Newsletter – 24th April 2023
Save $20 on Y-DNA tests ENDS
Big savings on Who Do You Think You Are? subscriptions EXCLUSIVE OFFER
It’s our 19th birthday on 1st May! FREE FOR ALL
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 13th 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!
You might well have joined LostCousins because you heard good things about this newsletter – but it’s important to realise that you didn’t simply join a mailing list, you joined a community of family historians who want to find out as much as they can about their ancestors.
And some of their ancestors are some of your ancestors – because amongst the LostCousins membership there are scores of experienced family historians who are distant cousins of yours, and consequently are researching the same ancestral lines. LostCousins was founded in 2004 to bring ‘lost cousins’ together because, trite as it might sound, a problem shared really is a problem halved.
To make full use of your LostCousins membership simply complete your My Ancestors page, entering as many as possible of your relatives who were recorded in one or more of the censuses we use (ideally 1881, as that’s the one your cousins are most likely to have chosen). But first you’ll need to log into your LostCousins account using your email address and password.
If you’re not sure which email address you used when you registered, take a look at the email you received telling you about this newsletter – it’s about halfway down. And if you’ve forgotten your password, simply enter click the Password reminder link in the website menu, and enter your email address – you’ll get an instant automated reminder.
Tip: automated emails can look like spam to email providers, so if the reminder doesn’t arrive in your inbox within an hour, check your spam folder and, if you don’t find it there, write to me (my address is also in the email that told you about this newsletter).
Many experienced researchers have a low opinion of online trees, and for good reason – most contain errors. But just because an online tree contains an incorrect entry doesn’t necessarily mean that the tree owner is careless, inexperienced, or gullible.
These days we have the luxury of being able to view many parish registers online, but I can remember when there were no English parish registers online – there were only transcribed records, and these were incomplete and sometimes incorrect or misleading. When I began my research the most comprehensive source was the International Genealogical Index (IGI), but the coverage was patchy and there were millions of user-contributed entries, many of which were of questionable validity. Finding a baptism or a marriage before the commencement of civil registration often required a lot of time and a fair amount of luck.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was discussing ‘brick walls’ with a LostCousins member. He commented that in some cases his ‘brick walls’ were the result of being unable to find any possible baptisms, and in others it was because he had found multiple possible entries, and had been unable to determine which of them was his ancestor.
But did this mean if there was only one entry in the ‘right place’ and at the ‘right time’, then it must be the right one? Life would certainly be much simpler if that were the case, and I suspect that from time to time we’ve all persuaded ourselves that it is – though we know in our heart of hearts that we’re taking a chance, because some baptisms weren’t recorded, some were registered incorrectly and, contrary to what many seem to think, our ancestors didn’t stay in the same parish all their lives (quite a few married someone from outside the parish – even if the marriage entry sometimes implies otherwise).
In Suffolk, where many of my ancestors originated, there can be 50 or more parishes within a 5-mile radius. Within a 20-mile radius (a day’s walk) of the parish of Great Barton, where my great-grandfather was born, there are 436 parishes. In 4 different counties!
When John Calver married, it was to a girl from Rickinghall – about 10 miles away and, these days, at most a 20 minute drive. Not that far away, yet according to FamilySearch there are 101 other parishes which are closer to Great Barton, though it may be significant that both Great Barton and Rickinghall were on the turnpike road that ran from Bury St Edmunds to Scole, near Diss, and beyond. In this case both of my ancestors were born after 1837, so tracking them down wasn’t difficult – but 20 years on I still haven’t found my great-grandmother’s baptism, so had she been born 5 years earlier she might still be one of my many ‘brick walls’.
So it’s perfectly understandable that someone researching 20 or 30 years ago would have assumed that the only matching baptism they could find was the right one – even though they must have known that there could be other entries that had not been indexed.
In fact, I did it myself. As I researched further, particularly as I looked at my ancestor’s supposed siblings and their marriages, I usually came across evidence that supported my hypothesis – but very occasionally the pendulum swung the other way and I had to think again. I never turn a blind eye to evidence that doesn’t fit, otherwise I could end up researching someone else’s ancestors instead of my own!
These days it’s fairly likely that we’ll find some extra piece of evidence that helps to tie an ancestor to a particular family – often it’s a DNA match. But 10, 20, or 30 years ago it was much harder to find information – a record that can be found in 5 minutes today might have taken as many hours, days, or even weeks to track down a generation ago. The reality is that in the old days few people would have had the time to comprehensively check every assumption – I certainly didn’t.
So whilst we all like a good moan from time to time, we shouldn’t be too critical of online trees which include errors – they could well be honest mistakes made by someone who was doing their best in difficult circumstances. Like the cousin of mine who found the wrong baptism for her ancestor and, as a direct consequence, chose the wrong marriage for the ancestors we share. It was a perfectly understandable mistake – her ancestor had been baptised as a teenager, whereas the other children of the family had been baptised as infants. I avoided falling into the trap simply because I wasn’t looking for her ancestor’s baptism.
Of course, there are also people – I wouldn’t call them researchers – who cobble together trees based almost entirely on hints, perhaps assuming that the computer knows best. But don’t tar everyone with the same brush – even good researchers can make bad mistakes.
Original documents are always more reliable than transcripts – or are they? A lot depends on whether you know what you’re looking at….
This Twitter thread from professional genealogist Dave Annal of Lifelines Research is well worth studying closely – it underscores how important it is to look at records in context. By the way, you don’t need to sign up for Twitter to read it, just click the link I’ve provided.
It reminds me of the frequent confusion between Bishop’s Transcripts and parish registers. When all you can see is a scan of a microfilmed page it’s not always clear what you’re looking at, though BTs tend to be more neatly written (and were generally submitted on loose leaves, like the register copies sent to the General Register Office after civil registration began in 1837). When I was trying to find the baptism of my great-great-great grandmother Maria Shearing I looked at the copy registers for St Margaret, Lee in Ancestry’s London Metropolitan Archives collection:
© London Metropolitan Archives. All Rights Reserved. Images used by kind permission of Ancestry
I’ve included the headings for both the baptism section and the burial section, just to make it clear that the 3rd March entry is the last baptism recorded in this copy of the register, which supposedly goes up to 25th March 1811. Yet when I eventually obtained a copy of the original register page from Lewisham Archives it showed that Maria Shearing had been baptised on 17th March 1811 (many thanks to the LostCousins member who helped me solve this riddle with assistance from her colleagues at the North West Kent Family History Society).
It’s not Ancestry’s fault that the document in their collection is deficient – someone made a mistake over 200 years ago. It may not be the only mistake – Maria’s mother is shown as Mary in the baptism entry, but as Catherine in the entries for Maria’s siblings, both younger and older. In the light of my comments in the previous article it’s probably just as well that I have over a dozen DNA matches which connect me to other members of the Shearing family, and that Maria’s eldest sister Elizabeth and her husband George Walton were the witnesses at her wedding.
Talking of optical illusions, there are some great examples of the use of smoke and mirrors in this YouTube video – OK, I’ll admit there’s no smoke involved, however most of them involve mirrors. But don’t miss the last example, which is all in the mind!
Most of us have never had the opportunity of viewing an original census page, and probably never will, so the quality of the scanned images is crucially important. I doubt that any one website has consistently better images than the others – some pages will be better at one site, some at another, and some might be best at a third site. At least, that’s what I thought until recently….
The Genealogist has just uploaded 3.4 million improved images from the 1851, 1861, and 1871 England & Wales censuses – the example below shows part of one of the original images, followed by the new version:
It’s obvious which one is easier to read, and whilst it’s likely that this particular page has been handpicked to ‘show off’ the new enhancements, it’s still pretty impressive. I checked the same page at two other major sites – their images were similar to the ‘before’ example.
Note: The Genealogist have previously updated their images for the 1891 Census.
In the last issue I revealed that Ancestry are in the process of putting the Hampshire parish registers online, and explained that Portsmouth and Southampton parishes would not be included because their registers are not held at Hampshire Archives.
I’ve since discovered that Aldershot and Farnborough, though in Hampshire, are also excluded because they are not in the diocese of Winchester. Registers for Aldershot, Farnborough and other Hampshire parishes in the deanery of Aldershot, part of the diocese of Guildford, are held at Surrey History Centre, and can be found as part of the Surrey collection at Ancestry.
You won’t find those parishes as part of the Surrey collection at Findmypast but you will find them under Hampshire, which arguably makes more sense, although as the collection primarily comprises transcribed entries it’s not immediately obvious that some have images, or why.
Last October I speculated, based on job advertisements, that Ancestry was planning to put Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire parish registers online – and I am glad to say that confirmation came this week with a Facebook post from Cambridgeshire Archives which revealed that all 3506 registers (for both counties) have now been scanned.
My guess is that the first tranche will go online in early 2024, though it’s possible that they’ll allow the registers to be browsed later this year. Either way, it’s great to know that parish registers for so many new counties are going to become available online over the next couple of years!
Ancestry links are being updated
Ancestry has joined a new affiliate network, and as a result any links to Ancestry in LostCousins newsletters prior to this month are likely to fail. I am in the process of updating the links – I’ve already corrected the most recent newsletter, but please understand that it will take time for them all to be updated. I will give priority to links in Masterclasses, as I know these are the most popular articles.
Incidentally, it’s not just LostCousins links to Ancestry that have been invalidated – many other sites will be affected. Fortunately, because my newsletters have all been online since February 2009, they can be updated – previously I emailed the newsletters to members in PDF format, and I know that some other newsletters are still distributed that way.
This article was originally entitled ‘Extending your tree beyond 1911’
If you have a Findmypast Premium subscription, you'll have unlimited access to the complete England & Wales 1921 Census; you’ll also have access to the original indexes of births, marriages, and deaths in England & Wales, which go up to 2007 (or thereabouts). By combining these two resources you'll probably find that you can add dozens of new relatives to your family tree – without spending a penny on certificates!
Here's how I generally go about it:
(1) Search the birth
Where there are married couples on the 1921 Census and the wife is of child-bearing age (typically up to 47) I search the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the family surname and mother's maiden name. The rarer the surnames the more confident I can be about identifying the entries, especially if I also take into account the choice of forenames, the timing of the births, and the districts where the births were registered.
Tip: even if the surnames aren't particularly rare, the surname combination might be - a search for marriages where the bride and groom have the same surnames will help you gauge how likely it is that the births you've found belong to your couple.
(2) Look for marriages
I then check to see whether I can identify marriages involving relatives who were single in 1921. This is generally only possible when the surnames are fairly uncommon (but see the tips below).
(3) Search for children of the marriages
Having identified these post-1921 marriages, or possible marriages, I look in the birth indexes for children born to the couple using the technique described in (1) above. Sometimes the choice of forenames will help to confirm whether or not I've found the right marriage.
(4) Search the death
Next I look for the deaths of the couples whose children I've been seeking. If the precise date of birth is included in the death indexes, as it is for entries from 1969-2007, this often helps to confirm not only that I've found the right death entry, but also – in the case of a female relative – that I've found the right marriage. Even if I don't know exactly when my relative was born, the quarter in which the birth was registered defines a 19 week window (remember that births can be registered up to 6 weeks after the event).
Why does this work best for female relatives? Because they will usually have changed their surname on marriage, so their birth will be registered in one name and the death in another – and there will be a marriage that links the two. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated when a widow or divorcee remarries, but even then I can usually figure it out.
Tip: probate calendars can also provide useful clues – often one of the children or the surviving spouse will be named as executor or administrator (though sadly this helpful information is only given up to 1967). You can search the probate calendars at either Ancestry or Findmypast, but if you don't have access to either of these sites, or want to search for recent wills, you'll need to use the free Probate Service site (which is not quite so user-friendly).
(5) Search for marriages of the next generation
Now I start on the next generation, the children who were recorded in 1921 or whose births I have been able to identify as belonging to my tree. I look for both marriages and deaths, because if I find the death of a female relative recorded under her maiden name, this usually indicates that she didn't marry, and even for a male relative the place of death might help to determine whether a marriage I've found in an unexpected part of the country is for the right person.
(6) Search the birth indexes
for children of those marriages
Having identified marriages I then look in the birth indexes for children born to those marriages - and continue this process until either I reach the present day, or I get to a point where I can't tell with reasonable certainty which entries relate to my relatives. Mind you, when it comes to more recent generations there are all sorts of additional sources of information - including social networking sites, Google, the electoral roll, or even the phone book.
Tip: historic phone directories up to 1984 can be searched at Ancestry, whilst you’ll find historic electoral registers for large parts of the country at Ancestry or Findmypast (the latter also has the modern registers, but bear in mind that after 2002 it was possible to opt out of the published register).
(7) Don’t forget the
The 1939 Register (available at both Ancestry and Findmypast) is another useful source which enabled me to extend my tree further by confirming that many of the marriages I'd noted as possible marriages did indeed involve my relatives. The fact that precise birthdates are given is a really big help, but it can be frustrating when the entries for the younger members of the household are closed. Another potential barrier is the fact that many children were evacuated in the weeks before Registration Day.
One of the best things about the 1939 Register is the way that it continued to be used after the War – and so the surnames of many women were updated to reflect marriages (and divorces) that took place in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s or even later. This makes the 1939 Register more useful than a static census, and since it was released I've added dozens more relatives to my tree, most of whom must still be living.
Here are some key dates to bear in mind when searching:
19th June 1921 – Census Day
29th September 1939 – Registration Day
1st January 1966 – from this date the first two forenames are shown in full in the birth indexes
1st April 1969 – the precise date of birth was included in the death indexes and the first two forenames were shown in full
During the 20th century middle names are more consistent than they were in the 19th century - there is less of a tendency for them to appear or disappear between birth, marriage, and death. Unfortunately, for more than half a century after 1910 only the first forename was shown in full in the birth and death indexes, and the marriage indexes only show one forename for the whole period after 1910 - so a perfect match on the second forename is only possible if the relative was born before 1911 and died after March 1969.
What can you hope to achieve by following the techniques I've described? In my case I was able to extend some lines forward by as many as four generations, although three is more typical. In the process I added hundreds of 20th century relatives to my family tree, the majority of whom were still living.
Note: there will often be other resources that you can draw upon, including parish registers (some online collections extended beyond 1921, online obituary notices for recent deaths, and the British Newspaper Archive (also at Findmypast) for earlier events. Burials recorded at Deceased Online are another great source (for example, there may be other family members in the same grave), but there are many other sites where you can search for burials (and sometimes for cremations).
The articles about the GRO indexes in the 28th March issue were very well-received, so I thought you would appreciate this map, which Findmypast produced about 10 years ago, and shows the geographic coverage of the different volume numbers, and roughly where each registration district was located between 1852-1946:
You’ll find a higher resolution copy on the LostCousins website if you follow this link – unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy on the Findmypast site. I hope you find it useful – although Findmypast already offer the option of searching by registration district and/or county, being able to use the volume number offers another variation.
Tip: although eagle-eyed readers will have realised that there isn’t a Volume field on the Findmypast search form, the good news is that you can still search by volume at Findmypast – simply enter the volume in the Keywords box, as in this example.
Recently I published a comment from National Records of Scotland that “Scotland’s registers of births, deaths and marriages are the envy of the world”. This prompted a couple of readers to remind me that Australian certificates can be very detailed indeed (although whether all of the information is correct is another matter).
The information on Australian certificates varies considerably according to the state and the time period – fortunately LostCousins member Graham Jaunay has produced a very comprehensive table, which you will find here.
Save $20 on Y-DNA tests ENDS
Sometimes our ‘brick walls’ are too far back to be solved using autosomal DNA testing – although I’ve succeeded in confirming one of my lines back to 1700, it’s unusual to find matches that can be proven to reach back earlier than 1750.
And when it comes to illegitimate male ancestors, a Y-DNA test of a male line descendant (a cousin with the same surname) could provide a clue to the surname of the unknown father.
Until Tuesday 25th April you can save at least $20 on Y-DNA tests at Family Tree DNA. The price of the 37-marker test, sufficient for most purposes, is down to $99 plus shipping. Please use the link below so that you can support LostCousins when you make your purchase:
Big savings on Who Do You Think You Are? subscriptions EXCLUSIVE OFFER
The exclusive offer I’ve arranged for LostCousins members is still running but please note that it applies only to print copies, not the digital edition.
I've been a reader of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine ever since issue 1, and I can tell you from personal experience that every issue is packed with advice on how to research your family tree, including how to track down online records, how to get more from DNA tests, and the ever-popular readers' stories. Naturally you also get to look behind-the-scenes of the popular Who Do You Think You Are? TV series.
There's an extra special introductory offer for members in the UK, but there are also offers for overseas readers, each of which offers a substantial saving on the cover price:
UK - try 6 issues for just £9.99 - saving 68%
Europe - 13 issues (1 year) for €65 - saving 33%
Australia & New Zealand - 13 issues (1 year) for AU $99 - saving 38%
US & Canada – 13 issues for US $69.99 – saving 59%
Rest of the world - 13 issues (1 year) for US $69.99 – saving 41%
To take advantage of any of these deals (and to support LostCousins) please follow this link.
I understand that it’s now quite fashionable to have grey hair, but there was some good news this week for those of us who are not dedicated followers of fashion – it seems that scientists may have figured out why hair goes grey (see this BBC article for more details). The big question for me is not whether they can stop hair going grey – 19 years of running LostCousins has left its mark – but whether they can reverse it!
It’s our 19th birthday on 1st May! FREE FOR ALL
I announced in the last issue that we’ll be celebrating the 19th birthday of LostCousins and the Coronation of King Charles III with completely free access to the LostCousins site from Monday 1st May to midnight on Tuesday 9th May.
Of course, LostCousins is mostly free ALL of the time, so you can enter data from your tree and search for cousins whenever you choose – but normally you need to be a subscriber to initiate contact with someone new. At just £10 for 12 months it’s hardly the most expensive subscription in the world of genealogy – even family history societies charge more (though Essex is an honourable exception, at just £8 a year for a digital membership). Nevertheless, ever since LostCousins began there have been free periods every year, so that nobody is ever prevented from connecting with their ‘lost cousins’, the family historians who are researching their ancestors.
In line with that philosophy, the censuses we use at LostCousins have been chosen because they are available free online, and whilst it might be only the transcription that’s free, in those cases we use the transcribed data rather than the images.
Tip: don't wait for the offer to begin before adding entries to your My Ancestors page - the sooner you start the more cousins you'll be able to connect to during the period of the offer.
LostCousins doesn’t advertise – new members join because they’ve heard about the site from existing members.
The more members there are, the more ‘lost cousins’ can connect and collaborate – if there are more members everyone gains. Remember, this isn’t a social networking site, it’s a meeting place for family historians who have common interests and want to make better use of their time, their energy, and their money.
So please do what you can to encourage new members to join – after nearly two decades we need to reach out to people from the next generation. It needn’t be someone you meet in person, it could be a connection you’ve made online –perhaps a DNA match (just think how much easier life would be if your genetic cousins followed the advice in my DNA Masterclass!).
If they enter the offer code 19YEARS when they register they’ll get a free upgrade that lasts until 1st November, halfway to our 20th birthday, allowing them to make as many connections as they want over the next 6 months.
Tip: unlike other sites LostCousins doesn’t require new members to provide bank or credit card details when taking advantage of a free subscription. There really is no catch!
When I was growing up in the 1950s I would occasionally hear the air raid sirens sounding – thankfully they were only testing them, but it was still rather unnerving. So I can understand why there has been so much publicity in advance of today’s test of the UK-wide emergency alert.
However the previous emergency alert I heard wasn’t a test, it was warning me about an earthquake – though as the warning and the tremor were almost simultaneous it was somewhat superfluous. Thankfully it was only a minor earthquake and wasn’t the precursor of a larger quake, unlike the only other earthquake I have experienced, in Santa Monica in January 1994 – 8 days later the Northridge Earthquake caused widespread devastation in the area (fortunately I was safely back in England by then).
The Family Tree DNA has been extended by a day - you can use the same link.
I hope you enjoyed this issue – I’ll be back soon with more news from the world of family history.
© Copyright 2023 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?
Many of the links in this newsletter and elsewhere on the website are affiliate links – if you make a purchase after clicking a link you may be supporting LostCousins (though this depends on your choice of browser, the settings in your browser, and any browser extensions that are installed). Thanks for your support!