Newsletter – 21st October 2023
Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA tests SALE ENDS MONDAY
Ancestry.com subscriptions reduced SAVE 40%
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 6th October) 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!
1944 years ago, in 79AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, engulfing the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and destroying hundreds of papyrus scrolls in a library at a villa in Herculaneum (believed to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar). Now, almost 2000 years later, scientists are managing to decipher some of the writing on the charred scrolls.
In the mid-18th century an attempt was made to slowly unroll the charred papyrus of some of the scrolls, but they disintegrated – see the photos in this article on the University of Kentucky website. More than 250 years later scientists began to develop techniques that could read the handwriting without unrolling the scrolls, and this 2018 article from Smithsonian Magazine describes the progress up to that point.
In March this year a competition was set up with cash prizes for various achievements in reading the scrolls, and last week it was announced that the first word had been successfully read from an unrolled scroll – by a 21 year-old student.
I suspect the same technologies could be used to read more modern documents which have been damaged by fire – provided that they have survived reasonably intact, as in the case of documents in a safe or filing cabinet. Unfortunately nothing short of a time machine can bring back the 1931 England & Wales census since the charred remains were disposed of following the catastrophic fire in December 1942.
Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA tests SALE ENDS MONDAY
Last Saturday I spoke about DNA to members of Suffolk Family History Society in the lovely new premises of Suffolk Archives at The Hold, Ipswich. I have more ancestors from Suffolk than any other county, so I was particularly keen to encourage members of the audience who hadn’t already tested to do so, and to remind those who had already tested how they could make the most of their results.
And now it’s your turn: remember that DNA is the only record that cannot lie, and it’s often the only way to fill gaps in the written records – and, having taken just about every DNA test there is over the past 11 years, the Ancestry DNA test is the only one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. But it’s not just about taking the right test, you also have to follow the best strategies in order to knock down ‘brick walls’ – so make sure that you not only read my DNA Masterclass, but follow the straightforward advice and the simple techniques that you’ll find there.
Please use the appropriate link below to order your test so that you have a chance of supporting LostCousins with your purchase.
Tip: if the link doesn’t work for you, please log-out from your Ancestry account and click it again.
Following my articles about George Carr, my childhood next-door neighbour who – I found out 60 years later – used his cousin’s identity when marrying in 1920 (and continued to use it for more than a quarter of a century), Carole wrote in with a true story of her own. In this case, however, many of the people involved are still living, so the names and some of the other details have been changed to protect the individuals concerned.
In a Dorset market town in 1967, a 25-year-old nurse called Jane had a whirlwind romance with a handsome young New Zealander of a similar age. He had been introduced to her as Bruce Brent-Walker, and he told her that he was a TV news reporter in his home country – he certainly looked the part. Jane introduced him to her parents and, within a few weeks, the couple decided to get married. The ceremony took place in the local registrar's office with just a few of her closest friends and family in attendance (Bruce’s friends and family were on the other side of the world).
Not long afterwards, Jane was watching a TV news report with some friends. To everyone's astonishment, Bruce Brent-Walker's name appeared in the caption - the biggest surprise being that Jane's husband Bruce was not reporting at the political event in New Zealand, but with them in the same room. Also, it was instantly evident that the Bruce Brent-Walker on TV looked very different from his namesake.
An explanation was demanded, but was not forthcoming, and so the police were called. Jane’s husband was questioned, whereupon he admitted that Bruce Brent-Walker was not his real name – though he didn’t divulge his true identity. Police in New Zealand investigated, and it became clear that the real Bruce Brent-Walker and his family knew nothing about the impostor – who disappeared from Jane’s life and was never heard from again.
An extremely upset Jane was advised to forget all about 'Bruce' and continue with her life as if she had never married him. Jane took this advice to heart and, about four years later, married a nice young man called Tony. They bought a house in her home town and later produced three sons.
Jane always refused to talk about her experience and Tony, not wanting to pry and upset her, only understood from Jane that she had once attempted a marriage which 'never happened'. Though her family knew of her first ‘marriage’ they were convinced that this marriage, to an unidentified conman, was null and void.
But many years later, a mystified Tony, by now a widower in his eighties, discovered that despite the circumstances, Jane's marriage to an unidentified man was not null and void, and that he himself had been the counterparty to a bigamous marriage. Even worse, it must surely mean that their children were illegitimate….
What an awful position for Tony to be in! When Carole told me this story I felt it unlikely that Tony had committed an offence, and was able to reassure Carole accordingly, but considering how important this all was to Tony and his family I contacted Professor Rebecca Probert at the University of Exeter for her advice, as she is a leading expert on marriage in England & Wales. I’m sure most of you have a copy of Professor Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists* on your bookshelf (if you don’t, you jolly well ought to!), and I’m fortunate that because of the help that LostCousins members have provided over the years when Professor Probert has needed examples for her research projects, she looks kindly on my requests for assistance.
In the next issue I’ll tell you what Professor Probert had to say, and whilst the circumstances of this case are quite unique there are important lessons for all of us. We all have ancestors who married, or didn’t marry, or might have married – understanding the law as it stood at the time is key to our understanding of the decisions they took.
* you can read my review of Marriage Law for Genealogists here
This month Ancestry have added two datasets that are likely to be of interest to those of you who have Royal Naval or Royal Air Force officers in your tree.
The smaller of the two datasets contains over 32,000 wills of Royal Navy and Royal Marines warrant officers and ratings, covering the period 1786-1882, though the vast majority seem to relate to men who served in the Napoleonic Wars. In some cases there is additional correspondence included, though I didn’t come across any in the records I looked at. Most of the wills were made on pre-printed forms, though there can be quite a lot of handwritten information.
There are over 100,000 records for RAF officers who served during 1918-19 which generally include the serviceman’s permanent address, and the name and address of their next of kin – as well as rather cryptic details of their postings.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a higher proportion of RAF personnel were officers than in the other services.
We all know the importance of recording our sources, but it can sometimes be difficult to find the information. For example, at Ancestry it’s now necessary to click the Source tab in order to view the Source Citation for a record.
Here is the record for Joseph Keehner, my 2nd cousin 3 times removed, in the US 1880 census – on the left is the record transcription, which is found under the Details tab, on the right is the Source Citation, found under the Source tab.
It might seem obvious, but those of us who have been Ancestry members for 20 years or more are used to finding the Source Citation and the transcript in the same place.
You may have a similar problem at FamilySearch, where there is a not-very-obvious link entitled Document information.
At LostCousins we use census references to define a specific census page – put that information together with a name and age, and 100% accurate matching becomes possible.
Tip: at LostCousins nobody else can see the information you enter – even your cousins can only see the relatives they share with you, and then only if they have already entered them. No other genealogy site offers such accurate matching combined with privacy.
Few families had a car in the 1930s. My paternal grandfather did, but only because he worked as a manufacturer’s representative selling lace and similar products. Whilst my father lived to 94 he never learned to drive, so when my grandfather no longer needed a car he gave it to a cousin.
Much more interesting is the story of the 94 year-old man who, intent on making a model of his father’s 1930s classic car, searched online for photographs of similar examples only to find that his father’s car was up for auction – albeit in need of restoration!
I often wonder what happened to my first car, a January 1965 MGB roadster with wire wheels, overdrive, and no synchromesh on 2nd gear, which meant I had to learn how to double declutch. Have you ever encountered a car that you never expected to see again? Please post your memories in the LostCousins Forum, where there is a dedicated area for Comments on the latest newsletter.
Ancestry.com subscriptions reduced SAVE 40%
If you’re in the US you might be interested to know that Ancestry are currently offering a 40% discount on 6 month memberships – please follow this link to take advantage of the offer:
Limited time: 40% off Ancestry® 6-month memberships! Ends 10/31. Terms Apply.
Note: although you don’t have to live in the US in order to subscribe to Ancestry.com you will probably find it better, and possibly cheaper once exchange costs and taxes are taken into account, to subscribe to your local Ancestry site.
In the last issue I showed you a 1793 burial entry from Weybridge, Surrey where the surname had been transcribed by Ancestry as Keener, and by Findmypast as Keene. I was hoping that it read Keene – and there were certainly Keene families in the parish – otherwise it would cast doubt on the baptism I had found for my great-great-great grandmother Elizabeth Keener (or Kuehner) at Mitcham, Surrey in February 1793.
© Surrey History Centre, Surrey County Council. Used by kind permission of Findmypast
I originally came across this burial entry at Ancestry, where the Surrey register images had been scanned from microfilm (and we all know how problematic microfilm can be!). These days archivists are keen for the registers in their vaults to be scanned in colour, and when Findmypast took over the contract, researchers with Surrey ancestors got access to colour scans.
However the first time I had an opportunity to examine the high-resolution scan above was when I was writing the newsletter article – and that’s my excuse for not noticing that that the word ‘Infant’ was in parentheses, something that a couple of readers pointed out in the Forum discussion that followed the release of the newsletter. That changed everything – but left me wondering how old could a child be, and still referred to as an infant in a parish register?
In legal parlance the word ‘infant’ was equivalent to ‘child’, and referred to someone who was not an ‘adult’ – but bearing in mind that the age of majority was 21 (until 1969, when it came down to 18) it’s highly unlikely that the two words were interchangeable in parish registers.
These days the term infant tends to be used for ‘babes in arms’ – though as I attended an ‘Infants school’ from the ages of 5 to 7 clearly there is some scope for discussion. When trying to clarify the previous meaning of a word it’s necessary to refer to contemporary sources, and in 1755 Dr Johnson’s Dictionary defined an infant as “A child from the birth to the end of the seventh year” (under the age of 7, in other words). He used the same definition in the 1773 edition, which predates the burial register entry by just 20 years.
In the past I’ve always interpreted the word ‘infant’ in parish registers as referring to a baby or, at most, a toddler – but from now on I’m going to be looking at those entries in a different light.
Even before I began visiting the US regularly more than 40 years ago I was intrigued by differences in pronunciation, not only between England and America (reputedly described by George Bernard Shaw as “two nations separated by a common language”), but also within the two countries.
I can remember on one of my visits to Chicago having difficulty getting the taxi driver to understand the words ‘Chicago Hilton’, and I tried the alternative pronunciation of ‘Chicago’, with a short ‘a’ – only to discover that it was ‘Hilton’ he didn’t comprehend!
When I discovered that Oxford University Press had, in 2006, published the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation: the Essential Handbook of the Spoken Word I was determined to buy it – and for a little more than £6 (including postage) I acquired a second-hand copy in very good used condition through Amazon.
There are around 20,000 entries including placenames, the names of famous people past and present, words that are often mispronounced, and even a few tradenames – though the Tesla listed is not the eponymous car manufacturer, but the scientist whose name the company adopted.
Frustratingly there is nothing to say how we should pronounce ‘clematis’, a flower that even the presenters on Gardener’s World can’t agree about, nor does the surname ‘Cholmondeley’ feature, but there are several different options for the pronunciation of ‘Featherstonehaugh’, some of which I’d never come across before.
If you can pick up a copy for around the price I paid, I think you will agree that it was a good investment.
As a boy in the late 50s and early 60s I used to read every science fiction book I could find, including everything that John Wyndham wrote. Trouble With Lichen was his 1960 novel about a lichen extract which prevents ageing and prolongs human life.
Every few months there seems to be a new theory as to how we can prolong our lives beyond the allotted three-score-and-ten, but it was this article about the rare lichens that are only found in British rainforests that caught my eye this week. I hadn’t even realised that we had rainforests in this country, though having been caught in a torrential storm on Friday 13th I’m not completely surprised.
The loss of an obscure plant species may not seem that important, but the loss of human DNA certainly is. Although we pass on DNA to our children, they don’t inherit all of our DNA – only a random 50%. Make sure that key information in your DNA is preserved by taking a test before it is too late!
As a former software developer and publisher I tend to be quite critical of websites that don’t work very well, and since I order groceries from Tesco most weeks I tend to pick up quite a few anomalies.
Whilst having bread and cheese as the main meal of the day might sound strange, when the bread is Tesco Finest Cranberry Raisin and Cashew Bloomer, and the cheese is well-chosen and well-aged, it makes the perfect accompaniment for the crisp, tangy Egremont Russet apples from our garden. But can I order the bread? Not without great difficulty!
The first problem is that it’s often out of stock – but even when it is in stock, it can be impossible to order unless you know precisely what to type in. For example, if you search for ‘finest bread’ it doesn’t show up (though some other ‘bloomers’ do), nor does it appear if you search for ‘cranberry’.
Choose ‘cashew’ as the search term and you’ll be luckier – but only if you’re persistent, since it was the 89th of 104 results when I tried today. To be fair, ‘finest bloomer’ works wonders – it’s the 4th of 5 results, but surely it ought to be a lot easier to find?
It’s not just Tesco who make things more difficult than they ought to be – I’ve had a lot of complaints from members who have attempted to support the LostCousins project by purchasing a subscription, but get stuck on the payment screen, because it isn’t obvious what to do after ticking the box alongside “I’m not a robot”. That page is on the WorldPay site so there’s nothing I can do about it – but I did this week get to speak to a senior technical person at WorldPay, who has promised to look into the problem (which also affects the GRO website).
In the meantime, the ‘trick’ is to scroll down until you see Make payment and a tick icon – but don’t click Make payment as nothing will happen, it’s the tick that you need to click. They don’t make it easy, do they?
Ancestry's recently released Royal Navy wills collection includes the wills of warrant officers and some ratings, but not commissioned officers as I assumed when reading Ancestry's description.
I’ll be back soon with more news and tips from the wonderful world of genealogy. In the meantime, remember that your ‘lost cousins’ are depending on you – so please enter your cousins from 1881 so that your cousins from 2023 can connect and collaborate. You know it makes sense!
© Copyright 2023 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?
Many of the links in this newsletter and elsewhere on the website are affiliate links – if you make a purchase after clicking a link you may be supporting LostCousins (though this depends on your choice of browser, the settings in your browser, and any browser extensions that are installed). Thanks for your support!