Newsletter - 22nd January 2018
Save 30% at British Newspaper Archive ENDS SUNDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 12th January) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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On 12th January the National Archives invited expressions of interest from organisations prepared to digitise and publish the 1921 Census for England & Wales; after the closing date of 8th February up to 5 potential suppliers will be invited to tender for the contract, which is scheduled to commence on 31st May 2018, and continue until 30th May 2028. There's not a lot of detail on the Government website, but what there is can be found here.
It is clear from the documents that there is no possibility of the census being released earlier than the 100 year embargo specified in legislation - you can find out more about that legislation here.
Note: the 1921 Census wonít be as groundbreaking as its predecessor, but it does include some additional information: for example, the age of each member of the household is shown in years and months, and the name of their employer is stated.
I suspect that Ancestry will be keen to win the contract having lost out on the 1911 Census to Scotland Online (which became BrightSolid and acquired Findmypast), and on the 1939 Register to Findmypast themselves.
The General Register Office have announced that the current PDF trial, originally intended to run for "at least 3 months", will now continue at least until the end of June; I've also been assured, in a personal email, that the GRO would want to give notice of any withdrawal of the service.
It's quite possible that the trial will continue right up to the point at which PDFs become a permanent part of the service - let's hope so. I know that the PDF option isnít quite what we were hoping for - instant online access to historical registers - but it does provide the information we need at a significantly lower cost as well as reducing the turnaround time, especially for researchers overseas.
Note: the FAQs on the GRO website have yet to be updated to reflect the new date - I understand that this is in hand.
One of the limitations of the online birth and death indexes at the GRO website is being unable to search by county - restricting a search to a single registration district isnít ideal. Fortunately it is possible to search by county at both FreeBMD and Findmypast (I wouldn't recommend trying to search by county at Ancestry as their allocation of registration districts to counties is rather erratic - for example, Birmingham can turn up as West Yorkshire, and Southampton as Buckinghamshire!).
But I was shocked last week to get an email from a LostCousins member who told me that Findmypast had apparently dropped the County field from their Search form, and when I investigated I discovered they were correct. Fortunately it turned out to be only temporary, but in the meantime I was able to come up with a 'fix' in case it should happen again (simply add &county=rutland to the URL for the results page).
Tip: when youíre searching at Findmypast itís almost always best search a single record set - choose the A-Z of Record Sets from the Search tab.
Parish registers for the Suffolk parish of Whitton, which were in a safe stolen from the church of St Mary and St Botolph on the night of December 30th/31st, have been recovered - the safe was found dumped in a field. Although the registers have suffered water damage they are undergoing conservation work at Ipswich Museum and the Suffolk Records Office, so itís unlikely that any data will have been lost (most incumbents use the same permanent ink, required for marriage registers, for all their register entries).
I found an interesting document on the Norfolk Record Office website - itís an information leaflet to help parishes look after their records. I found it particularly interesting to see the list of records which should be kept - and those that may be destroyed, the latter including banns, burial, and disposal certificates as well as baptism and banns applications.
But it's not all good news in Suffolk - at Lowestoft historians are up in arms over plans to close their local branch of the Suffolk Record Office and replace it with an unmanned access point (for more information see this article from The Lowestoft Journal). Suffolk is one of the counties whose parish registers are not yet online - which is a continual frustration for me, as many of my ancestors came from the county (note to Suffolk County Council - don't even think of closing the Bury Record Office!).
Everyone knows this iconic World War 2 poster - it has travelled around the world. And yet, it may surprise you to learn, it was never actually used in the war!
"Keep Calm and Carry On" was one of three posters devised by the Ministry of Information (later lampooned by George Orwell in his novel 1984 as the Ministry of Truth); the others were "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution; Will Bring Us Victory" and "Freedom is in Peril; Defend it with all Your Might".
Nearly 2.5 million copies of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster were printed in August and September 1939, but were kept back for use after a major air raid. In the event they were never issued - and amazingly in April 1940, three months before the start of Battle of Britain, they were pulped and recycled as part of a Government programme to deal with a paper shortage. However a handful seem to have survivedÖ..
In 2000 a copy of the poster was discovered by a second-hand bookseller in a box of books. He framed it and put it on display in his shop, where it attracted a lot of attention - as a result he started selling copies. Others copied the style for their own parody versions, and the wording appeared on a wide range of consumer products.
Note: the Ministry of Information was based in Senate House, the home of the University of London, so it is appropriate that in 2004 the poster featured in a PhD thesis by Rebecca Lewis (you can read the relevant extract here). You can read more about "Keep Calm and Carry On" in this BBC article from 2009, and in this official History of Government article.
Encourage a friend to start on their family history before the end of January and you could both benefit from the generous package of prizes that Findmypast.co.uk have put together - which include 12 month Findmypast Pro subscriptions (equivalent to a World subscription), 12 month British Newspaper Archive subscriptions, and 30 minute one-to-one phone consultations with Findmypast genealogists.
Only one member and friend can win this fabulous package, but ALL the beginners will have the opportunity of a free 3 month subscription to LostCousins. For more details of the competition please follow this link.
Save 30% at British Newspaper Archive LINK UPDATED
Until midnight (London time) on Sunday 28th January you can save 30% on a 12 month subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, bringing the cost down to under £56 (or about 15p a day).
If you've only ever searched this enormous (and still growing) collection via Findmypast you'll be amazed how much more powerful the BNA search is. For me the best feature is being able to search pages added to the collection after a certain date - this avoids the tedium of ploughing through hundreds of search results you've seen many times before in order to pick out a handful of new ones (I wish all sites offered this feature!).
Tip: if you have a Findmypast subscription which includes British newspapers (ie a Britain, Pro, or any World subscription) you could use a free search at the BNA site, then switch to Findmypast once you've found what youíre looking for.
To take advantage of this offer, and support LostCousins at the same time, please use this link (the offer code will be inserted automatically).
Last week I watched the two-part Walt Disney documentary that was shown over the festive period (it was first broadcast in December 2016, but I missed it on that occasion). My wife and I both thought it was very good, and the first part was outstanding - even I had tears in my eyes as the Seven Dwarfs mourned Snow White, in a scene that appears to have been crucial to Disney's career. If you live in the UK you can watch it on BBC iPlayer until the end of this month - this link will take you direct to the relevant page.
What has Walt Disney got to do with Ancestry? Well, there's a new Disney film out, called Coco, and to mark the occasion Ancestry.co.uk are offering a 10% discount on a 6 month Premium membership, their most popular subscription. This brings the cost down to £62.99, a little more than £10 a month.
Note: new subscribers are usually offered 6 month memberships, which cost slightly more than half the cost of a 12 month membership; most existing subscribers have 12 month subscriptions.
The Premium membership provides unlimited access to all of Ancestry's records for the UK and Ireland, including their parish register collections (for me the star is the London Metropolitan Archives collection - that's because all of my ancestors passed through London in the 19th century).
To take advantage of this offer and support LostCousins please follow this link (the offer runs until 13th February). However, if you have taken an Ancestry DNA test but aren't already a subscriber you might be able to save even more by using this link instead (this special offer includes both Premium and World memberships).
Note: none of the offers are available to current Ancestry subscribers.
Suitable both for beginners and those who need a refresher, the next presentation of Strathclyde University's free online Genealogy course begins on 29th January. It doesn't matter where in the world you live - with the possible exception of North Korea - you can take part completely free of charge.
For more details, or to register, just follow this link.
Most people who take DNA tests end up more confused than when they started, either because they had unrealistic expectations or because they don't have a strategy for dealing with the results - or else have picked a losing strategy.
I want readers of this newsletter to be winners, not losers. I spend a lot of time reading books, papers, articles and blogs about DNA, and working through different strategies - so that you don't have to. I'm not saying you couldn't do it on your own, but does it really make sense to spend hundreds of hours duplicating what I've already done on your behalf?
I'm often sent links to articles which claim that DNA tests don't work. These are very popular on the Internet, and are clearly making somebody lots of money (but at a price, the sowing of seeds of ignorance). Invariably the story involves people in the same family who have tested, sometimes with a range of different companies, but - surprise, surprise - they get incompatible results, and can't understand why, the poor dears. The fact is that all of the critical articles I've seen are focused on the ethnicity estimates that the testing companies provide - and I've been telling readers of this newsletter for years that you shouldn't take any notice of them.
See for example this article from 2016 - I called it Don't expect meaningful DNA results to make absolutely sure that you read it!
Note: even if they were perfectly accurate most ethnicity estimates would be completely useless for family historians, because they relate to where our ancestors were thousands of years ago - how is that supposed to help? Some companies are now producing estimates which relate to our ancestors from 250-300 years ago - these are potentially much more useful, although it's too soon to know for sure how accurate they are.
I'm also sent links to articles by DNA experts (many of which I've previously read, of course - I have to keep up with the latest developments). If I haven't mentioned the articles in my newsletter it's not because I haven't read them myself, but because having read them I didn't feel that they would be useful to LostCousins members. There are good reasons for this - for a start, the experts are mostly younger than we are, and many of them have had the luxury of being able to test their parents' DNA, so whilst what they write can be very insightful, we may not be in a position to apply what we've learned.
But there's another reason why the expert opinions aren't as useful as they might be - they clearly have a bigger budget than you or I. Some of them have purchased dozens of tests, and you'll often see them recommending that you test with several different companies, to maximise the number of matches you get - this is not only unrealistic, it's also bad advice, because if you have limited funds it's clearly better to test multiple relatives than take multiple tests yourself.
So what should you do? The top priority is to go as far as you possibly can with conventional records-based research - trying to make sense of your DNA matches is immensely more difficult when you donít have an existing framework to refer to, and ideally your tree would go back to as many as possible of your 64 4G grandparents (ie the ancestors you share with your 5th cousins). Bear in mind that most of the DNA cousins you're matched with will be 5th cousins or more distant - and even with someone as close as a 5th cousin there are more than a thousand ways in which you could be linked (because each of you has 32 pairs of 4G grandparents, so there are 32 times 32, ie 1024, different permutations).
Secondly, make use of the opportunities available to match with documented cousins, starting with LostCousins. I know some people find it tedious completing their My Ancestors page, but believe me - if you think that's tedious, just wait until you start analysing your DNA matches! Not only is it much easier, quicker, and cheaper to find 'lost cousins' than it is to figure out your connection to a DNA cousin, the more documented cousins you have, the easier it will be to analyse your DNA matches.
Finally, follow the strategies outlined in my Masterclass (What to do with your autosomal DNA results - you'll find it here); these focus attention on your 'brick walls' (after all, wasn't that why you tested your DNA in the first place?). Whatever you do, don't rely on the 'obvious' strategy of working down your list of matches, starting with the closest cousins - the inheritance of DNA is so random that, other than very close relatives, the order in which your matches are ranked is also largely random.
Tip: whilst it's easier to figure out how youíre connected to close cousins, it'll usually be the matches with more distant cousins that help you knock down your 'brick wall' - and that's what it's really about!
Technically everyone in the world is a cousin of yours, since we all share a common ancestor who lived a few thousand years ago - though for family historians the only cousins who really matter are the ones whose connection to us is documented, or can be strongly inferred from DNA evidence. But as the importance of genealogical DNA testing increases it's useful to have some ball-park figures for the number of cousins of different degree, if only to assess the credibility of the DNA matching.
For example, I have over 10,000 matches at Ancestry - a statistic that has ballooned from 6,000 when I first got my results at the end of May, and is set to rise further as the tests sold over the Christmas period are processed. Even the most distant match is shown as a 5th to 8th cousin - is it really feasible that so many cousins could have tested with Ancestry?
The first thing to consider is what proportion of the relevant population have tested. My known ancestry is mostly English, and in round numbers there are about 500 million people who live in English-speaking countries, most of them in the USA - which is one reason why most of the DNA matches I get are with people living there. The table below, first included in my July 2016 newsletter, suggests that someone of British ancestry has around 6 million relatives who are 8th cousin or closer (I got to that figure by added up the numbers in the 4th column, which shows the expected number of cousins of each degree):
Based on Table 2 from: Henn BM, Hon L, Macpherson JM, Eriksson N, Saxonov S, Pe'er I, et al. (2012) Cryptic Distant Relatives Are Common in Both Isolated and Cosmopolitan Genetic Samples. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34267. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034267
Revised using Ancestry DNA estimates for 1st to 6th cousins; the numbers for 7th to 10th cousins are my own guesstimates
However, it's important to remember that the more distant our cousins are, the less likely it is that there is a detectable DNA match. Looking at the third column you can see that the chance of a match being detected is 100% for 1st and 2nd cousins, but drops off steeply - so that there's only 1 chance in 3 of detecting a 5th cousin, and 1 chance in 9 of detecting a 6th cousin. The final column shows roughly how many cousins of each degree you would expect to find IF all of your cousins tested - and totalling up the figures in the last column for 1st to 8th cousins you get 103,496.
But they haven't all tested - in early November Ancestry had over 6 million sets of results in their database, and whilst that's likely to have increased to at least 7.5 million by now, that's still only 1.5% of the 500 million estimate of the population. So should I really have around 1,500 DNA cousins, rather than 10,000?
Probably not. There are other factors to take into account - one is that even though Ancestry's cut-off point is 8th cousins, the degree of cousinship cannot be accurately gauged once you get beyond 3rd cousins. Distant cousins will often share just one segment of DNA with you, and there's no way of knowing how many generations that segment has survived - so amongst the mass of cousins estimated by Ancestry to be 5th to 8th cousins there will be 9th, 10th and no doubt 11th and 12th cousins too.
Something else to consider is that we don't just have cousins of the same generation, we also have cousins of different generations. For example, whilst I only had 3 1st cousins, between them they have 6 children, so I have 6 1st cousins once removed (and some of them have children of their own, who are my 1st cousins twice removed).
Taking both of these factors into account my guess is that around half of the people I've been matched with are cousins on a genealogical timescale. Now, if only I knew which half!
I keep getting emails from members who say they've got †a mere 100 or 150 DNA matches at Ancestry. It turns out they're looking at the number of 4th cousins or closer, the figure that Ancestry display the DNA home page. As you'll know from the previous article, this figure is likely to be less than 1% of the total. For example, I currently have just 83 matches with cousins who Ancestry estimate are 4th cousins or closer out of my 10,200 total.
Donít assume that the closest matches are the ones to focus on. For a start, the relationships are not so much estimates as guesstimates - the random way that DNA is passed on means that someone who is actually my 2nd cousin once removed is predicted to be a 5th to 8th cousin, so isn't included in my 83 close matches (or my brother's 100 close matches).
Ancestry donít tell you how many matches you have in total, but you can easily figure it out. There are 50 matches to a page, so all you need to do is find out how many pages of results there are - in my case itís 204 and a bit, whereas my brother has 228 and a bit (so over 11,400 matches in all).
With this number of matches it's absolutely essential to have an efficient strategy (see the first article in this sequence).
Living in the country I find that rats and mice are always around (to say nothing of rabbits, grey squirrels, and other vermin), but this 1963 World In Action documentary on YouTube begins with some hair-raising tales involving rodents in the slums of London's East End. It's easy to forget how tough life was for many of us in the 1950s and 1960s.
Last week the BBC News website had an article about household budgets in 1957 - it was interesting to see how expenditure on food and clothing has more than halved as a percentage of our much larger incomes, whilst leisure spending has tripled. If the younger generation really think that we had it easy they should learn a bit of history!
Some of you will have heard of the Bishopsgate Institute, which has been offering opportunities for learning and debate since 1895. By a strange coincidence it is sited just along the road from the premises where my great-great uncle was operating his tailoring business in 1910, when the "Lloyd George Domesday Book" was being compiled (see the article from my November newsletter).
But what few of you will know is that they have a wide-ranging collection of records in their archive, which include the family papers of Frederick Porter Wensley (1865-1949) who served as a police officer from 1888-1929, when he retired as Chief Constable in Scotland Yard's Criminal Investigation Department. A fascinating article in the February issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine describes how Fred Wensley was the first detective to tell his story after his retirement, and in 1931 his memoir was published as Detective Days: The Record of Forty-two years' Service in the Criminal Investigation Department (it should be out of copyright in a couple of years, so don't overpay for a second-hand copy). If you search at the British Newspaper Archive you'll also find several articles from 1934 in which he reveals the secrets of the underworld to readers of provincial newspapers.
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
Fred Wensley may have needed the money to pay for the care of his invalid wife Laura (nee Martin) - as you can see from their 1939 Register entry, she had a live-in carer.
Amongst the family papers are Fred Wensley's notebooks for the period 1902-9, setting out the names of the criminals he arrested, the offences they were charged with, and the sentence they received - you can see an example in the magazine article. I wish I could lay my hands on some equivalent records for the husband of my 1st cousin 4 times removed, because he was Inspector Abberline, who was in charge of the Ripper investigation - what an interesting find that would be!
I mentioned 6 weeks ago that I was reducing my exposure to peer-to-peer lending in case it is affected by the inevitable Bitcoin collapse; having achieved that goal I'm trying to think of other ways in which the crash - when it comes - might impact on the savings and investments of people like you and me. It would be nice to think that the only people to lose out will be drug-dealers and gamblers, but all too often the casualties of economic crashes are completely innocent - which makes it all the more difficult to know what precautionary steps to take, though if I had any shares (I don't) I might think about selling them.
Did you enjoy your Christmas dinner? Our Tesco's Finest Christmas Pudding was delicious, even though I'd bought it 4 years previously and the Best Before date was March 2015; accompanied by homemade Shepherd's Bullace Butter and a little double cream, it was the best shop-bought pudding I've ever tasted. (I did, of course, sample another pudding of the same vintage ahead of the meal - it would have been unfair to serve it up to our guests without first checking the quality.)
What foods have you found that improve with extended ageing? And is there anything that you tried for the first time this Christmas that you'll definitely be having again?
Ancestry have a special offer on DNA tests at their Australian site - please follow this link.
There's a lot going on at the moment, so it's possible I'll be in touch again before the end of the month - see you soon!
© 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?