Newsletter - 22nd July 2015



Access to historic BMD registers

Are you free on Thursday evening?

Wills cross county borders

The Genealogist adds records of Jewish Londoners

Only related by marriage? Take another look....

Understanding DNA #1: your genetic inheritance

Understanding DNA #2: mtDNA myths

Understanding DNA #3: the truth behind DNA tests

Semi-identical twins

AncestryHealth launches

Colour photos that are over a century old!

Thousands of British films from 1895-2015 to go online

Is your relative missing from the war memorial?

Interview: Geraldine Wall EXCLUSIVE

Review: The World we have lost

What is a chrisom?

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 10th July) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-14 click here. Or do what I do, and use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):



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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!



Access to historic BMD registers

I understand that the GRO plan to consult widely before deciding how to provide better access to historic birth, marriage, and death records for England & Wales. Although this could mean that we'll have to wait quite a time for the new system to come into effect, it should improve the chance that, when it does, it will offer more of the features that family historians need.


If you're a member of the LostCousins Forum you can contribute to an informal consultation that I've set up - the aim is to ensure that we look at a wide range of possibilities, rather than simply settling for an equivalent to the systems that already exist in other countries. For example, I'd like to be able to search for births in the same way that I usually search for baptisms, ie naming the father and mother.


Tip: check your My Summary page to find out whether you've been invited to join the forum - invitations are being issued all the time.


Are you free on Thursday evening?

This Thursday, 23rd July, I'll be speaking about LostCousins, family history, and history generally to the Stock & Buttsbury Heritage Society - and because of a conflicting event in the village it's likely that there will be quite a few empty seats.


So if you live in Essex (or on the eastern side of Hertfordshire), by all means come along! As I'm giving my services for free I would hope they will allow LostCousins members in at the society rate of £1 (which includes coffee and biscuits), but even the rate of £3 for strangers is hardly extortionate. The evening starts at 8pm in the village hall, and I understand that it will finish at around 9.30pm.


Wills cross county borders

Tony wrote from the US to tell me that he'd found the wills of some of his Hertfordshire ancestors in the Essex Record Office. Although I've made many trips to both record offices over the past 15 years I'd never noticed this overlap, though when you consider that prior to 1858 probate was a matter for the church courts, not the civil authorities, it's hardly surprising.


This is just the sort of useful information that you'll find on the county resources pages at the LostCousins Forum - you don't need to be a member of the forum to view this information, but if you have been invited to join (see your My Summary page at the main LostCousins site) I'd recommend that you do take up the offer. If you have additional information that you'd like to see added to one of the county pages please post it in the More Resources area for that county.


Note: unfortunately I haven't had time to complete all of the resources page, but nearly half of those for English counties are online. You can post information in the More Resources area even if the relevant resources page doesn't exist - your contributions will make my Sisyphean task easier!


The Genealogist adds records of Jewish Londoners

At a time when Ancestry and Findmypast have gone quiet, it was a pleasant surprise to receive a press release from The Genealogist about their latest records. There almost 100,000 records in their new collection, which lists Synagogue Seatholders and holders of various offices.


Tip: also check out the UK datasets at the JewishGen website.


Only related by marriage? Take another look....

In earlier centuries communities were smaller and the chances are that some of our ancestors unwittingly married their cousins - not their 1st cousins, of course, but more distant relatives. When lives were shorter and many were unable to read or write it must have been more difficult to keep track of extended family, especially if they moved to another parish.

Bryan wrote from New Zealand to tell me that after further research he'd discovered that one of the members he'd matched with who had previously been shown as 'related by marriage' had now been upgraded to 'cousin', following the discovery that the couple who married were themselves distant cousins.


When you make a match with a relative it's always worth following Bryan's example and researching a little further - when you collaborate the chances of making discoveries are so much higher!


Understanding DNA #1: your genetic inheritance

It's one thing to understand how DNA works in theory, but quite another to appreciate how it works in practice. For example, there's a table on the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) website which shows the average percentage of our DNA that we share with our cousins, depending how closely -related we are to them, but the actual percentage can be very different.


I share about 3% of my DNA with my 2nd cousin once removed, considerably more than the 1.56% average shown in the table - but my brother only shares 0.5% of his DNA with our mutual cousin. Although my brother and I each inherited half of our DNA from our father, and half from our mother, they didn't pass on the same DNA to both of us. That sounds a little strange, doesn't it? In fact, you might even be wondering whether he and I really are brothers.....


But it's actually perfectly normal - and to explain why, we only have to go back a generation. My mum got her DNA from her parents - half from her father, my maternal grandfather, and half from her mother. She couldn't pass both sets on to me, so instead I got a mixture - roughly 50% from each grandparent. The same happened on my father's side - he could only pass on half the DNA he had inherited from his own parents, my paternal grandparents.


The same thing would have happened when my brother was conceived, except that he got a different mixture - indeed, the only time that two siblings inherit exactly the same DNA is when they are identical twins!


Is this pattern of inheritance good news or bad news for genealogists? Both, actually! On the one hand it's problematic, because a match between two cousins might be missed if you test the wrong sibling - but on the other hand it's good, because between us my brother and I will match more cousins (provided we both test).


This diversity between siblings applies at each generation, thus my mother would have inherited different DNA from her sisters - which means that their children, my 1st cousins, will almost certainly have DNA that neither I nor my siblings carry, even though it came from ancestors that we all share (our maternal grandparents). The more distant our cousins are, the less likely is it that we've both inherited the same DNA from the same ancestor - which is why autosomal DNA tests, like Family Finder, work best for more recent generations.


Understanding DNA #2: mtDNA myths

Autosomal DNA tests are relatively recent - the first tests used by genealogists were Y-DNA tests, tracking the DNA that men inherit from their fathers, and mtDNA tests, which follow the maternal line.


A common misconception is that if you want to solve a mystery on your father's side of your tree you use a Y-DNA test, whilst if you want to knock down a 'brick wall' on your mother's side you go for an mtDNA test. It's an easy mistake to make - a lot of people have wasted a lot of money going down these particular blind alleys (including quite a few LostCousins members, sad to say). The fact is, companies selling DNA tests tend to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can't do, allowing our wishful thinking to blind us to the facts.


Many claim to tell us about our ethnic origins, but without explaining that the figures are only estimates based on statistical analysis of samples (and pretty small samples in some cases). Some will tell you that you share your DNA with a famous figure from history, or a skeleton that has been discovered by archaeologists, but without making it clear that your connection is very tenuous, or shared with tens of millions of others.


One website claims to tell you which of the "Seven Daughters of Eve" you're descended from in order to get you to splash out on an over-priced test that is of little or no genealogical value. The reality is that if you are of European ancestry you're almost certainly descended from ALL of them, just not through your direct maternal line.


Mitochondrial DNA mutates very slowly, as a result of which mtDNA tests are of limited value to genealogists - since even if you get a perfect match, the common ancestor could well have lived so long ago that you'll never know who they were. However mtDNA can come in handy when you have a hypothesis that you want to examine - a good example was the discovery of a skeleton which was believed to be that of King Richard III. In that case mtDNA from the skeleton was matched to a descendant in the direct female line of his mother - and whilst in isolation it didn't prove the identity of the skeleton beyond all reasonable doubt, when other evidence was taken into account it was very convincing.


However, consider a superficially similar situation: suppose that an unidentified skeleton is discovered which is clearly many hundreds of years old, and having sequenced the mtDNA there are a number of matches with living people. Unfortunately without other evidence it wouldn't be possible to say anything about the identity of the skeleton - that's the problem with mtDNA, and why those of us who have tested our mtDNA are mostly disappointed with the results.


Understanding DNA #3: the truth behind DNA tests

In this article I'm going to deal with the myth that Y-DNA tests are for your dad's side, and mtDNA tests are for your mum's side. It's absolute poppycock, and here's why.....


The fact is, each of those tests will tell you about just one ancestral line: a Y-DNA test will tell you about the direct paternal line (father's father's father etc) of the man taking the test, whilst an mtDNA test relates to the direct maternal ine (mother's mother's mother etc) of the individual taking the test.


Note that I referred to "the individual taking the test" - in most situations you won't be the right person! Whether the 'brick wall' you're trying to knock down, or the family story you're trying to prove, is on your father's side or your mother's side, it's very unlikely that an mtDNA test will provide the answer - so unlikely, in fact, that most of us can simply ignore these tests altogether. If you think that you are a rare exception I suggest you talk to me first, just in case.


On the other hand Y-DNA tests are - in theory - capable of solving many, perhaps most of the problems that we encounter where the documentary evidence is missing or misleading - for the simple reason that maternity is generally better documented than paternity (at least from the 18th century onwards - earlier baptism entries may show only the father's name). Importantly, this applies whether the question we're trying to answer is on our father's side of our tree or our mother's side!


I said "in theory" because in practice we can't always find the right person to take the test. Remember that a Y-DNA tests tells as about the male donor's direct paternal line - but there won't always be descendants in the male line from the person we're trying to find out about. For example, two of my three illegitimate direct ancestors are female - they won't have inherited their father's Y-DNA or passed it on to their children. Only if I assume that their brothers were fathered by the same man have I any hope at all of finding a donor who carries the unknown father's Y-DNA.


There are several reasons why Y-DNA testing is more useful than mtDNA. First of all, Y-DNA is more likely to mutate between one generation and the next - this means that the number of differences between one sample and another can tell us roughly how many generations you'd have to go back to find a common ancestor. For example, my closest Y-DNA match is an American whose Y-DNA has four differences from mine (out of 111 markers). Based on these results Family Tree DNA can tell me how far back we're likely to have to go to find a common ancestor, ie:

































This is pretty reassuring - there's a very good chance that our common ancestor lived within the last 400 years, and will have been recorded in parish registers. Of course, we still have to do the research, but my cousin now has a pretty good idea that his direct paternal ancestor came from Suffolk - and that his surname has changed slightly over the centuries.


But the main reason why Y-DNA tests are so much more useful is that, like Y-DNA, surnames normally follow the male line - so there's a tendency for people with similar Y-DNA to have the same surname. (This doesn't quite work in reverse - people with the same surname are less likely to have the same Y-DNA, because many surnames originated in more than one place and at more than one time). This means that if you're able to sample the Y-DNA of a descendant in the direct male line of your unknown ancestor you might discover what his surname was - and in a small village there might only be one male of the right age with that surname.


Because Y-DNA and surnames travel together it's relatively easy to identify potential donors. Of course, in the case of an illegitimate birth the child usually takes the mother's surname, so it's her surname you should be looking for. If you don't have any male cousins who bear that surname, and have no prospect of finding any through further research you won't be able to use Y-DNA testing to solve that particular problem - though you may be able to use it elsewhere in your tree.


However, useful as Y-DNA tests can be, the chances are you won't get very many close matches. For this reason they are primarily of interest to people like me who are running Surname Studies - for example, I'm trying to discover whether the Calver surname, which is mainly found in Suffolk and Norfolk, is connected with the village of Calver in Derbyshire (I'd also like to investigate whether the name has a single origin - wherever that might be).


In the next newsletter I'll be writing about autosomal DNA tests, and explaining why so many researchers are using them to supplement conventional research methods.


Semi-identical twins

While researching the DNA articles above I can across this news report from 2007, of the only known semi-identical twins. The twins are identical on their mother's side, but share only half their genes on their father's side.


Mind you, as more and more us take DNA tests perhaps we'll amaze the scientists with more discoveries of unusual patterns of inheritance?


AncestryHealth launches

AncestryHealth is "a free online tool that helps you discover, preserve, and share your familyís health information" according to the FAQs on the new website. You can create a private copy of your existing Ancestry tree, then add information about health conditions that have affected you and your ancestors. When I first heard about the new site I assumed that it would be using DNA results, but apparently that isn't the case - at least, not initially:


However, the fact that the same press release revealed that the number of tests carried out by AncestryDNA has passed the 1 million mark might perhaps be a pointer to the future. My guess is that Ancestry are anxious to avoid the problems that 23andMe experienced when offering a health-related DNA analysis in the US.


Colour photos that are over a century old!

When I was growing up TV was monochrome, many of the films I saw at the cinema were black-and-white, and the only family photos in colour were from the 1960s. As a result I've always thought of colour photography as a recent invention - but I was wrong.


The Telegraph newspaper recently published on its website some stunning colour photographs from 1908 - you can see them here. Taken by the pioneering amateur photographer Etheldreda Laing, they used the autochrome process invented by the LumiŤre Brothers (who I'd previously only associated with moving pictures) in 1903 and first marketed in 1907. I found some photographs from 1913 which were taken using the same process here, on the Daily Mail site.


There are earlier examples of colour photographs - arguably the first dates from 1861 - but it's Etheldreda Laing's garden photos that most impress me.


Thousands of British films from 1895-2015 to go online

The British Film Institute recently announced that 10,000 films depicting life in Britain over the course of more than a century are to be made available online. The target date is 2017, and you can see some short clips in this BBC article.


Is your relative missing from the war memorial?

A determined LostCousins member has managed to get the name of her husband's uncle added to the war memorial in Ealing, as you can see from this online news article.


If your relative's name is missing you might like to know that according to a letter from the Borough Architect in Ealing "There are no cost implications to the family as it remains the Council's duty to ensure the War Memorial is as accurate a record as possible of the names of residents who lost their lives serving their country during the Great War." Hopefully other councils will prove as diligent and understanding as Ealing- but if not I can assure them of some appropriate publicity in this newsletter!


Mags ended her email by saying that "None of this would have happened if I had not been interested in family history, so I feel that something positive has come from all those hours spent trawling through information on line and at various archive offices." Her story is just one of many positive experiences related to me by members - I only wish I could print them all.


Interview: Geraldine Wall EXCLUSIVE

As you'll know from my reviews, I really enjoyed File Under Family and File Under Fear, the first two books to feature Anna Ames, probate genealogist (and mother) - so I set about tracking down the author, which turned out to be quite a challenge! But like Anna Ames, I don't give up.....


Peter: Geraldine, when did you start writing? Was File Under Family your first book?


GW: I suppose that the true answer to that is aged 9! I wrote a story about Albert the Flea and his adventures when he went to London and met the Queen. My mother sent it to Childrenís Hour and I got a kind letter from Geoffrey Dearmer saying that it was a good story but maybe next time I could choose a more acceptable main character!Of course, I had no idea what he meant.


As I grew up, as for so many people who like to write, time and energy were needed elsewhere and it has only been in the last few years that Iíve started writing fiction again. File Under Family was my first attempt.


Peter:What inspired you to create the Anna Ames character and plan a series of three books around her experiences?


GW:I like female mystery heroines but I wanted Anna to be believable (flawed!) and have a home life, too.I remember hearing a probate researcher talk about her work on the radio years ago and thought it would be interesting to write some stories around that work.I wanted her to be competent and conscientious but not perfect and for her to see her mistaken decisions only in retrospect because thatís what happens to most of us.I hope the readers go along with this and are as taken aback as she is when things twist around unexpectedly. I honestly donít know why I wanted from the beginning to do three books.I think a lot of that has to do with Harry, her husband, and his story.


Peter:Although your heroine is a probate genealogist, there's at least as much in your books about her family as there is about her work. I thought it was wonderful how you introduced us to them, especially Harry, and they all seem so real that I genuinely care about what happens to them. Did you draw on your own experiences in order to paint such a realistic backdrop to the story?


GW:There is a lot of my grand-daughter in Faye!I do have two sons but Ellis is not really modelled on one of them although I they were and are both bright and thoughtful and I think boys sometimes get unfairly stereotyped.There is a little of my own father in George as he loved quirky facts but also my partner who is no longer alive, sadly, but who was an avid small-press poetry writer and editor.Generally all the characters are a mixture of people Iíve known and quite a lot of imagination.Harry is very important to me, as he is to his family, and I wanted to explore through him the difficulties of all kinds that we go through when the people that we love slowly disappear through illness or absence for other reasons.


Peter:Is it as enjoyable writing your books as it is reading them? Do your characters talk to you inside your head, or do they only exist on paper?


GW:This is such a great question!I absolutely loved writing them and thought about the characters all the time when I didnít have to be doing other things.†† One of the reasons that I self-published through Kindle is that I didnít want to take time out to push my work to agents and publishers which I thought would be frustrating and time-consuming.As for my characters talking to me, itís not so much that, as that I did once wantto write a scene (Iím thinking of one in Fidelity that I had planned to write from the start) and when I came to it, it just wasnít right.It wasnít right for that story and wouldnít have been respectful of the characters so I made myself drop it.I do like most of my characters very much and try to understand the ones I donít like!At the moment I do feel quite bereft of the family but I am working on something else.


Peter: Despite all the challenges she faces, Anna Ames never gives up, which is a good lesson for us family historians. Is there a little bit of you in Anna?


GW:Iíve had to think about this question quite hard.I think Anna is persistent because she wants to do the best for her clients but there is also a part of her that is fascinated by a mystery so she pushes on partly out of curiosity and partly out of a desire to see justice done.I hope there is a little of me in her in the conscientiousness and compassion she shows as Iíve had some challenging jobs which needed those qualities, but she is not really Ďmeí in other ways.I was very much helped in the genealogy aspect of the books by Catharine Stevens (thanked officially at the end of the third book) who has dedication and attention to detail in shed-loads so I know how important those traits are in family historians!


Peter:Have you researched your own family tree, and if so how far have you gone?


GW:I used to stay with a great-aunt in Derbyshire when I was a child and one summer she showed me her copy of our family tree on that side (my fatherís).It was a creased and torn old document so I copied it carefully on to sheets of sugar paper.It was fascinating to see the names go down the generations and to know little snippets of information about some of the people.It went back to 1640. I have since re-copied and updated it since the sugar paper was not the best support! My motherís parents were both called Smith which made tracing them more difficult as you can imagine but I do know a few generations back.


Peter:The third book in the series, File Under Fidelity, has just been published - is this really the last we're going to hear of Anna Ames? (I haven't read it yet - I'm saving it for a special treat.)


GW:I did plan to write just one trilogy but I do miss the characters.What I may do is pick the family up again a couple of years on in their lives when Iíve finished the book Iím now working on.It will be interesting to see how they are getting on!


Peter:Tell me about the new book - is it going to appeal to similar audience?


GW:Iím at the stage with the new book where the vegetables are chopped and are ready to be cooked, so to speak.I have the characters and some plot-lines, but more importantly I have the area of human experience I want to explore.There will be an element of genealogy in the book but it will not be the dominant theme, I donít think.This book will be looking at disconnection and resilience in the main charactersí lives.Well, thatís the plan Ė I wait to see what actually emerges!


Peter:I very much look forward to reading it! Geraldine, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me - but most of all thank you for giving so many people so much pleasure through your books.


Tip: if you've missed out on any of Geraldine's books, which are currently only available in Kindle format, please use one of the following links: UK, USA, Canada, Australia


Review: The World we have lost

Most of the books I review have been published recently, but every now and then I discover a gem from earlier times. The World we have lost by Peter Laslett was first published half a century ago; when I started reading the 2nd edition (1971) I found the subject matter so compelling that I read it all the way through. Now if only I'd been as dedicated to my studies in 1971, when I was at university!


I'm a family historian, not a social historian - so why did I find the subject matter so interesting? The fact is that unless we can put our ancestors' lives into context, we cannot understand them. What did it mean if someone was a yeoman, or described as a gentleman? What did the abbreviations Mr and Mrs stand for? One of the chapter's in Laslett's book is entitled "Did the Peasants Really Starve?"; another is "The Village Community" - it's full of answers to questions, including questions you might not have thought to ask.


Some of the information will already be familiar if you've read Wrigley & Schofield's The Population History of England 1541-1871, such as Gregory King's table of income and expenditures for the year 1688, but there is an awful lot that was new to me, and no doubt will be to you too - and it's a much easier read than Wrigley & Schofield! I even found out how William Shakespeare's father signed his name.


I bought a second-hand copy for a few pounds; at Amazon there are copies of the 1983 3rd edition that are even cheaper (and it's 15,000 words longer than the 2nd edition). I can thoroughly recommend this book for any family historian seeking to appreciate what life was really like for our forebears.


What is a chrisom?

The term 'chrisom' or 'chrissom' has had several meanings over the centuries - according to Wikipedia it initially referred to a small piece of cloth placed over a baby's head at the time of christening, but later came to refer to the robe or cloth that covered the child. You may find the term in burial registers where it is mostly thought to have been used for a child which died within a month of baptism, though Laslett suggests it was used for children who died before they could be baptised - in either case they were buried wrapped in the cloth used for, or intended for their baptism.


I'd be interested to know whether you have come across the term in burial registers and, if so, whether you can identify in which sense it was used (in that parish) by comparing the burials against the baptisms.


Note: you can see what Princess Charlotte wore for her christening earlier this month in this BBC article.


Peter's Tips

When I was in Portugal earlier this year for Genealogy in the Sunshine I rented a car - it not only made it easier to get around, it enabled me to save lot of money by buying food at large supermarkets, rather than relying on the minimarket at the resort (where prices of some items were 200% higher).


But whilst it cost less than £5 a day to hire the car (through this discount website), had I wanted to take out additional insurance (rather than providing a Ä1200 deposit via my credit card) it would have cost me an extra £8 a day, more than I was paying for the car! Fortunately there is another way - at insurance4carhire you can get 12 months of UK & European cover for just £39.99 (there's also Worldwide cover from £49.99 if you're venturing further afield).


Not sure how long it will take to get somewhere by car? I use the free online TomTom Route Planner a lot - even though I've got a satnav for the car, I like to keep an eye on the traffic situation in case I need to leave early. For example, it'll still be rush hour when I set off for Stock tomorrow, and there's no way I'd want to be late for such an important appointment. If you've got a smartphone you've probably got Google Maps, which can act as a satnav when you don't have one; indeed, my wife and I often find that it works better than our satnav when we're trying to find a particular place in a town or village.


I've just ordered some after-shave lotion (Paco Rabanne, if you really must know) from - it's one of many special offers at discounts of up to 70%, and in most cases the prices are lower, sometimes significantly lower, than the prices you'd pay in a duty-free shop. One reason for this is because when you're travelling within Europe there is no such thing as duty-free any more - the only saving you make is the VAT that would otherwise be payable.


Which reminds me, the Competition and Markets Authority recently reported that it had "found evidence that supermarkets are misleading customers with confusing pricing promotions". This confirms what I've been telling you over the past few years, and whilst most of my comments related to Tesco, they aren't the only culprits (find out more in this BBC article).


I learned today that one of my friends in the village, who is a few years younger than I am, is showing increasing signs of dementia. I don't know what his diagnosis is, but I'm sure many of us will have been heartened by today's report of a new drug that seems to delay the advance of Alzheimer's disease in some patients. Unfortunately more trials are needed before this drug can be made available, and it won't help everyone - but at least it's a step in the right direction.


Stop Press

This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver


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