Newsletter - 15th December 2018
Save up to 50% on WDYTYA? magazine EXCLUSIVE
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 5th December) 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. Everyone who received an email about this newsletter is already a member, but new members are always welcome - it's FREE to join, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available.
It was perhaps a bit unfair to disclose in the leading article in the last issue that Essex Record Office was collecting about £80,000 annually from subscribers to Essex Ancestors, which makes available online high-quality, but unindexed, images of parish registers. However, I felt it was important to set out the backdrop against which Suffolk will shortly be making their decision.
After the article appeared I received an email from Guy Etchells who, as many of you will know, led the successful campaign for the early release of the 1911 England & Wales census, and was - like me - involved in the campaign to get the 1939 Register released. Here's what Guy had to say:
In your latest newsletter you address provision of digital access by Essex Record Office where you complain about the cost of this service. You try to justify your comments by comparing it to large commercial providers but that is a false comparison.
They are providing a service and should be remunerated for the service they provide.
If subscribers to the commercial sites cannot access the records they want then that site is of no use to them no matter how many counties they cover in that case the subscribers subscribe to other commercial sites when and if they can afford to do so, (or they ask others for look-ups even if that is against the sites terms & conditions) that is life.
I - and I write as someone who has been very critical of archives and record offices up and down the country for over 40 years - congratulate Essex Record Office for providing the online access and I would recommend that every Record Office in the country follow suit.
This is not a tax on parish registers your cousins can visit the record office and access the records there. This is an additional service which is and should be paid for by the users of the service.
The Essex Record Office are providing a service and should be remunerated for the service they provide. There is nothing wrong with not having the register indexed in fact in many cases it is better that indexes are not used as family members can be missed when indexes are religiously followed.
I am still convinced that family historians are better served when parish registers are made available through one or other of the major websites, since this ensures that the records are indexed. But I felt it was important that the opposing view should be heard.
As it happens, I did congratulate Essex Record Office through this newsletter when their registers began to appear online - you can see what I wrote in June 2009 if you follow this link. But itís important to put my comments then into context - access to the Essex registers was completely free in 2009, and it was by no means clear that they would remain unindexed for ever.
Furthermore, at that time there was no expectation that Ancestry and Findmypast would digitise and index the parish registers of so many counties. Indeed there were no parish registers at all at Findmypast, and the only registers at Ancestry were in the London Metropolitan Archives collection - which had been launched just a few months previously (see my article from March 2009 anticipating their release).
Almost a decade later, family historians have come to expect more - indeed, I sometimes feel that many don't appreciate just how much easier it is to research these nowadays.
By the standards of LostCousins members, some of whom have been researching for 40, 50, or even 60 years, I was a late starter when I began my research in 2002, but I can remember spending days on end at the Family Records Centre looking up index entries for births, marriages, and deaths in those enormous volumes - or scrolling through microfilm in the hope (not expectation) of finding one of my relatives on the census.
In those days there were many researchers who didn't believe that they needed computers, and even some of those who did weren't connected to the Internet. Nobody would embark on their research today unless they had an Internet connection - it just wouldn't make sense - but there are still some old-timers who eschew newer methods.
When Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself, "first as tragedy, then as farce" he was referring to Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis Napoleon, who became Napoleon III.
But when I wrote at the end of the preceding article about the tragic failure of so many family historians to recognise the potential of computers and the Internet, I suddenly realised that history is indeed repeating itself - and arguably there is something farcical about it.
Many of you would be surprised at how many emails I still get from readers who are not convinced that DNA tests can help. On the one hand they point to people who have learned things that shocked them, and on the other they direct me to articles which question whether the tests work at all. Either they work or they donít - you canít have it both ways!
The reality is that good news doesnít sell as many newspapers as bad news. So "Family historian knocks down 15 year-old brick wall thanks to DNA" isnít going to be nearly as appealing to readers as "DNA disaster - Donna discovers Dad was donor". I made the last one up, by the way.
The point I'm trying to make is that ignoring the potential of DNA testing to confirm and complement more conventional research methods is not so very different from the attitude of the Luddites who refused to accept the help of computers and the Internet. In fact itís worse, because whereas paper records are carefully preserved and protected once they are archived, DNA records are being lost every day without anyone realising.
I'm not taking about DNA results being lost, I'm talking about the DNA record that vanishes for ever when someone dies. Other than identical twins, no two people have precisely the same DNA - siblings each inherit half of their parents' DNA, but it isn't the same half. And no matter how many children you have, there will be some of your DNA that isnít inherited by any of them.
Those researchers who spurn DNA, or sit on the fence, are not only missing an opportunity but guilty of allowing valuable information to be destroyed. It's not a victimless crime either, because each of us shares our ancestors with countless thousands of living cousins - and the evidence that we turn our back on could be key to someone else's investigation. †
Even those family historians who have embraced DNA often test the wrong people. In my family there's nobody from the previous generation still alive but some of you are in a more fortunate position. Yes, if you test yourself instead of asking your parents (or their siblings) to test you'll save money, but the price is a high one - you'll lose half of the information in your parents' DNA
You may not believe me or the experts when we tell you how useful DNA testing can be, but if youíre right and I'm wrong, all you will have lost is a few quid. On the other hand, if youíre wrong and I'm right youíre losing something infinitely more valuable - the genetic information inherited from your ancestors. Are you really prepared to take that risk?
If you've taken an autosomal DNA test you'll know that while DNA produces lots of matches with genetic cousins it only tells half the story - the rest has to come from records-based research, and from finding cousins in more conventional ways.
Christmas is a time for giving, so from now until New Year's Day I'm offering members the chance to give their DNA cousins a free LostCousins subscription that runs until 1st May 2019 (the 15th Birthday of LostCousins).
LostCousins can help your cousins in at least three ways:
All you need to do is pass on to your DNA cousins the special offer code on your My Summary page - all they need to do is enter it in the offer codes box (at the bottom of the registration page) when they join the LostCousins site. There are no catches - they wonít be asked to provide their bank or card details, nor will they need to cancel at the end of the period (they'll automatically convert to free basic membership).
Here's how to find the offer code (it begins with the letters DNA):
If your code isn't shown on your My Summary page it's because you havenít told me yet that you've taken a DNA test. But please donít send me an email - instead update your My Details page (it's the last item on the page) and try again.
Tip: you donít need to have figured out how you're related to your genetic cousins for them to benefit from this offer. But there's probably not much point in inviting them to join if they donít have ancestors from one of more of the countries listed above.
Take part in the LostCousins project
Just over 15 years ago I had a dream - to connect family historians who share the same ancestors wherever they are in the world.
I envisaged a system that would provide privacy and would be automatic - yet at the same time would be 100% accurate. And to this day the LostCousins site is the only one that can do this. Other sites with their online trees and hints do their best, but they don't offer the privacy or the accuracy that LostCousins members have come to expect.
If you received an email from me telling you about this newsletter youíre already a LostCousins member, and can take part in my project - you don't need any subscriptions because the key censuses are all free online.
Start entering your relatives from 1881 today - the Getting Started guide on the Help & Advice page will show you how to enter your first household, and once you've discovered how quick and easy it is to find your 'lost cousins' you won't want to stop!
Tip: if you've forgotten how to log-in just click this link and enter your email address (as shown in the email that told you about this newsletter).
The 15% discount offer for first-time subscribers continues (see last issue for full details); but bearing in mind that LostCousins members are more experienced than most, I'm trying to arrange an offer for lapsed subscribers - though it might not be quite as generous.
This week Findmypast added 2.4 million new records in partnership with the Portsmouth History Centre - you can find out all about them here.
Save up to 50% on WDYTYA? magazine EXCLUSIVE
I subscribed to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine from the very first issue, and I've read every single edition since then.
Buying a subscription is always cheaper than buying individual copies at the newsagents, but I've negotiated an even better offer for readers of this newsletter: if youíre in the UK you can save 50% on the print edition when you follow this link and pay by direct debit - it's just £15.75 for 6 issues!
I'm hoping that I'll have an offer for members outside the UK in my next newsletter - it won't be quite as generous because postage is a much higher proportion of the cost, but it should still be tempting.
The first story in this issue reminds us that not all birth parents want to be found - for some it's a part of their life that they have left behind:
"In 1975 we adopted a baby girl - a long struggle in those days because my husband was 39 and considered too old by most agencies. She came with a bottle of medicine for colic which had her birth name on the label, and this made tracing her birth mother much easier when the time came.
"Although we had always been honest and spoken of her origins - and she was always adamant that we were her parents, nobody else - she did have a feeling of rejection which affected her ability to form and maintain relationships with her peers.
"When she was 17 she started asking about tracing her birth family, in particular two half-brothers she was keen to meet. I managed to trace a current address for the mother, and wrote to her explaining that D was keen to make contact with her and the reasons - to which I received a very pleasant reply which said that, while she was happy to answer any questions, she did not at that time feel ready to meet or have direct contact. She added that when her sons were old enough she would explain about their older sister.
"No further contact was made or received so a couple of years later we contacted the agency and it was arranged for D & myself to travel to their headquarters, speak to a counsellor, and see the adoption file, which we did - and we were provided with a copy of all the documents in the file.
"After another couple of years D was becoming more obsessed about meeting her brothers, and even threatened to visit their home and knock on the door or lie in wait for them and then approach them. In view of this, I wrote again to the birth mother to ask if she was now ready for direct contact, but as she had left her parents' home by then and was not on an electoral roll, I sent it with a covering letter to her mother.
"The response was totally unexpected - the mother wrote telling me she had no interest in meeting her granddaughter and the birth mother wrote that her parents had had a tremendous shock, that I was never to contact them again and she herself did not want further contact. I did reply apologising but asked if she could at least help me to contact the birth father whom I knew had moved to London and had a very common name - but was informed that she knew nothing.
"I did try unsuccessfully to find the father and D's emigration to NZ put the matter in abeyance - until early last year when she took an Ancestry DNA test and asked me to try again to find her birth father and brothers.
"To cut this saga short, I was fortunate enough to find a public tree which I felt sure belonged to a sibling of the father and contacted the tree owner, who turned out to be the brother-in-law. He was very suspicious at first - because his wife knew nothing of D's existence - but then they contacted the father, who told them that I was correct and they could pass on his contact details, which they did. After some exchange of emails he was happy to have direct contact so they are now in regular contact and plan to meet next summer when D and family holiday in Europe.
"I managed to find the brothers through Facebook and D is now in regular contact with the older one, but the younger brother is not interested. When the brother first asked his mother about D's claims she refused to discuss the matter and it caused a rift between them for some while.
"All in all, very mixed results but the father is delighted - he married a divorcee and has a stepson, but never fathered another child of his own. Whilst he took no part in any of the adoption proceedings that was not because he was an irresponsible teenager, it was because he was never kept informed - in fact his ex-girlfriend deliberately refused to have any contact with him or let him know what was happening. The brother is also really pleased about finding a sister. The main thing is that D has finally come to terms with her adoption and knows that she was not rejected by all involved which has meant she can now get on with her life."
The second story ends with a useful tip that might help others in the same position:
"I read the recent adoption articles with some interest on two fronts: 'knowing' and 'finding'.
"Starting with 'knowing', this is something that always rests at the back of your mind. I was born in 1948 and adopted at 5 months, then raised by very kind and caring adopted parents - but the idea that you might have just walked past a brother or sister in the street is never far from your thoughts.
"But it wasn't until I turned 40, with a son of my own that the urge to 'find' my birth family became overpowering. I applied for my original birth certificate and received it in the post on 21st April 1990 - which, by tragic coincidence. was the very day my birth mother collapsed and died.
"In consequence the need to 'find' my birth family was put back on hold for some years, until the age of 60+ and then with the aid of the Internet, searching became easier, so now I have found siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. But 'finding' my birth father was never going to be easy, because his name wasn't on the birth certificate and my birth mother had died.
"This is when I had a bit of luck with - it's something that I haven't come across before which might be of help to other readers hoping to 'find' their birth families. I was advised to apply to Social Services for access to my adoption file, which contained letters from/to the Local Authorities, Juvenile Court, birth mother and adopting parents and turned out to be highly interesting in many ways.
"A form of questionnaire had been completed by my birth mother and this revealed not only my father's name, but also the fact he was in the British Army. Unfortunately he too died before I could contact him, however I did manage to 'find' and meet his younger sister and a cousin. I trust my experience might help someone else with breaking down the 'brick wall' of a blank space in the column headed father on a birth certificate."
On re-reading the article in the last issue I realised I hadn't made it clear that in my view the birth registration was intended to deceive, and that Harriet Lydia Holmes was not the daughter of my ancestors John Holmes and Hannah Read, but the illegitimate child of their second-eldest daughter Harriet, who was coming up to 19 years old at the time the baby was born.
Of course, itís not always possible to find conclusive evidence for one point of view or the other, especially when the evidence that exists is confusing or contradictory. We donít really know what happened to young Harriet Lydia between her birth in July 1851 and her appearance as Harriet Clark, aged 9, on the 1861 Census. Nor can we be certain why she is shown as single in the 1871 Census, even though she married John Charles Richards in November 1869.
What is certain, however, is that her marriage to Richards ended in divorce in 1877 - quite surprising in one sense, considering that no more than few hundred couples divorced annually in 1870s England. But reading the case papers, which are online at Ancestry it is clear that the marriage was very short-lived, the couple having parted in March 1870. The documentation also reveals that there was a child of the marriage, who had lived for just 9 days - so perhaps it was a 'shotgun wedding'.
The grounds for the divorce was Harriett Lydia's adultery with George Palmer, which allegedly began in March 1870, but even though the divorce from Richards became absolute in January 1877 it was not until April 1880 that Harriett eventually married George. Confusingly she gave her father's name as Philip Holmes, a dealer - but after George Palmer died she married for a third time, to John Sipple, and on this occasion she gave her father's name as John Holmes, so there's no doubt that it's the same Harriett.
None of that helps to build the case that that Harriet was the grand-daughter of John & Hannah, rather than their daughter - as the birth registration attests. And whilst †Harriett Lydia married three times the only child she bore died in infancy, so there is no possibility of using DNA to determine her parentage.
But there is telling evidence in the 1891 Census, when Harriett - by then a widow - is living with Mary Ann Savage (nťe Holmes), also a widow.
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by permission of Findmypast
You can see that Harriett L Palmer is shown as the niece of Mary Ann, and not as her sister. For me this is convincing evidence that Harriet(t) Lydia was indeed the daughter of Harriet Holmes, Mary Ann's younger sister.
You'll often see mention of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) - it's effectively a checklist of the processes we should go through before accepting something as fact, and you can read an excellent explanation of the five elements in this article by Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogists.
My view of the GPS is that it's largely designed to protect professional genealogists who might be sued by their clients if it transpires that some key part of the research they've carried out is wrong. But whereas a professional genealogist needs to complete projects in order to submit invoices, we amateurs have the luxury of being able to leave things 'in the balance' until there is absolute proof that we're correct.
Given the number of errors, deliberate or otherwise, that have been found in birth, marriage, and death register entries it's rarely possible to be 100% certain if all we have to go on are paper records. We can point to a series of census or other entries that support our hypothesis, but if someone didn't know when or where they were born, or who their father really was, the written evidence could be consistently wrong.
It can be very reassuring when we encounter other researchers who have come to the same conclusion as we have, but it doesn't mean that we're right - if everyone was relying on the same flawed evidence it's likely they'll come to the same conclusion. I can remember a situation in which a dozen of my cousins had all come to the same conclusion about the parentage of their ancestor, but they all had the same wrong answer - because they hadnít seen the evidence that I had gathered while researching another branch of the family.
Someone said to me recently that they like to find three pieces of independent evidence that confirm a birth or marriage - the problem is, how independent can records really be given considering that all of the informants are likely to be close relatives?
Perhaps itís only with the widespread adoption of DNA testing that we now have a body of independent evidence to confirm or contradict our assumptions?
All of the offers in the last newsletter are continuing, but there's an extra bonus from Family Tree DNA - they're halving their shipping charge for overseas customers this weekend, which means their 37-marker Y-DNA test is well worth considering if you have a male 'brick wall' ancestor (remember, the person who tests needs to be a male cousin with the right surname). †
Please remember that you'll only be supporting LostCousins when you click one of my links to make your purchase.
Ancestry.co.uk - £63 plus shipping until 11.59pm GMT on 25th December
Ancestry.com.au - $89 plus shipping until 11.59pm AEST on 25th December
Ancestry.com - $59 plus taxes & shipping until 24th December
Ancestry.ca - $89 plus shipping until 11.59pm EST on 25th December
Family Tree DNA - $99 plus shipping for Y-DNA, $49 for Family Finder until 31st December
Findmypast are also discounting their DNA tests, though not by as much as on Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Their tests - provided by Living DNA - offer the most detailed ethnicity estimates for those of us with mostly English heritage. See this article for more details.
If you decide to order the Findmypast test please use the links below - the discounts last until midnight (London time) on 17th December; prices are in local currency:
UK - REDUCED FROM £79 to £69
Ireland - REDUCED FROM Ä89 to Ä79
Australia - REDUCED FROM $129 to $119
Canada - REDUCED FROM $99 to $89
USA - REDUCED FROM $89 to $79
Radio Times covers from the 1940s go online
When I was a boy the Radio Times was so important in our household that it had a dedicated leather cover, with the title gold-blocked on the front. Of course, in those days it only listed BBC broadcasts - if you wanted to know what was on the commercial channel you had to buy the TV Times (which we seldom did) or rely on the daily paper.
Radio Times covers from the 1940s have recently gone online - see this BBC News article. But much more exciting for me is the prospect of listening to (or watching) historic broadcasts, a new feature that has been added to the BBC Genome website, which has programme information from the Radio Times from 1923-2009.
About 30% of the programmes listed are in the BBC Archive, and there is an ongoing project to link the programme listings to the relevant recording (but it's a slow process - only 18,000 programmes have been linked so far). For example, if you follow this link you can hear a September 1939 wireless broadcast from Waterloo Station describing the scene as hundreds of evacuees board a train departing for an unnamed destination - it's a reminder for those of us who can't find our parents in the 1939 Register that evacuation to the country was already well advanced by Registration Day.
There's a lot of wartime material - this page in the archive has links to harrowing first-hand accounts of the horrors of Belsen and other concentration camps. The Battle of Britain is recalled in a number of programmes, including this 1941 radio dramatisation and this 1965 television documentary featuring Douglas Bader, the leg-less air ace whose story was told in the book (and later, film) Reach for the Sky.
Note: Paul Brickhill's biography of Bader was the first of many war books - all Book Club editions - that I read as a child in the 1950s. One of the many interesting things that my wife told me after we got together was that she had met Douglas Bader some years before, and I later discovered that the mother of my half 4th cousin used to clean for him when he lived in Rickmansworth in the early 1950s - what an amazing coincidence!
With the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing coming up in 2019 you might also be interested in this 2009 documentary in which Buzz Aldrin "relives the dangerous and dramatic moments of the final descent to the lunar surface".
Note: I once had the opportunity to talk to Buzz Aldrin - but didn't. It's one of the few things in my life that I truly regret!
I'm not old enough to remember Band Waggon, a radio programme that ran on the BBC, but the programme broadcast on 30th September 1939 - the day after National Registration Day, started with a sketch with Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch about the completion of the household schedule - you can see the Radio Times entry here.
The recording isn't available at the BBC Archive website, but LostCousins member Francis found it here (itís also on YouTube). I suspect that whilst the sketch is played for laughs there was a serious intent.
I discovered this short film promoting the 1951 UK Census at YouTube - itís amazing what you can find if you look (a bit like family history!).
A 120 year-old letter to Santa Claus has turned up inside a book donated to a charity shop - you can see it in this BBC News article. The person who discovered the letter tried to find out more about the letter writer, but without success - however Gill, the LostCousins member who drew my attention to the article soon found little Marjorie in the 1901 Census:
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and used by permission of Findmypast
Are you wondering what happened to Marjorie? Searching at Findmypast I've found her marriage, the birth of her two children, and her death in 1965. It's possible one of her children is still living, but they would be well into their 90s.
Note: did you see this article about a young boy who sent a letter addressed "Mr Postman can you take this to Heaven for my dad's Birthday" - it's one of those rare stories that's simultaneously sad and uplifting.
Truth can certainly be stranger than fiction - the web of intrigue that surrounded Alexander Wilson, author of mystery novels and sometime MI6 operative enmeshed four women, all of whom thought they were married to him.
If you havenít already watched the recent dramatisation there's as chance to see it on BBC iPlayer (provided you live in the UK), but you've only got 26 days.
I'm not going to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but it's one of those stories that will resonate with many family historians - many of us have someone in our tree who ended up with two families, usually completely unknown to each other. Indeed, some of us are still discovering what our ancestors got up to - thanks to DNA!
By a strange coincidence there's a link, albeit a tenuous one, between Alexander Wilson and LostCousins - if you've read the article on the BBC website by his grandson Sam Wilson, you'll know that he was mentioned in a 1943 letter, now declassified, from the head of MI6, known as 'C'. Indeed, it may well have been 'C' who took the decision to fire Wilson.
From 1939 to 1952 MI6 was headed by Major General Sir Stewart Menzies, whose widow lived for many years in the house where LostCousins was founded (and is still based). Whether 'C' ever visited isn't known - he and his 3rd wife had a strange relationship, living on opposite sides of London and meeting up once a week in an hotel in the capital. Almost as strange as Alexander Wilson!
Did you see the article about the man who collected rubber bands supposedly dropped by the postman? He's described as an 'eco warrior', but all he did was turn them into a useless ball of rubber - whereas I reuse every one of the rubber bands around our post. I find them very handy, using them around the house and also when I'm travelling - and I suspect I'm not the only one.
Do you want to pay for one of your overseas cousins to take an Ancestry DNA test? You'll probably run into a problem - for regulatory and other reasons Ancestry donít ship to different countries. The simplest solution is to send your cousin the money (eg using PayPal) so that they can order the test themselves, but another option is to 'swap' with another researcher who has the opposite problem to you.
For example, supposing youíre in the UK and want to pay for a cousin in Australia to test - if you can find someone in Australia who wants a cousin in the UK to test you can each help the other out, with no money changing hands. It's rather like the plot of the Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train - where the leading characters swap murders - but somewhat more civilised!
But if youíre outside the UK and can't find someone here to swap with, maybe I can help?
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'll be back in touch before Christmas - and hopefully by then my teeth will have stopped chattering! We've been without central heating since Monday as we're having a new boiler fitted (the old one dates from the 1970s), and are taking the opportunity to upgrade some of the radiators, fit the remainder with thermostatic valves, and fix some other issues. Not ideal with the temperature outside hovering around zero, and the temperature inside not much higher, despite keeping our log-burner going - but it should pay off in terms of reduced heating bills for years to come.
© Copyright 2018 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?