Newsletter - 5th May 2019
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 25th April) 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!
Somebody did - but they're not responding to my emails, presumably because they've gone into their spam (or junk) folder.
It's good practice to check your spam folder from time to time - when I checked mine just now I found an email from a LostCousins member with a link to an interesting article about the discovery of mediśval remains in a garage (see below).
Spam filters inevitably get things wrong from time to time: but whilst letting junk mail through to your inbox is no more than a temporary inconvenience, when a genuine email ends up in your spam folder it could be lost for ever. Even worse, if you leave it there future emails from the same sender could also end up getting the same treatment.
So why not check your spam folder now - who knows, you might find an email from me?
Tip: you may have two spam folders, one online, and one in the email program on your computer.
15 years of finding cousins safely
Wednesday 1st May was the 15th anniversary of the day the LostCousins website opened to the public (though there were many months of design, development, and scrupulous testing that preceded the opening).
At a time when there's concern about privacy, especially in relation to DNA, it's salutary to remind ourselves what made LostCousins so different in 2004 - and, indeed, what makes it so different in 2019.
When you enter data on your My Ancestors page nobody but you and I can see it - even after you've connected with a 'lost cousin' they still wonít be able to see your entries. All they'll know is which of their entries also appear on your page. No other site offers accurate automated matching with such a high degree of privacy - this was true in 2004 and itís still true in 2019.
Having read the previous article you might be somewhat sceptical - after all, if the LostCousins system is so good, why haven't other sites copied it?
Actually, many have: every single one of the major DNA websites has adopted a similar system. When you get an autosomal DNA match with a genetic cousin you donít get access to their DNA results - all you know is that a segment of your DNA matches a segment of theirs.
This is a key point that detractors miss (or choose to ignore). For example, a letter from a reader in the latest (June) issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine asks "I wonder how many people consider the possible consequences of making their DNA publicly available online?".
What would your answer be? I suspect most people would respond instinctively, but irrespective of your answer you would be wrong!
It's a modern equivalent of the legendary "When did you stop beating your spouse?" question - in that case, almost any answer you give will implicitly accept the (hopefully) false assertion that you have beaten your spouse. Similarly, whether you say you have or haven't considered the consequences of making your DNA publicly available you're implicitly accepting the premise of the question - that some people are doing this.
The reality is that virtually nobody makes their DNA publicly available - either online or offline! Yes, we may entrust our DNA results to various websites, but they donít make the information publicly available - they only report matching segments.
Tip: we're all researchers - and we donít have to confine our research skills to our family tree. We can also use them to check out statements and assertions that we read in the press (or hear down the pub).
It's not often that I link to articles in the American Journal of Psychiatry, but this story of a doctor who was a sperm donor when in medical school is very topical.
It's never too late! The story of how LostCousins member Martin was able to reunite two sisters on the other side of the world using a combination of conventional research and DNA analysis is really heart-warming:
"Working on family history when you have one side of your family in Ireland can be a frustrating business. But online access to records is getting better, so Iím no longer poring over microfiche in the national library on my annual visits to Dublin. But, many of the documents that we take for granted on the British side of the Irish Sea, censuses in particular, are just not there.† And, my family, being labourers left very little mark on the documentation of the time.
"But, by the time my DNA test results came through in January 2017, I had been able to sketch together a potential tree of relatives in one area of Dublin. Chapelizod, next door to Phoenix Park and straddling the Liffey is home to the pub where Joyceís Finnegans Wake is set. I had also been able to make contact with Chris, a descendant of my great Uncle James.
"My top match on the DNA results was Dave from Australia. As far as I knew, none of my family had gone in that direction and this was potentially a 3rd cousin. I made contact and got a reply almost immediately. Dave had very few details about his family and that was why he tried the DNA. His mother, Monica, had been brought up in an orphanage and all he had was her birthdate, maiden name and the names of her mother and grandmother. I wasnít hopeful that I could make much difference, but it was enough to get started.
"It soon became clear that the most promising line of enquiry was my great-uncle James, so it was lucky, that I already knew Chris. Although he is an intermittent family history enthusiast my email contained enough intriguing messages for him to dig out his research notes. And also, luckily, the news that the family had moved en masse to the London area in the 1930s. I used the usual sources to build up a list of descendants and then ended up with someone with an uncommon surname with no death record.† I reported back to Dave with the exciting news that I had found a living cousin on Facebook and that I was contacting her.
"Maureen came back to me, also surprisingly quickly. Yes, she was descended from Kate Hall. I introduced myself as a cousin and shared that part of the family where we were related. She had some interest in the family history and had visited Chapelizod to see where we came from. But it was clear she didnít know anything beyond her grandparents.
"At this point I checked, double-checked and checked again. I ran the details past other people, as well as Dave in Australia.
"I had realised that I was the one with the secret. Maureen didnít know it, but she had an illegitimate half-sister who was now living in Australia. I told Dave about the relationship. He was excited and wanted to make contact, but the only way that he could do that was through me.
"This was my dilemma. Maureen didnít know that she had a half-sister, she didnít know that her mother had had a child out of wedlock (in 1920s Ireland) and that the child had been adopted. Should I tell her? Was it fair to bring up something from far back in the past that might shape how she felt about her parents or should I just let things lie? I was sure of my results, but I wasnít sure whether I should do anything about it.
"In the end, after a lot of agonising, I sent a long email to Maureen outlining her tree and telling her about Monica. I also gave her my phone number. We had several long chats about it. She was shocked, obviously - but pleased to know. I was relieved and put her in touch with Dave. In a sense, my job was done.
"In a coincidence worthy of a badly-written novel, one of Maureenís sons lives in Melbourne and she had just got back from visiting him. It wasnít long before they were on the plane again - and this magazine article was one of the results....."
LostCousins is about cousins helping each other - and what Martin achieved is an example to all of us. Even small things, like completing your My Ancestors page, can change someone's life for the better - what will you do?
Another letter in the latest Who Do You Think You Are? referred to 'Old Lady Day' and 'New Lady Day'. Unfortunately, in his explanation the author of the letter seems to have relied on a Wikipedia article which gets them round the wrong way. Whoops! (If, like me, you're a Wikipedia contributor please don't edit it just yet, otherwise it wil be confusing for other readers.)
Even today, many a property lease specifies that rent should be paid on the usual quarter days, ie Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June), and Michaelmas Day (29th September) and Christmas Day (25th December) - and, perhaps surprisingly, after the calendar changed in 1752 the same dates continued to be used.
However the start of the tax year changed from 25th March to 5th April and subsequently, in 1800, to 6th April - a date that was referred to as 'Old Lady Day'. The following examples from historic newspapers are instructive:
Images © The British Library Board, All Rights Reserved; used by kind permission of Findmypast
The first, somewhat blurry, example from 1867 refers to Old Lady Day as Saturday 6th April, whereas the second cutting, from 1908, clearly refers to Tuesday 7th April. How can the two be reconciled?
You may recall that the starting date for the tax year initially changed from 25th March to 5th April, but in 1800 it was further adjusted to 6th April - because 1800 was not a Leap Year under the new calendar, but would have been under the old calendar.
The same was true of 1900 - hence the change in the date of Old Lady Day from 6th April to 7th April. However, on this occasion the Inland Revenue decided not to adjust the start date of the tax year - and in 2000 there was no need to even consider the issue, as it was a Leap Year according to both calendars.
This 1894 article from The Star provides some interesting background information:
Image © The British Library Board, All Rights Reserved; used by kind permission of Findmypast
In researching this article I came across a number of newspaper adverts and reports of court cases which referred to Old Lady Day or New Lady Day, but without making it clear which calendar date they represented. However, one also mentioned New Michaelmas Day.
Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 7th January, which is 25th December in the old calendar - and I found a modern reference to this date as 'Old Christmas Day'.
Note: a lot of the most interesting letters in family history magazines are sent in by LostCousins members - but neither of the letters I've referred to come from people whose names I recognise. I'd like to think that if only they had been readers of this newsletter then they wouldn't have made the mistakes that they did!
Like Lady Day and Christmas Day, Mother's Day is celebrated on different dates around the world - though for different reasons. In Britain Mother's Day was celebrated on 31st March this year, but in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, and many other countries Mother's Day is on the 2nd Sunday in May, ie 12th May this year. (This page on a florist's website offers a handy guide to the dates in different countries around the world.)
Several companies which provide DNA tests have offers timed to coincide with the run-up to Mother's Day, and these are some of the ones that I'm aware of (all prices exclude shipping; end dates are shown where known):
Ancestry.com (US only) - $59 plus tax until 11.59om EST on Monday 13th May
Ancestry.ca (Canada only) - C$99 until 11.59pm EST on Sunday 12th May
Ancestry.com.au (Aus & NZ only) - A$99 until 11.59pm AEST on Sunday 12th May
MyHeritage (UK only) - £69 (free shipping on 2 or more kits)
MyHeritage (US only) - $69 (free shipping on 2 or more kits)
My Heritage (Aus & NZ only) - A$99 (free shipping on 2 or more kits)
Clicking the relevant link will enable you to support LostCousins when you make your purchase - it's the income from links like these that keeps LostCousins mostly free and totally independent!
I recommend the Ancestry DNA test because they have the largest database of results by far, which means that - if your ancestors spoke English - you'll get more matches with cousins than at any other site. Of course, whichever site you test with you'll get more matches than you can handle, but with more matches to choose from you're likely to find - as I have - that Ancestry provide more useful matches than any other site.
Tip: if you test with Ancestry you can transfer your data to most other sites to get additional matches - so you get the best of both worlds. However, Ancestry donít accept transfers from other providers, so the only way to match your DNA against the biggest genealogical database in the world is to take the Ancestry test.
Although the 1939 National Register is similar to a census in many ways, it doesnít show how members of a household were related to each other. As a result, when you see two people with the same surname who are both described as married, you canít be absolutely certain that they were married to each other.
Of course, it's not as problematic as in the 1841 Census, when we've neither marital status nor relationships to guide us - but nevertheless, it's something we need to be aware of when we're interpreting the records.
When our days of actively researching are finally over, and it's time to hand over to the younger generations, what preparations can we make to ensure that our legacy is treasured? LostCousins member Suzanne explained to me what she has done and, with her permission, I'd like to share it with you:
"It has been a wonderful journey but I am closing down now to focus on just the nearest and dearest.
"Family goods and trinkets have all been marked and handed out amongst extended family, impressing upon them the significance of all. Anything still family-linked such as pictures, ornaments, postcard scrapbooks, embroidered wedding hankies, furniture etc now have little stickers with family claimant(s) names attached to them that will remain here for my present pleasure until downsize & then the family, knowing that which is sacrosanct, will settle any 'double-ups' if any occur. No disputes allowed. You should have seen the grandchildren peering into cupboards, standing on steps to reach high places & placing their name stickers on items - they do actually care!
"This passion (or obsession) may be the burden of being an only child and not knowing many relatives in my early life.
"Years later I started searching in 1985/6 here in Adelaide, South Australia. Now those first arranged yearly family gatherings, from way back 'then' grew larger and larger in size, mostly of folk never met or known before,† thus adding so much knowledge which extended in all directions and included the spouses' families and kin, backwards, sideways & ever onwards to 2019.† Adventures around Australia and across the seas with much optimistic hope scraping moss off worn gravestones, knocking on doors, meeting suspicious relatives who, once proof of kin was shown, threw† open the welcome door and it was all warm greetings and hospitality (plus archival photos, certificates, and letters shared). †What a journey of enlightenment it has been!
"I have written in soft pencil on the backs of every photo that has passed my way, I have recorded on USB sticks photos and stories for backups which I have distributed amongst the willing and unwilling, and I have lodged any 'finalised' printed work amongst families and also in relevant research repositories locally and across the seas. Small portions, but very satisfying.
"I shall still nibble away at any unfinished business, especially a birth or parent name that hasn't been forthcoming after years of looking.† I shall still get disgruntled when I am told or see a load of 'nonsense' claimed as fact regarding 'my' families. I shall remain angry when 'puffed up authorities' in government positions will not seek to amend incorrect data without my having to purchase yet another expensive certificate when they can readily access the fact and make the correction.
"I will keep calm, I will feel proud, I will know I have achieved much, I will be pleased that I have expanded my knowledge of my forebears in every direction and that I have shared it with others just as their own input also has enriched those stories and they have become dear friends within my lifetime.........
"Now, have I the energy to go through all those drawers and packets to get rid of the repeats, the misinformation, the scribbles, the indecipherable?"
Of course, we must also plan for the unexpected - such as being run over by the proverbial bus. Why not leave a sealed letter with your will, explaining what you would like to happen to your research, and including log-in details for key online accounts? Getting access to online records could be a nightmare for your heirs and executors if you donít make some sort of provision.
And remember to tell me the email address of your genealogical beneficiary - no need to write to me, there's a space for it on your My Details page at the LostCousins site. Fewer than 10% of the readers of this newsletter have taken this important step - why delay any longer?
My old Fujitsu laptop came with Windows 7, and although I was able to upgrade it to Windows 8, I could never manage to upgrade to Windows 8.1 - which meant that when Microsoft offered free upgrades to Windows 10 for users of Windows 8, I couldn't take advantage of the offer.
For the past 4 years it has been gathering dust - Windows 8 was so clunky by comparison with Windows 10 (or even Windows 7). I last used it to run the presentations at Genealogy in the Sunshine.
Then I heard on the LostCousins Forum that it was still possible to upgrade to Windows 10 - and, having a spare hour this week, I thought I'd have another go, not expecting to succeed. But I did (although it took much more an hour to download all the updates and install them)! Now I've got to decide how best to make use of my 'new' computer.
If you follow this link you'll find the instructions that guided me - it was really easy (but make sure you have a backup of your data, just in case).
In January I reviewed Blood-Tied, the first novel in Wendy Percival's series featuring freelance historical researcher Esme Quentin. Now there's great news for all lovers of genealogical mysteries - Wendy Percival has written a short story as a prequel to the Esme Quentin series, and you can download it free when you follow this link to her website.
I havenít had a chance to read it yet, but itís sitting on my smartphone waiting for a few spare moments (along with several other books from my favourite authors!).
Remember, you donít need a Kindle to read Kindle books - I generally read them on my phone so that I can read them in spare moments, but there's a free Kindle app for almost any Android, iOS, or Windows device.
Note: if you enjoy the free short story so much that you want to buy one of the books in the series, please use the relevant link below so that LostCousins can benefit - it wonít cost you a penny more.
Also sitting on my Kindle is a pre-release copy of The Sinclair Betrayal, the next book in MJ Lee's series of genealogical mysteries featuring the intrepid Jayne Sinclair. It's not out until 18th May, but if you're following the series and want to be one of the first to read this new instalment you can re-order it (and support LostCousins at the same time) by following the link below:
Builders discover mediśval bones
Some of my ancestors came from Whitstable in Kent, so when Gill pointed out this story about the discovery of mediśval human remains when a garage was being demolished I was naturally interested.
Unfortunately there seems to be no way of knowing where the bones came from though, if funding is available, DNA testing might possibly reveal who they belonged to, or at least provide some hints.
Last year's big DNA story was the nailing of the Golden State Killer, which resulted in a lot of head-shaking and hand-wringing in certain quarters (though most people were just glad to see justice being done).
How would you feel if the same thing happened to your dog? I read this week that DNA testing is now being used to catch owners who, how shall I put it, don't use a doggie bag when out walking their pooch - find out more in this BBC article.
My question is: would you buy a DNA test for your dog knowing that one day it might lead to a fine for fouling the footpath? I'd like to think that readers of this newsletter are good citizens - if so follow this link and use the code WISDOM5OFF to get £5 off your dog's test.
It never amazes me how much some people are prepared to pay for a cup of coffee these days - my wife and I can both drink freshly-brewed coffee every day for a week for less than the price of one cup at a coffee bar. We prefer decaffeinated coffee, which can be expensive to buy - but Aldi recently cut the price of a 227g pack to just £1.09, which is a real bargain. It tastes good, too!
At the end of the last newsletter I mentioned that I was about to install my new central heating †thermostat. It end up taking longer than expected, though only because my old thermostat was so old (about 40 years) that I couldn't find any information about it online. Fortunately Netatmo support were able to look at a picture of the wires and tell me what to do - and once I got going it only took about 15 minutes.
It's really useful to be able to monitor and adjust the central heating remotely - and whilst Netatmo are far from the only manufacturers of smart thermostats, their device is the only user-installable thermostat that is rated a Best Buy in Which? magazine. You can buy them here, but I got mine second-hand on eBay at half the cost of a new device.
Note: you wonít find my thermostat set to 21C, like the one in the picture!
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......
That's all for the first newsletter of our 16th year. I hope you've found my advice useful over the past 15 years - I shall do my best to maintain the quality and quantity for the next 15!
But there's one thing you can do that would help me, help yourself, and (above all) help your own cousins - please ensure that you've entered on your My Ancestors page every blood relative you can possibly find on the 1880/81 censuses. You may never save a life - but just an hour of your time could change someone's life.
© Copyright 2019 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?
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