Newsletter - 16th February 2019
Free access to Ancestry.co.uk this weekend ENDS MONDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 8th February 2019) 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!
Free access to Ancestry this weekend ENDS MONDAY
Until midnight on Monday 18th February Ancestry.co.uk is offering free access to all UK and Irish records - over 1 billion of them. This offer only applies at the UK site, and might be restricted to users who live in the UK or Ireland - that's something I can't check.
To take advantage of the offer please follow this link. Please note that you'll need to log-in or register in order to take advantage of the offer - but you wonít have to provide payment details.
Ancestry in Australia are providing free access to over 274 million Australian, New Zealand, and UK marriage records, as well as to many of their immigration records. This free access offer ends at midnight on Sunday 17th February - click this link for more information.
Members who took part in my New Year Competition reaped most of the benefits - and I'm not talking about the fabulous prizes, but the connections to living relatives who are researching the same ancestors. I was particularly delighted to receive this email from Shirley:
Since inputting new information in December, I have had 3 matches with 'lost cousins' come through. I have been in contact with these people, two from Canada and one here in England. They have each been very helpful to me and I have been able to knock down a number of brick walls and now, with the help of my Ancestry membership, I have been able to add many more distant cousins to my family tree.
The major use of these new contacts though, has been to validate that the information I have gleaned from Ancestry about direct ancestors is correct, which is a real joy!
In addition to this, I am sure I have made at least one new friend. I have been doing my tree on and off for 20 years now, but never felt so connected before, so once again Thank you so much!
It's the last bit that really brought a smile to my face - family history might seem to outsiders to be a rather solitary pursuit, but it certainly doesn't need to be that way.
This series of articles will be of interest for anyone who wants a better understanding of how the registration system in England & Wales did, and didnít, work in the 19th century.
Just to make it clear, although I recently reviewed a book of Kate Luard's letters, I donít have a particular interest in the family. Nor am I trying to find out when Kate Luard was born, or when she was baptised (I already know the answers). What does interest me, though, is why the birth registration for Kate Luard is missing from the GRO indexes - both the contemporary indexes and the new ones. Is it feasible that a middle class family headed by a Church of England vicar would register the births of some children but not others? And if so, why?
Whilst prior to 1875 there was no penalty for failing to register a birth (although there was a penalty for late registration), there are relatively few instances of unregistered births after the 1840s - and yet, not only is Kate's birth missing from the indexes, so are the births of some of her siblings and cousins. And yet most Luard births were registered, so it doesnít seem that there was any principle at stake.
Alternatively, is it possible that a birth could be registered at a local register office, but not be recorded in the registers at the General Register Office? Entries submitted to the GRO were copied from the local registers, using the same numbers, so any gap should have been obvious. But perhaps the system wasn't completely foolproof?
Over at the LostCousins Forum we've also been looking at other possibilities (you can see the discussion here but you wonít be able to post messages yourself unless you are a member of the forum). For example, might Rev Bixby Luard and his wife Clara have adopted a child and brought her up as their own? As you'll see from the forum discussion there is a twin girl in a nearby parish whose birth was registered, but who then seems to vanish - there is no baptism, no burial, and no death record.
I decided to examine the baptism registers for Aveley, the parish where Kate Luard's father was the incumbent, and where she was baptised on 28th July 1872. Kate's baptism was entry 796 in a baptism register with 800 numbered entries (8 on each of the 100 printed pages). I started by checking the first 10 entries in the next register, which was first used on 1st September 1872 - I was able to find birth registrations for all of them, mostly in Orsett registration district in the 3rd quarter of 1872 (the quarter in which Kate's birth would almost certainly have been registered, as she was born at the end of June).
I then turned to the last page of the previous register, the page on which Kate's baptism was recorded. I was able to find most of the infants in the birth indexes, but there were three which I couldn't find - entries 796, 797, and 798. The first was for Kate Evelyn Luard, the second (on the same day) was for Lucy Ellen Groves (parents Samuel & Mary Ann), and the third (on 25th August) was for Reginald Thomas Francis (parents Alfred & Harriett Selina). This certainly hints at some error in the registration system, and if so it is very unlikely that a single parish was affected - I'd expect it to affect other parishes in the same sub-registration district.
Although it's easy to find out which parishes are in the same registration district using this index on the UKBMD website, and the names of the sub-districts are given, you canít easily find out which parishes are in each sub-district. I eventually found this page at the National Archives which provided the information as it was at the time of the 1851 Census. Over the next few days I'll be checking whether births for children baptised around the same time in other parishes are recorded at the GRO (so far I've checked Grays Thurrock - there were no omissions).
It's very frustrating when you can't find an ancestor's birth certificate - but often the 'brick wall' only exists in our imagination. Let's look at some of the key reasons why a certificate can't be found....
forename you know your ancestor by may not be the one on the birth certificate
Sometimes the name(s) given at the time of baptism would differ from the name(s) given to the registrar of births; sometimes a middle name was preferred, perhaps to avoid confusion with another family member, often the father. Although it was possible to amend a birth register entry to reflect a change of name at baptism, most people seem not to have bothered.
There can be all sorts of reasons why a different forename is used - one of my ancestors appears on some censuses as 'Ebenezer' and on others as 'John' (which I imagine was the name he was generally known by). In another family the children (and there were lots of them) were all known by their middle names.
names come and go
At the beginning of the 19th century it was rare to have a middle name, but by the beginning of the 20th century it was unusual not to have one. Some people invented middle names, some people dropped middle names they didn't like, and sometimes people simply forgot what was on the birth certificate.
For example, one of my relatives was registered as Fred, but in 1911 his father - my great-grandfather - gave his name as Frederick.
surname on the certificate may not be the one you expect
If the parents weren't married at the time of the birth then usually (but not always) the birth will be indexed under the mother's maiden name; the main exception is where the mother was using the father's surname and failed to disclose to the registrar that they weren't married. In the early days of civil registration some illegitimate births were indexed under the surnames of both parents (the examples I've seen are from the 1840s), but this anomaly was corrected when the GRO recompiled the indexes in the 21st century.
Surname spellings were not fixed in the 19th century, and some continued to change in the 20th century (the spelling of my grandmother's surname changed between her birth in 1894 and her marriage in 1915). Many surnames of foreign origin changed around the time of the First World War - even the Royal Family changed their name.
looking for the wrong father
Often the best clue you have to the identity of your ancestor's father is the information on his or her marriage certificate. Unfortunately marriage certificates are often incorrect - the father's name and/or occupation may well be wrong. This is particularly likely if your ancestor never knew his or her father, whether as a result of early death or illegitimacy. Not many people admit to being illegitimate on their wedding day - and in Victorian Britain illegitimacy was frowned upon, so single mothers often made up stories to tell their children (as well as the neighbours).
If the groom's name is the same as the name given for his father you should be especially wary - when you're struggling to find a birth it is a strong hint that the father isnít who the marriage register says he is. However it might only be the surname that's wrong - illegitimate sons were often named after their putative father.
Whether or not the birth was legitimate young children often took the name of the man their mother later married, so always bear in mind the possibility that the father whose name is shown on the marriage certificate is actually a step-father.
may be looking in the wrong place
A child's birthplace is likely to be shown correctly when he or she is living at home (few mothers are going to forget where they were when they gave birth!), but could well be incorrect after leaving home. Many people simply didn't know where they were born, and assumed it was the place where they remembered growing up.
The most accurate birthplace is the one given by the father or (especially) the mother of the person whose birth you're trying to track down; the least accurate is likely to be the one in the first census after they leave home. Enumerators also made mistakes, and sometimes added extra information - for example, my great-great grandmother was born in Lee, Kent but the 1851 Census shows her as born in Leith, Scotland. Clearly the enumerator could have misheard 'Lee' as 'Leith', but he wouldn't have mistaken 'Kent' for 'Scotland'. Another common error made by enumerators was to switch the birthplaces of the head of household and his wife.
may be looking in the wrong period
Ages on censuses are often wrong, as are the ages shown on marriage certificates - especially if there is an age gap between the parties, or one or both is below the age of consent (21). Sometimes people didn't know how old they were, or knew which year they were born but bungled the subtraction; ages on death certificates can be little more than guesses, or may be based on an incorrect age shown on the deceased's marriage certificate. Remember too that births could be registered up to 42 days afterwards without penalty, so many will be recorded in the following quarter - and they could be registered up to 365 days afterwards on payment of a fine.
In my experience, where the marriage certificate shows 'of full age' it's often an indication that in reality at least one of them was under 21. It was only very recently that vicars were given the power to require evidence of age and identity.
birth was not registered at all
This is the least likely situation, but it did happen occasionally - most often in the first few years of registration, though it wasn't until 1875 that there was a penalty for failing to register a birth. To be certain that a birth wasn't registered you would need to have almost as much information as would be shown on a birth certificate - so it's a possibility you can safely ignore.
GRO indexes are wrong
This is also quite rare, but did happen occasionally - despite the checks that were carried out. Fortunately the indexes that the GRO made available on their website in November 2016 were compiled from scratch, so most indexing errors will have been eliminated (although inevitably some new ones were introduced).
GRO indexes have been mistranscribed
Transcription errors can prevent you finding the entry youíre looking for - so donít confine your searching to a single website (none of them is perfect). Bear in mind that the indexes at Ancestry for the period up to 1915 were provided by FreeBMD, so youíre likely to get he same results from both sites, although FreeBMD will have include some corrections that aren't reflected in the Ancestry database. Similarly the indexes at FamilySearch were provided by Findmypast.
How can you overcome these problems? First and foremost keep an open mind - be prepared to accept that any or all of the information you already have may be wrong. This is particularly likely if you have been unable to find your relative at home with their parents on any of the censuses.
Obtain all the information that you can from censuses, certificates, baptism entries and other sources (such as Army records). The GRO's new birth indexes show the mother's maiden name from the start of civil registration - the contemporary indexes only include this information from July 1911 onwards. And donít assume that the same information will be shown in the baptism register as in the birth register - if the birth was registered before the baptism the forenames could be different. (Whilst it was possible to update the birth entry following the baptism - hence the final column on birth certificates - this rarely happened.)
Make use of free searches - the GRO's online index of historic births is completely free, though the search options are very limited, with very poor fuzzy-matching. Furthermore, although maiden names are included from 1837 onwards you canít search on maiden name only. Findmypast offers much better search options, and you probably wonít need a subscription because a free search provides a lot of information. Although maiden names currently aren't recorded for every birth between 1837-1911, the fact that you can search by maiden name alone is incredibly useful
The less information you can find, the more likely it is that the little you already have is incorrect or misleading in some way. For example, if you can't find your ancestor on ANY censuses prior to his marriage, you can be pretty certain that the information on the marriage certificate and later censuses is wrong in some material way.
Don't assume that just because something appears in an official document, it must be right. Around half of the 19th century marriage certificates I've seen included at least one error, and as many as half of all census entries are also wrong in some respect (I'm not talking about transcription errors, by the way). Army records are particularly unreliable - one of my relatives added 2 years to his age when he joined the British Army in 1880, and knocked 7 years off when he signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914.
Some people really were named Tom, Dick, or Harry but over-eager record-keepers might assume that they were actually Thomas, Richard and Henry. My grandfather was Harry, but according to his army records he was Henry (just as well he had two other forenames - which were recorded correctly - otherwise I might never have found him).
Consider how and why the information you have might be wrong by working your way through the list above - then come up with a strategy to deal with each possibility. Sometimes it's as easy as looking up the index entry for a sibling to find out the mother's maiden name; often discovering when the parents married is a vital clue (but don't believe what it says on the 1911 Census - the years of marriage shown may have been adjusted for the sake of propriety).
If you can't find your ancestor on any census with his or her parents then you should be particularly suspicious of the information you have - it's very likely that some element is wrong, and it is quite conceivable that it is ALL wrong. Tempting as it is to hold on to clues when you have so few of them, sometimes you can only succeed by letting go, and starting from scratch.
Middle names that could also be surnames often indicate illegitimacy - it was usually the only way to get the father's name on the birth certificate. Unusual middle names can provide clues - I remember helping one member find an ancestor whose birth was under a completely different surname by taking advantage of the fact that his middle name was Ptolemy!
Make use of local BMD indexes where they exist (start at UKBMD), and don't forget to look for your ancestor's baptism - sometimes we forget that parents continued to have their children baptised after Civil Registration began. Consider the possibility that one or both of the parents died when your ancestor was young - perhaps there will be evidence in workhouse records. Have you looked for wills?
Could the witnesses to your ancestor's marriage be relatives? When my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Harrison married, one of the witnesses was a Sarah Salter - who I later discovered (after many years of fruitless searching) was his mother. Her maiden name wasn't Salter, by the way - nor was it Harrison - and it was only because the Salter name stuck in my mind that I managed to knock down the 'brick wall'. Another marriage witness with a surname I didn't recognise proved invaluable when I was struggling with my Smith line - he turned up as a lodger in the census, helping to prove that I was looking at the same family on two successive censuses, even though the names and ages of the children didn't tally, and the father had morphed from a carpenter to a rag merchant.
Remember that you're probably not the only one researching this particular ancestor - and one of your cousins may already have the answers you're seeking. So make sure that you have entered ALL your relatives from 1881 on your My Ancestors page, as this is the census that is most likely to link you to your 'lost cousins'.
Finally remember that even when you find the birth certificate the information might not be correct; for example, if the child is the youngest in a large family consider the possibility that the mother shown on the certificate was actually the child's grandmother (see this article for an example). When a birth was registered by one parent the name of the other parent could only be recorded in the register if the parents were married (or claimed to be married); as a result some births registered by the mother named the wrong father, and (more rarely) some births registered by the father named the wrong mother. You can see another example of a birth certificate which names the wrong mother here.
Note: although this Masterclass relates to England & Wales much of the advice will also apply to searches in other countries.
In the past I've written in some detail about the much higher risk of genetic diseases that results from marriages between cousins, especially 1st cousins, and research into child deaths in parts of England where cousin marriages are more common has quantified the problem - see this article in The Guardian for more details.
Note: the problems occur where cousins have inherited the same genetic flaws - so the good news is that DNA testing can provide a very accurate assessment of the risks. However it isnít something that routinely happens, even now that the cost of tests has plummeted.
If you've enjoyed the Adoption Matters series then I suspect you will find the 25th February episode of the ITV series Long Lost Family particularly interesting.
Sadly I can't tell you any more at the moment - the information is embargoed until 19th February - but as there may not be another issue of this newsletter before the programme airs I wanted to make sure that you put the date in your diary.
There is a half-day (10.30-13.00) course at the Society of Genealogists in London on Saturday 2nd March entitled Tracing Ancestors in Wales. Led by Gill Thomas it costs £20 for non-members or £16 for SoG members. You can find out more and book here (there were 13 places remaining when I last checked).
When I was a boy nightwear was almost always made from a fabric called 'winceyette', but it was only recently that I wondered where the name had come from - and it turned out that it has quite a complicated history.
It all starts with 'linsey-woolsey', a fabric with a linen warp and a woollen weft (see this Wikipedia article if, like me, youíre already struggling to keep up). Linsey-woolsey was an important fabric in the American Colonies because wool was in short supply, but it's rarely found nowadays. Occasionally the two parts of the name were reversed, thus 'woolsey-lincey', and sometimes this was abbreviated to 'wincey'.
The term 'winceyette' is derived from 'wincey' in the same way as 'flannelette' comes from 'flannel'. Both winceyette and flannelette are napped cotton fabrics (which gives them a soft feel), but winceyette is napped on both sides.
You say 'pajama', I say 'pyjama'
I carefully used the word 'nightwear' in the previous article, conscious that if I had referred to most common form of male nightwear by name I'd have had a problem deciding whether to write 'pajamas' or 'pyjamas'.
Having subsequently done some research I now know that the word is derived from pai jamahs, a term used to describe clothing worn by Muslims in India. The main difference between 'pajamas' and 'pyjamas' is the former is preferred in the US, and the latter in England - and Canadians can use either version. Perhaps it's simpler just to refer to them as PJs?
In the last newsletter I linked to a Wikipedia page, prompting a reader to write in to tell me about an omission. In this particular case the member concerned hadn't looked sufficiently closely - the information was there all the time - but even if it hadn't been, Wikipedia is a site where the information is provided by users, so if you spot an error or omission you can change it yourself!
Tip: in general any site with 'wiki' in the name works the same way.
A transgender man, referred to as TT in order to protect the identity of his child, is taking the Registrar General to court in a bid to be named as the father of the child, rather than as the mother. According to a newspaper report the former woman was able to have fertility treatment 10 days after legally becoming male - you can read more about this confusing case here.
Four years ago I featured a story about a woman who dug up her dead father to prove that he wasn't, in fact, her real dad. Now another woman, Delphine BoŽl, is insisting that the former King Albert II of Belgium (now 84, he abdicated in 2013 in favour of his son Philippe) take a DNA test to prove whether or not he is her father. You can read more about the ongoing saga in this Daily Telegraph article.
In the last newsletter I described how the information in a typical public tree at Ancestry could expose you and your loved ones to a higher risk of fraud. Understandably, given the other reservations I've expressed about public trees in the past, this was interpreted by some readers as a warning not to have a public tree at all.
That wasn't my intention - because itís quite possible to have a public tree without the associated risks to privacy and security. The problem is, if you upload your entire family tree and rely on Ancestry (or whoever) to hide the profiles of living persons it isnít good enough - it's far too easy for someone less scrupulous than you or I to combine the information in the tree with other publicly-available information in order to reconstruct the missing part of the tree. So whilst hiding the profiles of living persons might conform with the letter of data protection legislation, it doesnít really conform with the spirit of the legislation - which is, after all, intended to protect innocent members of the public.
Why do we need to include living people in our online trees at all? Given the way that online trees usually work the tree owner probably needs to be there, but why include the tree owner's siblings and cousins?
I think itís time for those who advocate public trees to explain why itís necessary to include this information - and if it isnít necessary, to remove it from their own trees. The public vs private issue isn't black and white - if you must have a public tree there are ways of maximising the benefits whilst minimising the downsides. If the main reason you're considering having a public tree is because you've tested your DNA, one option is to link a direct ancestors-only public tree to your results.
Tip: to check whether your Ancestry tree is public or private (and change the setting, if required) click the 'Trees' tab, then select 'Create and manage trees' from the dropdown menu. You should see a list of all your trees; at the right under tools you'll see 'Manage tree'. Click it and a page headed up Tree Settings will appear. Now click 'Privacy settings' - you'll be able to see whether your tree is public or private. Even if your tree is private, I'd recommend that you make it searchable, as this will help your cousins find you.
This book about Mark Zuckerberg's creation was published on Thursday of last week, just as I was writing the last issue of the newsletter - so when it arrived I had to put it to one side. But I started reading as soon as the newsletter had been uploaded, and found that I couldnít put it down - it was as involving as any genealogical mystery, and the way the plot unfolded was pretty similar too.
The full title of the book is Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe - and it starts by explaining how Facebook users have been suckered into providing the website with the personal information about themselves and their contacts. There's a saying which predates the Internet along the lines of "If youíre not paying for it, youíre not the customer, you're the product", and in the case of Facebook it's very apt.
In fact, the more I read, the more convinced I was that I'd hit the nail on the head in the article Something in common with Facebook in the last issue, where I compared the way that Facebook works with the way that LostCousins works. But if you read the book you'll realise that it's not just about the information that Facebook collects, but about what they do with it - including allowing third parties to have access. (Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal?)
But despite all the bad things that have happened, so long as there isn't a better and safer alternative people will continue using Facebook. The most alarming thing is that because Facebook has over 2 billion users it would be exceptionally difficult for a benign competitor to become established - and even more difficult for that competitor to stay in business, given the power that Facebook has over advertisers.
I've only told you a fraction of what's in the book, which - even if you donít agree with everything - is thoroughly thought-provoking. If you're concerned about what is happening to society, to politics, and to the world we live in this is a book you simply have to read. There are some recommendations at the end which I personally think go a little too far - but once you've read the whole book you might well think differently.
I bought the hardback since it wasn't a lot more expensive than the Kindle version, and I wanted the convenience of being able to mark passages with Post-It notes (I know you can do something similar with electronic books, but sometimes the old ways are the best). As usual you can help LostCousins remain independent by using the links below, even if you end up buying something completely different:
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......
Finally a reminder that if you received an email telling you about this newsletter youíre a LostCousins member - which means you can take part in my project to connect cousins around the world. Half an hour spent entering relatives from the 1881 Census could not only transform your research, it could make one of your cousins very happy - like Shirley who I wrote about earlier!
© Copyright 2019 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?