Newsletter - 23rd September 2016
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 11th September) 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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Regular readers of this newsletter will know that in 2013 I warned four times about security shortcomings at Yahoo, a warning that I repeated in February 2014. You won't, therefore, have been surprised to hear yesterday's revelation that 500 million Yahoo email accounts were hacked in 2014.
Of course, there's always someone warning about something, and if we took heed of every possible threat we'd become paranoid. But perhaps when someone you know and trust issues a warning which is backed up with numbers, it's time to consider it seriously? Here's what I wrote in May 2013:
"Over the past 12 months I've received spam emails from only 4 members whose Gmail accounts had been hijacked (out of 6500), 42 from members with Hotmail or other Microsoft addresses (out of 14400), and 105 from Yahoo or Yahoo-managed accounts (out of 16600).
"These figures suggest that your email account is about 10 times more likely to be hijacked if you have a Yahoo account than if you have a Gmail account, and about 5 times more likely if you have a Hotmail account."
Details are still coming in about the 2014 breach, which was revealed just after Yahoo was acquired by Verizon in a $4.8 billion deal (and if that sounds like a lot of money, consider this - in 2008 Yahoo turned down an offer from Microsoft worth $44.6 billion!).
If you're in the UK you can get a free 3 month Britain subscription when you take out a subscription to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, one of my favourite family history mags (I've read every page of every issue since Issue 1)!
You'll pay just £20.45 for 6 issues (a £10 saving compared to the cover price of £5.25 per issue), and since a Findmypast Britain subscription would normally cost £9.95 a month it could be argued that you're saving nearly £40 in all.
Note: because I'm already a subscriber to both I haven't tried out this offer myself, but I suspect your subscriptions will continue automatically unless you cancel them before the renewal date; also your Findmypast subscription won't include the 1939 Register, as this is only included in 12 month subscriptions.
To take advantage of this very generous offer just click the banner above (or this link). The offer lasts at least until the end of the month, but could finish at any time after that.
When I wrote in the last newsletter about baby names I focused on forenames (or given names), not realising that nowadays you can also choose your child's surname when registering his or her birth (many thanks to Stephen for pointing this out).
If you follow this link to the Citizen's Advice website you'll see that in England or Wales "The parents can give the child any first names and surnames they choose and the surname does not have to be the same as the parents…. A mother may give the child the same surname as the father if she wants, and she does not need the father's consent to do this."
Furthermore, "In the case of a child whose parents are not married to each other, the mother can record the father's name in the birth entry."
A birth, marriage, or death certificate is a certified copy of an entry in the respective register - but it doesn't actually PROVE anything. The fact that the registrar has signed the certificate provides assurance that the information shown matches the register entry, but it doesn't express any opinion at all about the accuracy of the details in the register.
Marriage certificates are most likely to contain errors - some deliberate, some accidental, some the result of ignorance. I reckon that at least half of all 19th century marriage certificates include at least one error, usually the age of one or both of the parties, or the identify of one of the fathers. The fact that the marriage took place in the presence of two or more witnesses provides little reassurance - they could have been pulled in off the street.
Death certificates are another unreliable source - ages are often wrong (with a tendency to round them off as 80, 90 etc) and even if the informant was a family member you might find that the wrong forename is given. And as for birth certificates - there's no guarantee that someone who appears to be married to the mother had actually been through a formal ceremony, nor that they're the father of the child. I've even seen a certificate where the wrong mother was identified - and so have you (it was in my July newsletter).
Tip: in general it's a mistake to assume that 'official' records are likely to be accurate - military records are a good example of their fallibility!
It's frustrating when we can't find our relatives in the census - if you're like me you'll try lots of different ways of searching before finally giving up. But sometimes they can't be found - because part of the census is missing.
There's a very useful page at the Findmypast website which lists the parts of the England & Wales and Scotland censuses which are known to be missing - you'll find it here (you don't need to be a Findmypast subscriber to view the page).
Note: information has been recovered from some of the water-damaged records from the 1851 Census for the Manchester area, and can be found at Ancestry (there are about 165,000 additional names).
Most of the historic birth, marriage, and death registers for Ireland went online earlier this month (see my article in the last newsletter for dates and links). I know from the emails I've received that many of you have made discoveries already, but Jenny wrote to me about an aspect that I hadn't considered:
"I have finally broken down a little brick wall that has been bugging me since the 1911 Census was released. When looking for my grandmother and family in Belfast in 1911 I found that her parents had had 7 children not the 5 we as a family knew about (I love the fertility census) but we had no way of finding out anything about the missing siblings until this week - not only have I found the birth dates of granny and her siblings but the births and deaths of the 2 little ones that didn't make it."
It's a sad topic, of course - but how much sadder it would be if they were completely forgotten!
ScotlandsPeople is currently closed as preparations continue for the launch of the brand new site on Monday 26th September. Existing users should find that their credits, searches, and saved images are still available.
Update: at 11.38am on Monday morning the site had still not opened - clearly the work has over-run.
Dr Tanya Evans, a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia is interested in learning about the motivations for your family history research, and the emotional impact of your discoveries. Her last book, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, was a history of Australia's oldest surviving charity which she wrote in collaboration with family historians, and she has also acted as a consultant for the Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are?
Whether you live in Britain or Australia, Dr Evans would like to hear from you - her email address is Tanya.Evans@mq.edu.au
No two people approach their family history in the same way - we all have slightly different objectives and ways of working. At one end of the scale are those for whom the documented facts are little more than a framework on which to hang plausible, but imagined, stories - and at the other end are those who believe that the hard facts are all that matter.
The latter approach can be dry and uninteresting - but the former can be dangerous, because by adding our own embroidery we're creating something that could have happened but probably didn't. This is fine if you're writing historical fiction, because nobody expects it to be factual, but when we write down our family history it's important to make clear which elements are factual, which have been deduced from incomplete data, and which are figments of our imagination - otherwise future generations might take what we've written at face value.
What tempts us to turn facts into fiction? Perhaps it's the realisation that the bare facts are only likely to be of interest to the few members of our own family who share our enthusiasm for genealogy, whereas books by writers of fact-based historical fiction like Philippa Gregory sell to the multitudes. To those of you who want to become successful authors I say good luck to you - but please, when you're writing about your own family (or anyone else's, for that matter), never write fiction that masquerades as fact.
I suspect that most of us chart a middle course, discovering as many facts as we can, but filling in the many gaps with hypotheses - our best guesses. So long as we don't manage to convince ourselves that they're true (and sadly this is more easily done than you might think), there's no risk of harm - unless we start sharing them with others, when it becomes very risky. Why? Because when we pass on information to others it's likely they'll accept it as true simply because they trust us - and this will apply even if we attach a 'health warning' to certain bits.
Anyone familiar with the Internet will know that interesting and plausible fictions are more likely to be passed on than dry facts, and this is one of the reasons why so many online family trees are riddled with errors. Another reason is that sometimes the truth is hard to find - perhaps because the relevant record isn't available online or has been wrongly indexed - and in this case there's often someone who plugs the gap with a record that sort of fits, which then gets copied by others who don't know any better.
For those of us who really care about the truth genetic genealogy is a wonderful innovation, because it not only offers the potential to knock down 'brick walls' and unravel mysteries, it also provides us with the opportunity to validate our past research - and whilst DNA can be a very complex topic, the way in which it is passed from parent to child (which is all you really need to know) is remarkably easy to understand.
If you missed out on the recent Sale at Family Tree DNA there's some great news - the Houston-based company has decided to cut the regular price of its Family Finder (autosomal DNA) test to just $79 (plus $12.95 shipping). For someone in the UK this works out at around £64, significantly less than Ancestry DNA, who charge £99 (£79 plus £20 shipping) to UK customers.
The two tests are essentially the same, but the cost of the test isn't the only factor to consider - at Ancestry you have to be a subscriber in order to view the trees of your DNA cousins, whereas at Family Tree DNA there are no ongoing charges whatsoever. Another important factor is that Family Tree DNA provide you with tools to analyse your matches, including a Chromosome Browser - which shows you which parts of your DNA match with each of your cousins. By contrast Ancestry provide no tools and give you very little information about the match.
There is one key factor in Ancestry's favour - many more researchers have taken their test. However, whilst this might mean that you get more matches in total, it won't necessarily translate into more close matches - the ones that are most useful - because until last year Ancestry weren't actively marketing their test outside the US. Indeed, the only confirmed match my brother has had at Ancestry is with an 8th cousin - whereas I've matched with a 3rd cousin once removed at FTDNA.
Whichever company you choose to test with you can support LostCousins by using the relevant link above when you place your order.
Tip: you can connect with cousins who tested with a different company through the mostly-free GEDmatch website; also, if you test through Ancestry you can transfer your results to Family Tree DNA (there is a one-off fee of $39 to get full access to your matches).
When it comes to autosomal DNA tests it doesn't matter whether you're male or female because autosomal DNA is inherited by sons and daughters from both their mothers and their fathers - so in many cases the best person to test will be YOU!
However, something to bear in mind is that autosomal DNA tests only have a limited reach. Before going any further I suggest you take 10 minutes to print out the blank Ancestor Chart I provide and fill it in - the 5 generations of ancestors that the chart allows for neatly matches the reliable reach of autosomal DNA. Go even one generation further back the chance that your own DNA will match your cousins' DNA is well under half (so if both your parents are still alive it would be better if they tested - there's absolutely nothing your DNA can tell you about your ancestry that theirs can't).
Once you've filled in the chart use a highlighter pen to mark the 'brick walls' in those 5 generations - I've got 11 of them, most of which have been taunting me for a decade or more, and I suspect your tree won't be very different. The next step is to consider which of your cousins share those 'brick wall' ancestors - you should take into account ALL of your known cousins (ie don't limit yourself to the cousins who are also researching their tree). Cousins are very, very important when it comes to DNA testing, because the most difficult part of the process is determining which part of your tree you share with your DNA matches - and if both you and a known cousin both match with the same person, you can be pretty sure that the common ancestor is on one of the lines that you and your known cousin share.
Note: in writing about DNA matches I use the term 'known cousin' to refer to cousins whose relationship to you has been established using conventional research, ie there is a paper trail; this helps to distinguish them from your matches, who I sometimes refer to as 'DNA cousins'. If we're lucky we'll be able to find the documentary evidence to convert some of our 'DNA cousins' into 'known cousins'.
It might surprise you to learn that when we're trying to knock down 'brick walls' our distant cousins are generally more useful than our close cousins - that's because distant cousins share fewer ancestral lines, so it's easier to identify which line you share with a DNA cousin. So before you start spending out on DNA tests make sure that you've done everything you can to connect up with your distant cousins, including entering on your My Ancestors page all the relatives who were recorded on the 1881 Census (it's your ancestors' cousins who will connect you to your own distant cousins).
If you really want to knock down your 'brick walls' then simply testing your own DNA probably won't provide the answer - you will get hundreds or thousands of matches, but unless some of your known cousins have tested it's going to be very difficult to figure out how you're connected to each of your DNA cousins. At the same time, we can't afford to pay for all of our cousins to test - which means it's exceedingly useful to know which of our cousins have already taken an autosomal DNA test.
Tip: please update your My Details page to show whether or not you have taken an autosomal DNA test - very soon I'll be updating the website software so that you'll be able to see at a glance which of your cousins have tested (and they'll be able to see whether you have tested). It's yet another reason - as if you needed one - to encourage your cousins to join LostCousins!
It's appropriate that this book was published in the year that Britons voted - albeit by a narrow margin - to leave the European Union, because if there's one thing that comes through from Adam Rutherford's writing it's how similar we all are, no matter where we live or what we look like. Indeed, as he reminds us, everyone with European ancestry shares a common ancestor as recently as the 13th century, whilst it has been calculated that everyone in the world has a common ancestor around 3600 years ago.
Rutherford takes us on a journey through our genetic history, teaching us about DNA and inheritance en route - and as someone whose own ancestry is even more diverse than that of Boris Johnson it's no surprise that he repeatedly stresses the similarities between peoples. As a prolific writer and broadcaster who studied genetics at University College London he has some amazing connections - including Debbie Kennett (LostCousins member and DNA expert), who he refers to as "the superlative genetic genealogist".
In the book we learn about the contributions that Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Francis Galton and others have made to our present understanding of genetic inheritance - as well as the contribution that Neanderthals have made to our DNA. One of the most interesting chapters deals with the interbreeding which led to the demise of the Spanish Hapsburgs, from whose ranks came every Holy Roman Emperor for two centuries - the family tree of Charles II of Spain was so intertwined that instead of having 254 ancestors in 8 generations he had just 82. Believe me, after reading this book you'll be looking much more closely at those cousin marriages in your tree!
This is a book I want to keep on my bookshelf, so I bought the hardback, rather than the Kindle version (the paperback won't be out until September 2017). Whether, like me, you have an interest in matters scientific, want to better understand the history of the human race, or simply want to learn some of the background to DNA testing, this book is a good read - whilst it's over 400 pages long it took me less than a week from beginning to end, even though I was doing 101 other things. But don't take my word for it - take a look at the reviews at Amazon.co.uk, then follow one of these links if you decide to buy it: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com.au
Note: on Sunday 25th September Adam Rutherford will be speaking at New Scientist Live, at London's ExCeL convention centre - his sessions are at 12.30 and 2.30, in the Brain & Body Theatre.
Like many of you I'm a lover of genealogical mysteries, but I have so many books piled up waiting for me to read that I was in two minds when Terry wrote from Canada to recommend The Irish Inheritance by M J Lee, a writer I hadn't come across before - especially since I don't have any Irish ancestry (that I'm aware of). But after reading the Amazon reviews, more than half of which give it a full 5 stars, I decided to give it a try: I was immediately hooked!
The hero - or rather, heroine - of the story is Jayne Sinclair, a former police detective who resigned from the force following the death of her colleague - and decided to apply her detective skills to genealogy. She's blunt and pragmatic, which prompted the one negative reviewer on Amazon to describe her as "pretty obnoxious" - but she didn't come over that way to me, perhaps because I share some of her traits (or maybe it's because I watch so many crime series on TV). Her client is a rich American with only a short time to live: born in England, but adopted as a young child by an American couple, his dying wish is to track down his birth family.
It seems like a fairly simple case, because the adoption took place in 1929, after the introduction of legal regulation in England & Wales - but Jayne soon discovers a conundrum: the man who fathered the child had apparently died 7 years previously!
For me it was an interesting introduction to the events of the 1916 Easter Rising - I don't know for sure how accurately the author has represented the events, but with his background as a university researcher in history I suspect he knows what he's taking about - and, judging from the amount of detail, he certainly seems to have done his homework. But just how the events of 1916 eventually led to the adoption of a 4 year-old child in 1929 is something you'll have to discover by reading the book - I'm not going to give it all away!
Available on Kindle (for just £1.99 in the UK) or as a paperback, The Irish Inheritance is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca (using any of those links will support LostCousins, even if you end up buying something completely different).
By the way, since the full title of the book is The Irish Inheritance: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery I have a feeling we're going to be seeing more of the heroine in the years to come - which is very good news for those of you who share my taste in books!
Transcriptions of over 450,000 parish records for Nuneaton and north Warwickshire are now online at The Genealogist thanks to their partnership with Nuneaton & North Warwickshire Family History Society.
Cheshire Parish registers now browsable
Findmypast have long had parish registers for Cheshire on their site, but up to now it hasn't been possible to browse the registers - but from today it is. Follow this link to try out the new feature.
Tip: browsing registers can often lead to serendipitous discoveries - it's not just a way of overcoming transcription errors.
One of my longstanding 'brick walls' is in north-west Kent: my 3G grandfather, a wheelwright from Essex, married at Old Charlton in 1830, apparently to a local girl - but I couldn't find her baptism, even though copy registers for St Margaret's Lee, her supposed place of birth, are at Ancestry as part of the London Metropolitan Archives collection.
So, when I realised that a LostCousins member I was corresponding with was involved with the North West Kent Family History Society, I mentioned my conundrum in the hope that there might have been something I'd missed - and it turned out that a transcription of a 1961 copy of the baptism register DID include my ancestor's baptism. I still need to make a visit to Lewisham Archives to view the original register - but I thought that the least I could do was mention the society in my newsletter, since without their help I'd never have thought it worth trekking all the way to Lewisham.
Note: in the December issue of the NWKFHS journal there will be a LostCousins discount offer - so if you've got ancestors from the area, now is the time to join the society that exists to aid and encourage the study of family history and genealogy in South East London and North West Kent - the annual subscription is just £10. Even better, wait until 1st October, and your subscription will run until the end of next year!
Richard Mallaby, who parachuted behind enemy lines in 1943 and played a key part in securing the surrender of Italy to the Allies, is to be honoured today at a ceremony in Tuscany. Although Dick Mallaby died in 1981, his three children will receive the medal from the Mayor of Asciano. You can find out more in this article in the Daily Telegraph.
Talking of James Bond, I heard last week that Tom Hiddleston has been named as a possible successor to Daniel Craig - so I decided it was about time to watch The Night Manager, which we'd recorded when it was shown in the spring. My wife and I really enjoyed it - we were on the edge of our seats much of the time! Although the series is no longer available online through BBC iPlayer, if you live in the UK it's possible to buy a digital copy through the BBC Store.
Last week I did something I've never done before - but apparently someone in the UK does it every 3 minutes. That's right, I put petrol in my diesel Yaris.
Most people realise their mistake almost immediately, but I didn't - I not only started my engine, I drove 6 miles before it gave up the ghost about a quarter of a mile from my house. Potential disaster, as my friendly mechanic explained over the phone, because whereas diesel acts as a lubricant, petrol works the other way round - the car would be a write-off if the high-pressure pump had been damaged!
As you can imagine, this was not what I wanted to hear, but there was no point hiding from the truth - and it was my own silly fault, after all (I was thinking about a dozen other things at the petrol station rather than focusing on what I was doing). But instead of crawling into a hole and going to sleep, which was I felt like doing, I racked my brain for a solution - and had a brainwave: might it be something that was covered by my comprehensive motor insurance? I decided to give Direct Line a call, not expecting a positive response - but discovered to my delight that I would indeed be covered, should the worst have happened.
Fortunately the worst didn't happen - Alan, the mechanic who has been servicing our cars for more than 20 years, did a wonderful job of extracting the contaminated fuel and after he'd run the engine for an hour he was able to pronounce it undamaged. But it's good to know that I would have been covered by the insurers, even though in the end I didn't need to submit a claim from them. I did, however, need to use my breakdown cover (free with my Nationwide FlexPlus account) to get the car repatriated ahead of the repair.
In June I told the tale of the damage to my rental car (you can read all about it here); that also worked out all right in the end, but so that I don't have to worry what happens in future I've bought a policy from Insurance4CarHire - for just under £40 a year it provides peace of mind while allowing me to avoid the extortionate damage waiver charges that rental companies levy (it's usually considerably more than I pay for the vehicle, thanks to the low rates offered by Enjoy). Best of all I could set the start date of the policy so that it coincided with the date of my next holiday - so I could buy the policy right away, rather than leaving it to the last minute (and potentially forgetting altogether).
Have you got a mobile phone, and would you like to save money? Until the end of October you can get £10 free credit with your first top-up when you request a GiffGaff SIM using this link (GiffGaff provide a triple SIM suitable for any phone, whether it takes a standard, micro, or nano SIM).
GiffGaff have come top of the Which? member surveys year after year, and I've been using them myself since 2012 - so you shouldn't really need an extra incentive. GiffGaff runs on the O2 network (as does Tesco Mobile) - if your phone is locked to another network you'll need to get it unlocked, but that's a one-off cost.
Tip: most shopping centres have a shop or a stall where your phone can be unlocked while you wait.
For me the two best features are free calls and texts between GiffGaff users - including my lovely wife - and tethering, which allows me to turn my phone into a WiFi hotspot so that I can access the Internet using my laptop. Most networks don't allow tethering, or else charge extra - but at GiffGaff it's part of the standard package (as is 4G, providing your phone supports it).
Talking of my lovely wife reminds me that AllBeauty have a sale starting today, with up to 80% off perfumes, after shave, and other cosmetics. And finally, some of you may recall that a long, long time ago I mentioned that we were planning to update our kitchen (which was put in by the previous owners in 1983). Well, next month it should finally happen, so wish me luck - but in the meantime I'm making the most of the old kitchen as I continue making jam and fruit liqueurs using the produce from our garden and the hedgerows.
This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......
That's all for now - but I'll be back next month with more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2016 Peter Calver
Please do not copy any part of this newsletter without permission. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or any article in it without asking for permission in advance - though why not invite other family historians to join LostCousins instead, as standard membership (which includes this newsletter), is FREE?