Newsletter – 14th August 2020
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The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 5th August) 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!
There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that researching our family trees helps to keep us fit and healthy. In a few weeks' time I'll be 70, but I know that compared to some of the readers of this newsletter I'm a member of the younger generation – and I'd very much like to hear from the oldest LostCousins members who are still actively researching their ancestry.
Please email me (using the address in the email that told you about this newsletter) if you are over 85, still researching your family tree, and are taking part in the LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world (in other words you've entered relatives from the censuses on your My Ancestors page).
This is what I'd like to know:
Note: I appreciate that there are some elderly family historians who are not LostCousins members, but for the purposes of this survey I'm only interested in hearing from researchers who are participating in the LostCousins project.
The photo shows my parents in 1948, the year they married; were they still alive they'd be 104 and 94, and amongst the oldest members of LostCousins. My mother – who died when I was 25 – would have been quite surprised that her eldest son was taking an interest in her family tree, and as someone who grew up during the war she'd have been absolutely amazed to discover that she had German ancestors.
It's 9 years since I first wrote about the Marriage Locator website – it's a volunteer project operated by the Guild of One-Name Studies, and whilst it’s still a work-in-progress it can generate really useful clues for marriages that took place in England & Wales after 1837. Even if you don’t have immediate plans to use the site I'd recommend reading the page that explains the principles on which it works, because understanding the way the General Register Office registers are created from loose pages is absolutely crucial.
If you discover that your ancestors married in church rather than in a register office, you can usually avoid buying a copy marriage certificate and obtain a copy of the church register entry instead. It's not just a cost-saving exercise – because the GRO's registers are comprised of copies of the original entries they don’t include the signatures of the participants (with the possible exception of the vicar).
Birth, marriage, and death certificates often provide the only evidence as to whether our ancestors could write their own name. In England & Wales attendance at school didn’t become compulsory until 1880, and even then, it was mandatory only to the age of 10 – so it's quite surprising that so many of our ancestors were able to sign their names by the middle of the 19th century.
But being unable to write and unable to read aren’t the same thing – most people would have had little need for writing, but many parents would have wanted their children to be able to read the Bible, even if they didn’t attend school. So we shouldn't assume that just because one of our relatives couldn’t sign their name, they were also unable to read.
Nor can we assume that just because someone reached adulthood without learning to sign his own name that he remained illiterate for the rest of his life - when my illegitimate great-great-great grandfather Joseph Harrison married in 1836 he had just turned 21, but apparently wasn't able to sign his own name (even his X is a bit shaky):
© Reproduced by kind permission of the London Metropolitan Archives and Ancestry
But when he remarried 12 years later he was able to sign (after a fashion):
© Reproduced by kind permission of the London Metropolitan Archives and Ancestry
Were it not for the fact that his half-sister Sarah was a witness on both occasions I might not have been convinced that it was the same person – it's another reminder of how important marriage witnesses can be in helping to prove identity. Incidentally, just to show that we have to be careful making assumptions, even though both James Harrison and Sarah Salter were born out of wedlock, they each took their father's surname rather than their mother's name (she was Sarah Pike according to Joseph's baptism record).
Note: even today around 1 in 6 British adults have poor literacy skills – for example, they would be unable to follow the instructions on a packet of aspirin.
This week I had the unenviable task of informing a LostCousins member that the cousin she was trying to connect with had passed away a couple of years ago. What made it particularly poignant was that both had been members of LostCousins for many years, and they could have connected as long ago as 2007 – if only the surviving member had entered one of the relatives that they share.
At this difficult time we're probably more aware of our own mortality than ever before – but let's not forget that our cousins are equally vulnerable. Knocking down some of the 'brick walls' in your family tree might not be your most important goal, but it could well be one of the easiest to achieve – provided you grasp the opportunities that are on offer. One of the joys of collaborating with your own cousins is the knowledge that you’re working towards a common goal – so not only are the problems halved, the successes are doubled!
Although the primary aim of LostCousins is to connect cousins who've never corresponded before, the My Cousins page also provides a means of staying in touch with the cousins you already know - not all of them, of course, the ones who are also researching their family tree.
Few of us plan to change our email address, but all too often it’s forced upon us by circumstances – and as the years pass by it becomes more and more likely that the lines of communication will be severed. Connecting to relatives through your My Cousins page considerably improves the chances of being able to get in touch with them years later, when one or both of you have changed your email addresses.
And don’t forget that for every entry on your My Cousins page there's a My Contact page, accessible by clicking on the person's name (or their initials). The Notes box is for your use, to record relevant information that you might find useful in the future: this could range from how the two of you are connected, to when you last corresponded.
There are three ways to add cousins you already know to your My Cousins page. The most obvious is to enter some of the relatives you share on your My Ancestors page – but it isn’t the only way. If you know – or suspect – that a cousin is a member you can invite them to connect using the Connect to a member you already know link at the top right of the My Cousins page.
If your cousin isn’t already a member you can invite them to join using the Refer a Relative option on your My Referrals page – you don't need to provide (or even know) their email address, but if you do they'll receive their invitation by email. Otherwise you'll be provided with some text you can send or hand to them yourself. The bonus of using Refer a Relative is that you’re able to help them get started at LostCousins by sending them a copy of your entries for the relatives they share with you.
Get Ancestry DNA for just $59 in the US ENDS MONDAY
In the last issue I told you about a big saving on Ancestry DNA tests in the UK – that offer has now ended, but now it's the turn of members in the United States, who can save $40. You've got until Monday 17th August to take advantage of Ancestry's generosity – but please click the banner (or this link) so that LostCousins can benefit from your purchase.
Until the end of August you can save on most of Family Tree DNA's tests, but having done most of them myself the only one I'd particularly recommend is the Y-DNA test, which focuses on the direct male line (the surname line, in other words). See my article When Y-DNA tests are worth considering if you’re not sure whether it's the best test to solve your 'brick wall'.
If you use this link you can support LostCousins whichever test(s) you decide to purchase.
Note: although the Y-DNA 37-marker test is only $10 off, it's worth bearing in mind that the standard price is $10 lower than it was last year, so you’re saving $20 compared to what you might have paid (and much more compared to what I paid back in 2012).
Saturday 15th August is the 75th Anniversary of VJ-Day, and at Ancestry.com.au registered members can access numerous military records free until 23.59 AEST on Sunday. To search the records click here.
Tip: make sure you save any records you find to your own computer – once the offer is over you'll need a subscription to access them, even if you attach them to your Ancestry tree.
This story on the BBC website of a mother in China who found her kidnapped son after 32 years is yet another example of how DNA can provide certainty when the records are missing or have been manipulated. Another story, of a 105 year-old in England who has just remembered the baby sister she last saw 90 years ago is even more intriguing – was the sister adopted, I wonder? See what you think, and post any thoughts you might have on the LostCousins Forum.
This week I made my first batch of jam – 6 pounds of Blackberry, Elderberry, Apple, Sultana and Cinnamon, one our favourites. And as soon as this newsletter 'goes to press' I'll be digging out the maslin pan again – this time it'll be Plum jam, followed by Courgette and Ginger (a new combination for me, but one that gets good online reviews). We also have our best-ever crop of damsons this year, enough for jam, crumbles and damson gin (which I made for the first time last year, though I had to use damsons I'd picked in the wild as our own tree was taking a break.
Have you ever wondered why it's called a 'maslin' pan? My Chambers dictionary only gives one definition, 'a mixture of grains', and the Cassells dictionary I inherited from my father is the same - but the Oxford English Dictionary explains that it can also refer to a copper alloy, similar to brass, that was used for making pans and kettles. My 'maslin' pan is actually made of stainless steel, which is just as well since I use an induction hob!
Note: I was able to access the Oxford English Dictionary online using my Essex Libraries membership. Have you checked what your local library offers?
One of the delights of lockdown has been discovering unexpected sources of food in the garden. You may recall me mentioning earlier this year that I'd made Nettle soup, as well as Nettle & Sorrel risotto – we also ate nettles as a spinach-substitute (cooked, of course).
Last year my wife found a wonderful nursery that offers a wide range of fuchsia varieties and she chose some that are renowned for their berries. However it'll be some years before they provide a reasonable crop, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover a wonderful crop of berries on a well-established plant at the back of the house. The taste is pleasant, but very subtle – we found they worked best added to a bowl of home-made muesli.
Although it’s not very efficient I get pleasure from making muesli in the bowl on the day – it means that every serving is slightly different, depending on the combination of ingredients that catch my eye (I always include some fresh fruit when I can – little slivers of apple work really well). Just before serving, when the milk has all been absorbed, I add a light sprinkling of demerara sugar (less than half a teaspoon), and a teaspoon of cream (when available) for a touch of luxury.
What do you do when the ancestors you have been researching get completely under your skin and you almost feel you know them personally? That’s how Leona felt after years of researching her Prussian ancestors. In the end she started writing a novel which, although fiction, contained all the accurate factual information she had uncovered over years of research. Now I'll hand over to Leona….
"I had all the bare bones and proceeded to flesh them out, inventing ways to connect the scattered events into a believable narrative. Returning to files and folders amassed over the last 20 years, I used the coronavirus lockdown as a good reason to knuckle down to the task.
"My Irish mother, surname Kannenberg, had been orphaned by the time she was ten so only had snippets of information about her Prussian grandfather, a sea captain, and beyond. Responding to an advert in a local Edinburgh paper 20 years ago, when a TV company offered to research your family tree in return for the chance to be the subject of one of their programmes, spurred me to apply as I didn’t know where to start and didn’t even speak German. Amazingly I was chosen and spent 5 days filming the programme ‘Extraordinary Ancestors’ in Germany uncovering my Prussian roots going back to 1620. I was supplied with all their research, and a year later returned to the small town of Ueckermünde to revisit with my mum, now in her eighties, and collect photocopies of more archive materials that had been unearthed. A visit to N. Ireland to the town of Killyleagh gleaned more amazing information from an interview with a local man whose father remembered the Kannenberg children.
"As more records have become digitised and online, I have been able to add a few more details. And when Facebook came along further information came from new family contacts. Tantalisingly though, no photographs! So now I have found my Prussian great grandfather, a sea captain who married a local Irish girl and settled there, his father who was a distinguished surgeon and man-midwife, and going back each generation – the town apothecary and innkeeper, the mayor, the gold, silver and silk buttonmaker, the shoemaker and finally the police constable – Christian Kannenberg born 1620.
"In the end I chose the 3 generations about which I had the most material. Using all the various family history websites (Ancestry, Findmypast, My Heritage, FamilySearch, PRONI etc.) has helped me to cross reference information, especially where it was vague or ambiguous. I would thoroughly recommend that you double check everything. Members of the AGFHS helped translate some of the handwritten archive materials. The Prussian Genealogy / German & Polish Roots, DNA, Culture & History Facebook members offered advice, translation and clarification of images. Members of the 'Old Pictures of Killyleagh and Shrigley' Facebook page corrected and advised on local information. All of these gave me the details around which I could build the stories. (Tip: Also explore any websites which may have a link to your research and make contact with the webmasters who are usually very happy to reply.)
"Self-publishing on Amazon proved easy and best of all, free. I would certainly recommend others to try it. The book was finished, a maritime artist friend painted the cover image and now it is available for purchase as an eBook and a paperback. I am thrilled!
"I would definitely encourage any other Lost Cousin members, who are obsessed with some of their ancestors, to use this as a great way to explore them further. And it has the added advantage that whereas a relative may not want to plough through your boxes of folders amassed over years of research and left to them in your will, they may be quite happy to read a book featuring their ancestors with all the BMDs, etc skilfully woven into an interesting and informative narrative. So what are you waiting for – get writing!"
Sadly I don’t have the time to read all of the books written by LostCousins members, but if you're thinking of writing about your own ancestors – or would just like to enjoy Leona's book – you can buy it as a paperback or in Kindle format:
There has been a lot of focus on the R number, which represents the average number of people each infected person subsequently infects, but very little on the K number, which describes how variable the R number is. For example, according to last week's New Scientist a study in Hong Kong found that 80% of the cases there were caused by just 20% of the infected individuals (this apparently equated to a K number of 0.45).
At the beginning of May, when the daily Downing Street press briefings were still being held, and they were taking questions from members of the public, I submitted a question of my own – one that didn’t get read out, which is unfortunate because it could have been a game-changer:
"Some people have many more daily interactions. Other things being equal, someone who comes into contact with 5 times as many people is 5 times more likely to be infected, and will spread the disease to 5 times as many. That makes them 25 times more dangerous. Why not use the app to identify these individuals and test them frequently and proactively?"
At that time the Track and Trace app was being trialled on the Isle of Wight, and although there were technical problems that prevented the app being used as originally intended, it seems very likely that it could still have been used in the way I proposed, to identify potential superspreaders. Indeed, perhaps it still can? If only I could wander the 'corridors of power' and drop it on the appropriate desk….
I don’t know about you, but even though the restrictions have been relaxed my wife and I are still staying away from other people as much as we possibly can - however we both took a chance on Tuesday and went to the hairdressers (which was a lot cheaper and quicker in my case, as every husband will know!). Both establishments took elaborate precautions to protect their staff and their clientele, and in my case I was the only customer, which was very reassuring for me (though perhaps less so for the barber).
But that isn’t the only excitement of the past week – on Sunday I took the plunge, quite literally, when I inadvertently ended up in the river (we were taking a break on the Norfolk Broads). And that wasn't the first thing that went wrong that day – we had lost all steering and were drifting aimlessly until a kind family in a bigger boat offered to give us a tow (fortunately our Good Samaritans were headed in the same direction). All part of life's rich tapestry.
Just as I was finalising this newsletter I received an email about an Amazon offer in the UK that will be very attractive to those who like music (lots of it). I'm not going to attempt to explain it as you'll find all the details here, but suffice it to say that you'll end getting an Echo Dot for a fraction of the normal price.
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 now, but I've got some more great stories from members that I hope to feature in the next issue. See you again soon – and stay safe!
© 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?