Newsletter - 25th November 2016
Ancestry DNA's Black Friday Sale ENDS MONDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 15th November) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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Somerset isn't somewhere that I'd normally associate with high-technology businesses, but Living DNA - based in Frome - are planning to shake up the DNA testing market by adding a unique slant. Other companies offer ethnicity estimates that are very broad brush - for example, Family Tree DNA tell me that I'm 100% European, with 59% from Western & Central Europe and 41% from Scandinavia, none of which is surprising given the Norman invasion and Viking incursions. But it doesn't tell me whether I have ancestors from Yorkshire, or Scotland.
However the new kid on the block, Living DNA, will make use of the DNA profiles collected during the ground-breaking People of the British Isles project, which I wrote about in April 2015, in order to provide much higher resolution results. Living DNA have reanalysed the data to create 21 areas of Britain, so that there really is a chance of finding out something new about where your ancestors came from.
Of course, knowing that you have ancestors from a particular region doesn't tell you who they were - but it's a step in the right direction. Living DNA are using a brand new chip from Illumina, the company that makes the chips that are used for autosomal DNA testing by other major companies - and they've aimed for backwards compatibility, so that if you test with Living DNA you'll be able to match with cousins who tested with one of the other companies at a site like GEDmatch (although so far as I know the software to do this hasn't been written yet).
At £120 including shipping the Living DNA test is more expensive than most other autosomal tests, but I'm going to try it out - since I have several ancestors who arrived in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from I know not where. After all these years of fruitless searching some extra clues would be really handy! You can find out more (and support LostCousins) when you follow this link.
Ancestry DNA are offering their lowest ever price in the UK until midnight on Monday! At £49 (plus £20 shipping for the first kit, £10 for subsequent kits in the same order) it's £30 cheaper than their usual price, and less than half what they were charging for the test at the start of the year.
There are three advantages in testing with Ancestry:
· they have the biggest database, and are therefore capable of producing the most matches;
· they use an algorithm to 'phase' the results, reducing the risk of false matches;
· they can sometimes identify links in trees (they don't need to be public trees)
However, it's not all good news - even at this low price you're paying more than you would during the Family Tree DNA offer (which is still running - see this article in my last newsletter), and to make full use of your results you must have an Ancestry subscription (whereas Family Tree DNA and Living DNA don't charge a subscription). Another limitation that I find frustrating is the lack of information about the matches - all they'll reveal is the total length of the matching segments, and how many matching segments there are - but as a beginner that might not worry you as much as it does me.
Fortunately you can always download your results from Ancestry, then upload them to GEDmatch, where there are many free tools you can use - and it's also an opportunity to match with people who tested with a different company. Downloading your results from Ancestry doesn't, of course, take them away from Ancestry - you can continue to make matches there as new people test (and as Ancestry refine their algorithms). GEDmatch displays the email addresses of your matches so you can often tell which country they're in - information that might help you decide which matches to follow up as a matter of priority - but the flipside of this is that they'll see your email address (so some people create a new address that forwards to their main email address).
Please use this link so that you can support LostCousins when taking advantage of this offer (Tip: if you're already logged in to Ancestry log out, then click the link again).
This week New Scientist reported research which found that blood plasma from young people could rejuvenate old mice, not only boosting their physical activity, but also their memory and mental skills (you can read more about it here). But what I want to know is ,when I am going to get some of this new blood - any willing donors out there?
This week a 95% complete dodo skeleton was auctioned for £280,000 - but is there any chance that the dodo could be resurrected using DNA? Jurassic Park was unrealistic, as DNA couldn't have survived for millions of years - but perhaps one day it will be possible to recover sufficient dodo DNA to bring back this extinct bird. And if this does happen, the phrase "dead as a dodo" could have a whole new meaning!
In New Zealand the kakapo is close to extinction - at one point the surviving population of this flightless bird had dwindled to just 51, although numbers have now recovered to 123 adults. A project run by Bruce Robertson of Otago University is sequencing the DNA of every living kakapo - and if funds permit they'll also include dead specimens in museums (you can read more in this article from The Economist). The results will enable the team to encourage male-female pairings that maintain genetic diversity and eliminate genetic diseases - will the same approach one day be necessary to ensure the survival of the human race, I wonder?
Although the first orders for PDF copies of birth and death register entries arrived on, or ahead of schedule - in part thanks to dedicated GRO staff working over the weekend of 12th-13th November - a backlog subsequently built up which resulted in estimated delivery dates being put back by as much as 10 days. A PDF I ordered on 11th November was due for delivery on Friday 18th, but didn't arrive until the morning of Sunday 20th, so it seems that some of the staff have once again given up their weekend.
Some may criticise the GRO for not being prepared for the avalanche of orders, but it wouldn't be fair - remember this is a trial, intended not just to assess demand for the services, but also to test out the systems in a real-world environment.
The GRO's 2010 guidance for doctors completing medical certificates warns against naming 'old age' as the cause of death except in specific and very limited circumstances (see section 5.3 of the guide), and emphasises that 'natural causes' alone should never be specified. But it was not always thus - you might come across a 19th century which ascribes the death to 'visitation of God', as in the register entry below, which LostCousins Michael sent me this week:
In the effect the coroner was saying "I haven't got a clue, but there was no foul play and it definitely wasn't suicide". But at least that's more information than this death register entry for a 7 year-old girl sent to me by Jill:
I'd never previously seen death certificate with no cause shown, so I suggested that Jill contact the local registrar, to see whether the cause of death was shown in their register (which, of course, is the primary source - the GRO register entries are transcribed copies of the local entries). But the reply from the local district was unambiguous:
"I have checked the Register, (K/Bewdley 2 entry 178) we hold here at Worcestershire and confirm that no cause of death was recorded. Having looked at other entries in this Register there are others who also do not have a cause of death."
I was very surprised at this, so I contacted a LostCousins member who used to hold a senior position in the Registration Service, who was amazed, telling me that "In my early days in registration I was involved in the production of copy certificates for the whole period 1st July 1837 to date. I have never seen an entry where the cause of death was blank."
The new online indexes of historic births and deaths for England & Wales have not only proven their worth to family historians, they've also attracted the attention of those running One-Name Studies. A key starting point for anyone running a surname study registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies is an analysis of all the births, marriages, and deaths for that surname in the GRO indexes - and several members have reported to me that in compiling a list using the new indexes they have identified a number of omissions. Some may be the result of hard to read handwriting being interpreted differently by different transcribers - remember that whilst the GRO indexes were created just after the end of each quarter, the new indexes were created from a transcription of the GRO registers that were scanned about a decade ago as part of the DoVE project.
But whilst transcription errors are inevitable, there really shouldn't be any omissions - it's not difficult to devise a system that prevents entries being omitted altogether. However, until we're able to search the new indexes more flexibly - at the moment all searches must include a surname, and no wild cards are allowed - it will be difficult to be certain that a particular entry has been omitted. Nevertheless, when every entry on a page appears to be missing it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they’ve been omitted altogether.
When I was sent an example this week of an apparently missing page I immediately identified three possibilities. Least worrying of all is the possibility that the page was scanned, but for some reason it wasn't transcribed (or if it was, the transcription didn't find its way into the database from which the index was drawn. Slightly more worrying is the possibility that the page was not scanned, and as a result never transcribed.
But of most concern to me was the possibility that the page is actually missing from the GRO's registers. Until around 1898 the Registrar General allowed members of the public to search the registers in person - is it possible that some pages might have been stolen or destroyed? It is certainly believed that some pages from the censuses went missing during the time that public access to them was allowed, and I've personally seen a spoof census entry that was added at some point in the 20th century.
If, like me, you’re fascinated by the minutiae of civil registration you might like to look through the instructions issued to clergy in England & Wales by the General Register Office in 2015 - you'll find the PDF file here. Covering not just marriages, but matters related to baptism and burial, it will not only solve a few mysteries, but answer questions that you've never previously thought to ask. The FAQS at the end include topics such as "What do I do if I cannot get into my safe to get my registers?", and "Do I still need to check the details of someone known to me?", whilst the flowchart in Appendix B covers a difficult but topical subject, "How to establish British Nationality".
During the beta-testing of the new online indexes I identified two children who had been born to my great-grandfather and his second wife (my great-great aunt) in the same quarter of 1898, but who died the same year. At that time the PDF trial hadn't begun - the enabling legislation didn't come into force until 7th November - so I ordered the birth certificate for Alfred, one of the twins:
As you can see, the certificate gives the date of Alfred's birth, but not the time - which is normally shown on the birth certificates of twins in order to document which is the elder. What could explain the omission of the time? Clearly they must have been born on different days, as I discovered last Sunday when a PDF copy of the birth register entry for Ellen arrived:
In this case the twins were born on consecutive days in the same month, but there are cases of twins born in different months or different years. But twins can be born weeks apart - this story tells how two Irish twins were born 87 days apart in 2012.
Even more confusing, I suspect, for the family historians of the future will be the twins who were born in different countries - you can read about it here.
And whilst the time of birth is generally only shown on birth certificates for England & Wales in the event of a multiple birth, that isn't the case in Scotland, where the time of birth is always shown. For more information about Scottish birth certificates see this page at the National Records of Scotland website. But it's not only in Scotland that you might find the time of birth shown on a certificate…..
During the beta-testing of the new GRO indexes I found what I believe to be the 1843 birth of my great-great uncle Henry Till, also known as Henry Pilkington - I ordered the certificate (because at the time the PDF trial was some way away, and i thought you might like to see how little information it gives compared to the one above (no child's name, and no father's name or occupation).
Notice that the birth was registered almost exactly 42 days after the birth - I suspect that Jane, my great-great grandmother, was hoping that the father - her future husband - would acknowledge paternity. However David Pilkington's first wife, Sarah Baldwin, was still alive at this time, and he no doubt felt it unwise to publicly acknowledge that he was the father. His name is nevertheless shown in the baptism register - but the baptism didn't take place until 4 years later, by which time David and Jane were married. It was a strange match - he was 44 years older than Jane, and his daughter by his first wife was old enough to be Jane's mother. Perhaps it was a shotgun wedding, but in reverse - David Pilkington was a gunsmith!
Although Henry was a beneficiary in David Pilkington's will, he didn't acknowledge him as his son in the will = he was referred to as his wife's son.
The next birth certificate looks quite normal, doesn't it?
You've probably guessed that the parents weren't actually married - otherwise why pick this certificate out at all? But that's not all - the parents weren't Henry Stevens and Jane Rushbrook, as shown on the certificate, in reality they were Henry Rushbrook and Jane Stevens! Have you ever come across a certificate as misleading as this?
We family historians spend much of our time investigating long-dead ancestors, so wouldn't it be great to find some new living cousins - especially cousins who are as interested in family history as we are?
I discovered recently that many regular readers have forgotten that LostCousins isn't just a newsletter - there's a website where you can connect with living cousins around the world (just click on the LostCousins logo at the top of any newsletter to be taken to the home page). Everyone who receives an email telling them about these newsletters is already a member of LostCousins - the emails only go out to members - so if you haven't logged-in recently you're definitely missing out.
If you have British or mostly British ancestry then a simple calculation shows that over 200 fellow LostCousins members are your 6th cousins (or closer). You might think a 6th cousin sounds distant but, believe me, when you get back 7 generations and you've got 128 ancestral lines to investigate, you'll need all the help you can get, especially if you're using DNA to supplement traditional sources of information.
About one-third of you reading this have yet to enter any data on your My Ancestors page - the page that acts as a permanent search form, and yet it's so easy (see the Getting Started guide on the Help & Advice page for an illustrated step-by-step tutorial). When you enter a deceased relative on your My Ancestors page you can search for living cousins by clicking the Search button - and you can repeat the search as often as you wish (new members join LostCousins every day). Of course, the more relatives you enter on your My Ancestors page the more cousins you're likely to find - ideally you would want to enter all the relatives you can find on the 1881 Censuses, as they're the ones your cousins are most likely to have used. Almost everyone reading this could enter more relatives from 1881 - especially now that the GRO's new online indexes are revealing new twigs on our family tree.
Christmas is a special holiday - it's a time for family to come together, but it's also a time when we remember those who can no longer be with us. Wouldn't it wonderful to find some new cousins in time for Christmas?
Everyone has 'brick walls' in their family tree - even the Queen! But what is a 'brick wall'? A typical definition is "something that prevents you from doing something", and since what most modern family historians aim to do is research back as far as they can on every line in their tree, a 'brick wall' is something that prevents us going back another generation. In other words, it's a direct ancestor whose birth or baptism we can't find - possibly because we don't know what name we should be looking for.
It might surprise you to learn that the more experienced and successful you are as a family historian, the more 'brick walls' you'll have. Why? Because every time you knock down a 'brick wall' there are at least two more hidden behind it! There are many LostCousins members who have been researching longer than I have, but even I had 75 'brick walls' in my tree when I last counted - there's no way I could research all of those lines without the help of my cousins.
A recent enquiry from a LostCousins member prompted me to put together this piece of advice…..
I don't add someone to my tree unless I'm convinced that they're a relative of mine.
Citations don't prove anything but they do remind you why you thought someone was a relative of yours, and they allow others you might share the tree with to understand your logic. So they're a necessary but not sufficient condition.
Similarly, finding other trees online that show the same information doesn't prove anything - even if it has multiple citations. Many mistakes are made simply because the wrong information is more accessible than the right information, so if one person makes the mistake, the chances are others will too.
My family tree program allows me to record people and families who have a possible or probable connection to my tree without actually connecting them. There are lots of families whose details I recorded over a decade ago, but have yet to be able to connect to my tree. Having them present, but not connected, is extremely useful; one day I may be able to connect them - perhaps I never will - but being able to record information about them as I find it is very useful.
The program I use also allows me to connect someone who I am certain is an ancestor of mine, but where no proof exists (perhaps because a page is missing from the baptism register), with a different-coloured line, to remind me that I need confirmation from another source, possibly DNA.
If the family tree program you use doesn't allow you to do both of these things (albeit in a slightly-different way) you might want to consider changing it for one that does.
Never use an online tree as your main tree, and never post information online unless you are absolutely certain it is correct. Ideally never post a public tree online.
When it comes to adding relatives to your My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site the situation is a little more relaxed. There are times when it simply isn't possible to identify the right person on the census, especially someone who has recently left home and is working as a servant, so I introduced the 'possible relative' relationship. It's not intended as a replacement for research - it's designed for those situations where having tried everything you can't find the answer.
I hope this helps, and encourages you to complete your My Ancestors page so that I can start connecting you with the many other members who are your 'lost cousins'. Much as I like to be able to help and advise members, I can't possibly do as good a job as someone who shares your ancestors and understands the challenges you're faced with.
Hope this helps,
Note: the main family tree program I use is Genopro, but whilst it does what I want it's not necessarily the best for you; Family Historian is a very powerful program (and it was written here in Britain) - if I was starting from scratch it's the one I'd go for. Unfortunately I can't advise members on family tree programs, not even the two I've mentioned, because it's a very personal choice - what works for me may not work for you - but if a family tree program is worth buying they'll almost certainly offer a free trial version.
Earlier this month added two key sets of British army records which are held by the National Archives - but whilst you can search them at Ancestry, the images are only available at Fold3, Ancestry's partner website:
These records are held by TNA in WO116 and WO97 respectively. The latter can also be found at Findmypast, but as far as I am aware WO116 has not been online previously. You can currently get a 12 month subscription to Fold3 for $39.95 (about £33), or else you can take advantage of a 7-day free trial. If you do decide to subscribe, please use this link - it won't cost you any more, but you'll be supporting LostCousins.
Earlier this year Andrew Chapman, executive editor of Your Family History wrote an article in which he examined our ancestors' education - and, more to the point, how many of them actually had one. I thought it might be useful to draw your attention to some of the key findings since with release of the new online indexes from the GRO we're seeing more and more early birth and death register entries demonstrating that many of our ancestors were unable to sign their own names.
In England & Wales state support for education began as late as 1833 (Scotland was much quicker off the mark), and until then it was left to philanthropists to cater for the education of the masses through charity and 'ragged' schools. The Sunday School movement had started in Gloucester in 1780, allowing children to get some basic education even though they were working 6 days a week - by the time the government started to get involved about 25% of children were attending Sunday Schools.
In 1870 the Elementary Education Act set up school boards to provide for the education of children aged 5 to 13, but it wasn't until 1880 that attendance became compulsory, and even then only up to the age of 10 (in industrial areas children were an important source of cheap labour for factories, and a source of income for their hard-pressed families). You can find out more about education in England at this website run by Derek Gillard.
The newly-published Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland is probably the best of its kind, but at £400, this multi-volume work (it extends to over 3000 pages) is clearly aimed at reference libraries. Divining the origin of a surname isn't easy, so it's perhaps not surprising that works of this type tend to come in for criticism from those who have done a lot of research into a particular surname, or whose work has focused on a certain part of the country (see for example, this article from October 2014).
Of course, you could always buy the Kindle version for a mere £260…. but seriously, why not download the free sample - you never know what you might learn?
On the afternoon of Wednesday 30th November Else Churchill, the genealogist at the Society of Genealogists, will be talking about 20th century records and sources - including, but by no means restricted to, the 1939 Register. There were only 25 places left when I checked just now - so if you are interested, and are able to get to London, book now! You'll find more details on the SoG website here.
In recent newsletters we've talked a lot about errors in records, especially historic BMD records, so whilst the example I spotted online this week isn't anything to do with family history, it just goes to show that even smart, intelligent people can get it wrong. Don't worry if you’re not technical - the error in the instructional video is so blatant that anyone who knows how to tell the time could spot it!
First of all let me put it into context: in our new kitchen - now two-thirds complete - we're going to have the luxury of a gas hob. For those of you who are on mains gas it might not sound like much of a luxury, but for me it will be a real treat! Naturally we're going to have to use bottled gas (LPG), and whilst the hob is being fitted by a fully-qualified engineer, I'm the one that will have to change the bottle when it runs out - so being ultra-cautious I decided to watch this 90 second Calor Gas video which shows how to connect the regulator to the gas bottle.
The first time I watched it I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing - and nor will you. It's the first 30 seconds which so amazed me - but if you keep watching until the end there's a final sting in the tail. I don't know how many people have watched this video at the Calor Gas site, but it's had over 26 thousand views at YouTube - and when I contacted Calor to point out their error I got fobbed off. I don't suppose anyone is going to blow themselves up as a result of this particular mistake, but if the company can be as slipshod about one thing who knows what else they might have got wrong?
Note: Calor Gas don't just sell to people like you and me - they also hold a Royal Warrant as suppliers of LPG to Her Majesty the Queen and the His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
I've already mentioned Ancestry's offer on DNA tests - well worth considering if you plan to subscribe to Ancestry for the next few years.
Not surprisingly Amazon are Having a BIG sale, and you can support LostCousins when you use these links:
But if you're after books for Christmas presents, The Book People are my seasonal supplier, and their already low prices are dropping even further until midnight on Sunday, with extra discounts on more than 1600 books. As I like to give something a little special without breaking the bank I've been looking through the list of signed books, which includes books by Robert Harris, Hunter Davies, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and the late Sir Terry Wogan. There's free delivery when you spend over £25 and if you spend £40 you can choose a free gift.
The other website I'll be visiting is AllBeauty, where they have perfumes and other cosmetics at prices that beat the so-called duty-free shops. And they now claim to offer free Worldwide delivery!
You can save AN EXTRA 15% at The Book People on Monday 5th December when you use the discount code XMAS15.
That's all for now - but I'll be back soon with yet more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2016 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