Newsletter - 9th March 2016


Save 20% on Findmypast World subscriptions.... ONE WEEK ONLY

...and get a FREE LostCousins upgrade

Register of Qualified Genealogists BREAKING NEWS

ScotlandsPeople release 1930 Valuation Rolls

MASTERCLASS: Tracking down pre-1837 baptisms and marriages

How to be accurate - and why it matters!

Avoid wasting ink when you print the 1939 Register

DNA: free online course at Ancestry DNA

Review: Researching Adoption

Adoption: one member's story

Dogged researcher solves cemetery mystery

Strange but true

Why I use a desktop computer

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 1st March) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):



Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).


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 20% on Findmypast World subscriptions.... ONE WEEK ONLY

Until 10am (London time) on Thursday 17th March you can save 20% on 12 month World subscriptions at Findmypast - in effect you're getting a World subscription for little more than the price of a Britain subscription. Both subscriptions now give unlimited access to the 1939 Register, the most exciting dataset to be launched for years.


We all have relatives who migrated - since I started my research I've found cousins I didn't know about in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, and several other countries - but some might argue that the jewel in Findmypast's crown is their collection of Irish records (especially the Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912) and Irish newspapers. Perhaps one day I'll discover that my Burns ancestors came from Ireland - it's my most frustrating 'brick wall'?


To take advantage of this offer (and support LostCousins) simply follow the appropriate link from the list below:


Note: there's absolutely no difference between the World subscriptions at different sites.


Get a FREE LostCousins upgrade

When purchase a NEW Findmypast subscription using the links above you'll be supporting LostCousins. So I'm going to return the favour by giving you a free 12 month subscription to LostCousins (worth up to £12.50) - this will run from the date of your purchase unless you’re already a LostCousins subscriber, in which case I'll extend the expiry date by 12 months.


Simply forward a copy of your email receipt from Findmypast, making sure that it shows the precise time and date (and the timezone, if it isn't London time). I recommend you also make a note of the precise time you conclude your purchase just in case the receipt doesn't arrive - sadly some email providers are less than reliable. I don't publish my email address online, but you can use any of the LostCousins addresses, including the one in the email that told you about this newsletter - all emails come to me.


Warning: your LostCousins subscription will be paid for by the commission we receive from Findmypast, which means that you must use the appropriate link above (and it must be the last link you click before you make your purchase). If you've configured your browser to prevent tracking, or if you use two different devices (or two browsers) during the process, then sadly your purchase won't be credited to LostCousins, and you won't get your free subscription.


Register of Qualified Genealogists BREAKING NEWS

The Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG) launched today. According to their website:


"The Register of Qualified Genealogists provides, and makes public, a record of those genealogists who hold a recognised qualification in the field of genealogy and associated practices, and who may be willing to provide professional services in that field."


AGRA, the Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives, is well-established as the leading professional body, and it's not clear how this new register will benefit genealogists or, more importantly, their clients. Membership of AGRA is not only open to those who have obtained a recognised genealogical qualification: applications are also welcomed from those who have obtained their training and experience through many years of practice. Their ability to offer and provide an expert professional genealogical service is assessed by the Board of Assessors.


Those who do not feel that they are yet at that level can apply to join AGRA as Associates, perhaps whilst pursuing a suitable course of training towards a recognised qualification, accepted as part of the transfer to Membership.


AGRA has a Code of Practice for all of its members and a clearly defined Complaints Procedure in the event of a client having a dispute with the professional genealogist that they have commissioned - this is an important safeguard (although the LostCousins members I've recommended to AGRA have expressed nothing but satisfaction).


ScotlandsPeople release 1930 Valuation Rolls

This latest release in the series records over 2.5 million names, including the last inhabitants of the remote island of St Kilda - the index is free to search at ScotlandsPeople until 17th March, though you'll have to pay to see the records.


MASTERCLASS: Tracking down pre-1837 baptisms and marriages

Researching ancestors who lived in England & Wales is usually fairly straightforward until we get back to 1841, the date of the first census, and 1837, the year that civil registration began. But then it becomes much tougher, for a number of inter-related reasons. In this masterclass I'm going to first talk through the problems, and then explain how you can overcome them.


Why we need to use different techniques

When we're researching after 1837 we can refer to the GRO indexes, which (in theory at least) list everyone who was born, or married, or died in England & Wales. Once we get to 1841 we can refer to censuses which (again, in theory) list everyone in the country on a certain night. Best of all, those indexes and censuses are available online, so anybody anywhere can get access to them.


But before 1837 we don't have either of those available to us - prior to the introduction of civil registration parish registers are by far the best sources of early information (and often the only surviving documents that name our ancestors). Most people were baptised, most of those who have descendants alive today got married, and the one thing you can be sure of is that they eventually died, in which case they'll almost certainly have been buried somewhere.


However, even though the vast majority of baptism, marriage, and burial registers have survived, the registers are scattered across the nation. In most cases the original registers are held by the county record office, which means you cannot go to any one record office - not even the National Archives - and expect to find all the baptisms for (say) 1797. Indeed, even if you visit the repository of the registers you're seeking the chances are you'll only be able to view them on microfilm.


Many registers have been transcribed, often by volunteers, and in some cases the transcriptions have been made available online. However you can't just go to one website and search through every parish register that has ever been transcribed, because some transcriptions are available at one site, some at another - and even if you have the time to visit them all, many of the transcriptions are only available at subscription sites, so you may not be able to access them. Furthermore, some of the transcriptions are only available on CD ROM or on microfiche - usually through family history societies - and many registers have NEVER been transcribed


Faced with such a different situation some researchers just give up - research pre-1837 is so different that they are scared to even try. Some try, but fail - either because they don't fully understand how best to make use of the available resources, or because they don't realise just how much is available to them.


Because of the way that records are scattered across the country, across the Internet, and across different media, it's tempting to adopt an unfocused "where shall I try next" approach. Now, I'm not a professional genealogist, but one thing I do know is that professional genealogists always search logically and methodically, and above all they record where they have searched and what they have searched for. I can't count the number of times members have written to me saying they've searched everywhere for a certain baptism, yet when pressed they can't tell me which parishes they've searched, which periods the searches covered, or even - in some cases - precisely what surnames and spellings they looked for.


Start by gathering the evidence

First collect all the evidence that indicates - no matter how obliquely - where and when your ancestor is likely to have been born. Sources of information will often include early censuses, marriage certificates, and death certificates - all of which can be helpful, but can also be misleading.


Many people didn't know where they were born, so often the birthplace they gave when the enumerator came round is the place - or one of the places - where they grew up. Some people didn't know how old they were - they might have known when they were born, but that isn't the question on the census form. It asks for their age, and not everyone was capable of subtracting one year from another, particularly if the years were in different centuries.


Remember too, that it was the householder who was responsible for completing the form (or supplying the information to the enumerator) - the ages and birthplaces of adopted children, stepchildren, servants and visitors are particularly unlikely to be correct.


Search the IGI

Your next step will often be to search the International Genealogical Index at FamilySearch; the IGI probably has more parish register entries than any other website, and yet it's free! Now and again I'm lucky enough to find someone who looks as if they may be my ancestor, and has a sufficiently rare name that there are unlikely to have been two of them around in the same place at the same time. However, not many names are that rare - indeed, many of the surnames we now think of as rare were once quite common in certain parts of the country.


Tip: some researchers assumed that the IGI disappeared along with the old FamilySearch website. It's true that there was a time when the IGI was not available at the new FamilySearch site, but you can now find it here.


There are two types of entries in the IGI - those that are described as Community Indexed and those that are Community Contributed. The former are extremely reliable, but the latter are very variable - for example, there are many entries which are clearly not taken from parish registers and are often simply conjecture. I suggest you start your search with the Community Indexed entries; if you do extend your search to the Community Contributed entries be sure to check your findings against the parish registers before incorporating them into your research.


If you don't find the entry you're seeking in the IGI it's usually because the register that contains the entry hasn't been transcribed and included in the index. Although FamilySearch has at some point microfilmed most of the surviving parish registers, only about half have been transcribed and indexed - so half the baptisms and marriages you're looking won't be in the database at all.


Tip: hardly any burials for England & Wales are included in the IGI.


How can you find out which registers are included? The simplest way is to refer to Steve Archer's site (which covers Scotland and Ireland as well as England & Wales). As well as listing the years of coverage by parish and by event the site also gives the relevant batch numbers - searching by batch number is not only a great way to limit your search to a specific parish, it's a great way to overcome transcription errors or entries that have been recorded incorrectly by the clergyman who conducted the service (when you omit the person's name you'll get a listing of all the entries in the batch).


What should you do if the parish you're interested in is included in the IGI, but you still can't find the entry you're looking for despite searching through the relevant batch (in case there has been a major transcription error)? This suggests that the event didn't take place where you think it did, or when you think it did - or didn't take place at all (not all children were baptised).


Find out which other parishes are nearby

There are at least two ways to do this. One is to use a 'parish locator' (such as the free ParLoc program) to get a list of all the parishes around the town or village where you believe your ancestor to have been born or married. In the country you might use a 5 mile radius, but in London that could give you a list of 100 or more parishes - so a radius of 1 or 2 miles might be more appropriate.


Tip: the nearest parish church may have been in a different parish - the size and shape of parishes varies enormously.


If you haven't been able to find the baptism or marriage you're looking for in the IGI this strongly suggests that it's recorded in a register that isn't included in that index, so you should go back to Steve Archer's invaluable website to find out which parishes aren't included in the IGI for the relevant period - and they’re the ones that to focus your attention on.


However my preferred solution is to use the maps at FamilySearch - these are wonderful but only cover England & Wales.


At the old FamilySearch site you were limited to the IGI, which hadn't been added to for many years - but the new FamilySearch site has a wealth of other records. For example, there are 69 million baptisms in the dataset described as England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, and 16 million marriages under England, Marriages,1538-1973. Many of these entries are also found in the IGI, but some are different. I believe these records sets are based on the Vital Record Index which was previously distributed on CD ROM.


Tip: those records can also be searched at Findmypast.


FamilySearch has indexed transcriptions, but not images, for Cheshire, Plymouth & West Devon, Yorkshire, and Wales, and many images, mostly indexed, for Norfolk and Sussex. FamilySearch also has parish register images for part of Kent, but these are not generally accessible online unless you are at a FamilySearch Centre (there are 4500 of them around the world). There are also many images that can only be viewed at partner sites, such as Ancestry or Findmypast - so you'll need a subscription for the partner site. In practice you'll probably find it easier to search these records at Ancestry or Findmypast rather than hopping from one site to another.


Although you can search all of the transcribed parish register entries with a single search from the FamilySearch home page, you won't find any records that are only present as unindexed images. It's therefore essential that you're aware of the unindexed images at the FamilySearch site that may be of relevance to your research.


To find out which records FamilySearch has for a particular country, click on the map that you'll find here.

The list of records is divided into two sections, transcribed records and untranscribed images. A camera icon indicates which of the transcribed record sets have images associated with them, but this doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to view those images.


Tip: an often overlooked feature of the new FamilySearch site is the 'wiki', which provides information about individual parishes, often including details of online sources of register transcriptions (follow this link to see an example).


Another free site with a large collection of transcriptions is FreeREG

 - at the time of writing it has 15 million baptisms, nearly 5 million marriages, and over 10.5 million burials in its database. However, they're not evenly spread across the country: some counties are very well catered for (Norfolk in particular), but others less so - however it's fairly easy to see what is and isn't there. Other volunteer-led projects include the Online Parish Clerk sites: they don't exist for every county, but the counties with by far the best coverage are Cornwall, with over 2.2 million entries last time I checked, and Lancashire with nearly 8 million records.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the contents of some parish registers were published as books, and your best chance of finding them is through sites such as the Internet Archive, another free site, where a search for (say) 'Kent parish registers' brings up a long list of registers that have been printed in book form and digitised for all to see (you'd pay to see some of these records as subscription sites!). Another similar site is Google Books - inevitably there is a big overlap between the two.


A straightforward Google search is always worth trying, as quite a few individuals have transcribed parish registers and posted the results on their own websites, and some record offices have information that you can search free online, for examples Hertfordshire has a range of records including a marriage index, whilst Medway Archives have posted registers for their part of Kent online (not transcribed, but at least they are at your fingertips - and free).


Subscription and pay-per-view sites

An increasing number of parish registers and/or register entries are becoming available online at Ancestry and Findmypast. When I first wrote on this topic in February 2010 - just 6 years ago - there were NO register images available at either site, but now you can search WarwickshireDorsetLancashireWest YorkshireLiverpool, Manchester Cathedral, Wigan, Birmingham, Northamptonshire (including Bishop's Transcripts for much of Rutland), and most of London at Ancestry, and CheshireDevonHertfordshire,  Plymouth & West DevonShropshireStaffordshire, Westminster, most of East Kent, large parts of Yorkshire, and much of Wales at Findmypast. Findmypast also has partly indexed register images for Lincolnshire, whilst Leicestershire and Rutland parish registers will also be going online at Findmypast, although no date has been announced.


Although there are no images, the National Burial Index at Findmypast has over 12 million entries from 37 counties across England & Wales, and around 90% of the entries are pre-1837.


Tip: many cities and metropolitan boroughs have a record office which holds the registers for their area, so that, for example, the Lancashire collection at Ancestry doesn't include records for every town that was originally part of the county. However Findmypast's Cheshire collection does include Stockport, and also Warrington - which is now in Cheshire, but was previously part of Lancashire.


Both Findmypast and Ancestry have millions of other parish records in transcription form, although quite a few of the records in Ancestry's collection have been taken from books which you might be able to access free online. Durham Records Online has over 4 million transcribed records from County Durham and Northumberland. The Joiner Marriage Index has over 2.5 million marriage records from over 3700 parishes in 31 counties.


Essex Record Office offer online access to most of their parish register collection - and whilst the subscription is quite steep at £85 a year (the cheapest subscription is £10 for one day), for many people with Essex ancestors it's the most practical solution; many Essex wills are also included. I live in Essex, but it would cost me more to drive to Chelmsford and back than to buy a 24 hour subscription, not least because of the cost of parking when I get there. On the other hand, a visit to ERO would allow me to access a wide range of other records which aren't available online.


Society of Genealogists library

Many of the largest collections of transcribed records held by the Society of Genealogists are available online to members: these include Boyd's Marriage Index, which has particularly good coverage in some of the counties (eg Suffolk and Essex) that are least well represented in the IGI; for a PDF list of all the online collections click here. Over 9 million of the records, including Boyd's Marriage Index are also available through Findmypast.


The Society of Genealogists has many more records in its library, including an amazing collection of records on CD ROMs and microfiche collected by family history societies and other organisations. Non-members can use the library on payment of a fee, which ranges from £5 for 2 hours to £18 for a full day - more details are available here.


Record offices and archives

When you're within striking distance of the relevant record office there's no substitute for visiting in person - but check first what's available online so that you don't waste your time there looking up records you could just as easily (or perhaps, more easily) have searched from the comfort of your own home. When I was beginning my research I wasted a lot of time searching parish registers that had already been indexed for the IGI - I should, of course, have focused on the unindexed parishes.


Many record offices and archives will do research on a paid basis - a typical charge is £30 per hour, which sounds a lot but in my experience is usually money well spent. However independent researchers usually charge much less, and some record offices will provide a list (especially if they don't offer a research service themselves). Please bear in mind that the inclusion of a researcher on the list is not necessarily an endorsement of that researcher, but local knowledge can be invaluable.


The importance of the Register of Banns

One of the key reasons we search for the marriages of our ancestors is to find out the maiden names of our female ancestors (of course, if they gave birth after 1837 you'll usually find this information on the birth certificate). If the couple lived in different parishes, which was not unusual, they had to decide which one to marry in - and typically it would be the bride's parish that was chosen. This creates a slight problem, because ~unless she survived until the 1851 Census we won't know where she was born (and even then, it wouldn't necessarily be the parish where she was living at the time of her marriage).


Fortunately the banns register often comes to our rescue. Most people married by banns, rather than by licence, and if the couple lived in different parishes the banns would necessarily be read out in both, and so would be recorded in the Banns register for both parishes. However, there are not nearly as many banns registers available online as marriage registers - you're more likely to have to have to pay a visit to the record office.


Note: many of the techniques described in this article can also be applied to research in Scotland, Ireland, and other countries.



When we find the baptism or marriage that we've been searching for it's such a relief that we often drop our guard, and forget to assess the information as critically as we should. In the next article I'm going to talk about some simple things you can do to dramatically increase the chances that the information in your tree is correct.


How to be accurate - and why it matters!

You've found someone with the right name, who was baptised or married at around the right time in the right geographical area. So is it all right to add them to your tree, or should you attempt to verify that you've found the right person - and if so, how?


There really is nothing worse in genealogy than identifying the wrong ancestor, because every step you take from then on is likely to be wrong. If the person whose baptism or marriage you were seeking has a common name then you should definitely be on your guard - and in determining whether a name is common don't judge it by the standards of today, but by those of the time and locality that you're researching. Many surnames that have virtually disappeared today were once common in certain localities, and forenames that even in former times were relatively rare considering at the country as a whole, could be quite common in some counties.


For example, when you look at the country as a whole the forenames Roger and Nicholas were fairly rare in the 18th century - but in Devon, where some of my ancestors hail from, they were quite common.


Remember that if you're relying on online resources you may only be searching a limited subset of the parishes, especially if you're searching in the IGI, at FreeREG, or at an OPC site. You may only have found one or two events that appear to fit the facts - but there could be many more that haven't been transcribed and indexed. Just because you've only found one baptism or one marriage that fits doesn't mean that you've found the only one that fits.


Note: researchers who don't live in Britain should acquaint themselves with the geography of the area they're researching; the GENUKI site is a good place to start. If you live in the US bear in mind that English counties are usually a lot bigger than the US equivalent - more like a small state - so if you only know the county where your ancestors came from there could be hundreds of parishes to search.


What other evidence might you gather to prove that the person you've found IS indeed your ancestor? And even more important, how might you prove that he or she ISN'T. The point I'm making is that we shouldn't simply be looking for confirmation that we've got it right - we should search just as assiduously for evidence that we've got it wrong. Sometimes the absence of evidence to the contrary is the best proof available!


The first thing I do is look for more events that seem to relate to the same family, to try and build up a better picture. If you've found what you think is your ancestor's baptism, look for other baptisms where the parents have the same or similar names - remember that the further you go back the more common spelling variations are, partly because there was many people were illiterate, but also because for a long time spelling wasn't considered particularly important.


Note: even William Shakespeare couldn't make up his mind how to sign his name - and, perhaps surprisingly, not one of the six surviving signatures in his own hand have that first 'e'. See Wikipedia for more on this topic.


Sometimes it will gradually become obvious that there were two families where the parents had exactly the same names - or were so close that the vicar might easily have confused them. Usually it will be fairly easy to separate them out based on the timings and the choice of names - and often other information in the register will help, such as the abode or occupation of the father. Even if only one family had a child with the same name as your ancestor it's still important to separate out the two families, because your next objective will be to find the marriage of the parents - and you need some way of determining which couple it is who married.


Simple logic should be your guide. For example, it is extremely unlikely that there would have been two surviving children with the same name in the same family; and it would be quite unusual if one of the sons wasn't named for the father. And if your ancestor was John Smith and his parents were William and Mary, it's fairly likely that John wasn't their first son.


If you can work out the years during which a couple were having children you're half way to working out when they married and when they were born. I've often seen researchers assume, having found the baptism of an ancestor, that his or her parents were born about 25 years earlier, but unless you have reason to believe that your ancestor was the eldest son or daughter it's quite possible that the parents were much older, perhaps as old as 45.


The names of marriage witnesses often provide helpful clues, but the burials register is an even more important source of information. Many researchers have convinced themselves that they've found the right baptism (and hence the right parents) only to discover many years later that the child died in infancy.


Even when you are fairly certain you've identified the right family, don't stop researching other families in the local area with the same surname - after all there's a reasonable chance that they are all related to each other.


Linking up with other researchers who share the same ancestors is a great way to verify that you're on the right track - provided that you haven't all gone down the same wrong path. Some time ago I linked up with half a dozen cousins who, though researching independently, had all made precisely the same mistake - they believed their ancestor was telling the truth when he gave his father's name on his wedding day.


But that's an exceptional situation - the chances are it will never happen to you. So my advice is to do everything you can to find your cousins, short of publishing your family tree online. The safest and most accurate way to do this is to complete your My Ancestors page - with just 97,000 members LostCousins certainly doesn't have the largest membership of all the websites that aim to reunite you with your living relatives, but we certainly have the most experienced membership (the average LostCousins member has been researching longer than I have).


Avoid wasting ink when you print the 1939 Register

Michael sent in a great tip this week which will save me money, so I thought I'd pass it on to you.


Like me, Michael uses the free Irfanview graphics program (you can download it here). Irfanview works on all versions of Windows, and there are lots of features that I find useful. Not only can you trim off the edges of an image - very useful for censuses which are surrounded by areas of solid black - you can also reverse the colours in a selected area, to create a negative image.


Because a quarter of the records in the 1939 Register are closed - and on some pages the proportion is much higher - you could spend a fortune in black ink printing the black bars which conceal closed records. I(nstead use the cursor to select one of the areas where there are closed records (Irfanview will draw a rectangle around the area) then choose Negative (invert image) from the Image menu, and select the All channels option. Bingo - black become white and white become black!



The example above shows three stages - in the far right image Michael has taken things a stage further by changing everything to black and white. This is a matter of personal preference, but if you want to save even more ink, go back to the Image menu, select Decrease Color Depth, then choose 2-colors (black/white). A compromise would be to choose Convert to grayscale.


I use Irfanview most days, and have done since it was recommended to me many years ago by another LostCousins member. Even though I use compatible ink cartridges that cost me under £1 each, I don't like wasting ink - do you?


DNA: free online course at Ancestry DNA

We all know that DNA has the potential to fill in the gaps in paper records, but a lot of people buy DNA tests without really understanding how to use the results. I'll be presenting my advice in a future newsletter but in the meantime this free online course should help - it was recommended by Debbie Kennett, who has spoken about DNA testing at both of the Genealogy in the Sunshine courses (indeed, much of what I know about DNA came from listening to Debbie, or as a result of following her advice).


If you want to re-read my series of articles on DNA testing please use the following links:


Understanding DNA #1: your genetic inheritance

Understanding DNA #2: mtDNA myths

Understanding DNA #3: the truth behind DNA tests

Understanding DNA #4: how DNA is inherited

Understanding DNA #5: choosing the right test

Understanding DNA #6: choosing the right company

Understanding DNA #6: choosing the right company (continued)


Review: Researching Adoption

Karen Bali's latest book, Researching Adoption: An essential guide to tracing birth relatives and ancestors may be a slim volume, but it certainly got me thinking - whilst I'm not aware of any adoptions in my family tree, I suddenly realised that they could be hiding in plain sight. After all, it's only relatively recently that society has come to consider that adopted children have a right to know that they were adopted, and who their natural parents are.


Prior to 1927, when the first Adoption Act came into force in England & Wales many adoptions would have been private arrangements, with little or no paperwork and nothing recorded in public records. However, some adoptions will show up in Poor Law records, or in the records of charities that ran orphanages or other institutions - if they have survived.


For me, the most interesting pages in the book are the ones that show the birth certificate for someone who was adopted, and their adoption certificate (the names and other details have, of course, been obscured); the book ends with some short case studies, lists of contacts, and suggested further reading.


At around £5 (plus shipping) it's an expensive book if you were to judge it by the number of pages, but at less than the cost of a birth certificate it's not a lot to pay for a guide to this problematic area of research.


Adoption: one member's story

Many of the people reading this newsletter will have adoptions in their tree - some will be adoptees themselves, others the descendants of adoptees. This story sent in by a LostCousins member stood out for me because it was one of the first adoptions to take place after the Adoption Act came into force in 1927 - for obvious reasons there are no names mentioned:


"My mother died in 1962. Twenty years later my brother and I found out that she had been married before, and when the marriage broke up because of the extreme violence of her husband, their child, born in 1925, had been given up for adoption. Back in the 1980s the records of births and marriages were kept at St Catherine's House in London and I went along to lift down the heavy indexes in which the names were written and then could order a certificate of the event. I found my mother's birth - four years earlier than we had been told - then 16 years later her marriage, and seven months later the birth of her son. Legal adoption started in 1927; I lifted down the fairly slim first adoption record book, and there was my half-brother's name in the middle of the very first page!


"When the various certificates arrived I went to the library and spent two days going through all the UK telephone books. I was aware that 'the child' could have died in WW2, emigrated, changed his name, or even be ex-directory - but I felt strongly this was something I was doing for my mother. I found eight people with the same surname and initials and wrote the same letter to each of them. I heard back from three, but the very first letter was from my half-brother - who doubted we could be related, and said he had just one cousin, and no other relations - but gave our mother's name and address from his adoption papers! I telephoned immediately (waking him up!) to tell him he had a sister, brother and two nieces.


"Since then he has been a beloved member of our family, and last year we all celebrated his 90th birthday."


I'm sure there are many other wonderful stories - some of which are yet to be uncovered. But be cautious - not everyone will welcome intrusion into their private life, even if it's done with the best of intentions.


Another member sent me a link to this official application form, headed up "Application for Birth Certificate Information Before Adoption" - I suggest you read the guidance notes carefully, noting in particular that anyone adopted on or before 12th November 1975 must receive the information through an approved adoption advisor.


Dogged researcher solves cemetery mystery

You may recall that in my Christmas newsletter I reported some unusual inscriptions in the cemetery at East Chelborough in Dorset - you'll find the original article here.


Shawn has been researching this ever since, and wrote back to me this week with his findings:


"Re: Your piece on the East Chelborough parish register entries for Twinkle, Fly and Tango. I have been in contact with the Parish Clerk who was intrigued but unable to add. However she did set me on the path through the local resident famed for 'local knowledge'. Only having lived in the area for 25yrs 'local knowledge' knew a bit but nothing definitive, passing me to a lady who has 'The Knowledge' - a life-long resident.


"At the time of the burials the incumbent was keen on an all-inclusive approach, aware of the part pets play in the lives of their human partners, and agreed to these pet dogs being interred with wooden markers. The next incumbent took a different view and such activities were no longer encouraged. I visited the church about two weeks ago and there is nothing obvious in way of markers. The grounds, though not uncared for, have areas that are going wild especially by the stream where the pets are buried. 'Local knowledge' recalled a stone marker 'which may have fallen in the stream by now'. I intend to return in the summer and will seek out the spot. The pets were those of the lady of the manor, Mrs McCraith, who ran a Connemara stud so the dogs would have had a good country living."


Note: in my original article I referred to memorial inscriptions rather than register entries - as far as I know the dogs are not recorded in the register of burials.


Strange but true

Searching through my accumulated ephemera yesterday I came across the bill for my wedding reception - and this reminded me of a story I read on the BBC News website last October about a bride who invoiced two of her guests because they failed to turn up for the wedding reception! Only in America - or so I thought, until I uncovered this article about a 5 year-old boy in Cornwall who was invoiced for failing to turn up to his friend's birthday party!


Money seems to inspire all sorts of lunacy, and this tale of a woman in Scotland who had her benefits stopped because tax officials thought she was having an affair with her local post office takes the biscuit!


Yet there's nothing new about stories like this - there are plenty of ludicrous stories to be found in the 19th century newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive!


Why I use a desktop computer

I have a laptop that I use when travelling, but my main computer is a desktop (although it actually sits alongside my desk, rather than on top of it. There are major advantages in having a desktop computer....


Last Thursday my computer blew up - the power supply overheated and failed. My first thought was that it had failed because of all the extra gizmos I'd added since buying my computer 4 years ago so at 8pm I went onto Amazon to order a replacement power supply which was more powerful than the one that had blown up - and I took the opportunity to buy a semi-modular unit, with detachable cables (this avoids having lots of unused cables flapping around).


Enough technical stuff - if you're really interested you can see the one I bought here - but the key thing is that even at 8pm I could order the power supply and have it delivered the next day!


As luck would have it when the power supply arrived I discovered that this wasn't the only problem. So I decided to change my strategy while I had a rethink - I removed the hard drive from my busted computer and fitted it inside a fantastic little gadget that I'd bought a few years earlier for less than £20. This enabled me to connect the drive to my laptop, which meant I could access all my files, and continue working as normal.


Having dealt with all the urgent emails I started phoning round the local computer shops - the only one still open at 5.15pm reckoned that it would take at least half a day to do the job properly (and they were only open for 3 hours on Saturday). It would cost £60 in labour plus parts - and I'd have to make two roundtrips.


Time for another rethink. On Saturday I had a close look at the CPU cooler, and eventually realised that the mounting had broken - as a result of which it wasn't making contact and the processor was overheating. I attempted to repair the mount with superglue (always worth a try), but without success - however I could replace the entire cooler unit for under £20 at Amazon, and even though it was nearly 6pm on a Saturday evening they would deliver it the next day (Sunday).


To cut a long story short, by lunchtime on Sunday my computer was as a good as new, and whilst I'd paid out for a new power supply and a new cooler it hadn't cost me a penny in labour. But I was only able to do all this because it was a desktop computer, rather than a laptop - had it been a laptop (or even a brand name desktop) I would most likely have been dependent on the manufacturers for spares (at goodness knows what price), and might well have had to send it away for repair.


Peter's Tips

Always be careful if you decide to buy something I haven't recommended rather than something that I have. After my article in the last newsletter about the wonderful BT8500 call-blocking phone one reader bought a slightly cheaper phone that offered to block nuisance calls, not realising that it couldn't properly handle calls where the number was withheld or otherwise unavailable - ooops!


Another reader, Pam, wrote in to say when her local hospital calls the number is withheld, so she couldn't have a phone that blocked all withheld numbers - and she obviously wouldn't want one that let them all through. As I explained to Pam, that's precisely why I am so excited about the BT8500 (even though I'm not a fan of BT) - it lets through numbers that you specify, it blocks numbers that you specify, and all other calls are handled by Call Guardian, so you don't miss any calls that you do want, nor do you have to deal with any calls that you don't want. It's like having a secretary.


Next month I'm going to be writing about the new Innovative Finance ISA - in the meantime you can still get a £100 bonus when you invest £1000 or more with Ratesetter by following this link (I'll also get £50 for referring you). Note that you probably wouldn't be able to transfer that initial £1000 into an ISA, but it's still a great deal.


I'll also be reviewing Steve Robinson's new genealogical mystery novel Kindred - which will be released on 12th April (but I have a copy sitting in my Kindle right now!). You can pre-order Kindred (which is also available as a paperback), and if you use the links below LostCousins will benefit, even if you end up buying something completely different:         


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 Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......


That's all for this issue - I'll be back soon with more news from the wonderful world of family history..


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins