Newsletter – 22nd November 2020
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 17th November) 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!
The Findmypast which I wrote about in my last newsletter ends on Monday 23rd November. They haven't given a time for when the offer ends, but my hope is that it will run until midnight (London time), which will be 4pm Monday in California, 7pm Monday in New York, and 11am Tuesday in Sydney.
UPDATE: the offer continued past the announced closing date, but has now ended.
For full details of the offer, and how you can get a free LostCousins subscription follow this link to my article in the last issue.
Note: please bear in mind that you can only support LostCousins when you use a link that I've provided – there is no back-up system. Thanks!
The Genealogist has been busy digitising Royal Air Force Operations Record Books from WW2, releasing a further 1.8 million records. These daily journals from various RAF squadrons are fully searchable by name, aircraft, location and many other fields. For more details see my May article which accompanied the original release.
Note: you can save £20 on a 4 month subscription to The Genealogist, and get a free subscription to Discover Your Ancestors online magazine if you follow this link.
This BBC News article about a Canadian man who came across his grandfather's wartime photo album includes some wonderful photos.
Growing up, Thomas Edelmann had heard rumours about the family business and suspected it had previously been owned by Jews who were forced to sell to his paternal grandfather, Wilhelm. 80 years later he decided it was time to apologise, as this CNN article explains.
In Islington, north London, a baptism service with around 30 attendees was halted by police – you can read more in this BBC News article.
I often get queries about the General Register Office online indexes and ordering PDFs, but if you look closely you'll find that most of them are answered on the FAQs page of the GRO's site, which you'll find here.
For example, it tells you the years for which PDF copies of birth and death register entries are available – and whilst it doesn’t explicitly mention that PDFs are not available for any marriage register entries, you can probably figure that out. There are two practical factors that determine whether PDFs are available: one is whether the entry has been digitally scanned, the other is whether it is included in the GRO's online indexes. Neither applies to marriages.
Note: in 2017 Phase III of the GRO's PDF trial did offer PDF copies of marriage register entries, as well as birth and death entries outside the usual range. However, at £8 the price was one-third higher than for other PDFs (then £6), and only slightly lower than the price of a certificate (then £9.25). I suspect that the failure to offer this service subsequently is because it wasn't financially viable.
What the GRO site won't tell you, however, is about the differences in how their new birth and death indexes were compiled – for that and other useful information see my November 2016 newsletter. It also won't tell you that there's a better alternative to their birth indexes – see the next article.
Note: if you're researching in Scotland you can download historical register entries instantly, and for a very reasonable cost - visit ScotlandsPeople for more information. If you have Irish ancestry it’s even better – most of the historical birth, marriage, and death registers are not only online, but free!
When I started researching my family tree I spent a lot of money on the wrong birth certificates – because prior to 1911 the birth indexes didn't include the mother's maiden name. It was annoying, but it was the way things were in those far off days.
It's just over 4 years since the General Register Office launched their new birth indexes, which include the mother's maiden name from 1837, but they're still using the same clunky search with the same frustrating limitations. Fortunately Findmypast came to the rescue, doing something that nobody else has attempted – they gradually upgraded their own birth indexes (based on the original quarterly indexes) by adding the mother's maiden name, which made searching so much easier!
So when I'm looking for births to a couple in my tree I don’t start at the GRO site, even though it's free – I start here, because searching at Findmypast is also free (you will need to register, or log-in, but you only need a subscription to look at the transcript/image).
Not everyone realises this – just this morning I had an email from a LostCousins member pointing out that, even using the fuzzy matching options, the GRO site wouldn't find the birth of one of his relatives, because the mother's maiden name had been spelled slightly differently.
Others use FreeBMD because it's free, or Ancestry because that's where they have a subscription. Trust me, searching the birth indexes at Findmypast is 10 times better than searching at other sites whether they are free or not, and whether you have a subscription or not.
Of course, you won't see the mother's maiden name in the search results, whether or not you have a subscription - the whole point of this tip is that you can find all of the entries for a specific father/mother surname combination, but with the benefit of Findmypast's smarter fuzzy matching should you need it. (The one thing that the GRO site is good at is telling you the maiden name once you've found an entry - this tip is about finding the entry in the first place.)
So, the next time you want to find pre-1911 births in England and Wales, follow this link:
Tip: try free searches of other records at Findmypast – when you search an individual dataset there are advanced search options that will help you find records that you might miss at other sites. Of course, you’re never going to find a record that isn't in their database, but given the billions of records in their collection there's inevitably a big overlap with records at other sites.
This Masterclass was last published in January 2020, and has been updated to include additional record sets and to reflect changes since that date.
I'm sometimes contacted by readers who don't get the same excellent results as me when they search at Findmypast - so I'm going to tell you how I transform their searches….
The first thing you need to appreciate is that there are two ways of searching at genealogy websites. One is to enter lots of data on the Search form in the hope that some of it might lead to the record you're looking for - this type of search works best at Ancestry, where it typically produces lots of results (though most of them won't be relevant).
The other approach is to put the minimum amount of information on the Search form, see how many results you get and - only if there are too many results to glance through - filter the results so that you're only left with those that are most relevant. This type of search works best at Findmypast.
Because I'm so busy I prefer the second type of search - most of the time the record I'm looking for is on the first page of search results, so I get there very quickly. I even cheat by using wildcards rather than type long surnames in full - this has the secondary benefit of sometimes picking up records that might otherwise have been missed.
How minimal should your searches be? If I'm searching the census I'll typically enter just a forename, a surname (possibly using wildcards), and an approximate year of birth. I rarely enter a place of birth as this tends to vary so much from one census to another, but when I do I enclose it in wildcards, eg *London*
Different surnames require different tactics. The surname Smith is very unlikely to be spelled differently or mistranscribed - but you are likely to get lots of results, so you'll need to narrow your search in some way. By contrast, when I'm searching for my Vandepeer ancestors I'm more concerned about misspellings than anything else, so I'll typically search for v*d*p*r* and leave the other boxes empty.
Tip: even as you’re filling in the search form Findmypast are looking to see how many records they have that match what you have typed so far; a running total is displayed on the Search button so you'll know when there's no point entering any more information.
Put these tips into practice and you'll immediately see the difference. But don't stop reading, because I've got another, even more important, tip for you - one that even Findmypast won't tell you!
Did you realise that at Findmypast there can be three or more ways of searching for the same historical record? Would you like to know which of those three ways I use myself? Yes, I thought so…..
The gateway to all of the different approaches is the Search menu:
Let's suppose that you were hoping to finds one of your ancestors in the 1881 Census - you could choose Search all records, or narrow down your search by clicking on Census, land & surveys. But I wouldn't choose either of those options - I'd go to the precise record set I'm interested in by clicking All record sets, the option beginners are least likely to choose (but the one I use 99% of the time).
Why do I search specific record sets, rather than starting with a wider search, then homing in? Because it's the only way you can access some of the key search options. For example, when I search the 1881 Census directly the Search form offers an enormous amount of choice:
But half the fields - the ones I've highlighted in red - don't appear on the Search form when you choose Census, land & surveys.
So do what I do - whenever possible focus in on the specific record set of interest, whether it's a census, a collection of baptism registers for a specific county, or one of the hundreds of other record sets.
Tip: one of the secondary benefits of using this approach is that you'll get to know the records better. Because they come from many different sources there are all sorts of quirks - for example, some parish register transcriptions will be very detailed, others very basic.
Here's a table of links that will enable you to jump straight to some of key resources at Findmypast without going through the Search menu (all searches are free, so you don't need a subscription unless you want to look at the records themselves, though you will need to register or log-in):
1881 British census (FREE transcription)
1939 Register (England & Wales)
* these parish register links will take you to the baptisms for the county
Note: there are a few record sets which currently can't be found using the A-Z of Record Sets; for example, if you're looking for the Chelsea pensioner records you'll find them under British Army Service Records because Findmypast have grouped together all service records. Other instances reported to me involve Australian cemetery records. But 99 times out of 100 the A-Z is the best solution.
Finally, another useful tip - one that even regular users of Findmypast frequently miss. When you search an individual dataset you'll see a list of Useful links & resources to the bottom right of the page - and when the records in question are parish records there will usually be a link to page with a list of parishes that are included, showing the dates that are covered.
Tip: the parish register links in the table only cover counties for which Findmypast has images of parish registers; thanks to Findmypast's close links to family history societies they also have transcripts of register entries for many other counties, some of which are very comprehensive.
I'm very grateful to LostCousins member June Horbury for allowing me to publish this article:
When my adoptive father died in December, 2001, I was looking through his things and came across a shabby, old box which contained his legal documents, and there it was, my adoption certificate, issued by a court in Woodlands, Doncaster, Yorkshire. It stated I was 3 weeks old when I was adopted. I always knew I was adopted but as soon as I saw my birth mother's name, Eileen Morris, on this old piece of paper, something stirred inside me and I knew, at that moment, I had to try and find her. My husband told me to leave well alone and in some respects I wish I had. (A warning here, if you have been adopted and try to find your long-lost family be prepared for failure or rejection.)
How could I find her? Questions were going round and round in my head. How do I start my search? How old was she when I was born? Was I to presume she had married? How many years after my birth was this marriage? I attended the General Register Office in London and after many visits I found her birth and marriage certificates. I now had her married surname. Anyone who is a family historian knows how time consuming it is to find one little piece of information. 18 years ago there wasn't very much information on the internet.
Once we had the surname my daughter and I decided to write letters to all the people in the telephone book in the Yorkshire region with the surname Tyas. We said we were looking for family tree information and included contact telephone numbers. We received many phone calls, but no information about Eileen Tyas. We had given up hope of trying to find her. Then it happened! I was at my daughter's house and the phone rang. The lady at the end of the phone said she had information about Eileen Tyas, and that she was in fact Eileen's daughter, Carol. I was speechless. An invitation was given to my daughter and I to visit Carol at her home. We were made very welcome. She told us that Eileen was still alive and living in her own home in Doncaster. I was going to arrange another visit but my daughter said we should tell them why we were there. It wasn't just to gain information to produce a family tree. They were shocked as they didn't know of my existence.
At first, Eileen denied she had given birth to me but eventually said it was true. I sent her photographs of myself and my family and told her I had had a wonderful life. She replied giving information about herself but said she did not want to meet me, and returned my photographs. The most upsetting part of the letter was when she told me about the circumstances of my conception and that she would not give me my birth father's name. I was devastated by this news.
However, I did appreciate the circumstances she found herself in following my birth. The year was 1938: she was an 18 year old unmarried mother, living with an uncaring foster mother and a father working away. Her own childhood had been tragic and that was why she was living with a foster mother. Was she to have a termination considering the way I had been conceived? Would I be a reminder of the conception and what affect would this have on her seeing me every day of her life? If she kept me, how could she possibly look after me and bring me up? The only thing she could do was to have me adopted.
I still wanted to find my birth father. However, the law states that people adopted before 12th November, 1975 are required to receive counselling before being given access to adoption information. This is required because some natural parents and adopters may have been led to believe that their children would never be able to trace their original names or identity of their parents. People adopted after that date are not legally required to have counselling (though it is advisable). I was 62 but had to see a counsellor, which I did.
I then contacted the Doncaster Magistrates and Family Court, completed the relevant application forms and waited for an appointment. A few weeks later an appointment was sent requesting me to attend the court. It was very official and on entering the court building I was directed to the relevant side court. I did notice from various conversations that some people were there because they had allegedly committed criminal offences. On entering the side court I was told I must only address any questions to the Clerk of the Court. I believe the other two people in attendance were magistrates, and they would decide if any official documents could be released to me. However there was very little information in my file - just a letter from my adoptive mother's doctor, who had instigated the adoption. Sadly my father's name was not on any of the documents. The Clerk told me that in 1938 adoptions were dealt with very differently.
I was still not giving up trying to find him. My half sister gave me information about a very elderly lady, Dorothy May Parry, who was the daughter of Eileen's foster mum and lived in the same house as Eileen in 1938. However, she would not meet me although she did tell me my mother had a long term boyfriend of 21 months, but said she couldn't remember the name. I looked at the electoral roles to see if a male lived in the house at the time my mother lived there. I found the name Edward Lyford and checked this out. Had I exhausted all avenues to find my father? Perhaps not! When my birth mother died another opportunity presented itself. Amongst her belongings was a photograph of a young man on a motor bike. Scribbled on the back of the photograph was the name Cliff Dawson, Was this another lead? This photograph wasn't the only secret which was revealed. Something which happened at my mother's funeral shocked the family, once again producing yet another family member.
Whilst my adoptive mother and father, Robert and Edna Banks, were alive I did not ask them who my birth parents were as I felt this would be disrespectful towards them and would upset them. They had chosen me to be their child and although they did not have much money they looked after me as best they could. My birth mother gave birth to me but my adoptive parents were the ones who had brought me up and nurtured me. If you haven't been adopted you perhaps do not realise that a lot of stigma was attached to adopted children at the time I was born, which is something else I had to cope with.
When I met my sister Carol and the rest of my birth family, 18 years ago, I decided to research my birth ancestors and produced a Eales/Morris/Tyas family tree. For a good many years they have asked me to write a story about my life and during lock down I used all my research and wrote my book. You certainly learn more about your family than just looking at your family tree. The book contains original letters, family photographs, one of which is over 100 years old. Over the last 18 years my birth family have told me many stories which I have included in the book. I am now 82 years old and my story is told over 8 decades from the start of WW2 and depicts life and times from then until the present day.
Take care. Stay safe
June Morris,Banks, Horbury
I haven't had a chance to read June's paperback yet, but all 12 of the Amazon.co.uk reviews give it 5 stars, which is pretty amazing, don't you think?
I recently published an unusual marriage register entry from 1803 where there were 13 witnesses, far more than the legal minimum of two. But there are circumstances in which there can be many more witnesses even than 13.
For example, the Royal Family aren’t like the rest of us – the Royal Marriages Act 1772 set out the conditions that a member of the British Royal Family needed to satisfy if they wanted to marry, of which the prime requirement was to obtain the consent of the current sovereign.
Whereas the marriages of the rest of us are recorded by the General Register Office, you won't find the 1947 marriage of Queen Elizabeth (then Princess Elizabeth) to the Duke of Edinburgh in the GRO indexes. But you can see their marriage register entry in this article on the Royal Family's own website. As you can see there were a lot of witnesses who signed the register – about 20, in fact, including the reigning monarch, King George VI.
Quaker marriages are another exception – usually everyone present is invited to sign the register, although the minimum requirement is still only two witnesses (see this page for more information about Quaker ceremonies). The excellent record-keeping of the Quakers led to them being exceptions from Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act (along with Jews).
In the last newsletter I mentioned the confusion that can be caused differing ways of writing dates, and briefly touched on the difference between the US and the UK when it comes to gallons. As many of you will know a US pint is 16 fluid ounces, whereas an Imperial pint is 20 fluid ounces – so on the face of it British pints, quarts, and gallons are 25% bigger in volume.
But it’s not nearly as simple as that, because fluid ounces aren't the same on both sides of the Atlantic – they're roughly 4% bigger in the US. The net effect is that in round terms Imperial pints, quarts, and gallons are not 25% bigger than their US namesakes, but only 20% larger.
My research into this topic suggests that the differences are not the result of the US Colonies rebelling against Imperial measures, but the consequence of Britain redefining the measures in 1824, long after the War of Independence. Now, don’t get me talking about bushels…. that's when it really gets complicated!
It's Black Friday this week, though in a year like this it seems a little bit strange to be shopping for anything but groceries. If there are some outstanding offers of genealogical interest you might hear from me again, but for now here are links you can use if you want to support LostCousins when shopping at Amazon:
Ancestry UK have just extended their DNA offer and cut the price further, to just £49 plus shipping - please use this link (offer ends 30th November). Remember you don't have to decide who ia going to test in advance, and when you order more than one test shipping works out a bit cheaper.
Ancestry Australia have now done the same - the new price is $85 plus shipping, the lowest I can remember - please use this link (offer ends 30th November).
Must go now – can’t decide whether to cook Spaghetti Bolognese or Chicken & Mushroom Risotto for dinner this evening. If only decisions in life were always so simple!
© Copyright 2020 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.