter of 1911, when the mother's maiden name was shown in the GRO indexes for the first time, there was a change in policy - if the father's name appeared in the register then the birth was indexed twice, once as you’d expect for an illegitimate birth and once as you'd expect for a legitimate birth.
Thus in 1921 these two entries appeared in respect of the birth of the first son of my double 2nd cousin twice removed:
Not quite what you expected? Perhaps you were expecting one of the entries to have the same surname in both columns - because isn't that how we identify illegitimate births in the indexes?
There's a good reason why the first entry appears as Ford-Robinson, not as Robinson-Robinson: in the 4th quarter of 1918 Miss Robinson had married a Mr Ford. I don't know where he came from, or what happened to him (he isn't recorded amongst the casualties of the Great War), but clearly he wasn't in the picture for very long since the birth entries above appear in the indexes for the 2nd quarter of 1921.
By 1932, when my cousin eventually married Mrs Ford, the couple had had 6 children all of them sons. It must have been something in the water because their next three children, born between 1932 and 1935, were also boys. Nine boys in a row - that must be some sort of record, surely?
Eventually a daughter came along in 1937, but guess what - in 1939 they had their 10th son! Numbers 12 and 13 were also daughters, which evened things up a bit, but what a family they must have been. I only managed to put all this together when I found my cousin and his wife on the 1939 Register - it's yet another example of how this near-census can deliver results.
Anyway the main lesson for me - and for most of us, I suspect - is that finding one birth entry isn't always enough. The same birth can appear in the indexes more than once, although I should stress that where there are multiple index entries they will almost always refer to the same register entry (and so will show the same references).
Many thanks to everyone who wrote following my comment in the last column that I had been diagnosed with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy - I learned infinitely more from fellow LostCousins members than I did in the less than 4 minutes my doctor afforded me. I also learned more useful information from you than I did from reading Taming Nerve Damage - Pain relief without drugs although as the author is a fellow sufferer, I commend her for doing her best to help others.
It's not all bad news on the health front, though - a recently-published analysis of more than 10,000 over-65s in the UK over the past two decades has shown that, overall, the chance of having dementia at a given age is a fifth lower than it was 20 years ago (though most of the improvement was seen in males). Is it a coincidence that the same period has seen a big increase in the interest in family history, I wonder - or is simply a general improvement in lifestyles? You can read more about the research in this press release on the Newcastle University website.
Do you use 1571? I've used this messaging service ever since BT introduced it, but this month I'm going to be cancelling it (and saving £1.97 a month - it goes up to £2.25 a month from July).
Why cancel such a useful service? It's not just about the cost - the fact is that the answerphone feature on my BT8500 call-blocking phone will do the same job and allow me to pick up my messages when I'm out, something that 1571 won't do.
Tip: many cordless phones include an answerphone feature, but only the BT8500 and its newer sibling, the BT8600, will block unwanted calls flawlessly, whether you're in or out. By the way, don't buy the BT8600 unless you can get it for less - there's only one difference between the two phones and it's a feature you'll almost certainly never use.
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 this issue - I'll be back soon with more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2016 Peter Calver
Please do not copy any part of this newsletter without permission. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or email a link to your friends and relatives without asking for permission in advance - though why not invite them to join LostCousins instead as standard membership, which includes this newsletter, is FREE?