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Newsletter – 20th January 2024



What the Society of Genealogists can do for YOU EXCLUSIVE

Ministry of Justice won’t reveal key aspects of wills proposal EXCLUSIVE

Did you lose ScotlandsPeople credits during the pandemic? EXCLUSIVE

Your ancestors had cousins, too!

Extra opportunity to hear Professor Rebecca Probert

No camera? Hard of hearing?

Less than 2 weeks to enter the competition HUNDREDS OF PRIZES TO BE WON    

Are you researching on behalf of someone else?

A four-legged friend

Peter’s Tips

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 8th 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!



What the Society of Genealogists can do for YOU EXCLUSIVE

When LostCousins began 20 years ago the Society of Genealogists was already 93 years old – but they’ve moved with the times, and embraced modern technology to reach members all over the world.


At one time, if you wanted to hear one of their knowledgable speakers you had make your way up to London – and even then the number of attendees was limited by the size of the room, so talks often sold out very quickly. Though there are still some in-person events, mostly they’re run over Zoom – so that (subject to time differences) anyone can attend. Even if the time doesn’t work for you, most talks are recorded and the recordings are made available for a limited period to everyone who booked – whether they make it on the day or not. For example, just this morning I attended an excellent talk entitled ‘Tracing My Publican Ancestry’ by Gwynneth Wilkie – the cost to me as an SoG member was a mere £6.50, not much more than the price of a pint of beer in London.

Natalie Pithers, the co-Chief Executive of the SoG, and Else Churchill, the Genealogist for the society, will be talking to LostCousins members at 10am on Friday 8th March on the topic How Can the Society of Genealogists Help You? Since demand is inevitably going to be very high attendance will be restricted to members who have entered this year’s LostCousins competition (to enter you need only to have added a direct ancestor or a blood relative to your My Ancestors page between 1st February 2023 and 31st January 2024). Please indicate your interest on your My Prizes – if there are more members interested in attending than there are places available, priority will be given to those who have added the most relatives during the year.




Ministry of Justice won’t reveal key aspects of wills proposal EXCLUSIVE

Just before Christmas we learned about the Ministry of Justice consultation into the future of the post-1858 wills that are held by the Probate Service – they are proposing to scan and digitise the original wills before destroying those which are more than 25 years old (so unlikely to be contested). It’s a pragmatic solution, but one that has understandably caused considerable concern within the genealogical community.


As you can imagine, there has been considerable discussion on the LostCousins Forum, and two key issues were raised which aren’t answered in the consultation document – I therefore emailed the Ministry of Justice asking for clarification:


The consultation on wills uses the word 'original' 52 times.


Can you please confirm that it is the original documents (and supporting

material) submitted by the executors that will be digitised if the proposal

proceeds, and not 'office copies' of those documents? I understand that

some wills have already been digitised from office copies, which is a



Can you also confirm whether the intention is to scan the original

documents in colour, as this is not clear from the consultation paper?

Digitised wills provided to date have been black and white.


If the original will and documentation are going to be destroyed it’s crucially important that we have high-quality digitised copies of those originals – and anyone who has looked at the 1911 and 1921 England & Wales censuses will know what a difference it makes to have full-colour images.


Unfortunately the response I eventually got was most unhelpful:


Any decisions on whether to digitise the collection and what format that

will take, should it be decided to digitise the collection, will take place

once the consultation closes and the government response has been



I find it ludicrous that they can use the word ‘original’ 52 times in 29-page PDF document, yet not be able to confirm that it is the original documents that they are proposing to scan. So when you respond to the consultation, as I hope you will, whatever else you might say about the proposals, emphasise the importance of scanning the ORIGINAL documents, and of scanning them IN COLOUR.


Of course, there’s always the possibility that the National Archives (TNA), one of the organisations to whom the consultation was sent, will be prepared to take custody of the original wills – though this won’t necessarily be a less expensive solution, and it might leave the TNA with less money to spend on other records. Government is all about trade-offs – there are always winners and losers.



Did you lose ScotlandsPeople credits during the pandemic? EXCLUSIVE

When the pandemic hit I had some ScotlandsPeople credits which were due to expire in October 2020. Of course, with lockdowns and other restrictions things weren’t exactly normal, so many organisations relaxed their rules.


Following a recent Freedom of Information request I discovered that:



However they didn’t let me know that my credits had been extended, and I certainly didn’t receive any reminders about the revised expiry date in February 2023 (I’ve got an archived spam folder that covers the period up to 7th March 2023, so I know that they didn’t end up in there).


So I’m wondering whether there are any readers of this newsletter who also lost credits – or if there is anyone whose credits were extended who actually did receive a reminder in February 2023? We’ve been reading in the news recently about public sector computer systems that didn’t work properly, so perhaps this is another example? I found it particularly confusing that in August 2023 I got an email from ScotlandsPeople which showed at the top that I had 90 credits – but when I logged-in they  had disappeared. Some people might think there was a bug in their software, but they told me that “There is no bug to fix”. Now, where have I heard that before?


Note: just as this newsletter was about to be published I noticed this story in the Guardian about an 85 year-old teacher whose retirement pension is stopped every year because the contractor who runs the pension scheme doesn’t believe she is still alive. People like to blame computers for everything that goes wrong, but when you look closely it’s normally the fault of a person.



Your ancestors had cousins, too!

We all have many thousands of living cousins – anyone who doubts this should look at their long, long list of DNA matches. And the funny thing is, it wouldn’t have been so different for our ancestors – they too would have had thousands of living cousins – though they’d found it far more difficult to track them down. So when someone says to me “My ancestors emigrated and took the whole family with them” I know that they’re thinking only of close family – not the wider family.


This difference in perception is reflected in the number of blood relatives (cousins) that members enter on their My Ancestors page. Some have entered a mere handful, others have entered hundreds, or even thousands. Most members think their direct ancestors are the most important relatives to enter – it seems obvious. And yet the chance of discovering a descendant of your grandparents that you didn’t know about must be virtually nil – after all they would be a 1st cousin. And it’s not that different for your great-grandparents – their descendants are your 2nd cousins, and whilst few people know all of their 2nd cousins, the chances are that you know the ones who are also family historians.


Here’s where it gets more interesting: the descendants of your grandparents’ 1st cousins are your 3rd cousins; the descendants of your great-grandparents’ 1st cousins are your 4th cousins; the descendants of your great-great grandparents’ 1st cousins are your 5th cousins.


If you’ve tested your DNA you’ll know that 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins are typically the most useful cousins to collaborate with in order to knock ‘brick walls’; they’re not distant, and they’re not too close – they’re in the ‘Goldilocks zone’. And you have a lot of them – over 100 3rd cousins, over 1000 4th cousins, and over 10000 5th cousins. Of course, you don’t need to find all of them, just the ones who are experienced family historians like yourself and willing to collaborate – or, to put it another way, the ones who are most likely to be LostCousins members like yourself.


But it’s not just about DNA – when you find your ‘lost cousins’ you can collaborate with them on the lines you share whether you’ve tested or not – records-based research is still our ‘bread and butter’, DNA is “the icing on the cake”.  


Tip: to maximise your chances of connecting with your 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins start with all the relatives you know about in 1841 – whether you have found them on the census or not – then follow each branch and twig through to 1881. It’s those relatives in 1881 who will connect  you to your ‘lost cousins’.



Extra opportunity to hear Professor Rebecca Probert

Perhaps inevitably, the demand for places at Professor Rebecca Probert’s presentation at 10am on Saturday 10th February has far exceeded the number available – so I am delighted to announce that she has agreed to repeat her talk at 5pm on Saturday 2nd March. This not only doubles the number of places available, it also gives members in North America the opportunity to attend and ask questions.


Even with this additional date demand is likely to exceed supply, so to ensure you are offered the opportunity to attend, why not add a few extra relatives to your My Ancestors page?


Note: invitations for the 2nd March talk will be sent out AFTER 10th February. There is no need to put your name down for the second talk now unless you already know that you will be unable to attend on 10th February.



No camera? Hard of hearing?

Good news! You DON’T need a camera to watch a Zoom presentation – people come to see and hear the presenter, not the other members of the audience. Indeed, in my experience around a third of attendees have their cameras turned off – though I’ve never worked out whether that’s because they’re shy, or in their dressing gowns.


You might also be discouraged from signing-up if you’re hard of hearing. More good news! Zoom provides a real-time transcription which, whilst not 100% perfect, is far better than anything I’ve seen before (and a vast improvement on the real-time transcription you get on the BBC). To turn this feature on, wait until the Zoom presentation starts, then click Show Captions, or if you can’t see it, click More and choose Captions from the menu.


Tip: if you don’t have a camera, but would rather like one, Amazon UK currently have a highly-rated USB-camera for under £10 – you’ll find it here.



Less than 2 weeks to enter the competition HUNDREDS OF PRIZES TO BE WON    

This year’s competition closes at midnight (London Time) on Wednesday 31st January and in the days following I’ll be emailing hundreds of lucky winners to let them know what they’ve won. Of course, it’s not just luck – the greater your contribution to the LostCousins project over the past 12 months, the more likely you are to win. Adding an extra household to your My Ancestors page could be all it takes to make you a winner!


Here’s a reminder of the cornucopia of prizes on offer:





A Findmypast Premium subscription offers exclusive online access to the 1921 England & Wales census, as well as billions of other records from Britain and around the world – including Catholic records that you won’t find anywhere else. The winner will also be able to search more than 73 million pages from the historic publications in the British Newspaper Archive – by far the largest online collection of British newspapers and periodicals the world has ever seen.


Tip: Findmypast have recently upgraded their newspaper search – just as well when the number of articles in the archive is approaching a billion!




With the biggest online collection of tithe maps and tithe records, and a growing collection of maps and records from the ‘Lloyd George Domesday’ survey of 1910-15, The Genealogist offers the opportunity to discover records that you won’t find anywhere else.  It’s also a great place to find missing ancestors in the England & Wales censuses, because not only does The Genealogist have better quality images of many census records, there are search features that you won’t find elsewhere.


Tip: although only one person can win the prize, everyone who expresses an interest will be invited to attend an exclusive ‘brick walls’ Zoom talk given by Mark Bayley from The Genealogist.




I’ve read every single issue since the magazine was first published, and I always learn something new. If you live in the UK (or want to gift a subscription to a cousin in the UK) this is your chance to get a free 13-issue subscription worth up to £69.99 (like many modern magazines WDYTYA? Is published at 4-weekly intervals).


ANCESTRY UK DNA KIT (RRP £79 plus shipping) – donated by Peter

If you’ve yet to take a DNA test, or tested with a different company – as I did back in 2012, long before Ancestry began selling their test in the UK – this is a chance to discover just how much difference an Ancestry DNA test can make. Whether your aim is to knock down  ‘brick walls’, or simply to verify your records-based research using evidence that cannot be falsified, you will be amazed by the results – provided, of course, you follow the advice in my DNA Masterclass.


Or perhaps you’ve taken the test yourself, but would like to enlist the help of one of your cousins. With DNA the real challenge is figuring out which of your matches share each of your ‘brick walls’, and comparing your matches with those of a cousin who shares a particular ‘brick wall’ helps enormously. But don’t choose a very close cousin as they share too many of your ancestral lines – 3rd, 4th and 5th cousins are ideal when you’re trying to knock down ‘brick walls’ that are more than 3 generations back.


Note: If you live outside the UK please nominate a cousin in the UK – should you be lucky enough to win.




As in previous years I have secured the services of some extremely-knowledgeable speakers who are experts in their field. Attendance at the talks is limited to ensure that members of the audience who wish to ask questions are able to do so – whether or not you are invited will depend partly on how highly you have rated the talk on your My Prizes page, and partly on how many entries you’ve made.


Zoom software can be downloaded free of charge, or you can view the presentation in your browser. You don’t need a camera (or even a microphone) but you need to have a screen and speakers. If you can watch a YouTube video and hear the sound, you already have everything you need.


Allow an hour to an hour-and-half for the talk and questions.


Professor Rebecca Probert will be giving an exclusive Zoom presentation entitled Why EVERY family historian needs to know the history of family law at 10am (London time) on Saturday 10th February.


As the author of Marriage Law for Genealogists Professor Probert is the leading expert in a field that is incredibly important to everyone with English or Welsh ancestry.


Understanding why our ancestors married when and where they did, or why they didn’t marry, is fundamental to our research. Although I have had the privilege of hearing Professor Probert speak on many occasions over the past 10 years, I can honestly say that I learned something new every time – it is such a fertile field of study.


 Dave Annal worked for The National Archives for many years, and is now a professional genealogist and author – but he’s also known to many as the presenter of Setting the Record Straight, a series of short YouTube films which take a new look at old records.


At 10am (London time) on Thursday 15th February Dave will be leading a Zoom seminar on the subject of Misinformation and What YOU Can Do About It.


Incorrect information whether in trees, books, are even parish registers presents a problem that we all have to face, and after showing a brief video we’ll be opening the discussion up to the audience – we want to know what problems misinformation has caused for you, and how you dealt with them. Were you able to persuade someone to change their tree?


I’ve also secured the support of another very popular speaker, Jackie Depelle, who is going to be talking over Zoom about Ideas for Researching Non-conformist Ancestors (one of many topics listed on Jackie’s website).


Did you know that the religious census of 1851 found that around half of those who attended church were non-conformists? For many of us this could explain why we haven’t found our ancestor’s baptism.


Jackie will be speaking over Zoom at 4pm (London time) on Friday 1st March, and there will be an opportunity for those attending to ask questions. I’ll be there – but will you?


For the first time prize-winners can choose from talks given by the husband and wife team behind LostCousins – I’ll be talking about DNA and answering questions from the audience, whilst Siân will answer questions about gardening. You might also get to sees some photos of her garden, if you’re lucky.


Please submit your questions in advance, and keep them short – there is a space for comments against each entry on your My Prizes page.


DNA for Beginners means just that – it’s primarily for those of you who are still wondering how DNA might help your research, as well as which test would be the best one to take, and why (the test that looks best in theory may not be the one that works best in practice). However if you have already tested, but don’t have a clue what to do with the results, you will also find it useful.


I’ll be speaking at 10am (London time) on Wednesday 14th February.

Gardening Question Time provides you with an opportunity to put your gardening questions to Siân. As with the radio programme with a similar name, questions should be submitted in advance, so that the best use can be made of the time available.


Sian will be speaking at 10am (London time) on Friday 16th February.


Remember, unless you log into your LostCousins account and indicate on your My Prizes page which of the fantastic prizes on offer are of most interest to you – you won’t be considered for ANY of them!



Are you researching on behalf of someone else?

At some time most experienced family historians generously offer to help others – friends or relatives – with their own family trees. And that’s wonderful – provided, of course, it doesn’t get in the way of your own research.


If you are going to help someone else, it’s obvious that you’d want to take advantage of the opportunities that LostCousins offers – the chance to find other experienced researchers looking into the same ancestral lines. However, you can’t do this through your own LostCousins account – it simply won’t work.


You see, the objective of LostCousins is to connect you to other members who share your ancestors, so the system doesn’t function properly when you enter someone else’s relatives on your own My Ancestors page. But don’t worry if that’s what you’ve done because you can easily put matters right – the Refer a Relative option on your My Referrals page can be used to copy them to a new account (even if the other person isn’t a relative of yours). But DON’T open the new account just yet – because you’ll need to enter the referral code on the Registration page (in the box near the bottom of the page).


Start by logging into your account and clicking on My Referrals (in the My LostCousins section of the menu), then click  and on the next page enter the other person’s name; you can leave the email address box blank. When you click  you’ll be taken to a page that looks rather like this:





These are a handful of the relatives I’ve entered on my own My Ancestors page – you’ll see a list of the relatives you’ve entered. Let’s suppose that the first household shown is one of those that belongs to the other person – tick each of the boxes so that you see this:



In your case the relationships shown won’t necessarily be ‘Marriage’, though that’s often the situation if you’ve entered the relatives of a spouse or in-law. However what really matters is how these individuals are related to the other person, and if you’ve been researching on their behalf you’ll know the answer. Click the arrow in the relationship box and choose the appropriate relationship, for example:




Of course, there could well be some relatives who are related to the person by marriage, so don’t assume you have to change every entry (and by the way, don’t choose ‘Unknown’ – we don’t use this relationship any more).


Once you’ve selected all the relatives to copy over, and chosen the appropriate relationships go to the bottom of the page and click  to create the referral and display a message rather like this.




You’ll need to enter the referral code when you open the new account, so make a note of it, or else copy it to the clipboard (by selecting it, then typing Ctrl-C or right-clicking and choosing Copy).


Now log-out from your own account and click JOIN NOW in the website menu. Note that if you’re the one doing all the research it’s best to use your own email address – you can have up to two accounts at the same address, just so long as they have different passwords.



Remember to enter the referral code near the bottom of the page – if you copied it to the clipboard simply position the cursor in the box and press Ctr-V, or right-click and choose Paste. Finally click  and make a note of the temporary password shown on the next screen in case the confirmation email is not delivered by your email provider.


Now log into the new account and glance at the My Ancestors page to make sure that the relatives have copied across correctly – only if they have can you delete them from your own account. You’ll need to do this one by one, clicking on a name and then clicking the  button – but as it’s just a couple of clicks it’ll only take a few seconds for each entry.


Note: to open a LostCousins account for someone else you must have their permission – but that shouldn’t be a problem if they’ve asked you to help them with their tree.



A four-legged friend

I couldn’t help thinking of the Roy Rogers song A Four Legged Friend when I read about the dog born with 6 legs – but who is now going to have a life-changing operation thanks to donations from dog-lovers (see this BBC News article for full details, including photos).


That unfortunate dog must have had defective DNA – which reminded me that Ancestry have now branched out into Pet DNA. If you want to know more, follow the appropriate link below (and note that there’s a sale in the US until 24th January).


Pet DNA by Ancestry® UK

PetDNA by Ancestry® for only $79. Offer ends 24 January 2024.



Peter’s Tips

Recently I noticed a discount supermarket selling ‘special purchase’ projectors for under £50: they make a cheap substitute for a large screen TV if you’ve got a blank wall or still have a projector screen that you used to look at slides.


But before you rush off to the supermarket take a look at this projector I bought from Amazon for around £50 – it gets good reviews, and it’s 5 times as bright as the one in the supermarket. It has an HDMI connection so you can plug in a DVD or BluRay player, a computer, or a device such as Fire Stick or Chromecast. My wife and I were absolutely amazed by the value for money!  


I know this column is called Peter’s Tips, not PG Tips, but has anyone else noticed that there is a shortage of Lapsang Souchong teabags? Not that many people sell Lapsang Souchong these days – Tesco stopped years ago – but even Waitrose haven’t had teabags in stock recently, so I’ve been reduced to buying leaf tea (which may be more authentic, but it takes longer to brew). Twinings appear to have discontinued Lapsang Souchong altogether in favour of something they call ‘Distinctively Smoky’ tea which, to quote their website is “reminiscent of Lapsang Souchong”. What’s going on?



Stop Press

The date and time of the Society of Genealogists talk have been added above.


I’ll be back soon – but in the meantime, keeping adding those relatives!



Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2024 Peter Calver


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