Newsletter – 17th August 2021
Big savings on Ancestry DNA in the US ENDS TODAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 10th 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!
A few years ago The Economist suggested that we need a new name for the over-65s – the article began "What do you call someone who is over 65 but not yet elderly?".
The past year and a half, with all its challenges, has demonstrated that life experience counts for an awful lot – my perception is that it has been the younger generations who have found it most difficult to adapt. They say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but just look at the way we embraced Zoom and other forms of video-conferencing when there was a good reason for doing so.
In my youth we talked about old-age pensioners, commonly abbreviated to OAPs, but woe betide anyone who calls me old-aged! In some countries the term 'Seniors' is used, and I can certainly see its attractions – but I wonder if we can do better? Please post your suggestions on the LostCousins Forum.
Note: if you've been invited to join the LostCousins Forum you'll find a link and a code on your My Summary page at the main LostCousins site. If you haven't been invited you can still read what others have posted in the open areas of the forum by following this link or typing FORUMS.LC into your browser.
This story caught my eye since, whilst I knew that there had been some changes in marriage regulations recently, I wasn't aware that a moving train could be a licensed venue. Indeed, it seemed most unlikely – but would the BBC really publish an article like this without checking the facts? Sadly it seems they would.
For an expert opinion I contacted Professor Rebecca Probert, author of the ground-breaking book Marriage Law for Genealogists (you can read my review here), and Professor of Law at the University of Exeter Law School. She was in no doubt about the answer:
"No, this was not a legal ceremony - it is not (yet) possible to get married on a train."
Ultimately it seems it was just a bit of cheap publicity for a train company that I'm not even going to mention.
Note: in the world of marketing August is known as the 'silly season' because the media are so short of stories that they'll publish almost anything.
If, like Evelyn, you came across an entry like this in a burial register you’d think it was Christmas:
© Copyright Lincolnshire Archives, used by kind permission of Findmypast. All Rights Reserved.
In case you’re struggling to read the handwriting, it says "Elizabeth Greene wife of Samuel once widow of Robert Stocks and formerly called Loughton by her Sire-name was buried Dec 25th" - a wealth of information in one short entry.
As I mentioned in the last issue, it was only in 1969 that death registrations in England & Wales began to include maiden names, so the vicar of Bassingham was clearly ahead of this time. If only all burial entries were as informative!
According to a recent article in Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, researchers who have ordered copies of their relative's service records from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are having to wait a year or more (by which time the cheque they've sent with their application is likely to be out of date). The article quotes an MoD spokesman as attributing the delay to the pandemic, although I can remember that there were similar delays around a decade ago (see this article from June 2012), so it may be a combination of factors.
The good news is that plans are afoot to move the records to the National Archives (TNA), which should make them more accessible, though it's only when the records are online that most people are going to have access to them. There should be an announcement from TNA in the coming months about their plans – hopefully the delay is because they're negotiating a contract for the digitisation of the records, although I haven't been able to find any hint of this online.
It can be very frustrating when you're up against a 'brick wall' in your research, but it's impossible to research your family tree for any length of time without running into them – in fact, the longer you research the more 'brick walls' you'll have (I have over one hundred, but no doubt some of you have many more).
Is it really a 'brick wall'?
But before turning to the question of how to get those brick walls tumbling down, it's important to distinguish between real brick walls and the imaginary ones we create for ourselves. For example, if there are sources of information that you haven't searched because you don't have the right subscription or don't live close to the relevant records office, it's not really a brick wall that's blocking your path.
Of course, we all have limited time and money, but there are usually routes we can take if only we stop and think for a moment - these might, for example, include free access to subscription services at your local library, record office, family history society, or LDS Family History Centre. Of course, sometimes the records you want to search are only available at an archive that's thousands of miles away - but even then you've got the option of employing a researcher, or contacting a friend or cousin who lives nearby.
For me, a brick wall is something that stops me getting back any further on a particular line. So being unable to find an ancestor's death or burial place is rarely a brick wall, but being unable to find their baptism or marriage often is.
For most of the period before the commencement of civil registration (1837 in England & Wales, 1855 in Scotland) copies of parish register entries were supposed to be sent annually to the bishop or archdeacon. Bishop's Transcripts (generally abbreviated to BTs) are useful for many reasons, for example:
However, there are some pitfalls to look out for:
Family reconstitution or reconstruction
When researching prior to 1837 we're often faced with the problem that there are lots of people with same surname in a few adjoining parishes, which makes it very difficult to identify who a particular register entry is referring to. Burial registers are particularly problematic, since there's often no indication of the age of the deceased, but baptism registers which only give the name of the father, or give the wrong name for the mother (an annoyingly common occurrence) are also a hindrance.
Sometimes the only way to make sense of the entries is to take all the entries for a particular surname and apportion them amongst the families who were known to be living in the area at the time - it's like the overlap between a One-Place Study and a One-Name Study. It may be necessary to draw on records other than parish registers - later census and marriage records can provide insight into happenings in the early 19th century, even though the information can't be assumed to be correct (birthplaces and ages on census are often wrong, as are ages and fathers' names on marriage certificates).
But when you've checked all the readily-available records, what next? One approach is to find others who are researching the same line, which is where LostCousins can help: make sure that your My Ancestors page is as complete as possible. Finding relatives who are researching the same families can lead to all sorts of discoveries - even someone who isn't as experienced as you may well have some clues that you don't have.
Tip: most researchers tend to spend more time working on their direct paternal line than any other - partly because our ancestors in that line bear the surname that WE were born with, and partly because following a single surname made life a lot easier in the days when we had to rely on microfilms and index cards. So when you're researching one of your many other lines, finding someone for whom that line is their direct paternal line is almost always good news - even though they might otherwise not have as much experience as we do.
A different perspective
Sometimes simply starting from a different place on the tree can make all the difference. For example, a few years ago I obtained the will of my great-great-great-great aunt's husband - which referred to the son of his sister-in-law (another of my great-great-great-great aunts) but didn't name him. I knew that she wasn't married at the time the will was written, so it was obvious that the child was illegitimate - and suddenly I realised who that son must be (and that the father shown on BOTH of his marriage certificates was nothing but fiction).
Even though it didn't break down any of my own brick walls it was a ground-breaking discovery for the hundreds of descendants of that child (now confirmed as my cousins), because it revealed who the mother of the child was, and at the same time prevented them from expending more effort trying to find a non-existent father. Starting from where they are on the tree there would have been no reason for them to ever obtain a copy of that will - it was only when they connected with me, their 5th cousin, that the mystery could be solved.
There are many other examples from my own tree that I could cite, but there are just as many situations where I've been helped by cousins who have clues that I wouldn’t have found in a million years (DNA matches are particularly useful).
Tip: it doesn't matter how distant your cousins might seem - all of them share your ancestors, and that's what is important!
The discovery described in the previous section depended on spotting the link between seemingly unrelated information from three different parts of my tree. Making such connections usually requires us to have a very ambivalent attitude towards the information in our tree: in other words, we always have to have in the back of our minds the possibility that what we've been told, or what we've read in a register or on a certificate isn't true - at least until we have found so much supporting evidence that we have to accept its veracity. It’s rare that we can be 100% certain unless we have DNA confirmation – even if we've found all the right records, the records could be wrong!
Whilst we all know deep down how unreliable family stories usually are, somehow we fool ourselves into thinking that our family is in some way different. Our bias is even more evident when it's someone we actually knew: "My grandmother was so religious, she couldn't possibly have given birth to an illegitimate child" is a fiction I've heard more than once since I started helping LostCousins members to knock down their brick walls 17 years ago.
Even if you don’t understand how it works, make use of DNA. And, whether you understand DNA or not, follow the simple steps in my DNA Masterclass, otherwise you’re not only throwing your money away but wasting your time. Almost all of the many breakthroughs I've made in the last 5 years have been the result of clues and inferences gathered by testing my own DNA and that of consenting cousins, but it is the mistakes I made in the previous 5 years that I want you to avoid!
Occasionally we know where the information that will break down a particular brick wall is likely to come from. For example, there were a lot of people waiting for the 1911 Census to be released because it was the only way they could find out where their grandfather or grandmother was born, and no doubt there are others hoping that the 1921 Census will provide the answer they're seeking.
Similarly, you may know that the parish registers for one of your areas of interest are due to go online, or are being indexed by the local family history society – either of which would make it far easier for you to search.
If you have a pretty good idea that the answer to a puzzle is going to be revealed by the release of new data, why continue to expend effort? Surely it's better to use your energies and expertise to solve problems that don't have such a neat solution?
Be alert, be lucky!
Often it's serendipity that leads to the solution - though we still have to be alert to that possibility. For example, the surname of a visitor staying with my great-great-great grandparents at the time of the 1851 Census seemed vaguely familiar, and I eventually realised that it was the name of a marriage witness whose signature I'd had difficulty deciphering some years before. This enabled me to confirm that I'd found the right Smith family on the census, so I was able to take the line back another generation - not easy with such a common surname, especially since the father had changed his occupation from 'carpenter' to 'rag merchant' and some of the children's names and ages were different.
Read around the problem
Seek out inspiration. Read as many family history magazines as you can, and especially free newsletters - not just mine, but also the blogs of knowledgeable people with lots of connections like Chris Paton. The articles in society journals might seem irrelevant to your current research, but the information you glean could well solve one in the future, perhaps in a different county and a different part of your tree.
Join the LostCousins Forum if you've been invited (check your My Summary page - over half the people who have been invited haven't joined yet). Listening to how other people knocked down their brick walls may inspire you to knock down your own.
Sometimes the solutions arrive before the problems – we usually refer to it as 'experience'.
Rather than bang my head against a brick wall I often choose the 'do nothing' option. That's right, instead of running round like a headless chicken I put that particular problem to one side and focus on another part of my tree, or else on writing a newsletter. It's amazing how often some small discovery I make when researching the articles in my newsletter provides an insight into how I might solve a problem that I've filed in the 'too difficult' drawer.
To be really successful we have to be flexible not only in the way we do our research, but also the order in which we do it!
Make use of ALL the resources available, even if it costs you money! Joining a family history society to get access to the Members Only records, or purchasing CD ROMs of parish register transcripts that aren’t likely to go online in the foreseeable future could be the only way to knock down a particular brick wall. Don’t ignore local history societies just because they have a different focus – you'll find that the members have a great deal in common with us.
And certainly don't make the mistake of ignoring your 'lost cousins'. Would you believe it, some people seem to think that because we use the 1881 Census to identify members who share the same ancestors, the LostCousins system only works for beginners!
This week I've knocked down another of my own 'brick walls', thanks to DNA, but instructive though it is, I'm going to save that story for a future issue, because I want to tell you John's story – which also features DNA:
"A few weeks back, I was on my Sheppey Facebook group which is where my Fletchers were (Sheerness, Kent) when I saw an American lady asking for help.
"She was particularly interested in the 'hulks', which were either floating old warships housing prisoners, or sunk warships inhabited in the 1700s by workers & their families before Sheerness was built. In 1801 there were 186 such families. Her Mockett family was one, as was my Fletcher, but though I'd thoroughly researched mine, I had no link.
"I helped her, passing on a fair bit of general and Mockett-related information, then casually mentioned DNA: had she tested? Yes. On what site(s)? To my astonishment, we matched.
"So, a feverish reappraisal of the paper trail ensued and, bingo, we were connected by a great-great-great-great-great grandfather, a fact which had previously been missed because some baptisms of my family took place in the dockyard church whose records are tricky to find, and some weren't baptised till they were adults."
These days so many of the discoveries we make are triggered by a DNA match, as you'll see when I write about my latest breakthrough, probably in the next issue.
Big savings on Ancestry DNA in the US ENDS TODAY
There's a phenomenal offer for family historians in the US, but it ends in hours (at 23.59 ET today, Tuesday). Apologies for the late notice, but putting together a newsletter takes time…
The regular price in the US is $99 so the price of $59 represents a 40% saving (ignoring shipping); but the icing on the cake is the chance to get a 3-month World Explorer membership for just $1 more.
Please follow this link so that you can support LostCousins when you make your purchase.
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The 10th August issue of this newsletter was extremely well-received – thank you for all your generous comments which had me blushing, as my wife can attest. However, some people didn’t receive the newsletter at all. That's because I didn’t email all 70,000 members on the mailing list – I left off anyone who hadn’t logged-in to their LostCousins account since 2014.
As a sender of bulk emails it's important that LostCousins has a good reputation with email providers, otherwise my emails might not get to the people who want to receive them. One of the best ways to achieve this is to cut down the number of emails I send to members who have been inactive for a long time – hence the truncated mailing list.
Logging into your LostCousins account from time to time is good practice – it allows you to check whether you have any new matches. After logging-in choose My Ancestors from the menu, then click the Search button on your page; finally go to your My Cousins page and look for any New Contacts.
When you next log-in please also visit your My Details page and check that the information there is as correct and complete as possible. In particular, do make sure that you have provided some alternative contact details so that I can still reach you if your email address changes.
However if you've been a member for some years you'll find that there are additional questions that weren't there when you joined – it would be helpful if you could answer those.
And do please enter the email address of your beneficiary, the person who is going to take over your research when the time comes. Even if they're not intending to actively continue the research, and will simply be safeguarding it for the benefit of future generations, it would be good for them to have access to the information you've entered – and who knows, they might get hooked on family history just as we did!
Everyone knows that London is the capital of England, and Paris is the capital of France. But it hasn’t always been the case – when the Romans first arrived on the island they called Britannia they built their capital at Camulodunum, the site of modern-day Colchester.
The Romans eventually moved their powerbase to Londinium, but after they left England was divided into several kingdoms with different rulers. Nevertheless at various times the country came under control of a single ruler, and according to this website the capital was Tamworth under King Offa in the 7th century and Winchester during the reign of Alfred the Great in the 9th century.
William the Conqueror was crowned at Westminster Abbey, now thought of as being in London, though in medieval times Westminster was a separate town to the west of the city. Whether either Westminster or London can be regarded as the capital is debatable, because in the 11th and 12th centuries successive monarchs moved the court around the country; some would argue that Winchester, where the Royal treasury and records were kept, has the best claim.
But from the 13th century onwards Westminster was the seat of government – except during the Civil War when King Charles chose Oxford and Cromwell chose Westminster. Westminster by then adjoined London, creating a single city – though even now the City of London Corporation controls the 'Square Mile' of the original city, which has its own Mayor and its own police force.
I was prompted to look into this topic by a recent survey which shows that housing in Winchester is the least affordable of any UK city. I'm not that the methodology would stand up to critical scrutiny, but it did at least get me thinking of the time when Winchester was a capital city.
And as for Paris… well, this page has a long list of the capitals of France over the past 1500 years. I'm not going to even attempt to summarise it!
I occasionally get emails from readers who feel I've mangled the English language, so here's a link to an article from the Wall Street Journal which outlines some of their stylistic preferences.
One of the key differences between LostCousins and the big genealogy sites is the personal touch. There's nothing more frustrating than someone who doesn’t reply to a message, but at most sites the best you can do is send occasional reminders in the hope that one of them eventually gets read.
However at LostCousins you can ask me to chase up a cousin who hasn't responded to an invitation, and if it turns out that their email address has stopped working I do everything I possibly can to find some other way of reaching them (I even use Facebook if I really have to).
For example, last week a member asked me to chase up a cousin who hadn’t responded to an invitation. I discovered that the cousin's email address had stopped working in 2006, but fortunately they'd provided a postal address when they registered earlier that year. After carrying out a few Internet searches to check that they hadn't moved home, I typed up a letter and got it in the post the same day, franked with an eye-catching selection of colourful stamps so that nobody could resist opening it!
My letter was delivered the next morning, and just after lunch I got a very nice email from the cousin - who was very grateful for the trouble I'd taken and complimented me on my tenacity. I don't always get such a quick response, and occasionally there's no response at all – but by the time I've worked my magic the overall response rate is in the region of 90%, which in my experience compares extremely favourably with other sites.
Of course, the other difference is that the vast majority of connections are between two highly-experienced family historians. It's not that we don't welcome beginners at LostCousins but, other things being equal, the number of relatives that members can enter on their My Ancestors page, and the number of matches they make, tends to be highly correlated with their level of experience.
Looking out the window I can see that it's cloudy and wet, and it’s certainly not as warm as it ought to be in August – just like the summers of my youth, when I spent more time shivering than sunbathing on those rare trips to the seaside.
But for me summer only truly begins when I am able to start picking fruit from the hedgerows, and last week I collected blackberries for the first time. Some are in the freezer, others I've cooked up with windfall apples - perfect as part of a healthy breakfast or, for a real treat, poured hot onto a scoop of ice cream.
This month we're switching our electricity supplier. Symbio Energy have been very cheap up to now, but they've increased their daytime rate by half and abolished their Economy 7 tariff altogether, so I'd have been paying more than twice as much for off-peak electricity. I'm moving to EDF Energy, one of the biggest providers, but one that has targeted the electric vehicle (EV) market with special tariffs.
At the moment we don’t have a smart meter so we'll start on their single rate tariff, but it's still a lot cheaper than if we hadn’t moved. We don't have gas, so I can’t comment on their gas prices, but if you're considering moving to EDF for gas, electricity, or both, you can get a £50 credit by signing up using this link (I'll also benefit by the way). You don't need an electric car, by the way – that's optional.
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......
I hope you've enjoyed reading this newsletter, but always remember that the main reason you joined LostCousins was to connect with the other experienced family historians who are researching the same ancestral lines!
© Copyright 2021 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? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.