Newsletter – 17th June 2021



Oldest 'brick wall' comes crashing down (part 2)

Read Letter Day

Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA in the UK ENDS SUNDAY

Y-DNA tests discounted ENDS SUNDAY

Probability and family history (part 3)

The sad end of a Branch

What would you do with a marriage register?

Findmypast are discontinuing credits BREAKING NEWS

Last chance to save on Who Do You Think You Are? magazine

Tom & Jerry

Review: That We Shall Die

Review: The Esme Quentin Mysteries

An author writes….

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 6th June) 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!



Oldest 'brick wall' comes crashing down (part 2)

In the last issue I explained how an Ancestry DNA match in 2018 provided hope that at last my oldest 'brick wall' might come crashing down – my new genetic cousin in New Zealand was descended from a James Burns who was very probably the brother of my great-great grandmother Mary Ann Burns. Mary Ann had been a 'brick wall' ever since I'd started researching my tree, and I'd persuaded several documented cousins who shared the same line to take a DNA test.


Note: I've never met any of the 3rd cousins who agreed to help me knock down the Burns 'brick wall' by taking a DNA test – but it wasn't my powers of persuasion that made the difference, it was the fact that they too were interested in their family history. That's why finding 'lost cousins' is so important – they might be more distant than the cousins you know, but you have shared interests and shared objectives. Remember too that close cousins aren't nearly so useful when it comes to knocking down 'brick walls' because they share such a large part of your tree.      


In this instance I could deduce how we were connected from the information in my genetic cousin's tree, but usually you'll be dependent on shared matches, genetic cousins who are also matches for documented cousins. In this case the fact that most of my relatives who were descended from Mary Ann Burns also matched my new-found cousin supported the family tree evidence.


Although both my great-great grandmother and my New Zealand cousin's ancestor gave their father's name as James Burns, this wasn't sufficient to provide the breakthrough that we needed. Fast forward to the spring of 2021…..  


Getting your DNA results is just the start of a continuous process – as more and more family historians test the opportunities to make discoveries multiply. Upwards of 10 million people have taken genealogical DNA tests in the past 3 years, and earlier this year a family historian in Australia decided to take the plunge – and I'm so glad that he did! It turned out this previously unknown genetic cousin was descended from an Ellen Burns, who also gave her father's name as James Burns. This match was shared with two documented cousins who share my Burns ancestors, and this meant it was very likely that Ellen Burns was the sister of my ancestor Mary Ann.


Although we'd just found each other we began collaborating over email – the fact that we were in different time zones seemed to help! One day my cousin sent me a census entry from 1841 – it was one of many that I'd looked at previously, but now there was an additional reason to consider it:



© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast


When I'd first seen that census entry there had been no compelling reason to follow it up – the spelling of the surname was consistently shown as 'Burns', not 'Byrnes' in all of the records I'd found, nor was there any evidence that my Mary Ann was born a Catholic (as the Irish birthplace of the mother in the entry implies), since she had married in the parish church and her children had been baptised into the Church of England. Even her granddaughter, who I was lucky to speak to on the phone 10 years ago (she died aged 90 a few years later), didn’t know of any Irish connections.


However, thanks to my DNA match I had an important piece of additional information – Mary Ann had a younger sister called Ellen, so the fact that the wife of James Byrnes was called Ellen was significant. Over the next couple of days more information came to light – my cousin found an 1839 marriage between a James Byrnes and an Ellen Shannon in the GRO indexes, and then I discovered this entry in the Roman Catholic baptisms at Findmypast:


Image © Westminster Diocesan Archives; used by kind permission of Findmypast


The name of the first sponsor (godparent), Bernardus Byrne, ties in with the name James Byrnes gave for his father when he married Ellen Shannon:


© Image copyright London Metropolitan Archives; All Rights Reserved. Used by kind permission of Ancestry.


As a newcomer to Irish research it took me a while to confirm my suspicions that whilst Bernardus is the Latin for 'Bernard', it can also be used as the Latin form of Bryan. I found the baptism of Ellen at a different church, where the priest registered the event in English, naming the godfather as Brian Byrne – but so far the baptism of their brother James hasn't been found. Nor were any of the births registered – something that's not particularly unusual in the early years of civil registration.


In 1851 there is a Mary Ann Byrnes aged 11 in Mile End Old Town Workhouse; although my ancestor would have been just over a month short of her 11th birthday, I'm pretty sure it's her, especially since the next name on the list is an Ellen Byrnes aged 6. Also in the workhouse is a James Burns aged 10 – could he be their brother?


Mary Ann didn't give her father's occupation when she married in 1859 (he's just shown as deceased), but when Ellen married in Australia she said that her father was a policeman. James Byrnes was shown as a servant when he married in 1839, and as a labourer in the 1841 Census, so currently there's no evidence that he was in the police (though there's a younger James Byrne who was a police constable in 1851), but we do know that his father Bryan was recorded as a 'Sergeant of Police', which certainly hints that it's the right family.


My Australian cousin and I are pretty certain that we've found the right parents for our ancestors, but as always happens, behind every 'brick wall' there are at least two more – what a wonderful hobby this is!



Read Letter Day

I was over the moon to discover that my great-great grandmother Mary Ann Burns was born on 6th May 1840 because it's a date that has been special to me since I was a young boy. I'm sure many readers will instantly recognise the significance of the date but, if not, Google knows the answer!



Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA in the UK ENDS SUNDAY

As you will have seen from the 'brick wall' article at the start of this newsletter, DNA isn’t a replacement for conventional research but an additional tool to help us solve problems in the most challenging parts of our tree. I've been working with DNA for almost a decade and investigating it for far longer, yet I'm still amazed by what can be achieved.


Perhaps surprisingly, only half of the readers of this newsletter who are based in the UK have tested their DNA – so with 25% off Ancestry's world-leading test until Sunday, now's a good time for the rest of you to take advantage of the best thing that's happened in the world of genealogy since the invention of the computer.


You don't, of course, have to restrict yourself to just one test. Whilst there's no point you taking more than one test yourself (unless you previously tested with a different provider), if you can persuade some of your cousins to test, especially the cousins who share your most frustrating 'brick walls', it'll make an enormous difference. Although for data protection reasons everyone who tests with Ancestry needs their own account, your cousins can appoint you as Manager if they don't want to get involved.


Tip: when you order DNA tests from Ancestry they won't ask who's going to be testing, so you might want to do what I do and buy a couple of spares – not only will you benefit from the sale price, you'll also save on shipping. It's not just about saving money – it means that when I persuade a cousin to test I can pop a kit in the post to them the same day.  


Please use the link below to support LostCousins (it’s best if you log-out from Ancestry before clicking the link):


Ancestry DNA (UK only) - £59 plus shipping ENDS 20TH JUNE


Tip: there are some well-meaning people who'll try to persuade you to test with another provider, and often their arguments are superficially convincing. However, the key thing to remember is that Ancestry not only have by far the biggest database, but also the simplest and most powerful system (because of the clever way they integrate DNA matches with their enormous collection of family trees). And you can always transfer your Ancestry data to another provider if you really need more matches – but you can't go the other way.



Y-DNA tests discounted ENDS SUNDAY

The first DNA test I took was a 37-marker Y-DNA test – I can't remember exactly how much it cost, but it was hundreds of dollars. Nowadays there's only one company still selling Y-DNA tests – fortunately it's Family Tree DNA, the company I chose back in 2012.


Over the past decade prices have fallen considerably, but Y-DNA tests are still expensive compared to autosomal DNA tests, even though the latter are much more comprehensive and there's a far larger database of results to match against. Nevertheless there are some situations in which only a Y-DNA test might help, so I suspect a few of you will be interested to know that Family Tree DNA currently have a sale:


Y-DNA reduced to $109 until 20th June


Please check out this article before ordering – experience has shown that most people who consider buying a Y-DNA test would have a higher chance of success if they used autosomal DNA instead (ie Ancestry DNA).



Probability and family history (part 3)

Over on the LostCousins Forum there has been an interesting discussion about the twins puzzle that I mentioned in the previous article in this series (if you've yet to join the forum please see that article for more details).


One thing that came out of the discussion is just how important probability is to genealogists like us – even though we're unlikely to put numbers on our estimates, most of us aren’t going to show someone as a direct ancestor of ours unless we're very confident that they are, since if we're wrong we could end up researching someone else's ancestors.


On the other hand, if we demand 100% certainty we could have a very long wait, because in family history there is very little that is absolutely certain. Whilst beginners tend to assume that if something is written down in an official document it must be true, it's rarely long before their assumptions are torn to shreds by the reality that everyone makes mistakes, and the discovery that many people are prepared to tell lies when it is to their advantage to do so. Your great-grandfather may have been present at your grandmother's birth, but was he there when she was conceived?  Sometimes only DNA can tell us.


We wouldn't get very far if we weren't prepared to compromise by including ancestors on our tree based on probability. For most of us the threshold will be a high one: I don't add direct ancestors to my tree unless I'm extremely confident that I've found the right baptism, or the right marriage. Nevertheless I'm always open to being proved wrong – the important thing is to take note of all the evidence that comes to light, whether it supports our case or not. We might be 99.9% certain, but that still leaves a 0.1% chance that we're wrong.


When I see an online tree that differs from my own tree I don’t assume that I'm right and they're wrong – instead I look at the evidence. The biggest mistake we can possibly make is to assume that only other people make mistakes!


It's often fairly easy to see where others have gone wrong – when they've gone wrong – but usually the only way to confirm that our own research is correct beyond all reasonable doubt is to use DNA, because DNA can't lie. But whilst DNA can’t lie, it can be misused – like any other evidence, the way that it is interpreted is very important. We might have a very plausible hypothesis about how we're related to a genetic cousin, but that shouldn't blind us to the possibility that the connection isn't the one we think it is.


Note: you might think that given the importance I place on probability that I would be a fan of online calculators that give percentage probabilities for the different possible relationships between two genetic cousins. But I'm not, for the simple reason that the calculations can't take into account all of the other evidence.



The sad end of a Branch

Julie in New Zealand has been collaborating with a potential cousin who found this newspaper article about the inquest into the untimely death of Julie's great-great-great grandfather.


Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Used by kind permission of Findmypast.


You can see a spring gun on this page at the North Hertfordshire Museum website. Spring guns and other lethal traps were outlawed in 1827, too late for poor Henry who left behind a child and a pregnant wife.


Although it's a sad story, it's good example of how collaborating with other researchers can lead to unexpected finds – and in this case it wasn't even a proven cousin. Remember, when you find a 'lost cousin', it’s not just an opportunity to exchange past research, it's also an opportunity to collaborate in the future. My tree would be a lot smaller if it wasn't for the cousins I've collaborated with over the years – none of whom were known to me before I began my research.


Family history has changed over the past decade, and so has the way that family historians work together – for most of us it's no longer about meeting up at a record office, instead we collaborate virtually and asynchronously with cousins who in most cases we've never met in the flesh, and possibly never will. If there's one good that has come out of the pandemic, it's the extent to which we have embraced video-conferencing, enabling us to interact with others as if they were in the same room.



What would you do with a marriage register?

I mentioned recently that although churches in England & Wales will no longer be able to issue official marriage certificates following the changes that came in on 4th May, Church House Publishing – the official publisher of the Church of England – are selling a Register of Marriage Services for churches to use as their own record.



It seems that anyone can order one of these registers – in fact, I have one sitting on my desk at the moment, as you can see in the photo above. So my question is, how would you use one of these registers if you had one? Post your thoughts on the LostCousins Forum – if you’re not already a member I explained in the last issue how you can join.


For legal purposes the church marriage register is replaced by a marriage document which must be completed and returned to the local register office within 21 days – you can see an example with instructions in both English and Welsh here.


I also wrote last time about Richard Makinder, and a remarkable sequence of marriages which were recorded in the Stamford Mercury in 1783; this prompted Yvonne to write and tell me that she's the 5G granddaughter of Richard Makinder, by his third wife Mary. I guess that with 70,000 readers it's hardly surprising that one of them turned out to be a descendant, but I still get a buzz when someone writes in, because it's a link to a piece of history. Incidentally Yvonne did reveal that one 'fact' in the newspaper article was 'fiction' – when Richard Makinder married for the 4th time in 1783 he wasn't 70 but a mere 65 years old.


Another correspondent on the same topic was Peter, who told me about a pair of marriages in his tree, which involved his widowed grandfather marrying a widow on the same day that his son (Peter's uncle) married the widow's daughter. This was sufficiently newsworthy for the Daily Mirror to publish an article on 2nd October 1944, though it can't compete with the story of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman's 1989 marriage to Mandy Smith (who was 34 years younger), which was followed in 1993 by the marriage of Wyman's son Stephen to Mandy's mother Patsy. As a result of the second marriage Mandy became step-mother-in-law to her own mother, whilst Stephen became step-father-in-law to his own father – I wonder how many family tree programs could cope with that!


(In fairness I should reveal that Bill and Mandy got divorced after less than 2 years so the couples were never married at the same time. Indeed since this newsletter was published I've also been told by a LostCousins member who is a friend of Steve Wyman's that he and Patsy were never married, contrary to the sources I used when researching this article, which included The Guardian.)


Just to add a personal touch to this story, in the early 1990s (before I met my wife, I hasten to add) I went out a few times with one of Patsy's 1st cousins, and completely coincidentally, when Bill Wyman started touring with his own band in 1997 they were called the Rhythm Kings – and Rhythm King was a name I had invented for a computer program that I published more than a decade earlier.



Findmypast are discontinuing credits BREAKING NEWS

This notice popped up when I went to Findmypast this morning:



I don’t suppose many people reading this newsletter routinely use credits, since purchasing a subscription is almost always cheaper – but it might be relevant when the 1921 England & Wales Census is published early next year, since the 1901 and 1911 Censuses and the 1939 Register were pay-per-view only on their release. I doubt the timing of this change is a coincidence.




Last chance to save on Who Do You Think You Are? magazine

All good things must come to an end, including the exclusive offer I arranged with Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Until the end of June readers in the UK can get 6 issues for just £9.99, less than the price of two issues from the newsagents – just click this link and you'll not only be grabbing yourself a bargain, you'll be supporting LostCousins.


The offer for overseas readers also ends on 30th June – there are big discounts on 13 issue subscriptions, but the price varies according to where you live, so I'll leave it to you follow the link above and check what the deal would be in your home country.



Tom & Jerry

The term 'Jerry' referring to German soldiers originated in the Great War, although it was just one of many terms, most of them pejorative (see this Wikipedia page). But the term 'Tom' or 'Tommy' for soldiers in the British Army goes back much further, and derives from 'Thomas Atkins', a term that is recorded as far back as the 1700s, with a possible reference in 1743 (see this Wikipedia page for further information).


But perhaps between us we can come up with some earlier examples of both terms? Please post your comments and suggestions on the LostCousins Forum so that I can focus on helping members who need my assistance or advice.



Review: That We Shall Die

When an autographed paperback copy of That We Shall Die arrived in the post a few months ago I was faced  with a conundrum. On the one hand I was desperate to read the third Jane Madden genealogical mystery, having greatly enjoyed the first two – on the other hand, I was conscious that one day it might be a valuable heirloom, so I wanted to keep it in pristine condition. But as it happened I was so busy during the first half of the year that I didn’t have time to read it until very recently – by which time I'd come up with the perfect solution, which was to buy the Kindle version and read that.


Peter Hey's heroine isn’t a conventional genealogist – Jane Madden is a former policewoman who is applying her investigate skills in a different area. Like most of us she's learning on the job, and like many of us she has a guru to guide her. And like all of us she has a life of her own that sometimes gets in the way.


At the heart of the story is a real life event – the 1958 kidnapping of five-times Formula 1 champion Juan Manual Fangio – but this certainly isn’t a story about motor racing because Fangio only makes a fleeting appearance. Instead it's the tale of an idealistic young woman whose dreams were shattered, and the impact this had on her son, Jane's client.


I really enjoyed this book, but I recommend that you read the first two books in the series if you haven't already done so – the fascinating interplay between Jane's private and professional lives is an important element of the stories, and there are themes that carry through from one book to the next. You'll find my reviews of the other books here and here, but you can use the links below to support LostCousins when you purchase any or all of the books:                                       



Review: The Esme Quentin Mysteries

If you haven't read the first three books in Wendy Percival's genealogical mystery series you'll be delighted to  hear that you can get all three of them in Kindle format for £5.99 (or the approximate equivalent in your local currency), which represents a useful saving.


Whereas many of the heroes of genealogical mysteries are bright young things, Esme Quentin is – how shall I put it – more like one of us. Which is perhaps not surprising, since Wendy Percival is herself a LostCousins member!


If you enjoy books 1-3 as much as I did you'll be delighted to know that book 4, The Fear of Ravens, was released last year (you can read my review here, which includes links to reviews of the first three books), and Wendy tells me that a fifth book is in the works.                                       



An author writes….

Many of you will have read Jess Welby's book about her early life and her quest to identify her father (if not you'll find my  2015 review of The Daddy of All Mysteries here). I thought you'd like to read this email that she sent me recently:


I do love receiving your newsletter, but these days a problem with my eyes prevents me from spending much time on the computer researching my family’s history. 


Thankfully, my book - The Daddy of all Mysteries - written using my pen name of Jess Welsby, is still selling in eBook format and it has been a Godsend in finding my late father’s family. So rather than me researching for information for my book - my book is now finding information for me! And I have YOU to thank for giving it a kick-start after interviewing me for your Lost Cousins newsletter a few years back.


To top it all, I took both the Ancestry and 23andMe DNA tests - via your links - and those DNA tests have linked me to members of my father’s nieces - confirming the entire story, as told in my book, and the 20-year search for my late father’s family were all worthwhile... I am my father’s daughter. 


Given he was nothing more than an ink blot on my birth certificate, I never thought I would be able to prove that Harry Freeman was my father, so that’s a big void in my life that has now been filled.


So please forgive me for not using all the facilities on your website, but be assured Lost Cousins is the first family history website that I recommend!


If you haven't read Jess's book take a look at the Amazon reviews – over 80% give it 5 stars, including one from Australia which begins "I came across this book through the Lost Cousins website newsletter and I am so pleased that I did. An excellent and rewarding account of the search for a lost father that the author had never met".                                                   



Peter's Tips

I never expected COVID-19 restrictions to be totally lifted on 21st June, so I wasn't in the least surprised that stage 4 of opening-up England was postponed for 4 weeks, especially in view of the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant. It's now thought that it is at least 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which previously dominated in the UK, and this is one of the reasons why case numbers have been rising so quickly.


In fact, one estimate is that the Delta variant is 80% more transmissible, and if you plug that figure into the simple equation I published last month it comes up with an R number of 1.44, which coincidentally is the same figure quoted in the REACT-1 study published this morning. However, it's important to bear in mind that much of the infection is occurring amongst younger people who tend to interact more – by 19th July more will have had a first vaccination, university terms will have ended, and the school holidays will be a few days away.


The news on Wednesday morning that a monoclonal antibody treatment has been found to reduce deaths amongst seriously-ill patients came just at the right time – whilst most people in the UK who are reading this newsletter will have had both of their vaccine doses the risk of catching the disease isn’t completely eliminated for any of us. Thursday's case numbers exceeded 11,000 – but thankfully the number of deaths is one-third of the level that it was when we passed 11,000 cases at the beginning of October (nevertheless 19 families have lost a loved one to COVID-19 in the course of 24 hours).


Turning to a more cheerful topic, readers are still talking about my wife's piece on peonies, the subject of last month's first Gardening Corner article. You may recall that one reader wrote in about her friend's 74 year-old peony: that has now been bettered by Roger, who tells me that the beautiful flower on the right is from a plant cultivated from a cutting that originated in his grandparents' garden, and which dates back to the first decade of the 20th century (and possibly even earlier than that).


I hope that there will be another Gardening Corner soon – I'm twisting my wife's arm as I write!


Finally, in case you haven't noticed, 21st June is the start of Amazon Prime Day, which is (rather confusingly) a two-day event. I always take advantage of the special discounts for Prime members – the savings can be quite substantial, especially on Amazon's own products. If you're not a Prime member don't worry – you can sign up below for a 30-day free trial and get all of the advantages. Indeed, that's how I started countless years ago and I've been a Prime Member ever since!                                                   


Apologies for the plethora of Amazon links in this issue – but the links to different pages should make it easier for you.



Stop Press

I've just heard that the release of the 1921 Scotland census will be delayed until the second half of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. There had previously been uninformed speculation that it would be released on 20th June 2021, the 100th anniversary of the census, although ScotlandsPeople have never given a precise date. To the best of my knowledge the England & Wales census is still due for release in early 2022.



I hope you've enjoyed this newsletter – but please remember that LostCousins is so much more than a newsletter, it's a place where you can connect with experienced researchers who not only share some of your ancestors, but are researching the same ancestral lines. If you've forgotten you log-in details click here and enter the email address in the text of the email that told you about this newsletter (which might not be the address that it eventually arrived at).


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2021 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? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.