Newsletter – 15th April 2022
British Newspaper Archive hits 50 million pages BREAKING NEWS
Ancestry launch SideViewTM BREAKING NEWS
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 9th 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):
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Although my copy hasn’t arrived in the post yet, I’m reliably informed that there’s a major article about LostCousins in the May 2022 issue, and I know that quite a few readers have joined LostCousins as a result of reading it.
Whilst this newsletter goes out to over 70,000 LostCousins members, every one of them a family historian, I aim to reply to every email I receive. So do get in touch if you’re not sure what to do next!
British Newspaper Archive hits 50 million pages BREAKING NEWS
It seems like only yesterday that the British Newspaper Archive reached the 40 million page target set when they entered into a partnership with the British Library back in 2010, but checking my records I can see that the landmark was reached in November 2020.
Nevertheless, taking the total from 40 million to 50 million pages in just 17 months is quite an achievement, especially when you consider that their competitor Newspapers.com has only 12 million pages in total from UK newspapers (though many more from other parts of the world).
The newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive can also be searched at Findmypast, and they’re included in Pro and Ultimate subscriptions. There are no special offers – or any on the horizon – but the subscriptions are still great value for serious researchers with ancestors from the British Isles:
Tip: 12 month Findmypast subscriptions which renew automatically benefit from a 15% Loyalty Discount.
One of the key benefits of working with autosomal DNA is also one of its key challenges – the fact that we inherit DNA from both of our parents means that we can explore all of our ancestral lines with a single test, but the way that our DNA is read means that we can’t tell which bits of DNA were inherited from each parent.
As most of you will know, Ancestry have by far the largest database of DNA results, over 20 million of them. Not only is this good news in terms of finding genetic cousins, it also allows Ancestry to introduce powerful new features that wouldn’t be possible at other sites.
From today they are beginning the roll out of a new feature called SideViewTM, which will eventually enable them to sort most DNA matches into maternal and paternal side. The immediate benefit is much more limited: ethnicity estimates will be split into maternal and paternal components.
Note: whilst ethnicity estimates are of limited value, and can even be misleading, this additional breakdown increases the chance that we might learn something useful.
Here’s my overall ethnicity estimate:
Interestingly the percentage of DNA from Scotland has been increasing: it’s 14% now, but it was shown as 8% last autumn, and in the update before that it was only 3%. However I’ve got no known Scottish ancestry, indeed I’m not even aware of any ancestors who came from the north of England. But there’s an explanation, which I reproduced last September – I just wish there was a less confusing description.
These sorts of issues are not unique to Ancestry, but what is unique is the ability to separate the estimates between parents:
Note that Ancestry refer to Parent 1 and Parent 2 – it’s up to me to work out which is my mother and which is my father. For now I’m going to assume that my mother is Parent 1, since my only known Irish line is on her side of the tree.
It’s important to remember that whilst we inherit an equal amount of autosomal DNA from each parent – one set of chromosomes from each – the DNA passed on to us won’t be representative of our parents’ ancestry, because we don’t get an equal amount from each grandparent. That’s another reason why ethnicity estimates have to be regarded very cautiously!
This is just the first small step in making use of the SideViewTM technology – what I’m really looking forward to is seeing how my matches are allocated between the two sides of my tree.
Note: some lucky readers will have been able to test both their parents – but that doesn’t mean this analysis is of no value, instead it means that you can apply it a generation earlier, potentially making it twice as useful.
I began researching my family tree in 2002, when the 1901 Census for England & Wales was released. At least, I endeavoured to start in the first week of January 2002 – but as many readers will know – the census site collapsed under the weight of traffic and only came back online towards the end of the year.
Since the recently-released 1921 Census for England & Wales has come in for some criticism (mostly unjustified), I thought it would be interesting to look back at an earlier census that was digitised and released under similar conditions. The 1901 Census was such a disaster that the matter was raised in Parliament by Edward Davey, the MP for Kingston & Surbiton (now better known as Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal party) – you can read the Hansard transcript here.
The National Audit Office produced a report on the 1901 Census which was published in November 2003 – you can download it here.
Ancestry have long had British phone directories from 1880 up to 1984, when British Telecom was privatised – you’ll find them here.
Now they have a new collection, from 2001 and 2003, which could well prove useful if you’re trying to track down living relatives. There are nearly 26 million entries in this more modern collection – start your search here.
LostCousins is currently completely free, but only until St George’s Day, 23rd April (though it’ll still be mostly free after that, as it always has been). But do make the most of this opportunity – collaborating with a family historian researching the same ancestral line(s) will enable you to achieve more for less effort.
A question I’m often asked is how long it takes to find a ‘lost cousin’. Back in 2004, when the site first launched, the answer was 2½ months – that’s how long it was from the day the site opened to the very first match – for anyone!
Now that there are millions of entries in the database, these days it typically takes around 30 to 40 minutes to get a match – the time it takes to enter 20 households from the 1881 Census on your My Ancestors page.
Should you find that it’s taking you longer than 1 or 2 minutes to enter a household, here are some tips that will help:
· Work from a print-out, or display the census information on a separate screen if you can
· Don’t try to copy and paste – it’s not going to save time
· Use the tab key to move from one box to the next – this saves continually switching between mouse and keyboard
· When you get to the end of the form you can press the Return key rather than clicking the button – again it saves switching from mouse to keyboard
· Don’t click unless you really want to add optional information – filling in the extra details won’t improve your chances of a match
· After entering the first person in a household click the symbol to make sure you’ve entered the census references correctly; that way if you’ve made a mistake only one entry needs to be altered
· Click the symbol to add a relative to an existing household – you’ll find that most of the information is entered automatically (typically you’ll only need to enter your relative’s forename and age)
· Don’t click the button after entering each household, be patient!
As family historians we tend to think of DNA as a way of filling gaps in our tree, but it’s much important than that – it’s our DNA that differentiates us from other creatures.
Over time DNA mutates, but it doesn’t mutate at the same rate in all creatures, nor do the largest creatures accumulate the most mutations, as you might expect. Researchers at the Sanger Institute, based just 14 miles north of LostCousins, have discovered that there’s a correlation between the lifespan of different species and the rate at which they accumulate mutations. For example, mice accumulate around 800 mutations a year, dogs 249, but humans just 47 – which goes a long way to explaining the relationship between dog years and human years.
You can read the research, which was published in Nature, here – but this article on the BBC News site is much easier to follow. Will science one day enable ageing to be slowed, or even reversed? I suspect so, but it’ll almost certainly be too late for me!
My first degree was in Commerce & Accounting – there was no such thing as Business Studies in those days – but it still took me a while to get used to debits and credits. The wonders of double-entry book-keeping mean that assets appear in your books as debits and liabilities as credits (hence the word ‘creditors’). I can still remember when bank statements showed balances in red ink to avoid confusion (hence the phrase ‘in the red’).
But what I really want to talk about are debit and credit cards. I always pay off my credit card bill in full, so for me the main benefit of using a credit card is not having to keep a daily watch on my bank balance – but I know that there are some who eschew credit cards in favour of debit cards, perhaps because they remember the Shakespeare quotation “neither a borrower nor a lender be”. Ironically anyone who has a bank account is either lending money or borrowing it, unless the balance is precisely zero, so I wouldn’t worry too much about what Polonius said to Laertes!
For those of you who live outside the UK, but need to buy things from the UK, the distinction between debit and credit cards can be very important – typically you can’t buy something priced in a foreign currency using a debit card (or a pre-paid credit card). This is why at LostCousins we accept PayPal, even though they charge more commission – but if you’re trying to order certificates from the GRO website you don’t have that option. The obvious solution is to get a credit card, but I know that for someone who has managed all their life without one it might be step too far.
Note: the other reason I use my American Express card is because I get cashback on every purchase, not a lot but over the course of a year it’s enough to pay for a week’s groceries; if you’re interested let me know, since if I invite a friend we both get a bonus the first time you use your new card.
Professional genealogist, historian, tutor – and a long-time LostCousins member – Celia Heritage has impeccable credentials as well as wonderful name for someone involved in family history. Her latest book is titled Cemeteries and Graveyards: a guide for family and local historians in England & Wales, but I should make clear that you don’t have to live in England or Wales to benefit from this book – it’s where your ancestors were buried that matters!
One of the author’s previous books was Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records, which focused on the documentary evidence. This book addresses the locations: parish churchyards, burial grounds (including those at prisons and workhouses), as well as private and municipal cemeteries and crematoriums. It also considers gravestones, and how these have changed over the centuries.
However Celia Heritage also addresses the records (in Chapter 6): what records were kept, what they’re likely to tell you, and where they can be found. Burial registers are the most obvious source of information, but they’re far from the only source – consider also the records of stonemasons and undertakers.
In Chapter 7 she considers what records can be found online, but also offers words of warning for the unwary – it’s as easy to identify the wrong burial record as it is to identify the wrong baptism record.
There are notes and source for each chapter, including web links and other references, and there’s an extensive bibliography with suggestions for further reading – but I suspect that many readers will find that this book alone is sufficiently comprehensive for their needs!
The paperback is priced at £15.99, but was out of stock at Amazon.co.uk when I checked just now; however, I usually buy my books from Amazon Marketplace sellers, and they certainly have stocks – one was offering the book at £12.37 including UK delivery, which is a very good deal for such a new book.
Just out in the UK, released at the beginning of May in the US and Australia, and in June in Canada (but you can pre-order the links below).
Not long before COVID struck I had the pleasure of hearing Ferdinand Mount talk about his Aunt Munca at a literary lunch I attended, and was so intrigued – what keen family historian wouldn’t be – that I put the book on my Amazon wish list.
However, when Wendy wrote to me recently I still hadn’t got around to ordering the book, let alone reading it, so I was very interested to hear what she had to say. So interested in fact, that I persuaded her to write this review:
“When you set out to do your family history, you hope you’ll come across things you never knew. When Ferdinand Mount, a man with quite a history of his own (journalism, peer of the realm, novelist, political commentator), decided to find out more about his Aunt Betty the story he wrote was so intriguing that it was my book club’s choice for March.
“Our little group agreed that Kiss Myself Goodbye: The Many Lives of Aunt Munca was fascinating – grimly humorous, as it said on the cover. It was also very complicated with names, places, and events changing frequently, requiring us (the readers) to keep up by making notes. The Aunt Betty he thought he knew was throughout her life someone else entirely, and superb at hiding the facts.
“Mount thought his task complete when he published the book in 2020, but a new edition was needed as the copies he sent to members of his godmother’s family resulted in him receiving an abundance of memories, documents and photographs ‘to fill out this unsettling family album’. The postscripts are filled with startling revelations and how DNA tests didn’t solve all the problems of who was who and who wasn’t who. But the marriage and birth certificates found by this wider-family research, together with Mount’s own hunches, complete this extraordinarily complicated story littered with births, deaths and bigamy. How did she get away with it all?
“As a keen family history sleuth myself, I’d done my DNA and was now compiling what I hoped was a comprehensive tree about my families who came from Ireland and England and settled in Australia. When I married in 1975 in the UK I had to produce evidence of my Australian birth and divorce and I thought this was usual. But clearly Aunt Munca and many of the other characters in her story don’t have to do this and at the various Register Offices put down any age and names that suited them at the time!
“By the time I finished the book I was filled with amazement at how she remembered who she was as she changed her name so many times. I could appreciate why she insisted on being called Aunt Munca during her longest marriage to Mount’s uncle Greig who was to be known as Unca, supposedly after a Beatrix Potter tale (though even that turned out to be wrong!).
“I enjoyed Mount’s book and, while the other club members were not so sure, I liked the way he adds information to put time, place and people in perspective. On one hand it could be called name dropping, on the other it explains much about times past.”
Thanks, Wendy – I’m looking forward to reading it myself when I eventually get to the bottom of my existing pile of unread books, some of which have been waiting for over a year to catch my attention. As family historians we’re used to discovering that the stories passed down aren’t what they seem, but Aunt Munca seems to set a new standard. Hilary Mantel described the book as 'Grimly funny and superbly written, with a twist on every page' – high praise from someone who has won the Booker Prize twice.
One advantage of delaying my purchase is that there are now used copies available at greatly reduced prices, so I might treat myself to the hardback!
For nearly two years I’ve been arguing that just because COVID restrictions have been relaxed there doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all solution. My idea was that restaurants should have one night of the week when extra precautions were taken so that those of us who feel vulnerable could have an occasional treat – but there seems to be a lack of imagination in the hospitality sector.
At least the issue is getting some attention now that actress Liz Carr (Silent Witness) has called for theatres to offer some face-mask only performances – see this BBC article for more information.
Royal Mail have now launched the exchange scheme that I mentioned in February: it has changed slightly – it’s no longer necessary to exchange Christmas stamps – but there are still questions I’d like answered. For example, there are some special issue (commemorative) stamps that look very like definitive stamps – see some examples here. It’s not clear to me whether these will continue to be postally valid after next January.
I mentioned in the last Peter’s Tips article that I was looking for a substitute for cling films to seal jugs, and Mary proposed beeswax wrap. Aluminium foil is another possibility since it can be recycled so long as it is clean. Any other suggestions?
Good news and bad news – I was told recently that I have cataracts in both eyes (no doubt the result of watching too much TV as a child and reading under the bedclothes by torchlight). That’s the bad news – the good news is that according to a study published in December people who have cataract removal surgery are nearly 30% less likely to develop dementia.
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