Newsletter – 24th May 2021
Save 30% at the British (and Irish) Newspaper Archive ENDS 31ST MAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 14th May) 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!
From today there's a new way to read this newsletter – you'll be able to find the latest issue at:
The main LostCousins server is backed up every night, and this often prevents the site being accessed between 1am and 2am (London time). Uploading a copy of the latest newsletter to a different server will allow members, especially those outside the UK, to read the newsletter at any time. Back issues will still be on the main server.
Note: the capital letters in the address are not necessary, but are used for clarity.
It's nearly 55 years since Mick Jagger first sang those words – it was the first line of his first solo composition for the Rolling Stones, and the first track of their album Between the Buttons, released in the first month of 1967. In those days old newspapers were only good for wrapping round fish-and-chips or as an underlay for linoleum; nowadays they can’t even be used for fish-and-chips thanks to health regulations, whilst linoleum has largely been supplanted by vinyl flooring. No wonder Jagger's answer to his own question was "Nobody in the world" (you can hear the entire song on YouTube).
In fact, these days even today's papers aren't in as much demand as they used to be – the circulations of some national newspapers aren't much higher than the circulation of this newsletter, though it’s perhaps a little unfair to compare paid-for titles to a free online publication. Indeed, it's the amount of free information on the Internet that has devastated the sales of newspapers (and encyclopaedias).
But whilst there's a lot of current and recent information on the Internet, there's a comparative dearth of historical information, especially when it comes to normal people and everyday events – the sort of things that might have been captured by local newspapers eager to fill their pages and attract new readers. After all, who wouldn’t buy a newspaper if they knew that they, or one of their friends or relatives was mentioned – in those days it was the closest most of us ever got to having our 15 minutes of fame.
The biggest online collection of British newspapers can be found in the British Newspaper Archive – since 2010 Findmypast and the British Library have been collaborating in order to put historic newspapers back into the hands of readers like you and me. Over 42 million pages from the 1700s to the 1900s are now at our fingertips, but there's a particular emphasis on the second half of the 19th century – following the abolition of tax on newspapers – and the early 20th century (before radio, and then television, started to erode their dominance).
Save 30% at the British (and Irish) Newspaper Archive ENDS 31ST MAY
From now until the end of this month (11.59pm London time on 31st May, to be precise) you can save 30% on a 3 or 12 month subscription to the British Newspaper Archive offering virtually unlimited access to over 300 million articles from millions of issues, mentioning billions of names and places.
By the way, looking at the regional distribution of the newspapers in the archive, only London has more than the Republic of lreland, hence my decision to highlight the Irish coverage in the heading.
One of the best features is the ability to restrict your search to articles added to the archive after a certain date, which means that if you're repeating a search you don’t have to plough through hundreds of results that you've previously viewed. If only genealogy websites had similar capabilities!
Unlike most of the websites that I use to research my family history the British Newspaper Archive isn't aimed solely at genealogists – it's an amazing resource for social historians and local historians. Indeed, when I'm using the site I frequently get side-tracked by an interesting article and find myself researching a topic that's completely unrelated to my family.
You can get an idea of the breadth of coverage by looking through the blog – for example, last week there was a post entitled 'An Exploration of the History and Importance of Play'; another blog entry that I found fascinating was entitled 'Food in Wartime'.
Whereas I use Ancestry and Findmypast every day, I tend to do my research on the British Newspaper Archive in brief spurts – and I suspect that many other users are the same. If your usage follows this pattern you might decide to subscribe for a month at a time, which costs £12.95 – however, during the offer period you can get 3 months for just over £18 and 12 months for £56, which makes the longer subscriptions very attractive.
This offer isn’t exclusive to LostCousins, but you won't be supporting LostCousins unless you follow my link:
BRITISH NEWSPAPER ARCHIVE – SAVE 30% ON 3 & 12 MONTH SUBSCRIPTIONS (ends 31st May)
The promotion code should be entered automatically, but if not you'll need to enter it as shown below, and click Apply:
You should see the message "You've saved 30%" against the 12-month and 3-month subscriptions. Please note that the discounted price only applies to the first 3 or 12 months, so if you want to lock in the savings for the longest possible period, purchase a 12 month subscription (it works out at just over £1 a week, which shouldn’t break the bank).
Tip: these days many people have browser extensions such as adblockers that prevent 'tracking' (it’s also an option in most browsers); if you want to increase the chance that your purchase supports LostCousins please follow the advice here before you click the link to make your purchase.
If you have ancestors from Wales there's another source of historic newspapers, one that's free – though not quite as easy to use as the British Newspaper Archive. The National Library of Wales has 15 million articles online which cover the period 1800-1919 and you can search them by following this link.
Note: there are many other sources of historic newspapers around the world – the Toronto Star is the one I've personally used most (because so many of my Calver cousins migrated there), but the best free site I've come across is the Australian site TROVE (for New Zealand newspapers see Papers Past). And don't forget to check what your local public library offers – you might be pleasantly surprised!
Without a doubt ScotlandsPeople is the best source for Scottish records, but the fact that you have to pay to view most of the individual records can be an inhibiting factor – which is why I generally recommend starting your Scottish census searches at Ancestry or Findmypast (assuming you have a subscription to one or the other, or can access the site free at your local library).
Now Findmypast are doing their best to help with civil registration records by adding records of births, marriages, and deaths – many of which seem to have been sourced from local councils. Over 2.7 million records were added last week – see this blog post for more details.
Sadly there are no images of register entries, at least not amongst the records that I checked, so you might still have to purchase a digital copy from ScotlandsPeople – for example, this is a randomly-selected record from the marriage collection:
If it's only a branch of your tree the information in the transcript might well be sufficient for your purposes – but bear in mind that Scottish register entries are more informative than the English equivalents (and cheaper too!).
I wrote earlier this month about the changes to marriage register entries in England & Wales, which will mean that from 4th May the names of both mothers and fathers will be included – bringing these countries into line with Scotland, which has included this information since the commencement of civil registration in 1855.
However it wasn't a novel idea even in 1855 – as John Wintrip's article in the December 2020 issue of the Genealogist's Magazine explains, the herald and antiquary Ralph Bigland made a similar proposal in a pamphlet published as long ago as 1764. At the same time he proposed that details of the mother's father be included in baptism entries, and that burial entries should also provide more information to allow the deceased to be more accurately identified.
Incumbents in a few parishes were inspired by Bigland's suggestions, but more importantly they seem to have inspired the proposals put forward in 1773 by the Rev William Dade (see this article).
Don’t waste money on DNA tests
Whilst I'm a great advocate of DNA testing as a means of confirming research and knocking down 'brick walls', there are many pitfalls for the unwary. A common error is to assume that a Y-DNA test, which can only reveal information about the direct male line, is a better way of solving mysteries that relate to that line than an autosomal test that looks at the DNA that can be inherited from any ancestor.
There are two key problems with Y-DNA: one is that relatively few people have taken Y-DNA tests for genealogical purposes, possibly fewer than 1 million, so the number of matches will inevitably be very, very low (perhaps around half-a-dozen); the other problem is that even where there is a match, it is usually impossible to know when the common paternal ancestor lived.
Autosomal DNA presents other problems – the main one being that because DNA can be inherited along any ancestral line, it's often a challenge to figure out how you and a genetic cousin are related. However, because the number of matches is so much higher – typically upwards of 10,000 – the chances of finding meaningful matches is also much higher.
A second error made by those who take a Y-DNA test is to choose an autosomal test with the same company – FamilyTreeDNA. There's nothing wrong with their Family Finder test – indeed, it was the first autosomal test that I took – the problem is that they have a very, very small database compared to other companies, especially Ancestry. And the only way you can get your test results into the Ancestry database is to buy their test – they don't accept transfers.
I was prompted to write this article by an email I received from a member who had attended my Zoom presentation to the Society of Genealogists earlier this month, and asked a question about my views on Y-DNA tests. She had been encouraged to submit her father's DNA for testing by someone running a One-Name Study – but of course, the objectives of a One-Name Study aren't necessarily the same as those of the individuals who participate.
Note: even those who are conducting One-Name Studies should consider autosomal DNA testing – see the article by John Titterton in the June 2018 issue of the Genealogists' Magazine.
(It's rather like the difference between lateral flow tests for COVID-19 and PCR tests – the accuracy of lateral flow tests is much lower, but if the main objective is to measure prevalence in a population, rather than give a yes-or-no answer for an individual, they're ideal because they're very much quicker and very much cheaper.)
In the case of my correspondent "the results gave me one positive answer – no link in the last 10 thousand years with anyone else". I've been somewhat luckier with my Y-DNA test, but after 9 years I still don't know how I'm related to any of my handful of matches, only that the common ancestor I share with one of them might have lived between 300-500 years ago. My correspondent further reported lots of useful matches from her mother's atDNA test, taken with Ancestry, but no useful results from her father's test, taken with FamilyTreeDNA.
Ancestry charge more than most for their DNA tests, but their test is very probably the only one you'll ever need (at least there's a major advance in technology). Test with any other company and, like me, you're going to end up testing with Ancestry in the long run – but it will have cost you more in money, time, and energy. I don’t regret testing with FamilyTreeDNA – I didn't have much choice back in 2012, and I learned a lot about what works and (mostly) what doesn't. However I learned very little about my family tree – whereas my Ancestry test just keeps delivering.
If cost isn't an issue you can use the links below to support LostCousins to order an Ancestry DNA test at any time:
Ancestry.com.au (Australia & New Zealand)
But if you're not in a hurry, wait for the next Ancestry DNA Sale and click the relevant link then – typically you can save 20% or more during a sale.
Tip: if you take the Ancestry test make sure you follow the advice in my DNA Masterclass – otherwise you'll not only waste time, you could end up wasting money too.
The Adoption matters article in the last issue prompted a LostCousins member to write to me with more details about her own experiences:
"I corresponded with you back in September 2019 when I told you about my son who found me in 2002 on the social media website Friends Reunited (see this article).
"Having read your latest article Adoption Matters: a tug of love I have to say that sadly my son's adoptive parents didn't take the news well that he had found me, despite the fact they knew he had been searching for me for over two years. As soon as he told them he had found me they felt immediately threatened, often saying things like 'we thought we are your parents but apparently we are wrong'.
"He could never convince them that no one could ever replace them, that they would always be his parents, and their relationship became so fractious that he no longer has a good relationship with them. Unfortunately his adopted sister and the rest of his adoptive family took sides with his parents: none of them could ever understand his need to know his background.
"I can see how damaging initial contact with natural parents through social media can be. I received no warning, and it was an immense shock to be confronted with very painful memories that had been locked away for more than 32 years.
"As I see it, the adoptees often believe their natural parents would be delighted to have contact, giving no thought as to how it can affect them and their families. Ironically, my son did receive counselling when he was handed his adoption papers yet that made no difference to him - he still went ahead and contacted me through Friends Reunited.
"Over the years I've tried to see the situation from his adoptive parents' perspective, but there's no doubt in my mind the whole situation of their reaction has left him psychologically damaged. Sadly, he and I only have minimal contact now."
It's something we should all take to heart – we may not have been directly involved in an adoption, but we all have secrets hidden within our family tree, some of which only come to light as a result of DNA testing. When we solve a mystery that's been puzzling us for months or years it's all too easy to forget in our exhilaration that our solution could be someone else's problem – identifying the father of our illegitimate ancestor might well cause upset for his legitimate descendants, especially if they knew and loved him.
Do you have a cautionary story that you'd like to share with other readers? We can't change the past, but we can change the future.
The article in the last newsletter about one enumerator's experience during the 2021 England & Wales Census prompted another enumerator to send me a copy of the report he had submitted at the end of his stint – I found it very interesting, and I suspect you will too!
"The training was excellent and prepared me for the work in the field. Perhaps it was just bad luck that several of the scenarios which I encountered had not been covered in the training and not really foreseen in the Self Help Guide.
"Each of us in the area almost immediately encountered housing developments which gave us challenges. An address currently in use as a car park for example or an address in use as a sales office or a show home. I recorded the sales offices and show homes as 'non-residential', as clearly, they were being used for business purposes on census day. I recorded the car park as 'can’t find property', little knowing that this would result in some other census officer being sent to look for it!
"I attended no less than 5 housing developments in the first two weeks, but quickly discovered that it was the proper thing to do to record anything not yet built as 'under construction'. This of course meant that on two working days my entire list was completed with an enormous amount of time to spare. There was no mechanism to allocate additional work. The underlying reason for this was that developers are required to submit their entire street layout and house numbering to the local authority before starting any construction, and this was the source for the census database.
"Early in the process (on the first Friday evening) I encountered a foreign language speaker (Bulgarian) with no English ability at all. The language sheet provided to us did not include Bulgarian. On my own initiative I called the “language line” number shown on the language sheet, and by a miracle I was able to get help from the agent and a Bulgarian interpreter, and a telephone appointment was made for the householder to complete the census with a Bulgarian interpreter.
"I subsequently handled four more Bulgarians and a Polish speaker. I discovered two things. First, the so-called dedicated language line was no such thing. Although it had its own special 0800 number, it in fact connected to the standard Census Helpdesk, and played out a general English language recorded message for at least 30 seconds before even trying to connect to an agent. A non-English speaker would not make any sense of this. The agents I have reached have been helpful but surprised by the fact that they are being called by a census field officer with a request for an interpreter.
"Second, the main census web site included a section in each of the 40-odd languages which explains fully everything about the census, and which, if I had known about it, I could have shown to the foreign language speakers on the smart phone to properly explain what I was about.
"There was a period early on when, along with the other field officers, I encountered householders who were adamant that they had completed the census online or on paper before or shortly after 21 March, and didn’t understand why we were following up with them. This was particularly irritating when we were sent to the same address more than once. Fortunately, as multiple field officers were giving the same feedback we were issued with an exception process for this situation, but this included the question 'Evidence seen by Officer?' I just took people’s word as sufficient evidence and answered YES.
"I had cause to attend one recently completed housing development, where I soon discovered that the postcode issued to the properties by Royal Mail was not the same as the one used by the census computer system. The 16-character code provided to householders to use when entering their census return on line was linked to the postcode, so when they tried to complete the return online and entered their correct Royal Mail issued postcode, the census system would not let them proceed. The Field Support help desk did not really have a solution for this, the only fallback solution was to issue a paper form. Some householders had really persisted using the public helpline and had succeeded in being issued with a new code linked to the correct postcode, and had submitted their return online, but in these cases the address with the wrong postcode still appeared in my workload!
"As the exercise continued, I was visiting properties where another census officer had previously been unable to contact the householder. In some cases it was very obvious that the property was vacant, as through the front windows with no curtains it could be seen that there was no furniture in the house. Sometimes a look through the windows of the porch a pile of unopened mail including a letter from the census could be seen. In these cases I recorded the property as Vacant and captured the required Dummy Information. I did not understand why the previous census officer to attend such properties did not record them as Vacant.
"Later in the exercise I attended several blocks of flats to which access is gained through a locked door, and contact with the occupier is by means of an entry phone. It did make sense to revisit such premises at different times of day, as I have been successful with some of them even when there have been 2 or 3 previous unsuccessful attempts, but the law of diminishing returns applies. In the case of Sheltered Housing Complexes, it may have been better if they had been handled as Communal Establishments, but many of these blocks were not Sheltered Housing, just regular flats.
"I had two occasions to look for Residential Boats. On the first occasion I could not find either of 2 named vessels, and reported them as 'can’t find property'. Now I know this would result in another officer being sent to look for them. Why? Because on my second occasion I was that officer making a third visit to look for non-existent boats. I spoke to the boatman on a boat which was on my list, and who advised me that he had submitted his census return, and he confirmed that the other two named boats had never been moored at that location. In view of this I reported them as 'Unaddressable Objects' in the hope that no-one else’s time would be wasted looking for them.
"I did not encounter anyone interested in telephone assistance from the Census Support Centre. Once or twice I have asked householders if they would like to phone for help, but such householders have declined and asked for a form to fill in."
I wonder whether anyone reading this newsletter met the Field Officer for their area? I'm sure you're all far too conscientious to have omitted to send in your return, but from reading the report above it seems possible that you'd had an encounter of the enumerating kind as a result of some glitch in the system. Please don’t write to me, instead post your contributions on the LostCousins Forum where everyone can read them.
Hmmm… it doesn't have quite the same impact as "On your bike!", which according to the Cambridge Dictionary is a rude way of telling someone to go away (though not necessarily the rudest one that comes to mind). Some of the earliest forerunners of the modern bicycle were known as velocipedes ('fleet of foot' in Latin) and even today the term vélo is the French equivalent of our word bike, whilst a velodrome is an arena with a cycling track.
However the word velology has nothing to do with bicycles – it’s the study and collecting of vehicle tax discs, which were first issued in the UK a century ago, but were discontinued in 2014. I became an amateur velologist about 25 years ago when I realised that the annual tax discs might possibly have some interest to future generations – though at the time I didn’t realise that it was an established hobby, or that there was a fancy name for it. Although bicycles are vehicles the term velology apparently derives from Vehicle Excise Licence.
VeloBind is a trademark of the General Binding Corporation – when I ran my software business we had a VeloBind machine, which we used for presentations to important customers, though I don’t think any of them were particularly impressed. I think we must have acquired it second-hand – in fact most of the office furniture and equipment, and even some of the stationery was pre-owned (as they delicately call it these days). My most distinctive memory of the VeloBind machine is of how sharp the plastic prongs were – there's an example here; they always seemed to find one's most vulnerable spots, rather like the prongs on the Spiraliser I was given for Christmas.
Note: if you think collecting tax discs is weird, see this story about someone who made £2500 selling old crisp (potato chip) packets on eBay. As we transition to a digital society all sorts of things will become rarer - who knows what will be the highly sought-after collectibles of the future?
When I last wrote about this Australian mystery in 2019 it was to say that permission had been granted for the body of the unidentified man, known as 'Somerton Man' to be exhumed. However it was only on Wednesday of last week that the process commenced, as you can see from this BBC News article, which states that "The case is part of Operation Persevere, which seeks to put a name to all unidentified remains in South Australia".
Meanwhile in Canada DNA analysis has enabled skeletal remains to identified as those of Warrant Officer John Gregory, one of the sailors on Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage. You can read more about this discovery here.
Browsing the British Newspaper Archive I came across this intriguing article from the Essex Newsman of 7th December 1929:
Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD, and used by kind permission of Findmypast
Apparently the lad had presented himself at the front of the class, and when asked by the visiting Prince what he wanted, requested an autograph. The Prince replied "Sorry, old man; if I sign yours I shall have to sign all the rest."
Full marks to young Geoffrey for putting himself forward – I decided to find out what happened to him after 1929. When the 1939 Register was compiled he and his mother Violet (née Walton) were both initially recorded as living with Geoffrey's elder brother Albert and his wife in Buckhurst Hill, Essex – but you can see from the image below that Geoffrey's entry has been deleted, and the words 'Duplicate Registration' have been written above. It's not that unusual for someone to be recorded twice in the 1939 Register, but this is the first time I can recall seeing a duplicate registration that has been marked as such. The reference for the correct register entry is shown in black ink against the duplicate.
Note: the fact that someone appears twice in the 1939 Register doesn’t usually mean that the entries are duplicates – in almost every case one entry is merely a continuation of the other, and in this case they are usually cross-referenced in red ink. (If you think you've found an exception, please post it on the LostCousins Forum rather than writing to me.)
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
You may also have realised the date of birth shown (27/11/1915) doesn’t tally with the age of 15 given in the newspaper report; nor does it agree with his birth registration entry:
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0
In reality Geoffrey was at an establishment in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where his correct date of birth and second initial were recorded (I could confirm the birth date by looking up his father's WW1 pension file):
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
Sadly the only other records I've found are of his death, cremation, and probate – he died in March 1967 aged 52:
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0
Although £3632 doesn't sound a lot by today's standards, it was the price of an average house in the UK in 1967 – though whether it would have bought a house in Bayswater, I'm not certain. I've splashed out £1.50 on a digital copy of his will – it will be interesting to see who inherited his estate, as he doesn’t seem to have married.
Note: there is one public Ancestry tree which includes Geoffrey William Walton Gill, but it's not easy to see how (if at all) he's related to the owner of the tree – sadly this is a serious limitations of Ancestry trees (especially compared against LostCousins).
What happened to Dr Gompertz, the headmaster of Leyton County High School? Less than a week later the Chelmsford Chronicle reported that he was retiring, a decision that had apparently been announced some months previously. But an article published in the Lancashire Post on 5th December 1929 suggests that the headmaster's suspension of Geoffrey Gill was regarded as more controversial than the Essex Newsman article, published two days later, implies.
Click the headlines to the right to see the full article in the British Newspaper Archive – if you haven't used the site before you can get three free pages simply by registering.
Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD and used by kind permission of Findmypast.
An article in the Daily Mirror on 12th December 1929 revealed that the school governors had endorsed the headmaster's decision to suspend the schoolboy pending a discussion with his father – a previous article in the Daily Mirror on 6th December had suggested that the suspension was too severe a punishment. Both articles are available in the British Newspaper Archive.
Dr Maurice Gompertz was born Moses Aaron Gompertz in South Shields on 19th May 1868. After his retirement he seems to have moved back north, as in the 1939 Register he and his wife were recorded in Northumberland. His retirement seems to have been a long one – he died in 1958 at the age of 89 (by this time he had moved back down south, to Eastbourne). His son Ernest was one of the three executors of his will – also in the teaching profession, he had by 1939 dropped the surname Gompertz in favour of his middle name Huxley.
More mysteriously, one of the other executors of Maurice Gompertz's will was named as Sarah Gompertz, widow. However, the wife of Maurice Gompertz was Jane Elizabeth – who had died 10 years earlier – and I can't find another marriage for Maurice. Could Sarah have been the widow of another family member, I wonder? If you manage to solve this puzzle, or have some suggestions, please post your thoughts on the LostCousins Forum so that everyone can see them.
Reading about Geoffrey Gill reminded me of The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan's 1946 play about a naval cadet who was falsely accused of stealing a postal order – I saw it in the theatre in the early 1970s.
Coincidentally the February 2021 issue of The Devon Family Historian has an article by Robert Holgate in which he describes the discovery amongst his wife's family papers of two postcards sent to members of the Archer-Shee family whose experiences inspired the incident on which the play was loosely based.
On the Wikipedia page for George Archer-Shee I discovered these images of the two postal orders at the heart of the case:
There's something strange about the second postal order – why does Archer-Shee's name appear where the payee would normally sign? Was it a way for Basset-Lowke (the company he was buying from) to cross-reference the payment to his order? Please post your thoughts and comments on the LostCousins Forum.
Earlier this year I mentioned that, prior to his marriage to the future Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh had been a Danish prince; what I didn’t realise at the time was that half a century earlier another Danish prince had married an English princess – or that they had ended up as King and Queen of Norway.
In early 1936 King George V died and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, succeeded to the throne as Edward VIII. Later that year the News Chronicle published this chart showing the order of succession as it stood at that time:
Image © Peter Calver 2021
Prince Albert, Duke of York, was next in line to the throne (he succeeded in December 1936 as George VI), but some of the names lower down the list were previously unknown to me, and may well be unfamiliar to you. 14th on the list was Maud, the youngest sister of George V, who had married Prince Carl of Denmark in 1896; in 1905 Prince Carl had succeeded to the Norwegian throne as King Haakon VII of Norway and his only son, Alexander of Denmark, had become Prince Olav of Norway (he reigned as King Olav V from 1957-1991).
Olav was 15th in the line of succession to the British throne; his daughters Ragnhild and Astrid were in 16th and 17th positions - Princess Astrid, now 89, is still in the line of succession to the British throne (though she was never in the Norwegian line of succession). It seems the descendants of Queen Victoria dominated the monarchies of Europe in the early 20th century – it's amazing what you can learn from a newspaper cutting found in an old scrapbook!
Note: extensive though it is, the chart doesn’t even show all of the children of Queen Victoria.
I've been able to negotiate an extension to the offer, so readers in the UK can still get 6 issues of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine for just £9.99, less than the price of two issues from the newsagents – just click this link.
The offer for overseas readers has also been extended – there are big discounts on 13 issue subscriptions, but the price varies according to where you live, so I'll leave it to you follow the link above and check what the deal would be in your home country.
I'm not sure whether it's got anything to do with the pandemic, but in recent months my usual supermarket has changed the packaging for many of the items I purchase from non-recyclable to recyclable. There's still a fair amount of packaging that ends up in the rubbish bin, but most of it is dark-coloured plastic that has probably been recycled at least once before arriving in my shopping basket..
I've also noticed over the past year that almost all of the magazines I subscribe to have begun to arrive in packaging made of paper or compostable plastic. Many years ago I suggested to one magazine that they adopt the US system and abolish packaging altogether, sending the magazines through the post unwrapped, but with a small paper tab to seal the edge opposite the spine – but apparently this wouldn’t conform with Royal Mail requirements.
Here in the UK many of the COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed, but my wife and I haven't done anything we wouldn't have done previously – even before the latest changes case numbers were on the rise, thanks largely to the more infectious variant that is thought to have originated in India.
So far the evidence is that the vaccine is effective in reducing infection and hospitalisation, but scientists are unable to say how much more transmissible the B.1.617.2 variant is than the Kent variant (which currently dominates), and the estimates I've seen are quite wide-ranging.
But you don’t have to wait for the scientists to reach a consensus – you can estimate the likely impact of the variant by adjusting the R number. For example, if this was 0.8 when the Kent variant was dominant, then – other things being equal – the R number would increase to 0.96 if the Indian variant is 20% more transmissible, but to 1.2 if it is 50% more transmissible. Anything below 1 is fairly good news, anything above 1 is definitely bad news because it foreshadows exponential growth in infections.
Looking at recent case numbers in the UK and the way that the growth in the Indian variant is driving the increase in total case numbers, especially in England, I'm fairly pessimistic about what the statistics will eventually show (see the chart in this BBC article, which highlights the increasing proportion of cases which are due to the new variant). However that doesn't necessarily mean that a further lockdown will be necessary – if the vaccine roll-out continues at the current pace the R number for the new variant should gradually come down. The big question is how soon we can get it below 1 again.
The government roadmap published in February specified 21st June as the earliest date that all restrictions in England could be lifted, but clearly there is going to be some delay. What happens in June will depend partly on factors outside our control, but also on factors within our control – the extent to which we continue to take precautions over the next few weeks.
Note: whilst what I've written largely relates to England, it's likely to be relevant to readers in other countries, especially countries in Europe.
Just after this newsletter was published Findmypast announced an extension to their agreement with the British Library which will lead to an adddional 14 million pages being added to the British Newspaper Archive between now and 2023.
© 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.