Newsletter – 19th December 2020
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 11th 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):
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Everyone seems to think that Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas, but the move to ban Christmas and other "supposedly frivolous additions to the religious calendar" began in the mid-1500s, long before Cromwell was born. However, it wasn't until 1644, in the midst of the 1st English Civil War, that the ban was enshrined in law: in that year Parliament passed legislation abolishing Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun.
Nevertheless at this time King Charles was still on the throne, and his head was still intact (and remained so until January 1649). Legislation in 1647 took things a stage further, by providing for anyone who celebrated Christmas to be fined – Puritans believed that, rather than a feast day, it should be a day of fasting (and a normal working day).
Though Cromwell was one of the Puritan leaders in Parliament, he didn't assume the position of Lord Protector until 1653, and as you'll know from my book review in the last issue, his son-in-law Henry Ireton was arguably more influential until the latter's death in 1651. So to lay the whole blame on Cromwell is a bit unfair.
England wasn't the only country where Christmas was banned in the 17th century – in 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers spent their first Christmas in Massachusetts working, and in Boston the observance of Christmas was outlawed between 1659 and 1681.
Note: although the Pilgrim Fathers were Separatists, not Puritans, they shared many of the same beliefs - the biggest difference was that the Puritans believed they could change the Church from the inside.
In the UK many families have been looking forward to meeting up at Christmas, as it was announced a while ago that all four countries had agreed that legal restrictions would be relaxed for the period 23rd-27th December. But will it be safe to take advantage of this opportunity? Just because something is legal doesn't make it safe.
At the time the announcement regarding Christmas was made, the Government and their scientific advisers were hoping for a fall in infections, but in many parts of the UK the figures have moved in the wrong direction; this week's changes aren't going to have much impact this side of Christmas. It’s therefore understandable that many have suggested that Christmas should be cancelled, but even in Germany, where a strict lockdown has been imposed until January they're relaxing the regulations over Christmas (see this BBC article for more details). Instead governments have chosen to trust the population to be very, very careful.
Mixing between households, especially indoors, greatly increases the opportunities for the virus to spread. Whilst the most prudent course would be to ignore Christmas and abide by the usual rules for the area where you live, the psychological impact would be quite significant, especially since many of us haven't been able to meet with our friends and relatives for a long time.
But the real danger is not so much mixing of households per se, but the mixing of generations. The younger generations are far more likely to be the unwitting carriers of COVID-19, the Typhoid Marys of the 21st century – they're much more likely to have jobs or other responsibilities that involve interactions with other households.
Most people reading this newsletter are of my generation – family history is one of those pursuits that people tend to take up later in life – so it’s quite likely that the family members you’re planning to meet up with over Christmas are younger. It goes without saying that hugs, kisses, and even handshakes are out of bounds - but if you’re going to be eating together, consider whether you can organise the seating plan in such a way that different households are kept apart. Separate tables?
And keep the noise down. If there's music playing keep the volume low, and don't put the TV on unless everyone wants to watch – otherwise voices will get louder and the risk of virus particles spreading will be far higher. If you're waiting for a programme to start, mute the sound.
Whoever you plan to see, ask them to isolate themselves as much as possible in the days before you meet up – the UK government has suggested 5 days, which was also going to be my suggestion had there not been an official recommendation. This may mean them making some sacrifices, but just imagine how awful it would be for all concerned if you caught COVID-19 from them. The longer the gap between them coming into contact with other people, and then coming into contact with you, the less likely it is that they'll unknowingly pass the virus on to you.
Everyone can reduce the risk further by downloading the app that will tell you if you've been close to someone who has later tested positive. Not everyone believes in this sort of interference in people's personal lives, but you don’t have to spend Christmas with those people, and I recommend that you don't.
Tip: a lot of people think they had COVID-19 in the first wave, but were never tested. Remember that just because somebody has had COVID-19 and recovered doesn't mean that they can’t catch it again, nor does it mean that they can’t pass it on to others. So don't take any chances - lives are at stake.
The safest option is to do what I suggested recently – see your friends and relatives over Zoom, Skype or Facetime rather than coming together physically. It can still be a special occasion - put them on the big screen and it'll be just like having them in the same room! But infinitely safer…..
Tip: most laptops have an HDMI output, so you can link them up to a monitor or TV. I recently bought a couple of cheap USB video cameras so that I don’t have to rely on my laptop's built-in camera – this would also be a good move if you use a desktop computer and don’t have a camera.
When I launched the competition in the last issue I revealed that Findmypast have generously donated a PRO subscription (worth almost £160) – but that there would be many more prizes. And there are – so many wonderful prizes, in fact, that I've given up on the idea of announcing them one at a time, because the competition would be over before I'd finished.
So here’s a full list of the prizes to date (I can’t promise that there won't be more):
12 month PRO subscription to Findmypast (worth £159.99)
Virtually unlimited access to over 8 billion historical records from around the world, modern electoral registers for the UK, and more than 300 million newspaper articles
12 month Diamond subscription to The Genealogist (worth £139.95)
Unlimited access to a wide range of records including non-conformist records, exclusive tithe records and tithe maps, and a growing collection of 'Lloyd George' Domesday records and maps which you won't find at any other site.
12 month unlimited subscription to British Newspaper Archive (worth £79.95)
Over 40 million pages from historic British and Irish newspapers, with hundreds of thousands more pages added every month. Optimised search features including the ability to search for articles added after a particular date, so that you don't have to repeatedly trawl through articles you've previously read or discarded.
12 month subscription to Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine (worth at least £60)
A wealth of news, knowledge, and information from the world of genealogy – plus some inside stories from the TV series.
Family Historian v7 (just out!)
Simon Orde, the programmer of this Great British program has generously offered to donate a digital copy to the lucky winner. But you don’t have to wait for the result of the competition to find out what amazing features the program offers – you can download a free trial version here.
Three autographed copies of The Asylum-Hiding the Past
Nathan Dylan Goodwin will dedicate these copies to the three lucky winners – two great stories in a single paperback, Hiding the Past introduced us to Morton Farrier, The Asylum is a prequel to that first novel.
Morton Farrier is a fascinating character, but it’s important to remember the valuable contributions made by his other half, Juliette.
Autographed copies of The Marriage Certificate and The Death Certificate
Stephen Molyneux will sign copies of the paperbacks for the lucky winner. His debut genealogical mystery novel, The Marriage Certificate, is one of my all-time favourites, and The Death Certificate is a worthy follow-up.
Is he going to follow up with a novel entitled The Birth Certificate? I certainly hope so!
To have a chance of winning one of these fabulous prizes just do what should come naturally to any reader of this newsletter – complete your My Cousins page so that I can connect you to the other members who are researching the same ancestors – your 'lost cousins'. See the last issue for more advice.
If you've read The Death Certificate (if you haven’t, you'll find my review here), you'll know that it was partly inspired by the exploits of two 19th century mudlarks who discovered that forgery provided an easier path to riches. This week some of their fakes came up for auction, and fetched some pretty impressive prices (though below the pre-sale estimate).
If you've read the book and want to see some examples of the Shadwell Forgeries, follow this link.
Death certificates rarely provide good news, and when LostCousins member David discovered an article in the British Newspaper Archive which indicated that his great-grandfather had died in hospital after being admitted with throat wounds it was with some foreboding that he ordered a PDF of the death entry.
It might have been murder, but in fact the wounds were self-inflicted wounds - the coroner's verdict was "suicide while of unsound mind". Things haven’t changed – despite all the other advances the human race has made there still isn’t much good news in the newspapers!
Richard wrote to me after reading the story in the last issue about the discovery by another Richard of his great-great-great-great grandfther's mourning ring in an auction sale.
His story was similar, except that his discovery was the result of the kindness of somebody he'd never met, and possibly never will:
"I have a rather haphazard blog in which one post I wrote is a short biography of my great grandfather Thomas Henry James. One day earlier this year a message from MikeB appeared against the post reading 'Would you be interested in a item relating to him'. Well, I'm a family historian - of course I would.
"It turned out that MikeB is a medal collector who had spotted on eBay a Victorian Coastguard Service Long Service and Good Conduct medal with my great-grandfather's name engraved on the rim. In doing a little research on the name MikeB found my blog post, and very kindly allowed me first dibs on the medal. It just goes to show that you never know how a family history connection will be made; and you never know what generosity may be visited upon you from unknown quarters."
Completing your My Ancestors page is a way that you can help people that you don’t know with their family history (and more likely than not they'll be able to help you in return). So make the most of the next 6 weeks, when you can win prizes just for doing the right thing!
Read all about my competition in the article above.
The title of Ben Norman's book - A History of Death in 17th Century England – sets the scene for an often fascinating, but sometimes gruesome, account of the differing ways in which our 17th century ancestors met their Maker.
The chapter titles are a good guide to the contents: The Natural Death, The Soldierly Death, The Criminal Death, The Deathbed, Of Corpses Coffins and Carriages, The Common and the Noble Funeral, Royal Funerals, The Unorthodox Burial, and Remembrance.
There is a tendency when writing about earlier centuries to focus on the rich, the royal, the famous, and the infamous – probably because more information about them has survived – but I'm glad to say that this author maintains a fairer balance than most. Of course, what matters most for the family historian is whether we can apply what we have learned to the study of our ancestors, and that's going to vary depending on who they were.
Nevertheless, we can learn so little from a one line burial register entry that most people are going to end up with a better understanding of their ancestors' lives and deaths as a result of reading this book. I read the paperback but it is also available in Kindle format.
LostCousins members tend to be generous with their time – I frequently hear from members who are researching on behalf of friend, a cousin, or (most commonly) their life partner.
Because of the way that LostCousins works you cannot enter someone else's relatives on your own My Ancestors page – the system isn't designed for this, and you’re likely to end up confusing other members as well as yourself.
But there's nothing to stop you opening a LostCousins account on behalf of your spouse, a friend, or a relative - just so long as you have their permission. You can even use your own email address, though there is a limit of two accounts per email address (and they must have different passwords).
Tip: if you’re the one doing all the research, and you’re the one adding all the relatives to the other person's My Ancestors, then should one of those entries win a prize in my New Year competition, you would be entitled to claim it. Never has helping a friend been so rewarding!
All sorts of unexpected finds turn up in parish records, but when Anne was researching her Heaven relatives she was surprised to discover that Rev Edward Blackwell - the vicar of Amberley, Gloucestershire and a keen amateur photographer in those early days of the hobby - had photographed his flock in the 1860s.
Even more amazing was the discovery that his photo albums were at Gloucestershire Archives, and that included in the albums are photos of Anne's great-great-great grandfather Enoch Heaven and his wife, as well as Anne's great-great grandmother!
Copies of the photos are on the village website, although when I last checked they hadn't been indexed – however it is in hand. I wonder how many other parishes have similar hidden gems?
Flying cars are on the horizon, but flying boats go back a long way. This recent news story about a WW2 era flying boat stranded in Scotland reminded me of Beatrix Potter, whose biography I enjoyed so much that I reviewed it in the last issue.
Flying boats were tested in the Lake District before WW1, much to the annoyance of Miss Potter, who was fiercely protective of the local countryside. I can remember reading about a flying boat in one of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books, but until I read the Potter book I hadn’t realised that they went back to the birth of aviation. Indeed according to Wikipedia, the first patent was filed in 1876, and the first flying boat was tested (albeit unsuccessfully) in 1898, several years before the Wright brothers made their historic flight.
I've been exceptionally busy recently – and not just answering emails in response to the last issue, and writing the current one. In fact it was more currant then current – I finally got around to making Christmas Puddings and Christmas Cake.
As usual I followed Frances Bissell's fatless pudding recipe cut out from The Times in 1999 - I also have her 1987 and 1988 recipes which are very similar, but include a couple of ingredients that I didn't have in my store cupboard. However, as you would expect, I made a few modifications anyway: extra dried fruit and nuts (as usual), but for the first time I added some brown sugar – there's no sugar at all in the recipe. When I've followed this recipe in the past I've always felt the pudding tasted just a little too healthy for a once a year celebration, and ended up eating far more brandy and rum butter than is good for me. Hopefully putting sugar in the pudding will prove to be the lesser of the two evils!
The other change I made was to substitute home-made sloe gin for the suggested brandy or orange liqueur – I don’t know how it will work out (ask me in a week's time!), but I'm pretty confident that it was a good choice. The scrapings from the bowl certainly tasted good!
For the cake I chose a recipe from the beginning of the millennium by the Australian cook Jill Dupleix, who took over from Frances Bissell at The Times when she was unceremoniously and, probably, unfairly dismissed in 2000 (though as a freelancer she sadly lost the subsequent Employment Tribunal case). She begins by soaking the fruit overnight in whisky – I couldn’t resist substituting my own bullace gin, and adding cherries - but otherwise I remained pretty faithful to her instructions. I still can’t decide whether or not to ice the cake – I made an extra, miniature, cake with leftover mixture and will taste this before making my decision. And no, I don’t make my own marzipan, though my mother used to.
For the first time I've made my own crystallised peel – using satsuma and grapefruit. It was a lot of effort, and too late to be incorporated in the cakes and puddings, but I'm planning to dice some to use when I make home-made mincemeat this weekend. And given how good the offcuts tasted I may dip the remaining strips of peel in dark chocolate to create very special Christmas presents; if that all sounds tempting you'll find the recipe here.
Tip: I saved the leftover syrup for use in future recipes – it has a wonderful bittersweet flavour.
It's not often that I discover a supermarket product that's worth recommending, but De Nigris Glazé Sweet Fig with Balsamic Vinegar is a rare exception, and at £2 for a 250ml bottle it’s also an incredible bargain (I've bought several to use as Christmas presents). I found it at Tesco, but there's also a White Truffle version which I haven't tried yet, though reviewers say it is wonderful – so I'm sorely tempted! You can buy the pair at Amazon, but they'll cost you nearly 4 times as much.
I use the Sweet Fig vinegar when I'm making Grilled Goats Cheese Salad with Walnuts – previously I'd make my own dressing, but this is so much easier, and it looks better too because you can swirl it over the salad. There's no need to give you the recipe – the title is pretty self-explanatory – but you do need to use French Goats Cheese log, otherwise it goes all over place when you grill it. (You don't grill the salad, of course, just the cheese – on a piece of foil.)
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'll be back soon – but in the meantime, please stay safe. And remember, there's not much that's safer than researching your family tree and completing your My Ancestors page!
© 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? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.