Newsletter - 12th January 2019
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Transcription Tuesday COMING SOON
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 7th January) 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!
Save on top subscriptions to Findmypast LAST CHANCE
Until midnight (London time) on Monday 14th January you can save 10% on a 12 month subscription to the Findmypast site of your choice when you opt for the Pro or Ultimate subscription - the very best that Findmypast has to offer.
Pro and Ultimate subscriptions provide virtually unlimited access to ALL of Findmypast's worldwide records and newspaper articles - billions and billions of them. We all have relatives scattered around the globe - before I began researching my tree I wasn't aware of a single relative living outside of Britain, but now I am in touch with dozens of living cousins in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
Nor did I expect to find my ancestors and other relatives mentioned in the newspapers - my family aren’t rich or famous - and yet, time after time I discover snippets of information that add flesh to my family tree. Family history is so much more than drawing lines and boxes on a chart - it's all about people, the people who have influenced who we are.
This offer is EXCLUSIVE to readers of this newsletter, but please use the links below to ensure that LostCousins can also benefit:
All Pro & Ultimate subscriptions are the same. The offer is open to anyone who isn't an existing subscriber, which means that former (lapsed) subscribers as well as new subscribers can take advantage of Findmypast's generosity - but by the time you read this you might have only hours to do it.
Tip: Findmypast offer existing subscribers a 15% Loyalty Discount when they renew, so if you take advantage of this offer you'll probably pay even less next year!
MASTERCLASS: How to get the most from Findmypast
Note: if you are reading this between 8th and 11th November 2019 please check out this important update.
I'm sometimes contacted by readers who don't get the same excellent results as me when they search at Findmypast - so I'm going to tell you how I transform their searches….
The first thing you need to appreciate is that there are two ways of searching at genealogy websites. One is to enter lots of data on the Search form in the hope that some of it might lead to the record you're looking for - this type of search works best at Ancestry, where it typically produces lots of results (though most of them won't be relevant).
The other approach is to put the minimum amount of information on the Search form, see how many results you get and - only if there are too many results to glance through - filter the results so that you're only left with those that are most relevant. This type of search works best at Findmypast.
Because I'm so busy I prefer the second type of search - most of the time the record I'm looking for is on the first page of search results, so I get there very quickly. I even cheat by using wildcards rather than type long surnames in full - this has the secondary benefit of sometimes picking up records that might otherwise have been missed.
How minimal should your searches be? If I'm searching the census I'll typically enter just a forename, a surname (possibly using wildcards), and an approximate year of birth. I rarely enter a place of birth as this tends to vary so much from one census to another, but when I do I enclose it in wildcards, eg *London*
Different surnames require different tactics. The surname Smith is very unlikely to be spelled differently or mistranscribed - but you are likely to get lots of results, so you'll need to narrow your search in some way. By contrast, when I'm searching for my Vandepeer ancestors I'm more concerned about misspellings than anything else, so I'll typically search for v*d*p*r* and leave the other boxes empty.
Tip: even as you’re filling in the search form Findmypast are looking to see how many records they have that match what you have typed so far; a running total is displayed on the Search button so you'll know when there's no point entering any more information.
Put these tips into practice and you'll immediately see the difference. But don't stop reading, because I've got another, even more important, tip for you - one that even Findmypast won't tell you!
Did you realise that at Findmypast there can be three or more ways of searching for the same historical record? Would you like to know which of those three ways I use myself? Yes, I thought so…..
The gateway to all of the different approaches is the Search menu:
Let's suppose that you were hoping to finds one of your ancestors in the 1881 Census - you could choose Search all records, or narrow down your search by clicking on Census, land & surveys. But I wouldn't choose either of those options - I'd go to the precise record set I'm interested in by clicking A-Z of record sets, the option at the very bottom of the Search menu (but the one I use 99% of the time).
Why do I search specific record sets, rather than starting with a wider search, then homing in? Because it's the only way you can access some of the key search options. For example, when I search the 1881 Census directly the Search form offers an enormous amount of choice:
But half the fields - the ones I've highlighted in red - don't appear on the Search form when you choose Census, land & surveys.
So do what I do - whenever possible focus in on the specific record set of interest, whether it's a census, a collection of baptism registers for a specific county, or one of the hundreds of other record sets.
Tip: one of the secondary benefits of using this approach is that you'll get to know the records better. Because they come from many different sources there are all sorts of quirks - for example, some parish register transcriptions will be very detailed, others very basic.
Here's a table of links that will enable you to jump straight to some of key resources at Findmypast without going through the Search menu (all searches are free, so you don't need a subscription unless you want to look at the records themselves):
1881 British census (FREE transcription)
1939 Register (England & Wales)
* these parish register links will take you to the baptisms for the county
Note: there are a few record sets which currently can't be found using the A-Z of Record Sets; for example, if you're looking for the Chelsea pensioner records you'll find them under British Army Service Records because Findmypast have grouped together all service records. Other instances reported to me involve Australian cemetery records. But 99 times out of 100 the A-Z is the best solution.
Finally, another useful tip - one that even regular users of Findmypast frequently miss. When you search an individual dataset you'll see a list of Useful links & resources to the bottom right of the page - and when the records in question are parish records there will usually be a link to a page with a list of parishes that are included, showing the dates that are covered.
First an apology - the table in the last issue which showed all the blocks of entries that are missing from the GRO's new birth and death indexes (or duplicated with the wrong references) contained an error which affected the one block of missing death entries. I've now corrected the table - you'll find it here.
But it turns out that the table was also incomplete - an eagle-eyed LostCousins member has identified another block of errors in the birth index:
1838 Q4 - all of the entries from volume 18 are missing (about 4000 entries) and volume 12 has been duplicated as volume 18
Note: I mentioned in the last issue that you can search multiple registration districts, or multiple counties simultaneously at Findmypast - however it only works if you use the search page that I linked to.
Transcription Tuesday COMING SOON
Volunteers are required to help transcribe - amongst other things - a book detailing over two thousand railway worker accidents from 1901-1907.
Tuesday 5th February has been designated 'Transcription Tuesday' by Who Do You Think You Are? magazine - this year they're working with the Railway Work, Life and Death project and others to bring to the Internet records that would otherwise be hard to access.
You can find out more about Transcription Tuesday here - I do hope you'll be able to give up a few hours of your time in order to help.
Note: you don't need to be a reader of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine to take part in this very worthwhile project.
Although we're never likely to know the precise circumstances of adoptions that took place beyond living memory, I believe that reading the wonderful stories sent in by members has helped us all to understand how varied those circumstances can be.
War causes all sorts of upheavals, so it's not surprising that several of the adoptees who have written to me - either as part of this series, or asking for my help interpreting their DNA results - were born during WW2. But every story is different, as you can see from this wonderful tale.....
"My own adoption story was not an usual event in wartime, I guess. I knew little about the circumstances until I took up family history and was able to ask the right questions.
"In 1943, at 10 months old, I was left with my birth father’s sister, due to my birth parents’ difficulties. They were both married to other people, my birth mother was expecting another child and my birth father had been posted missing. I was brought up by this aunt and uncle and always knew them as Mum and Dad and my cousin as my sister. I was not told about my parents.
"In 1952 I had to take my birth certificate to school to confirm my date of birth for taking the 11+ exam, or 'the scholarship' as it was called then. My classmates compared certificates and chatted about where they were born etc. But my birth certificate was sent in a sealed envelope and handed back to me in another sealed envelope, with the instruction to take it home and not to open it.
"Of course, I locked myself in the toilet at home and opened it carefully. I remember thinking, 'Oh look, Uncle Arthur and Auntie Eve are my mum and dad'. I wasn’t bothered, I was happy where I was and didn’t want to live with this “aunt and uncle” and the four children I called 'cousins', who lived 130 miles away. I re-sealed it and gave it to Mum.
"After that I never said a word until I was 15 and needed my birth certificate to get a National Insurance Card to do a Saturday job. I was a very stroppy teenager and when Mum said she had lost it, I told her I knew what was on the birth certificate and insisted on having it. She was distraught because I was never legally adopted. We didn’t speak of it again.
"After Mum and Dad died, I found adoption application forms completed by them and by my birth father, but my birth mother had not signed her section. When I asked her why in 1996, she said 'I thought you may have come back to me'.
"I now know much more about the situations of all concerned in the 1940s, but looking back, I think I must have been completely secure as a much loved 10 year-old and I knew any confrontation would upset Mum."
Illegitimacy can sometimes be hidden by the use of a short birth certificate, because this only shows the child's details. Whether or not it would have helped in this particular case would have depended on how the birth was registered.
Of course, you can’t assume that a short birth certificate is necessarily hiding some secret - sometimes people chose short certificates simply because they were cheaper (indeed my mother's original birth certificate is a short certificate).
Note: this Freedom of Information response from the General Register Office explains why short birth certificates might be preferred nowadays, even though there is no longer a difference in cost.
Another wonderful DNA story
Not all of the good news DNA stories that I hear from readers of this newsletter can be published so I'm delighted to be able to share this one with you:
"Quite a time ago I contacted you letting you know of my attempts to find birth family. Finding my birth mother through TraceLine, I received no reply to my letter, and on her death in 2013, I contacted the presumed half-brother who had registered her death.
"He was very pleasant, and we got on well, but he had marital complications, and when later he submitted a DNA sample to Family Tree DNA, it was from a totally different group, unrelated to me. I imagine that pressures led him to put in a ‘borrowed’ sample from someone else. That door just seemed shut.
"But before Christmas 2018, you mentioned in the newsletter how much greater catchment for the UK Ancestry DNA had than any other tester, and as they had a good offer on I thought I would try them.
"This was not in any expectation of a contact, as my father’s name (only available about a couple of years ago through Social Services) was a very common one, yet had not occurred in any matches to date, so I thought this was probably a convenient fabrication. I really wanted to find out whether it validated my ethnic spread, as FTDNA previously identified me as having about 50% Jewish origins.
"In the first week of 2019, I got my response from Ancestry. It confirmed my ethnic origin, and strongly identified two 1st cousins. I have been in touch with them by email, and they are very positive, and know exactly who my father was (he died some years ago). I’m planning to meet with one in the UK, when more information can be exchanged. I am now 71, and no longer expected to find out anything about my origins, so thank you very much for that significant snippet taking me to AncestryDNA.
"I found the adoption stories in your latest newsletter of significant interest, in particular the following comment made by one of the contributors: 'This is only my opinion, but I would say that any adoptive parent who is so insecure that they cannot cope with their child seeking their roots probably should not have adopted a child.'
My own adoptive parents were totally opposed to my even admitting I was adopted. I think they regarded the adoption as cancelling out previous events. I was always resolved to search ‘some time’, but waited until quite late before searching to minimise the likelihood of their finding out. In fact, a mutual ‘friend’ spilled the beans, and although they were unable to talk about it to me, I indirectly heard their subsequent conclusion that ‘no adoptions work’. This would also be in reference to an adopted sister, who left the home abruptly in her late teens, and was never reunited to them, though occasionally she met with her other siblings.
"I also came very close to the category you described when you wrote: So often I get emails from people who say 'DNA can't help me because I don't know who my <insert ancestor here> was', and yet this is precisely the type of situation in which DNA is most helpful. To misquote the lager advert, DNA reaches the parts of your tree that conventional research can’t!
"I too thought it virtually impossible to identify my father, yet after 20 years of investigation, he appeared very easily when I tested with Ancestry. One reason earlier searches had proved unfruitful was because both my mother and my father’s line had changed their surname within the last three generations."
For those who don’t remember it, TraceLine was a service based at the General Register Office in Southport which used the National Health Service central index to track down missing persons - it was discontinued in 2008 when the Office for National Statistics handed the records over to the NHS.
If you want to know more about TraceLine see my article from January 2011 which includes a copy of the TraceLine leaflet.
Last time I heard from the member who provided the wonderful story above he was about to speak to one of his new-found cousins for the very first time - how exciting!
Ruth Billany, a LostCousins member, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Chartered Psychologist was interested to find two articles in a recent copy of The Psychologist (November 2018) that examined the psychological themes that emerge when creating family trees: self identity; attachment; resilience; and, emotional geography.
First, Paula Nicolson, Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, examines developing identities in the 21st century.
“Discovering family roots, or genealogy, has become a favourite pastime for many. The sheer volume of TV programmes, magazines and ‘how to’ books bear witness to this. Genealogy fascinates because knowledge of family history provides some understanding of our ancestors’ day-to-day experiences, life chances and expectations. But why do we care? Why has the exploration of family origins become so engaging in recent years? And what are the psychological dimensions to this enterprise?” (page 29).
You can read more of the article here.
Second, Antonia Bifulco, Professor of Lifespan Psychology at Middlesex University, writes about three generations of her Polish family.
The article “Half the world away – family identity and emotional geography”, begins with “Most of us are interested in our origins and family histories. Can psychology aid us in discovering identity through such research? Can sharing our family stories lead to uncovering common or even universal psychological themes, crossing place and time to reveal who we are?” (page 34). Later Bifulco states “Emotional geography fascinates me. Like most people I have attachment to places. So, when considering family history in terms of places, cities, streets and houses become a very personal way of embodying the past lives of others” (page 37).
Read more here
Note: as it happens I'd read those articles myself when they were first published (my wife subscribes to the same journal), but I was delighted that Ruth came to me with a finished article for the newsletter, because I felt a little 'out of my depth'.
Ancestry recently included this appeal in their newsletter to Australian users, and I'm sure they won't mind me repeating it here:
"Is there a missing family fortune? Why did my parents hide their past? Artemis Media is seeking participants for a new SBS television series in which everyday Australians explore hidden truths. They’re looking for secrets that have impacted on your identity and that of your family. If you’d like to be involved, please email Artemis at email@example.com before 1 March 2019 with your contact details and a short outline."
Even if you managed to get through most of 2018 without encountering the terms CRISPR and cas9, it’s unlikely that you missed the announcement in late November that the Chinese scientist He Jiankui had modified two human embryos and that twin girls had been born. Dr He is currently under house arrest in China while the authorities investigate his controversial work.
A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution was written by Jennifer Doudna, one of the most prominent scientists in the field, in collaboration with Samuel Sternberg, who was a member of Doudna's laboratory from 2010-15. My copy of the book sat unread on my bookshelf for nearly 18 months before I could bring myself to make a start but once I did I found it much easier to follow than I had expected.
The book doesn’t try to turn every reader into a geneticist - instead it tracks the journey that brought gene editing to the point that we're at today, before discussing at considerable length the ethical issues that society is now faced with.
You may recall that in April 2017 I wrote about Bernard Mallet, the Registrar General for England & Wales between 1909-20, who conceived the idea of introducing questions on marital fertility into the 1911 census in order to test claims by eugenicists that the 'lowest' social classes were out-breeding the middle classes. In 1928 Mallet became Life President of the Eugenics Society, having written a number of articles on the topic - but over the next 20 years the actions of Adolf Hitler and his followers gave eugenics a very, very bad name.
Gene editing allows a significant degree of control over human evolution - it is possible that some hereditary conditions could be virtually eliminated. But just because we could do something doesn't mean that we should, not least because there could be unintended consequences. The authors of A Crack in Creation may have been involved in developing the powerful tools that make reliable gene editing possible, but they're just as concerned as you or I about how those tools are used.
Reading this book is unlikely to help you knock down 'brick walls' in your family tree, but it will give you a better idea of the science behind DNA testing. More importantly, it will help you make up your own mind about how or whether society should monitor or restrict the research that is being carried out.
I bought the hardback (which cost me £11.93 including shipping), but this book is also available as a paperback, and there's also a Kindle version. When I checked at Amazon just now there were second-hand copies available at half the price I paid, but that certainly doesn’t indicate readers were disappointed (86% of the Amazon reviewers give it 5 stars).
It's well worth reading if you have an interest in the topic, but it isn't a book that every family historian should have on their shelves (though if you have hereditary conditions in your own family tree you might be inclined to disagree). As usual you can support LostCousins when you use any of the links below, even if you end up buying something completely different:
In the Christmas Day issue of this newsletter I wrote in my 'tips' column:
"this reminds me that our ancestors left samples of their DNA every time they licked a stamp. I wonder how long it will be before consumer DNA tests are able to handle samples from sources like that"
On Christmas Day I received an email from LostCousins member Bill, followed by one from Phil, on New Year's Eve - both included this link. It seems that the future is getting closer all the time!
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......
You've still got time to enter my New Year Competition, and with so many wonderful prizes on offer (thanks to everyone who donated prizes) your chances of winning are pretty good. Especially since all you need to do is what any LostCousins member would be doing anyway, completing your My Ancestors page.
Remember ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree. So to connect to your 'lost cousins' track each branch through to 1881 and enter the relatives you find on the census.
© 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?