Newsletter – 29th September 2021



GRO remove search options – is this a sign of better things to come? EXCLUSIVE

19th century registrar seeks precision

FamilySearch complete digitisation project

Deleted baptism register entries

Findmypast reaffirm January release date for 1921 Census

32 million additional electoral register entries now online NEW

Ancestry update ethnicity estimates

'Black Friday' and 'brick walls'

Plans to map churchyards UPDATE

Peter's Tips

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The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 10th September) 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):



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GRO remove search options – is this a sign of better things to come? EXCLUSIVE

The online England & Wales birth and death indexes provided by the General Register Office since November 2016 have proven immensely valuable to researchers, but the limitations of the search have frustrated many. In particular, the insistence that all searches must include a surname combined with the poor fuzzy-matching options have made it difficult to find entries where the surname that has been transcribed doesn’t match the name in the contemporary quarterly index.


Both indexes were compiled from the same source, the copy registers held by the GRO, but contemporary indexers were - inevitably - better able to interpret the registrars' handwriting. Familiarity with the writing styles is not the only factor – 19th century indexers were working from the registers themselves, whereas their 21st century successors are working from scanned microfilms. Of course, when we access the quarterly indexes we tend to rely on sites like Findmypast and FreeBMD which have introduced errors of their own when transcribing the indexes, but at least we can refer to the images they were working from; we also benefit from the fact that there are multiple transcriptions. We don’t have those options when it comes to the new GRO indexes.


Recently the GRO have removed two search options: one is the option to include Similar Sounding Variations of the Surname, which applies to both the birth and death indexes (though strangely it remains an option for the Mother's Maiden Name when searching the birth indexes). The Phonetically Similar Variations option remains, though neither fuzzy-matching option has proven particularly useful for experienced family historians who have, in many cases, already found the entry in the quarterly indexes.


The second change is that you can no longer specify Age at death when searching the death indexes. Although somewhat clumsy, it was a way of cutting down the number of results returned, and thereby staying within the 250 results limit.


My hope is that these changes indicate that the GRO are intending to make their search more useable – fingers crossed!


UPDATE: the GRO have now reinstated the search options.



19th century registrar seeks precision

Except in the case of infants and very young children, ages on death certificates are normally recorded in years. LostCousins member Jeff was understandably iintrigued by this death register entry, which is amazingly precise:



What wasn't clear from this single entry is whether it was the registrant or the registrar who had insisted on such a precise measurement of the deceased's age, so I 'splashed out' on another entry from the same register page:




Although this isn’t quite as precise, I think it’s a fair assumption that it was Thomas Hunt, the registrar, who opted for this additional level of precision (and if you look carefully at the latter entry you can see part of the word 'days' in the preceding register entry.


By the way, the name of the town is Horwich, not Norwich (as you might possibly have thought). I first came across Horwich in the novels of Anne Harvey, a well-known writer in family history magazines (as well as a long-time member of LostCousins) – you'll find my review of the first book in the series here.



FamilySearch complete digitisation project

In March 2017 I revealed that FamilySearch planned to stop distributing microfilm copies of records to their Family History Centres around the world and predicted that this apparently unwelcome news might presage a project to digitise the films. This hunch proved to be correct, and I'm delighted to report that FamilySearch have now digitised all 2.4 million reels of microfilm.


This information, which relates to 11.5 billion individuals, is now available online at the FamilySearch site provided you are in a FamilySearch Centre or affiliated library (such as the Society of Genealogists, although their library is currently closed pending a move to new premises). To find out more see this FamilySearch blog posting (and note the questions and answers that follow).



Deleted baptism register entries

Do you have any thoughts about why these two entries in the baptism register of St Michael's, Macclesfield have been crossed out?


© Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service; used by kind permission of Findmypast.


The date might be significant (and not just because the vicar was unable to spell February correctly!). Between 1783-94 Stamp Duty was charged on parish register entries, so my guess is that the parents of the two children were unwilling or unable to pay. Paupers were exempt and pauper entries were often marked with a 'P', but I haven't noticed any such entries in this register.



Findmypast reaffirm January release date for 1921 Census

On Friday Findmypast issued a press release relating to electoral registers (see next article) which affirmed their intention to release the 1921 Census for England & Wales in January.  Whilst 1st January 2022 is the earliest date it could be released under existing legislation, there has been some uncertainty as to whether the impact of the pandemic might cause a delay (as it has for the Scottish census).


Of course, even though a January release date has apparently been confirmed, it doesn’t mean that the census will be available at the beginning of the month – releasing such a major dataset on a Bank Holiday might well be seen as an unnecessary risk – but hopefully we'll be able to search the census at some point during the month.


We should make the most of the 1921 Census – it'll be at least 30 years before another England & Wales census can be released!



32 million additional electoral register entries now online NEW

Findmypast have added over 32 million electoral register entries for England & Wales from 1910-19 to their early 20th century collection. It's a very timely addition, since in January they are expected to release the 1921 Census for England & Wales, and if – as generally expected – the 1921 Census is initially available only on a pay-to-view basis, even for subscribers, the opportunity to track your relatives in the years after the 1911 Census could well save you time and money in the New Year.


But whilst 32 million names and 14 million addresses are large numbers, it’s important to remember that electoral registers were compiled annually, so that rather than finding all of your male adult relatives in the collection (as you might expect given the scale of the new addition) you're more likely to find a fraction of them appearing multiple times. It's also worth bearing in mind that not everyone could vote during this period – whilst we hear a lot about 'Votes for Women', there were plenty of men who were unenfranchised. Also, the rules for local elections were different from those for parliamentary elections, so you'll find some female names in the registers (as you can see from this blog article).



Ancestry update ethnicity estimates

I've said on many occasions that ethnicity estimates are "for amusement only", but nevertheless I live in hope that one day they'll help me knock down one of my 'brick walls'. So far I've been disappointed and the latest revision, revealed this month, hasn't encouraged me to change my opinion – Ancestry have once again correctly identified that many of my ancestors came from East Anglia, but there's absolutely no hint of my German ancestry (which is well documented).  


Over the past year DNA has enabled me to knock down several 'brick walls', so I certainly don't regret spending out on Ancestry DNA tests for myself, my brother, and many of my cousins – without it I doubt I would ever have made the breakthroughs. But these discoveries were the result of analysing matches with genetic cousins using the techniques in the DNA Masterclass – ethnicity estimates didn't play any part.


Just to give you a sense of how little help ethnicity estimates can be, I've yet to find any Scottish ancestors, even though last year's 3% (range 0%-11%) has increased to 8% (range 0%-24%). Here's what Ancestry had to say when I clicked Surprised by your Scotland result:


"The ethnicity regions in your results are assigned to you because your DNA looks most similar to the DNA of people with families who’ve lived in those regions for generations. Many people with Scotland in their results are from Scotland or have ancestors who lived there. But that’s not the case for everyone, and it might not be for you.


"This is because borders in 'genetic geography' don’t always match modern national borders. As people moved from place to place over time, they often crossed borders we see on the map today. And as they did, they took their DNA with them.


"There’s a long history of movement among the places that fall under our Scotland region, from the early Celtic settlers of Great Britain and Ireland to the 17th-century Plantations in Northern Ireland.


"The result is a map of shared genetic heritage that is located primarily in Scotland but reaches across national boundaries. In fact, on average, people native to England who take a DNA test see about 20% Scotland in their results."


Until very recently I hadn’t found any English ancestors who lived further north than Suffolk, but now I know of one who was in the Staffordshire Militia, so may well have come from that county. Nevertheless Staffordshire is a long, long way from Scotland and he's just one of my 64 great-great-great-great grandparents, who on average have contributed just 1.6% of my DNA…...


Note: please do NOT write to me about your own ethnicity estimates – I have little enough interest in my own! If you want to discuss ethnicity estimates please contribute to this discussion on the LostCousins forum. (If you're not yet a member please visit your My Summary page to find out whether you have qualified to join. If not, simply add more relatives to your My Ancestors page until you do qualify – it won’t take long provided you focus on the 1881 censuses.)



'Black Friday' and 'brick walls'

The shopping event known as Black Friday is the time when many suppliers offer their lowest prices of the year (though as any Which? reader will know, there are exceptions). If the past few years are anything to go by, DNA tests will be amongst the discounted products, but please don’t base your purchasing decision solely on price. All autosomal DNA tests are based on the same technology, but it's what happens after your sample has been analysed that really matters – and there's one provider that is head and shoulders above all the others.


Not only do Ancestry have the largest database (by far), which means that you'll get many more useful matches with genetic cousins, they are the only provider to integrate family trees with DNA in a way that makes it easy for users to knock down 'brick walls' – which is, after all, the primary reason family historians take DNA tests. The clincher is that if you test with Ancestry you can upload your DNA to most other sites to get extra matches (if you need them), whereas you cannot go the other way round – for a whole range of reasons, Ancestry do not accept uploads.


Although Black Friday is 8 weeks away, now is the time to start preparing. The first step is to add the rest of your relatives from 1881 to your My Ancestors page – I know that you think you've already done this, but only one person in one hundred actually has, and the chances of you being that person are pretty slim; even after 17 years I am still entering relatives from 1881, and still finding new cousins.


Remember that ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree. This means that it’s the relatives from the branches who are most likely to connect you to them, and the corollary of this is that it doesn’t much matter where your direct ancestors were in 1881 – it's where your cousins' ancestors were that matters. For example, if you have British, or mostly British heritage, it's inevitable that most of your living cousins still live in Britain and are descended from dead cousins who were recorded in 1881 – and this applies even if your own ancestors sailed with the First Fleet.


But what has finding 'lost cousins' got to do with taking a DNA test? As anyone who has tested will be able to tell you, the biggest challenge is identifying which of your genetic cousins can help you knock down which 'brick wall'. That's because it’s rarely obvious how you’re related to your DNA matches – only in a very small number of instances will the common ancestors appear in both trees, and whilst Ancestry will cleverly interpolate using other trees, you still won't know how you're related to the vast majority of your genetic cousins. One way to deal with this problem is to encourage known cousins to test, but that's likely to be expensive; on the other hand most active LostCousins members have already taken a DNA test, so collaborating with the 'lost cousins' you find will allow you to make the best use of your limited funds.


Connecting with your 'lost cousins' now and finding out which of them have already taken a DNA test will mean that in November you'll know how many tests to buy, and who to buy them for. It’s not rocket science.


Tip: when you test please remember to update your My Details page so that your cousins will know that you've already tested.



Plans to map churchyards UPDATE

In the last issue I warned readers not to be over-optimistic about the Church of England's plans to map 19,000 parish graveyards and publish the information line. Information I've received subsequently proves that I was right to urge caution – it seems that the intention is to map marked graves only, and to rely only on memorial inscriptions to identify the occupants. One member who single-handedly mapped and recorded the memorial inscriptions in a London churchyard told me that only 200 graves had legible inscriptions, and even if you assume there were multiple names on each memorial it’s still a minuscule fraction of the 50,000 individuals buried there.


Whilst it is no doubt hoped that volunteers will help to fill the gaps, in many cases the burial registers are already online, or have been transcribed as part of a family history society project (and may well be included in the National Burial Index, which has been available online for years (and on CD ROM for even longer). In most cases the key piece of information that's missing is the location of each grave, and whilst some parishes may have records that show this, I suspect that most don't.


Cynics might wonder whether the mapping of parish graveyards is a precursor to the Church selling off some of its land holdings for redevelopment. Let's hope that whatever plans are afoot, proper attention is paid to the interests of relatives, whether or not they are family historians.



Peter's Tips

A black swan event is something that is unlikely and unpredictable, but has a traumatic effect. Some people have described the current pandemic as a black swan event, though in reality something similar  had been predicted many times (see this article). Of course, if you live in Australia where black swans are native the terminology doesn’t seem very appropriate, but if you're on the Norfolk Broads and see a black swan, as I did last month (see photo), it’s quite an event.  


Something that's entirely predictable is that at this time of the year new cars start appearing on Britain's roads with the latest registration plates. Since the numbering system changed 20 years ago the new digits allocated in September have always been the same as my age, so there's little chance of me forgetting how old I'm becoming!


This year any excitement over new cars has been overshadowed by the fuel shortage – or rather the panic buying that has led to a shortage. It's certainly vindicated my decision to buy a fully electric car last year to replace the 11 year-old diesel I'd been driving since new. Mind you, there's also an upheaval in the energy sector as a result of the steep increase in natural gas prices, which affects the cost of generating electricity – though it's hardly a black swan event since the wholesale price has been rising steadily since February. We can’t get gas where I live, but there has been a knock-on impact on the price of heating oil, which has gone up by a quarter since we filled up our storage tank last week. Just as well too, since the end of the Indian Summer we've been enjoying recently meant that I had to switch the heating on yesterday.


Tip: one of the best ways to save on heating bills is to turn down the thermostat – ours is generally set to 18C during the day, 10C at night, but I know that some people have theirs permanently set to 22C. Ironically setting the thermostat too high can increase your chances of catching a cold, because warm air can dry out the airways, harming your natural defences – it’s perhaps no wonder that respiratory diseases are such a problem for the residents of care homes.


I'm certainly glad that we changed electricity supplier in August - Symbio, our former supplier went out of business today, one of three companies to pull the plug so far this week, and one of nine that have closed recently. As I mentioned last month we switched to EDF, a large company that produces its own electricity, because it has special tariffs for owners of electric vehicles – our tariff is fixed for 12 months at 14.88p per kwh, which is very competitive (I noticed that customers of one of the bigger companies to fold have been moved to Octopus, whose price for electricity is around 24p per kwh!). If you're considering moving to EDF for gas, electricity, or both, you can get a £50 credit by signing up using this link (by the way, I'll also benefit, and you don’t need to own an electric vehicle – though I'd thoroughly recommend that you get one like mine).


Next week is a big week for me – on Monday our smart meter is being installed, so we'll be able to switch to an even cheaper EDF tariff for homeowners with electric vehicles. Then next Saturday I'm getting my booster jab, 6 months to the day after my second dose.


This week an article in the Guardian reported research published in the New England Journal of Medicine which shows that in Israel a third dose of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine reduced the chance of infection with the Delta variant by a factor of 11.3 times compared to those who had had two jabs 6 months earlier. Better still, the booster reduced the chance of severe infection by nearly 20 times, so all in all these are absolutely astounding results; if you want to delve into the details you'll find the research paper here. I'm hopeful that the jab I get will be similarly effective, though I don’t suppose I'll know which vaccine it will be until it happens.


Readers of this newsletter probably don't need to be convinced about the advisability of getting vaccinated – we all have numerous ancestors who died of infectious diseases for which there was no effective treatment at the time. But please do what you can to persuade others, especially those from ethnic minorities – this BBC article has a table which is, frankly, shocking.


They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but try telling that to someone who has 'long COVID'. The focus on long-term symptoms of COVID-19 has now highlighted the existence of 'long flu', as this BBC article reports – it seems that nobody bothered looking for it before. None of this surprises me – I had symptoms for 2 years after contracting dengue fever, another viral infection, in 2013. The NHS website still says about dengue that "You should start to feel better after about 1 week, although it may be a few weeks before you feel your normal self again", but how would they know if they don't follow up with their patients?


I heard recently that hairdressers are having to check whether their clients have become allergic to hair colourings as a result of contracting COVID – again that doesn’t surprise me, because ever since contracting dengue 8 years ago I've been allergic to most deodorants (fortunately there's one designed for sensitive skin that I can still use). In the UK only a few hundred people suffer from dengue each year, always after travelling abroad, but it’s estimated that globally up to 400 million people are infected each year, of whom 100 million get sick and around 22,000 die.



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......



I'll be back next month with more news from the world of family history, but in the meantime please consider what you can do to help your 'lost cousins'.


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2021 Peter Calver


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