Newsletter - 28th September 2015
Will we reach our target? ENDS WEDNESDAY
Save over 90% at Findmypast ENDS WEDNESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 16th September) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-14 click here. Or do what I do, and use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):
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Will we reach our target? ENDS WEDNESDAY
With 99,928 members we're getting extremely close to my target of 100,000 members by the end of September. I'd like to thank all of you who have got us this close - when I first set the target at the beginning of the month we needed an extra 645 members, so it has been a superb effort. But there are now just 2 days of the month remaining - can you help us reach the finishing line?
We all know how important it is to connect to other researchers who share our ancestors, but in the search for our own cousins we sometimes forget that our ancestors also had cousins - and that the living descendants of those cousins are our cousins.
In fact, you have many more living cousins who are descended from your ancestors' cousins than from your ancestors.
How can you use this to your advantage? It's easy - when you're completing your My Ancestors page don't just enter your direct ancestors and their households who were recorded in 1881, enter your ancestors' cousins as well.
Save over 90% at Findmypast ENDS WEDNESDAY
You've just got time to buy a 1 month World subscription to Findmypast for just £1, 1€, or $1 - click on the appropriate link below and you'll also be supporting LostCousins:
The offer ends on Wednesday 30th September, so you'll need to be quick.
Of course, they're not doing this out of the goodness of their heart - they’re hoping that some of you will continue to subscribe after the first month (in which case you'll be charged the full monthly rate). If you're not tempted to continue simply change the auto-renew setting at the bottom of the Personal Details page.
Most people who take DNA tests are in danger of wasting their money - because they haven't developed a strategy. If you don't want to be one of those people read on….
As you'll know if you've read the earlier articles in my Understanding DNA series the use of DNA tests in genealogy is shrouded in myths - for example, the myth that to solve a mystery on your father's side of the family you should test your Y-DNA, and that testing your mtDNA will provide answers on your mother's side.
The reality is that these days far more discoveries are being made as a result of researchers testing their autosomal DNA (atDNA), and there's a very simple reason why - both fathers and mothers pass on their atDNA to their children, and it's inherited by all of their children, both sons and daughters.
In this family tree we can see the descendants of John Black & Mary Brown: to keep it simple I've assumed that every family has two children, one boy and one girl, which means that John & Mary have 2 children, 4 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.
Each one of those descendants will (almost certainly) have inherited some of John's atDNA, and also some of Mary's atDNA. Whilst they won't have inherited precisely the same bits of DNA it's statistically extremely likely that there will be a sufficient overlap between any two cousins that there would be a match were they each to take an atDNA test, ie each of the great-grandchildren would match with the other 7. In this case we're talking about 2nd cousins, so there's a chance they're already in contact, but if we were to extend the chart to show the next generation, who would be 3rd cousins, it's less likely.
Now suppose that instead of taking atDNA tests the 8 great-grandchildren all take mtDNA tests, and the four great-grandsons also take Y-DNA tests - how many matches are there likely to be?
Y-DNA is passed down the male line in the same way that surnames are - I've used blue outlines to show how John Black's Y-DNA is passed on. Since the four great-grandsons have different surnames it's extremely unlikely that they have a common ancestor in their direct male line - so none of them will match each other, even though they're all 2nd cousins.
Things are a little different when it comes to mtDNA - mothers pass this to both male and female offspring, but only the daughters can pass sit on to their own children (I've used a yellow background to show how the mtDNA of Mary Black, formerly Brown, was passed down). This means that the two Violet children are the only ones to have inherited Mary's mtDNA.
As you can see, the pattern of inheritance means that the chances of getting matches when you test your Y-DNA and mtDNA are quite low - and that's assuming that the right person is available and willing to provide a sample. By contrast, when you test your atDNA you are likely to get so many matches that the challenge is to decide which to follow up!
Any one of the three tests could be the best one to use, depending on the circumstances - but because you might not get any meaningful matches at all when you test Y-DNA or mtDNA there are some occasions when you might choose an atDNA test, even though on paper one of the other tests is more appropriate, not least because you're more likely to make serendipitous discoveries when you test atDNA.
I'm now going to summarise some of the key advantages and disadvantages of each test:
(1) Y-DNA follows the surname, so a Y-DNA test may help identify the father of an illegitimate male ancestor;
(2) Where the surname matches it's possible to be more confident that people who match are cousins;
(3) It is possible to estimate roughly how long ago the common ancestor lived based on the number of differences between two samples - this minimises the amount of time spent looking for common ancestors who lived before parish registers began.
(1) This test can only be taken by males;
(2) There is a relatively low chance of matches (because you and anyone you match must share the same direct paternal ancestor); it's quite possible that you will get no meaningful matches at all.
Potentially a good way to knock down a 'brick wall' BUT it depends on being able to test someone who is in the direct male line of descent - and often there is no such person.
(1) This test can be taken by both males and females;
(2) Because mtDNA mutates very slowly indeed it is capable of identifying people who share a common maternal ancestor who lived tens of thousands of years ago;
(3) Can be used to disprove some hypotheses involving the direct maternal line.
(1) The slow mutation rate means that most people who match share a common ancestor who lived before parish registers and other records began, and in the absence of other evidence it's impossible to know which matches are worth following up;
(2) Relatively few people have tested their full mitochondrial genome; more basic tests can only be used to disprove hypotheses.
Don't even consider taking this test unless you have consulted me - the chances are you'll be throwing your money away.
(1) Anyone can test;
(2) You'll probably get large numbers of matches;
(3) The amount of DNA you share with each match provides a rough indication as to how close the relationship is;
(4) If siblings and cousins also test you can discover more matches and make more sense of existing matches;
(5) Matches with known cousins can validate your paper-based research;
(6) Most new tests taken by genealogists are atDNA tests.
(1) It can be difficult to decide which matches to follow up;
(2) Some matches may be spurious;
(3) It usually won't be obvious which ancestral line you share with your 'cousin'; the surname of the common ancestor might be one that doesn't appear in your tree (yet).
You will probably find some new cousins as a result of taking this test, but the chances of a single test knocking down a specific 'brick wall' are low. By encouraging your known cousins (and even siblings) to test you can both build on your own results and better interpret them.
Choosing the appropriate test is just the start: in the next instalment in this series I'll be discussing how to choose which company to test with.
Last week the BBC reported that the bones of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra had been exhumed in order to take DNA samples. Nicholas and Alexandra were both 1st cousins of King George V - who was 8 years into his reign when they were murdered, with the rest of their family, in 1918.
If only we could get DNA samples from each of our deceased ancestors it would be so much easier to knock down our 'brick walls', and validate our research. In practice that isn't going to happen - even finding the final resting places of our ancestors is a challenge for most of us!
If, like me, you're waiting to see what the 1939 National Register reveals you might be interested in this posting by Audrey Collins on the National Archives blog.
In the last issue I mentioned the extensive database of servants who work at Harewood House, near Leeds - the seat of the Earl and Countess of Harewood.
After the newsletter was published I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from LostCousins member Lesley, who worked as a nursery maid for the Earl between 1958-59. I'm not sure whether she would have tended the current Earl, who is a few weeks younger than me (and so would have been 8 years old when she worked for the family), but she told this interesting anecdote:
"While at Harewood I was in the nursery and a dog came in and I was playing with it. Someone in wellingtons and a flat cap came in and called the dog away. When the nanny arrived back she asked if I had curtsied as that had been the Princess Royal. The next time I met her was when she gave me a Christmas present, I did remember to curtsy that time."
The Princess Royal was Princess Mary, daughter of George V, who married the 6th Earl of Harewood, and was the paternal grandmother of the current Earl. His mother - Marion Stein, a concert pianist - later divorced the 7th Earl, and married Jeremy Thorpe, then leader of the Liberal Party.
I've just been reading a fabulous book: compiled by Peter Higginbotham, the leading expert on workhouses, and entitled Voices from the Workhouse, it provides real insight into workhouse life by quoting directly from inmates and others who had experience of these much-feared institutions. Since the Kindle version costs under £2 it’s a must for anyone whose ancestors were in danger of ending up in the workhouse.
Tip: you don't need to own a Kindle to read Kindle books - in fact, I read this one on my smartphone.
If you're not already familiar with Peter Higginbotham's website it's a mine of information on workhouses, including this article about Farnham Union Workhouse, whose despotic master James Sargeant was the great-great grandfather of Jeremy Corbyn (the recently-elected leader of the Labour Party).
These days we rely on PINs and passwords to protect us, but if we're not careful we can make it all too easy for thieves and fraudsters to relieve us of our hard-earned cash. In 2012 The Guardian published a shocking article which revealed that over 10% of people choose '1234' as their PIN - and another 6% pick '1111'.
I was reminded of this article when I read an article about passwords in the September issue of Computer Shopper which pointed out that some of the most common passwords are '123456', 'password', 'qwerty', 'abc123' and 'letmein'. We're supposed to use a different password for every site, but if that means writing them all down somewhere it could be counter-productive. On the other hand I wouldn't recommend using the same password for every site - if just one of the sites were to be hacked you would be very vulnerable.
There's not a lot of good news these days, so I was especially delighted to read that a British firm has been fined £75,000 for making spam phone calls. Not that it would worry me these days - since buying our BT8500 cordless phone with Call Guardian over a month ago my wife and I haven't taken a single unwanted call on our home line, whereas we used to get several most days.
With 36 hours to go we're just 48 members short of our target - that's 1 every 45 minutes.
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
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