Newsletter - 26th October 2018



Australian marriage certificates under threat URGENT

Where are you?

The Way Ahead: Future Challenges for Genealogy

Challenging assumptions about marriage law & practice

Breaking down 'brick walls' using DNA

Living DNA switch chips

Who owns population and census data?

Who owns your family tree?

Armistice Day Centenary

Missing pages from 1880 Census discovered

Miscarriages and still-births

The Adoption

Review: Ignoring Gravity

Life imitating art

Safeguarding the future

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 10th October) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search box between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):



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Australian marriage certificates under threat URGENT

Many of the records that family historians now rely upon weren't created with genealogy in mind - but when civil registration was introduced in England & Wales in 1837 the importance of creating a paper trail to resolve inheritance issues was one of the key drivers. The new marriage registers included information not previously recorded, including the names and professions of the fathers of the bride and groom.


When civil registration was rolled out in other parts of the UK, and in other parts of the British Empire, the information was often expanded - and some of the most detailed certificates are issued in Australia.


But now there's a danger that our descendants won't have access to the same information - it is proposed to remove key information from marriage certificates, and itís important that as many people respond to the consultation, which ends on Sunday 28th October.


As I understand it the information that will be lost to future generations includes:


1)†††††† Addresses of the marrying couple

2)†††††† Occupations of the couple

3)†††††† Parents of the marrying couple

4)†††††† Occupations of the parents

5)†††††† Details of previous marriages


Although the consultation only relates to the Notice of Intended Marriage (you can see the revised draft here) it's clear that there will be knock-on effects. Information that isn't collected at the start of the process wonít be collected later on - so the information will also be lost from marriage registers.


You can express your concern by emailing the Attorney General's Department - you'll find the email address on the consultation page.


I donít know what the motivation behind the change is, but it's clearly a retrograde step as far as family historians are concerned, even though it's only the researchers of the future who will be directly affected.



Where are you?

A LostCousins member in New Zealand wrote to me recently asking for a breakdown of where the readers of this newsletter live - and after I provided the figures he suggested that I might like to share them with you:


United Kingdom†††††††††††††††† 40,765

Australia††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 8,484

United States†††††††††††††††††††† 7,008

Canada†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 4,327

New Zealand†††††††††††††††††††† 2,838

Rest of the World†††††††††††††† 2,125


Looking at those figures you can appreciate why it is that 1 in 3 matches between 'lost cousins' involve relatives living in different countries (and usually on different continents). But wherever we live, the thing that binds us together is our interest in family history!



The Way Ahead: Future Challenges for Genealogy

Last Saturday I attended the inaugural conference of the Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG), where I heard some very interesting talks.


The RQG is a very different from other professional bodies for genealogists in that membership is entirely qualifications-based, as Ian Macdonald explained in his opening remarks (indeed, you've only got to look at the long list of letters that he has after his name on the Corporate Information page of the RQG website to appreciate the difference).


Around 90% of the delegates were female, so it was particularly interesting to hear Dr Macdonald refer to the gender bias in genealogy that results from following surnames - which are usually inherited from our male ancestors. The bias continues even today, partly because tracing a female ancestor frequently requires us to find two entries (marriage, then baptism), whereas we only need to find one entry (baptism) to take the male line back another generation.


In the following articles I report on two of the presentations that I felt were most relevant to me and to LostCousins members - after all, most of us aren't professional genealogists in the sense that we charge for our services (I certainly don't).



#1: Challenging assumptions about marriage law & practice

The first keynote speaker was Rebecca Probert, Professor of Law at the University of Exeter and a very well-known figure in genealogical circles - particularly since the publication of the eye-opening Marriage Law for Genealogists, in 2012. It's a book that is never far from my desk!


Professor Probert challenged some of the assumptions that we frequently make about marriage law and practice: for a start, the fact that a couple married in their parish church doesnít rule out the possibility that they were Catholics or non-conformists. Church of England clergy encouraged the belief that it wasn't a 'real' marriage unless it took place in church, and itís important to remember that 19th century marriages weren't the big expensive events that they are today - some vicars offered discounted or even free marriages in order to attract couples.


We know from the religious census of 1851 that about half of the churchgoing population was non-conformist, yet even at the end of the 19th century the vast majority of marriages took place in the parish church. One reason for this was the added cost, complication, and inconvenience of marrying outside the Church of England - parish churches were more numerous, and often more accessible than register offices, and until 1898 it was necessary for a registrar to be present at marriages which took place in non-Anglican places of worship. Another bar was the fee for registering a place of worship - even today there are over 5000 that are not registered.


You canít assume, therefore, that if your ancestors married in the parish church their children would have been baptised in the Church of England - often this won't have been the case.



#2: Breaking down 'brick walls' using DNA

Laura House, a qualified genealogist who is currently completing an MSc focusing on genetic genealogy gave a detailed presentation explaining how it's possible for an adoptee, or someone whose father is unknown, to solve the mystery.


Whilst autosomal DNA tests arenít the only tests available, they're generally the most useful for solving recent genealogical mysteries, because Y-DNA and mtDNA tests only look at specific lines. Laura's advice is to test with Ancestry and 23andMe, and to upload the results to other websites - in other words, itís very similar to the advice that I've been giving through this newsletter.



Living DNA switch chips

Living DNA, the biggest British company offering genetic tests for genealogists (but one of the smallest worldwide) has announced plans to switch to a different microchip from a different US supplier. Following the change all samples will be sent direct to a laboratory in the US.o:p>


Even when different test providers use the same basic chip from the same supplier it's usually configured differently - almost all of the estimated 17 million autosomal tests that have been carried out to date (more than half of them by Ancestry) have used chips manufactured by Illumina, but as many of you will already know, there can be problems comparing results produced by different chips even when manufactured by the same supplier.


The company chosen by Living DNA for their next generation tests is Thermo Fisher Scientific (they use the Affymetrix brand for their chips). Their chip will test over 759,000 autosomal markers, and about 813,000 in all - a useful increase over Illumina chips that might allow for greater compatibility.


It's too early to say how genealogists will benefit from the change. At the current time Living DNA offer the highest resolution ethnicity estimates, particularly for those of use with English ancestors. However there aren't many situations in which ethnicity estimates have helped to break down 'brick walls'.


You can read more about Living DNA's announcement in this blog entry.



Who owns population and census data?

There's an interesting article on the website of Free UK Genealogy (formerly known as FreeBMD), the charity that runs the FreeBMD, FreeREG, and FreeCEN projects. It was posted in August 2016 as a follow-up to an article the previous month about their Open Data project, but I only noticed it today thanks to a Twitter post by DNA expert (and LostCousins member) Debbie Kennett.


Free UK Genealogy exists to make genealogical data freely available, but there was an outcry from some of their transcribers when they proposed making the data available to anyone, even if some third parties intended to charge for access.


I covered this topic in some detail two years ago - you can read my original article here - but what I'm wondering now is whether the plans to make their data available to others have been put on ice? If anyone from Free UK Genealogy is reading this perhaps you'll let me know?



Who owns your family tree?

There have been a number of interesting discussions over on the LostCousins Forum recently - for example, over the past week we've been talking about the pros and cons of public family trees.


One of the concerns often raised by those who prefer to keep their tree private, and share it only with selected cousins, is the risk of their research being stolen. The counter-argument is that most information in family trees comes from publicly-available records, so it can't belong to anyone - though that's a bit like saying this newsletter can't be my copyright because all the words I use can be found in the dictionary.


A family tree is, in effect, a database - and databases certainly can be copyrighted. But whilst that might discourage someone from stealing our research, does it also entitle us to publish the information online for all to see?


That's a more difficult question, because even if we donít care about our own privacy, we have to consider the privacy of others - and whilst we don't share our entire tree with very many people, every single one of our living relatives shares part of our tree. In publishing our own tree we're potentially giving away information about living relatives, perhaps including details that some of them might prefer to be kept private.


Withholding the names of living people - as happens automatically when you upload your tree to Ancestry - is a good start, but that alone doesnít prevent family secrets being revealed. Even when there aren't any illegitimacies or hidden relationships to discover (though there usually are) it's still easy to fill in missing names using the GRO indexes for England & Wales.


Another consideration is security. Whenever we publish information on the Internet we run the risk that it might fall into the wrong hands - and whilst many scams are amateurish others are extremely convincing, particularly where large sums of money are concerned, such as a pension fund, or the proceeds of a house sale. The more information that's readily available the easier it is to put together a convincing scam.


For example, weíve all received inheritance scam emails or letters and put them in the bin, but I'm sure that if somebody looked at my family tree they could come up with a far more convincing story, one that might get my attention. After all, as family historians we're continually coming across previously unknown branches of our families - so it wouldnít be that surprising to learn that a distant relative has left a legacy.


So if you have an online tree, or are considering doing so, think carefully about the implications - not just for you, but also for your relatives. There may be something you can do to limit any possible damage.



Armistice Day Centenary

At 11am on 11th November 1918 the Great War ended; many more would die from their wounds, and still more from the ravages of Spanish Flu, but hostilities had ceased.


The 100-page November issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine has 7 articles related to World War 1, and no doubt there will be many more in other publications over the coming weeks.


If youíre thinking of purchasing memorabilia remember that the Royal British Legion has an official shop - the Poppyshop - all profits from which go to the charity.



Missing pages from 1880 Census discovered

13 schedules from the United States 1880 Census listing 633 individuals have been recently discovered incorrectly filed in Missouri State Archives - you'll find a link to the schedules here.



Miscarriages and still-births

In the last issue I reported research which has found that miscarriages are more common than previously thought - and also linked to a story about a BBC journalist whose own baby was still-born.


The article prompted many remembrances from member - including Elaine, who sent me this story:


My mother had a still-born son in December 1940 - in the middle of an air-raid. I remember my dad telling me that it was a breech birth and the midwife was wandering around the room wringing her hands, saying ďMy God, what am I going to doĒ so my dad got on his bike and cycled down the hill to the phone box to ring the doctor, but because there were no lights on, as it was a total blackout, put a half crown (2/6d) into the phone box, instead of a 1d. so jammed the phone. Eventually when he got to the doctor's, he told my dad, ďwe will be lucky to save your wife, let alone the babyĒ. Apparently my brother was born with the cord around his neck and didnít survive.


My parents went on to have twin girls 2 years later (of whom I am one)


After her mother died Elaine found this poem amongst her belongings:




The Adoption

The BBC's award-winning podcast, The Adoption, is now available as text-based story. Following a real adoption as it happens, it provides an insight into a world that most of us will never see.


But if you have the time, I'd recommend listening to the podcasts instead - there are 17 short episodes of about 8 minutes each, and you'll find them here (you'll need to log-in or register).



Review: Ignoring Gravity

The first novel from Sandra Danby, Ignoring Gravity is not a typical genealogical mystery, partly because it's about an adoptee tracing her birth parents - a challenge that most fictional genealogists keep putting off, presumably to keep up the suspense!


To be totally honest after reading the first few pages of the book I was tempted to give up - but I'm glad I didn't, because I was soon hooked, and even found myself reading in the car on the way to York, something I don't usually do (don't worry - I wasn't driving at the time). This isnít the first novel I've read where an unpromising opening has been the unlikely prequel to a jolly good story, and I suspect it wonít be the last.


The tale is set in the early Noughties, and revolves around two sisters who have recently lost their mother - or rather two women who think they are sisters when the book begins.....


Rose, the elder of the two, is a journalist who has worked her way up to a job as a reporter for a national newspaper, The Herald; Lily is married to William and desperate to have a child. Although their lives are very different they're great friends, and this helps to keep them together even as unexpected revelations threaten to pull them apart.


If it all sounds to you like a story from Woman's Realm then you're not far wrong, although it deals with topics and uses language that I certainly didn't come across when reading my mother's magazines in the 60s. But the characters are well-drawn, and mostly likeable - so I suspect you'll find it every bit as enjoyable as I did. In fact, I'm already looking forward to reading (and reviewing) the follow up, which was released earlier this year.


Ignoring Gravity is available either as a paperback or as a Kindle book. I read it using the Kindle app on my smartphone, and given the disparity in cost between the two version I'd suggest you do the same - unless, perhaps, youíre going to be in Woking on 3rd November at the West Surrey Family History Society Open Day, where you'll have a chance to speak to the author and buy a signed copy (you can find out more about the Open Day here).


As usual you can support LostCousins when you use any of the links below (even if you end up buying something completely different):†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††† Wordery



Life imitating art

If you have read MJ Lee's novella The Silent Christmas (reviewed last month) you might well have been reminded of it when you saw this BBC news item, about a football belonging to a Norfolk team which was discovered washed up on a German island.


And just yesterday evening I watched the third episode of the BBC drama Press in which a billionaire who is accused of sexual harassment manages to get an injunction to prevent a national newspaper printing his name (the real life story is here). And, coincidentally, the paper is called The Herald - just like the fictional national in Sandra Danby's novel (reviewed above).



Safeguarding the future

The 2021 UK Census wonít be published before 2122, by which time I'll be dead and gone, but it nevertheless matters to me that there are still no plans to include a question relating to birthplace, since - as all family historians know - itís information that's crucially important when tracing our ancestors (even though what appears in the census isnít always correct).


The future matters: my wife and I donít have any children, but we still care about the world that we'll be leaving behind for future generations, and I'd like to think that all LostCousins members feel as we do. Whether or not global warming has been caused by humans - as most scientists believe - the reality is that only action taken by humans can moderate the effects, at least on the timescale of human lifetimes.


Unfortunately, as so often happens, the debate over global warming has been framed by some as a political issue - it isn't. It's actually about whether we're prepared to put our own selfish interests so far ahead of those of future generations that we risk creating an environment (physical, cultural, and political) in which the very survival of the human race is in question.


Look at it this way - if the scientists are wrong, we might be a little poorer as a result of following their advice and taking action to curb emissions. But if the scientists are right, and we donít do what they say, the effects will go far beyond economics.



Peter's Tips

Recycling isnít just about putting things in the right bin - I believe in reusing packaging whenever possible. For example, glass jars are reused for the jams and chutneys I make, whilst suitable bottles are used for the sloe and bullace gins that I prepare each autumn.


And though I wouldnít buy ready-meals at full price, I often pick them up from the reductions shelves, typically at a quarter of the original price. I generally choose the dishes in aluminium trays or plastic boxes with lids - all of these are washed and reused, often many times, before eventually going in the recycling bin when they reach the end of their useful life.



Stop Press††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2018 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?