Newsletter - 5th May 2020
British History Online FREE UNTIL JULY
Lockdown extended: competition extended WIN $1000
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 26th 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!
Contact-tracing app apes cousin-tracing pioneer
To safeguard privacy, the contact-tracing app currently being trialled by the National Health Service uses anonymised data to track contacts between individuals, and it's only when someone tests positive and it becomes necessary to send text messages to warn the people that individual has been in close proximity to, that any link is made between the data and individuals.
I've not been involved in the development of the app, or the trials, but the approach the NHS are taking sounds remarkably similar to the one I devised in late 2003 for the LostCousins site (which launched 16 years ago last Friday). It seems that after all this time there still isnít a better way, even though smartphones as we know them didnít come along for another 4 years.
Cousin-tracing at LostCousins uses publicly-available census data to identify individuals whose trees have overlapped in the past, and it's only when a connection is found that members are notified of the match. Even then cousin A doesn't get to see cousin B's entries - all she knows is which of her own entries also appear on B's My Ancestors page (and how each of them are related). The users' names are still hidden - only initials are given - and itís only when both cousins agree to correspond that their names are revealed.
Even then contact details remain hidden until both cousins agree to exchange email addresses - which isn't ever necessary because they can continue corresponding using messages sent via their My Cousins pages as long as they want. It's a far safer way to find researchers who share your ancestors than anything that has been invented before or since - can you believe that some family history societies used to publish people's contact details alongside their research interests? Maybe some still do....
On 21st April Baroness Scott of Needham Market (pictured, right) asked the government a written question:
"To ask Her Majesty's Government what alternatives are available for registering a birth where the local registrar has closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and how the 42-day legal deadline will be dealt with in such circumstances."
It took a while for the answer to come back - it was answered by Baroness Williams of Trafford, and posted online just as I was finalising this newsletter:
"Information for a birth registration is legally required to be given in person by a qualified informant before a registrar. The General Register Office for England and Wales (GRO) has advised that birth registration appointments should, where possible, be deferred while the current measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 are in place. Where there is an urgent need for a birth to be registered, GRO and Local Authority registrars are considering how this can be achieved on a case-by-case basis within public health guidance and local authority policy.
"The requirement for births to be registered within 42-days of the date of birth is not currently being enforced. Longer term planning to ensure all births are registered will be aligned to public health guidance."
Death registrations are taking place - indeed theyíre crucial to the statistics on which the government and their scientific advisers are relying. I wonder how long the emergency will have to continue before changes to births and marriage regulations are implemented - will there be a 'new normal' when all this is over?
Note: itís largely thanks to Baroness Scott that we can now order PDF copies of many birth and death certificates.
British History Online FREE UNTIL JULY
All of the records at British History Online will be free to individual users until 31st July; most of the collection was already free, but the remainder includes state records for the 13th to 17th centuries.
A resource that is always free, but often under-appreciated by family historians are the back issues of The Local Historian which are more than 3 years old. You'll find them here, at the website of the British Association for Local History - and it's worth noting that during the present crisis free access is also being offered to the most recent issues.
In the latest (April 2020) issue there is an excellent article by A D Harvey entitle Remaining traces of the Blitz in London - the paragraph on p.128 which begins "Wartime newspapers are generally unhelpful" is particularly interesting.
LostCousins is so much more than a newsletter - the LostCousins project connects family historians around the world who are not only cousins, but are researching the same ancestors. The other morning the weather was dull, but I received an email from Kay in Australia which brightened up my day:
"I cannot believe that I put in one household and have found a "lost cousin" after being a member for 2 years and not done anything except read your newsletter."
Kay's cousin is in the UK, so about 10,000 miles closer to the record offices where records of Kay's ancestors are held. Around one-third of all matches are between cousins on different continents, so when I talk about connecting family historians around the world I really mean it!
I chose the title 'Instant Sunshine' for this article because that's just what it can be like when you find a 'lost cousin' - for example, at the weekend I had an email from Jim in Canada, who wrote:
"I've been doing a lot of genealogy during this down time. I made a new cousin contact through LostCousins and it has turned into the best collaborative contact I have ever made."
But 'Instant Sunshine' is also the name of a musical combo who many of you will remember from the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Stop the Week' - introduced by late great Robert Robinson, it ran from 1974-1992. What I didnít realise at the time is that 'Instant Sunshine' was founded by three medics who made their debut in 1967 at St Thomas' Hospital New Year's Eve Ball. (If the name of the hospital sounds familiar, it's because it was at St Thomas's Hospital in London that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, was successfully treated for COVID-19.)
Amazingly 'Instant Sunshine' are still going, and the three founder members are still part of the group - you'll find their website here.
Harriet wrote on Friday to thank me for last week's article on death certificates, which many of you found very interesting (though please note that I updated the article to take account of the emergency legislation).
She mentioned that when her father passed away in 1995 his death certificate showed the cause of death as 'old age', something that is generally discouraged - but can be appropriate in certain circumstances (see para 4.3 in this PDF guide). But even more interesting was what her father had done: not long before he died he held his first grandchild in his arms - not unusual in itself, but as a baby he himself had been cradled by his great-grandfather, who had been born in 1811. What a wonderful way to bridge the centuries!
It reminds me of a true story told by Gyles Brandreth, who in his youth used to play Scrabble on Wednesday afternoons with John Badley (1865-1967), the long-lived founder of Bedales School. In his autobiography Badley described having tea with Oscar Wilde, so Gyles Brandreth - who has written a series of mystery books featuring Wilde - could claim to have shaken the hand of a man who had shaken the hand that wrote The Importance of Being Earnest.
It also reminds me of the old song, "I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales". Maybe that's how Prince Charles ended up testing positive for COVID-19 (although, of course, the Prince of Wales referred to in the song was Prince Edward, later Edward VIII, and subsequently the Duke of Windsor).
Note: talking of the Prince of Wales, I had an email last week asking me if I knew the address of Andrew Parker Bowles - the first husband of the Duchess of Cornwall. I had to admit that I donít move in such exalted circles - but fortunately I managed to find his address using the Electoral Registers at Findmypast, so I was able to help out after all!
Lockdown extended: competition extended WIN $1000
Most of the 100 prizes in my Easter competition have still to be won, including the top prize of $1000 (or £1000, or Ä1000 depending on where you live). So as lockdown is continuing for most of us I've decided to continue the competition until at least the end of May.
For full details see this article in the last issue.
This weekend I wrote to all of the readers of this newsletter who had been members for several years, but had yet to start searching for their 'lost cousins' - and the response was generally very positive. A few came up with excuses of the 'dog ate my homework' type, but I was delighted to see how many of those who †were inspired to start completing their My Ancestors page were rewarded with immediate matches with 'lost cousins' - not only good news for them, but also for the cousins they'd been matched with.
The most impressive achievement came from a member who found 40 new contacts in the space of the weekend - it just goes to show how things have changed from the early days, when it took me nearly 3 years to find my first new cousin!
Are you still stuck on the starting line? If you're not going to connect with the fellow researchers who share your ancestors - your 'lost cousins' - at a time like this, when are you going to do it?
Here in the UK Mother's Day was in March - but still affected by the lockdown. Hugs, kisses, and family dinners were foregone.
But in most of the English-speaking world Mother's Day is on Sunday 10th May, and since many families will be affected by lockdown Ancestry are suggesting Gift Memberships to fill the gap (please note that these Gift Memberships are for new subscribers only, and are one-off payments - they will not renew):
Ancestry.com.au - UK Heritage Plus Membership $139 for 6 months, World Membership $169 for 6 months
Ancestry.com (US only) - Ancestry DNA reduced from $99 to $59 (ends 10th May); save $20 on Gift Memberships
Ancestry.ca (Canada only) - Canada Discover Plus Membership $84.99 for 6 months, World Deluxe Membership $129.99
Using the links above should allow LostCousins to benefit from your purchase - thanks for your support, which helps LostCousins remain independent.
In 1953, when LostCousins member Roy was serving with the 27th Company, Royal Army Service Corps in Malaya, Pathť News sent their cameramen to film the company - but as momentous as it was at the time, Roy never saw the footage, until his memory was triggered by the discovery of a 'lost cousin':
"Dear XXXX, you have inadvertently made my day! Trying to see exactly where you fit into our tree, I added more details and noticed that John Arthur Norton Selth, 1924-1956 had died in Malaya. Having served there, 1952/3, I delved deeper and found that he was the pilot of a Valetta in 48 Squadron, RAF who perished with his crew and dispatchers from 55 Company, RASC, whilst dropping supplies to ground troops. I had often worked with 55 Company in Kuala Lumpur and my brother later became their Sergeant Major. However, trolling through YouTube, I suddenly came across a Pathť News PR film of my own, 27 Company RASC. I had remembered it taking place but had never seen the footage, and now, thanks to you, 67 years on, there we are!"
This page from the London Gazette of 30th December 1955 shows that Sergeant John Arthur Norton Selth had only recently been promoted from Sergeant to Pilot Officer. You can see the newsreel of Roy's company if you follow this link - in fact, Pathť News is a wonderful source of footage from a period when few families had movie cameras of their own.
Our memory works in mysterious ways. Sometimes I'll lay awake at night, frustrated that I canít remember the name of someone I worked with in the 60s or 70s - I may even shed tears of sadness and frustration when I realise that all the people I could have asked are no longer with us. Fortunately the information usually bubbles to the surface eventually, though it can be days or weeks later: typically the name will come to me out of the blue when I'm pulling up weeds, stacking the dishwasher, or something equally mundane.
Nevertheless, itís a reminder that when we eventually fall off the perch our experiences and knowledge die with us - unless, of course, we've taken steps to preserve them by writing them down, making audio or video recordings, writing names on the back of photographs, and sharing our genealogical discoveries with our cousins. Probably not our closest cousins, but the cousins who share our interest in family history - the ones who will pick up the baton and continue to build on our discoveries for the benefit of future generations.
Every LostCousins member can nominate someone to take over their account when the time comes, and often this acts as an important reminder to those left behind how important family history was to the deceased. To nominate your beneficiary log-in to your LostCousins account, go to your My Details page, then enter the email address of your beneficiary in the box provided. Expressing your wishes in a letter that you leave with your will is also a good precaution, of course, but it takes a little more effort and organisation.
A family in Cheshire are using their free time to clean gravestones in their local churchyard (see this Sky News article for more information).
If youíre thinking of following their example make sure you have permission, and donít use chemicals - water and a soft brush are unlikely to harm the gravestones.
The most common refrain when members explain why they havenít completed their My Ancestors page is that they donít have the time - they clearly haven't realised that the purpose of LostCousins is to save them time - and money too.!
Connecting with other family historians researching the same ancestors will save time that you would otherwise spend repeating research that your cousins have already done, and money that might have gone on certificates and subscriptions that they've already purchased.
And then there are the things that aren't held in record offices - family Bibles and correspondence, 19th century photographs and scrapbooks, diaries, medals and memorabilia.
It sometimes takes hours to find a single record, especially if it isn't online, hasn't been indexed, or has been mistranscribed - time that may be wasted if your cousin has already found the record. You could waste tens or hundreds of hours knocking down a single 'brick wall' that one of your cousins has already conquered - just think of all the other things you could have been doing in that time!
When you have so much to do and so little time, why waste what time you do have re-inventing the wheel?
Note: I'm not suggesting that you should accept what other people have found without question - let's face it, we've all come across online trees with glaring errors, and tree-owners who aren't interested in facts. But LostCousins members are typically more experienced, more open to suggestions, and more polite than people you'll find at other sites.
Men are more likely to be hospitalised by COVID-19 and more likely to die from this awful disease than women. Researchers around the world have been trying to figure out why this is, and there's certainly a lot of evidence that men, particularly older men, tend to have worse health generally than women.
Philip Goulder, Professor of Immunology at the University of Oxford has pointed out that there are significant differences between the immune systems of men and women, and that several important genes are found on the X-chromosome. Whereas males have one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome women have two X-chromosomes - and they produce double the amount of a protein known as TLR7, which detects certain viruses, including the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic.
You can read more about this topic in this New Scientist article.
If you live in the USA and have taken the Ancestry DNA test you can also help the battle against the novel coronavirus that is threatening the world - you can find out more about this pro bono project here.
For many of us the lockdown presents an opportunity to learn new skills, and improve old ones. National Records of Scotland has free palaeography tutorials which focus mainly on the 1500-1750 period, but also offer some help with 19th century handwriting - you'll find them here.
The Archives Card, created by the Archives and Records Association as a replacement for the County Archives Record Network (CARN) scheme has gone live, after a year of delay - indeed, it's only thanks to sponsorship from Ancestry that it's happening at all. When I wrote about the plans 2 years ago it looked as if the project was about to collapse - I'd just received an email from one of the organisers which warned that "The biggest likelihood is that the scheme will not go ahead. We only have til 31st, and this project has been in the pipeline for over two years."
My response was to suggest charging a small sum for the cards - a survey of LostCousins members indicated that most would pay £5 or £10 for the convenience - and to propose that they sought sponsorship from Ancestry or Findmypast. At least they took up one of my suggestions - sadly the cost to participating record offices is so high that only 1 of the 3 that I'm most likely to visit has joined the scheme (you'll find a list of those participating here).
It's good to know that project has finally come to fruition, though whether it makes sense to register now is a tricky issue, because you have to visit one of the participating archives within 3 months, -and who can say when they'll be open again? We might consider access to archives essential, but there's no guarantee that the government will agree (and it wouldnít surprise me if many archivists and librarians have been co-opted onto the NHS track-and-trace scheme, which is due to launch later this month).
But if you want to register now you'll find the website here.
Too good to check?
If you've got access to the British Newspaper Archive, either directly or through Findmypast, or even if you use the free TROVE website (lots of articles from British newspapers were republished in Australia papers), you'll come across many interesting stories that are amazingly precise in some respects, but surprisingly vague in others - making them difficult or impossible for modern day researchers to check.
The phrase 'too good to check' is used by modern journalists of a story that they want to be true, but which they're afraid would not stand up to verification. The same is probably true of many family stories - some of us might prefer to rather believe that they were true than risk proving that they aren't, perhaps because we feel we'd be letting down our ancestors in some way.
In the next article I'm going to take a look at a story that appears on many different websites - none of which seem to have gone to any great lengths to verify it.....
I was taught to say "Cheese" as a toddler in the early 1950s, and it was in such common usage by then that I find it hard to accept that this photographers' trick to get people to smile only began circulating a decade earlier. Searching on the Internet revealed that it is attributed to an unnamed, but 'very great', politician in a 1943 comment by the diplomat †Joseph Edward Davies. He was Chairman of President Roosevelt's War Relief Control Board at the time - so he could possibly have been referring to Roosevelt, and indeed that is the conclusion that many seem to have drawn.
I gave up on the Internet, and turned instead to the British Newspaper Archive - there I found an article from the Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle of 22nd June 1939 which included the sentence "Polly's still trying to understand what the man was doing with the box-like thing and why he told her to say 'cheese' ". Polly was a parrot who had just been photographed for the newspaper, and I think we can assume from the lack of explanation that people in England (or at least Luton) had been saying 'cheese' for a long, long time.
The only earlier occurrence I could find was in a 1913 report of a House of Commons debate in the Globe, though the context doesnít suggest any connection with photography. A 1910 report of a soccer match in the Reading Observer includes the sentence "before Keating could say 'Cheese it' the scores were level once more", but I donít think that saying has any connection either.
In my view the 1939 article provides convincing evidence that the saying goes back a lot further than 1943, though it is intriguing to speculate who the politician might have been. I feel that if it had been President Roosevelt then Davies would have said so - so I wonder whether it might have been David Lloyd George?
I have no evidence that Lloyd George was the source, but Davies' parents were Welsh and at one time his mother campaigned for Lloyd George (according to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography). So perhaps this is another story that's 'too good to check'?
Talking of cheese, I found a website which has some fascinating articles about cheese-making, including the History of British Cheese, and how to make your own cheese, with a guide to suppliers of cheese-making equipment. If the lockdown continues much longer we might welcome the opportunity to learn some new skills.
Note: when I was searching the British Newspaper Archive for early mentions of the phrase 'Say cheese' I came across the letter above, published in the Lincolnshire Echo of 4th April 1932. It was written by a disgruntled library user who objected to the way in which other users annotated or desecrated library books, the final straw being the use of the book as a serviette, evidenced by the bread and cheese found between the pages!
†(Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD and used by kind permission of Findmypast)
The full title of Daniele Cybulskie's book is Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction which gives you an idea about the approach the author takes - there's a whole lot of myth-busting †going on! Although the author is a former college professor and a specialist in medieval literature she's produced a very readable book that you can dip into and out of, but will still get you thinking about what life was really like in the Middle Ages.
There are 7 chapters, each covering up to a dozen topics on a similar theme, and helpfully the Contents pages list the individual topics, which makes it really easy to find what you're looking for.
Just to give you a flavour, the topics in Chapter 1 include 'Did medieval people take baths' and 'What about toilets'; Chapter 2 features ''What did people eat' and 'Did they really eat with their hands'. In Chapter 3 we find out about topics including 'Did medieval people date?' and 'What about their sex lives'; Chapter 4 is the most harrowing - sample topics are 'If people didnít confess to their crimes, were they tortured', and 'Could they even move under all that armour' (the answer is "Yes", by the way). The next two chapters cover religion and health, then the book rounds off with a chapter about clothing, leisure, sports, and culture.
This is an amazing book - it's crammed with images of secret documents, code books, Enigma machines and code-breaking paraphernalia - with just enough text to link it all together into an enthralling story of intrigue and double-dealing. Stephen Twigge, the author, is a senior historian at the National Archives who has published a number of books and articles on the Cold War.
Whilst it wonít take long to read, it'll take a lot longer to appreciate just how crucial the work of British codebreakers was, particularly during the two World Wars. The extent of information sharing with the USA is particularly intriguing, and I found it far more interesting than the many books that jumped on the Bletchley Park and Alan Turing bandwagons (although both inevitably play leading roles in the story). And itís not just about the 20th century - the book begins in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, with an intelligence report from 1587 and a page of ciphers used by Mary, Queen of Scots.
†The only thing missing is a discussion of modern cryptography but, given the source of the material, that's hardly surprising! I really enjoyed this book - I read the paperback, and whilst it is cheaper as a Kindle book, given the importance of the images, in my opinion itís worth spending a little more to be able to hold the book in your hands.
Whether youíre purchasing a LostCousins subscription for the first time, or have been a supporter for many years, I'd appreciate it if you could pay online, rather than sending a cheque through the post (which could potentially bring coronavirus particles into my home).
If you have a UK bank account you can use Faster Payments to send your subscription direct to the LostCousins bank account - full details are provided when you go through the Subscribe process, but you also have the option of paying by debit card. Wherever you are in the world you can pay directly by credit card or indirectly by PayPal (you donít need to have a PayPal account). If you live in Australia you might find that PayPal is your only option as credit card issuers can be sniffy about payments in different currencies, especially if you use a prepaid card.
The other day I was cooking a risotto when I realised that I was low on Arborio rice, so I decided to try a tip I'd read long ago but never followed up - which was to substitute pudding rice for Arborio. It worked well - it didnít look quite the same, but the taste and texture were very similar.
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......
© Copyright 2020 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?