Newsletter - 17th May 2020
Free access to leading surname resource ENDS 21ST MAY
Free access to London parish records 18TH-31ST MAY
Top prize still unclaimed! WIN $1000
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 8th May) 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!
I was relieved that the UK government continued to follow scientific advice when announcing the roadmap for the next phase of the lockdown - which although it applies only to England, isn't so very different from the plans announced by the other parts of the UK.
But family history doesnít count as sport, and there's a limit to how much research we can do out of doors since very few of the ancestors we're researching will have any memorials marking their graves (let alone inscriptions that are legible).
It's likely to be some time before we can start visiting record offices and other archives in person, so many family historians will be restricted to using records that are online. LostCousins members, however, have another vast resource to draw upon.
Let's face it, it's highly unlikely youíre the first descendant to research a particular ancestor, and when two people are descended from a common ancestor there's a term that we use to describe their relationship - we call them cousins!
You'll already be in touch with some of the cousins who are researching their ancestors, including the ancestors you share, but there will be many more that are still 'lost'. If you have British, or mostly British, ancestry there are likely to be around 200 cousins of yours amongst the LostCousins membership, every one of them interested in family history, and most of them actively researching.
Note: the figure of 200 only includes 6th cousins and closer - there will, of course, be many more who are more distant.
Of course, if youíre one of the 25,000 people reading this who lives in the New World the situation right now isn't that different from what youíre used to - the records of your ancestors are always thousands of miles away. For you, connecting with cousins in Britain who are in a far better position to explore the archives is a key part of your strategy - or it certainly should be!
Tip: if your ancestors emigrated from Britain, even if it was as long ago as the late 18th century, †most of your living cousins will still live in Britain - and they'll be descended from your relatives who were recorded in the 1881 Census. This is one of the reasons why tracking your collateral lines is a good strategy!
There's something else you can do during lockdown: learn or experiment with new or different techniques. For example, if you haven't tested your DNA, or have tested, but havenít been following the advice in my DNA Masterclass, there's a whole new world of discovery waiting for you!
Or perhaps you haven't explored the digital resources available through your local library - right now most libraries which have subscriptions to Ancestry and/or Findmypast are allowing their members access from home. But that's not all that most libraries offer - my local library offers historic newspapers that aren't available through any of the genealogy websites, online magazines, and access to reference books (including The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland).
Free access to leading surname reference book ENDS 21ST MAY
You could spend £400 buying the printed version of the book, but until Thursday 21st May you can access The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland online completely free of charge.
Although there are over 45,000 entries you probably won't find every surname in your tree, and some will be lesser-used variants of other surnames. Nor is the book likely to be correct about the origin of every surname - it's a very complicated subject, with many pitfalls.
If you've tested your DNA it's likely that you have already compiled a list of your ancestors' surnames (itís one of the key steps in my DNA Masterclass); if you havenít already done this, now's a good time to do it - and make sure you keep the list up to date as you knock down 'brick walls' and discover new ancestral names. Follow this link for free access - there is no need to log-in.
Free access to London parish records 18TH-31ST MAY
The London Metropolitan Archives have arranged for their records at Ancestry.co.uk to be free during Family History Fortnight, which runs from Monday 18th May to Sunday 31st May.
The records include parish registers for most parishes in London (registers held by City Of Westminster Archives are online at Findmypast).and well as wills, school records, and electoral registers. As the offer doesnít start until tomorrow I haven't been able to check out how it works, but the chances are that you will need to register at Ancestry (or log-in if you've registered previously). You wonít be asked to provide credit card or bank details - if you are it's because you've tried to view records that aren't in the offer, or have clicked the Free Trial link by mistake.
IMPORTANT: make sure you download records that you find to your own computer - attaching them to your Ancestry tree wonít allow you to access them after the free access offer ends (unless you have an appropriate Ancestry subscription).
Where there's a will....
You can currently access wills from the jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury free at the National Archives website, but it's very important to remember that most wills didn't need to go that high up. Some of the most important clues to my London-based ancestors of German origin have come from wills that were proved in lesser courts, and found in the London Metropolitan Archives collection.
So whilst your main focus between now and the end of May might well be on London parish registers, don't ignore the other records in the collection.
Twins can be 'identical', descended from a single fertilised egg that fortuitously divided, or 'fraternal', where two eggs are released and fertilised during the same cycle.
Identical twins seem to occur by chance - there is no evidence that it is a heritable trait. However fraternal twins do run in families, and for some time researchers have wondered whether there was an evolutionary advantage - even though the statistics show that twins are more likely to die in infancy (something that most family historians will be well aware of), and the risks to mothers are also higher.
This article describes analysis carried out by researchers that seeks to explain why evolution might favour mothers who are more likely to produce twins.
One factor they donít seem to have considered - but other researchers might - is that twins tend to be smaller than single babies, and this might make natural births a little easier.
Note: there is some evidence that twins (both identical and fraternal) are more likely to be born with defects but I haven't had a chance to fully review the literature.
My wife spotted this story in The Guardian about a man who discovered that his aunt was his mother - now, which fictional genealogist does that remind you of? (The answer is at the end of this newsletter.)
It's nearly a year since Ancestry launched their indexed transcriptions of Essex parish registers held by the Essex Record Office - these have allowed me to knock down some of my own 'brick walls' and extend some of my Essex lines back by as many as 5 generations. On one line I was able to go from 1757 back to the late 1500s in a matter of hours, and was able to confirm my research as far back as the mid-1600s thanks to DNA matches with some 8th cousins.
Note: although the chance of getting a match with a specific 8th cousin are very small, typically less than 1%, we have so many 8th cousins that we're bound to get matches with cousins who are this distant. See the table near the beginning of my DNA Masterclass for some mind-blowing statistics!
As most of those with Essex ancestors will know, Ancestry don't have images of the register on their site - instead they provide a link to the Essex Ancestors site run by the Essex Record Office. There you'll see a small low-resolution image of the page, one that you could copy to a graphics program and magnify, but probably wonít be very legible.
Tip: pages from printed registers (typically marriages after 1753, baptisms and burials after 1813) are more likely to be legible when magnified.
Essex Ancestors allow you to purchase a high resolution image for £2.99 but many people with ancestors from Essex will find it cheaper to purchase a subscription:
1 day (24 hours) - £20.00
1 week (7 days) - £30.00
1 month (30 days) - £40.00
6 months (182 days) - £70.00
1 year (365 days) - £95.00
You'd think that someone like me with a subscription would be able to view the high resolution image of the register page simply by clicking on a link, but sadly no special provision has been made for subscribers - which is why, when Ancestry launched their index last year I developed a technique for subscribers to locate the image much more quickly. †
However, it was still a bit more time-consuming than I would wish, so I was hoping that the Essex Record Office would come up with a 'proper' solution to replace my kludge. But they didn't, so in the next article I'm going to provide my streamlined fix, which is far quicker and much more usable.
As explained in the previous article, it's much more difficult than it ought to be for subscribers to Essex Ancestors to make use of Ancestry's wonderful index to Essex register entries.
To start paste the URL below into a tab in your browser:
The simplest way to do this is to right-click the link and choose Copy Hyperlink. †Note that the link wonít work unless you have a subscription to Essex Ancestors and are logged-in to your account. Leave the tab open - you'll need to go to it later.
The next time you find a transcribed record in Ancestry's index which you'd like to view in the register click the link to Essex Ancestors and copy the 6 or 7 figure number which follows the letters 'id' in the URL. For example, in the case below you would copy the number '934220':
Make sure youíre logged in to Essex Ancestors, then go to the tab that you've been keeping open and paste the number you've just copied in place of the first number, so that in this example †you would end up with:
Again, this link will only work if you have a subscription to Essex Ancestors and are logged-in to your account.
Keep the tab open. From now on, every time you want to view a high-resolution image of a record you've found, make sure youíre logged-in at Essex Ancestors, then paste the new id into the URL. It's a much shorter solution than the one I found last year.
Note: there is one slight disadvantage to this new streamlined technique - you wonít be able to page backwards and forwards through the images in the register. Even if the buttons work, they'll take you a page in a different register. But donít worry, there's a fix for this too - you can manually alter the number that you pasted into the URL, eg deduct 1 to go to the previous page, add 1 to go forwards one page.
Nothing in this article will work unless you have a current subscription to Essex Ancestors - but if you do it will save you an enormous amount of time. Indeed, itís the reason I was able to make so many breakthroughs last week!
I've been a reader of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine since it launched. Even though I have many sources of information there are always a few things in the magazine that I didnít already know, plus a few that I'd forgotten, so I always read it as soon as possible after it arrives through my letterbox (after disinfecting it, of course!).
I'm delighted that I've been able to persuade Who Do You Think You Are? to offer a special deal for LostCousins members in the UK - 6 issues of the magazine for just £9.99 (less than you'd pay at the newsagents for 2 issues).
To take advantage of this offer please follow this link.
Top prize still unclaimed! WIN $1000
Most of the prizes on offer in my competition have yet to be claimed, including the top prize of $1000 (or £1000 or Ä1000, depending on where you live). It's not a fortune, but it's more than Billie Jean King received for winning the Wimbledon Ladies Singles in 1968.
To have a chance of winning simply add relatives from the 1881 Census (of England & Wales, Scotland, or Canada) to your My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site. There are many other prizes still to be won, including Ancestry DNA tests and LostCousins subscriptions.
Of course, the real reason you're adding relatives is to connect with the other members who are researching your ancestors - the prizes are simply a bonus. And whilst it's impossible for every member to win a prize, itís very possible for every member to find some 'lost cousins'.
Remember we all have thousands of cousins that we donít know - and whilst they're not all members of LostCousins, the ones who have joined are inevitably going to be the keenest family historians.
Note: for full details of the competition please follow this link.
It's all Greek to me.....
Ploughing through parish registers looking for records of my ancestors I came across some comments written in Greek, presumably by the incumbent - as itís 54 years since I studied Ancient Greek at school I asked for assistance on the LostCousins forum, and I was pleasantly surprised to receive an almost immediate response.
Tip: if youíre entitled to join the LostCousins Forum you'll find a link and a coupon code on your My Summary page.
In the last issue I asked whether you could work out the meaning of the symbols shown in a Yorkshire parish register. You'll find the answer at the end of this newsletter, but if you first want to have another go at solving this riddle follow this link to the original article.
You may recall that earlier this month I published a newspaper article from 1933 in which a disgruntled reader was complaining about someone who had clearly enjoyed a cheese sandwich while reading a library book.
This inspired Camilla (no, not that one) to write in about the foreign objects that she had come across:
"I had a little laugh at the newspaper cutting, 'Cheese is not a good book-mark'. I'm an ex-librarian and have found a slice of uncooked bacon, and a rather rubbery fried egg (yes, it was real), used as bookmarks, along with the more mundane supermarket receipts and lollipop sticks."
I have to admit that I canít always lay my hands on a proper bookmark, so I use whatever will do the job. But theyíre my books, not library books, so itís not quite so bad.
I took a chance this week and placed a Tesco Click & Collect order - it's so difficult to get a home delivery slot - and was delighted to discover that I could collect it in the early morning, before the store opened, and that I didnít have to go anywhere near the store itself.
Two employees brought my order out and left me to put it in the boot myself, which was ideal - I didn't even have to wind down my window while they were present. Well worth considering if, like me, you're trying to avoid contact with people outside your household.
Of course, I still took the precaution of disinfecting the groceries when I got back using the hydrogen peroxide solution I mentioned recently. Experts differ as to whether itís essential - but I donít believe in taking unnecessary chances. And yes, I did wear a mask when I went out - one that was beautifully sewn by my wife.
This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......
Finally, the strange symbols in the parish register were, of course, indicating the day of the week. Although I don't recall seeing these symbols in English registers before, I discovered that they are more common in German registers, as you can see from this FamilySearch article.
And the fictional genealogist who discovered that his aunt was his mother is, of course, Morton Farrier, hero of Nathan Dylan Goodwin's wonderful 'Forensic Genealogist' series. You can find my review of the latest and greatest book in the series here.
I'll be back with more news and articles very soon - in the meantime, please stay safe, and protect your ancestors' memories by connecting with your 'lost cousins'!
© Copyright 2020 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?