Newsletter – 14th May 2021



Last chance to save at Findmypast ENDS 15TH MAY

Thanks for joining my first Zoom presentation

Keeping track of your cousins

What was it like to be a census enumerator in 2021?

What to do about errors in online trees

Adoption matters: a tug of love

Writing the history of the pandemic

Review: Tracing Your First World War Ancestors

Peter's Tips

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 10th 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!




Last chance to save at Findmypast ENDS 15TH MAY

You can save up to £45 if you take out a Findmypast subscription and claim a free LostCousins subscription – but only if you're quick, because Findmypast's offer ends at 10am (London time) on Saturday 15th May.


Please see my article in the last newsletter for full details, including how you can simultaneously support LostCousins and earn yourself a free LostCousins subscription. This offer is not exclusive to LostCousins but you'll only be supporting LostCousins when you use my links and follow the advice regarding tracking.



Thanks for joining my first Zoom presentation

It was good to see so many familiar names (but mostly unfamiliar faces) on Wednesday, when I gave a short talk to the Society of Genealogists – I know that there were members there from as far afield as Canada and Australia. Although it was open to non-members of the Society (for a very small fee) the booking page had to be closed shortly after I mentioned the talk in the last newsletter because so many people booked in a short space of time.


My apologies to those of you who were unable to attend – unfortunately the talk wasn't recorded, but I hope to do a repeat presentation in the near future. If this does go ahead it will be announced in this newsletter in advance, but because of the limitations of my Zoom license there may only be room for 100 attendees.



Keeping track of your cousins

One topic I didn’t have time to talk about on Wednesday was the way in which you can use your My Cousins page at the LostCousins site to keep track of ALL your family historian cousins, not just the ones you found through the site.


From talking to other family historians I know that whilst most have made many contacts over the years, they often lose touch (and perhaps for this reason don't collaborate with their cousins as much as they ought to). Part of the problem is that there are many different ways to find cousins, and sometimes it can be a challenge just to remember how it was you first came into contact!


For every contact on your My Cousins page there's a corresponding My Contact page, which you access by clicking their name (or initials) – and you can use the Notes box on the My Contact page to record pertinent information. Typically this might include who your common ancestors are, how you found each other, plus when – and how – you were last in contact.


Even if your cousin doesn’t take part in the LostCousins project – though I hope they will – adding them to your My Cousins page means that you can stay in touch with them even if they change their email address, just so long as they remember to update their LostCousins account.


There are two ways to add cousins you know to your My Cousins page. If your cousin is already a LostCousins member, you can click Connect to a member you already know at the top right of your My Cousins page. If they haven't joined – and there are still thousands of serious researchers who've yet to discover LostCousins – you can send them an invitation to join using the Refer a Relative option on your My Referrals page.



What was it like to be a census enumerator in 2021?

It's 50 years since I was a census enumerator – at the time I was halfway through studying for my undergraduate degree and, as you can imagine, the extra cash came in very handy. And I didn’t spend it all on beer and cigarettes – I didn’t smoke, and in those days of innocence I preferred cider to bitter; but I probably didn’t spend it on textbooks either.


Had it not been for the pandemic I would have been tempted to apply to work on the 2021 England & Wales Census just to find out how things have changed over the past half-century. But I didn't – however, I know that many readers of this newsletter did, and reading this report from one of them really took me back…..


"Like most of you, I’ve spent many happy hours going through censuses, beginning in the Family History Centre in Islington, central London 20-odd years ago. So, when Peter flagged up that it was time to apply as an enumerator, with experience at least 100 years old, I thought I’d offer to help.


"This year was the first on-line census and any ideas I’d had about paper and handwriting were swiftly squashed. The application procedure was a virtual maze and I gave up hope a couple of times but on-line nagging finally got me over the finish line. There then followed 20 hours of on-line training with three exams, each requiring me to achieve the 80% pass rate to continue.


"But at last I received the very distinctive hi-viz jacket and Samsung/Android phone on which all our work was logged, plus a brief explanation of the census in 17 languages (particularly useful in Somali, Arabic and Farsi) as well as paper forms, which, we were urged, were a ‘last resort’.


"I was working in the inner suburbs of London, a difficult area. In most of Britain a success rate of 95% was hoped for, in the difficult areas 85%. We managed just over 90%. I started in 20-storey tower blocks where, in the day after Census Day, 40% of flats had not returned a form. For many of these flats, a paper form was not a ‘last resort’, it was the only resort. No computers, no English, unable to read or write in a few cases and excuses, excuses in every shape, colour and language under the sun.


"Then there were the people who didn’t understand what a census was in the first place, which became for me a well-worn story. I suppose there will always be people whose parents filled the form for them and who have reached the age of maybe 27 without coming across the census? And not forgetting the ones who were suspicious or had heard some baseless story and chose to believe it. One bit of census advertising that certainly did penetrate, was the £1000 fine. Will it be applied? I don’t know but fortunately, out of maybe 500 addresses I visited in my five weeks of knocking, I had only a couple of absolute refusals.


"As time went on, we were encouraged to gather information to help those who would come after us, the follow-up and enforcement teams. So knocking on neighbours doors became the game. In tower blocks this was relatively straight-forward, every household has one, easily accessible front door. In typical high streets however, just finding the door was a problem and, when you did find it, there was probably not a working bell. Then, once inside, you might find a pile of ignored census forms, a building sub-divided into maybe ten bedsits, maybe with no numbers on the doors. Plus all the Airbnbs, the second homes, vacant flats and people who wouldn’t open the door.


"So, who does this kind of work? Well, I was surprised how many were young people who had lost their jobs because of COVID-19, many of them non-natives. We could choose between full-time (7 hours per day), part-time (5 hours per day, which was my choice), and 3 hours per day. Saturday and Sunday were treated as normal days, including Good Friday and Easter Day. However, on the day Prince Philip died we were sent home and on the Saturday of the funeral and Sunday following we didn’t work. I earned about £2000 for my six weeks.


"I also met a couple of people who had worked on past censuses. One was a man from Tanzania whose experience had been quite different – for example, he had been told to approach the head man of a village in the first instance, as by showing him respect he might be lucky to elicit much information. When approaching the inhabitants (always the men, it seemed) it was likely that they would not know exactly when they were born but would say ‘I was born when we had the bad rains’ or ‘when the bad plague of locusts came’ or ‘in the war’ (always WW2), so he carried a little booklet with dates of natural phenomena to help with more accurate dating.


"The other was a chap who had been a student in London in 1981. He and his friend were assigned to Brixton just as the riots started (Census Day was a few days earlier); his friend turned up for work one day to find the street he was working on had been burned down, which gave him an easy day. His own experience was more arduous – one day he had been talking to a couple of girls in a top-floor flat who asked him to come back the next day. But when he returned, the place was full of police - both girls had been murdered two hours after he had left and he found himself being closely questioned and finger-printed.


"I think most people have a less exciting time but, if you like meeting people and hearing their stories, working on the census is a great opportunity."


Reading that certainly brought back memories for me – though fortunately I didn’t remember having to deal with any non-English speakers back in 1971 (it would be very different in the same area today). I was paid just £40, but that was a significant sum in those days – you could buy a new car for £600, whilst my somewhat battered Lambretta Li150 had cost me just £10, and would travel 100 miles on a gallon of petrol that cost just 33p.



What to do about errors in online trees

Several readers have written to me recently asking similar questions – a typical example is: "What's the best way to approach someone whose online tree shows my ancestor marrying the wrong person?".


Human nature being what it is, someone isn’t going to remove your ancestor from their tree unless they can replace him or her with someone else – and that isn’t likely to happen unless you can help them identify the right person. I accept that strictly it's not your responsibility, but when you contact the tree owner you're putting them in a very difficult position – after all, they don’t know you any more than you know them, so why should they  listen to you?


Let's face it, if there's one thing family historians have learned from 10 years of using autosomal DNA to knock down 'brick walls' it’s that sometimes you make unexpected discoveries.


Who's to say that your grandfather didn't have two families, each unaware of the other? It was only 30 years after my mother died that I learned from her elder sister that their father had apparently fathered a child in the years after his first wife died, but before marrying my grandmother. My mother probably knew nothing about it – nor did she know that her own grandfather's second marriage was illegal at the time (because he married his deceased wife's sister).


Of course, in most cases the other person's tree is simply wrong – however the challenge is not to convince yourself of that, but to convince the tree owner. Unless you look at it from their point of view, and allow for the possibility that they're not as smart or as experienced as you are, it could be a struggle.


A decade ago there were around 30 Ancestry trees that showed the wrong father for one of my relatives – the son had married twice and given the same name and occupation for his father on both occasions. It was an understandable error, but my research suggested that the father didn’t exist – and eventually I managed to prove it.


Naturally the other researchers were loath to change their trees, so I prepared a document which set out all of the evidence – and, perhaps most importantly, whilst I couldn't be certain who the child's father really was, I was able to identify his mother (who at the time didn’t appear on any of the trees). Now there are only 12 trees that show the wrong father……



Adoption matters: a tug of love

Many adoptees are keen to discover who their birth parents were, but I know from corresponding with some of the many LostCousins members who were adopted, or who have adopted children themselves, that discovering one's genetic parents needn't affect the relationship between the children and their adoptive parents.


Sadly, the case reported in this BBC News article shows that things don't always work out that way. According to the article, research carried out by the charity Adoption UK "suggests nearly a quarter of adopted children make direct contact with their birth family - often via social media - before they gain the right to access information about their origins at the age of 18."


The adoptive parents were interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme – if you are in the UK you can listen to the interview here.



Writing the history of the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit last spring I did a lot of research into the 1918 'Spanish Flu' pandemic, but was surprised to find how few contemporary accounts there were – so I was pleased to find the Cambridge University Library has already started to collect records of all kinds:


"The Library particularly wants to reflect the response of its community of staff and students to the present situation, as people adjust to new patterns of work, socialisation, and leisure."


It might well be said that those who fail to record history in the making prevent future generations learning from their experiences – I'd certainly argue anyone who relies on contemporary newspaper reports is likely to be misled, since balanced reporting rarely sells newspapers. You can find out more about the Cambridge University Library project here,


A campaign has been launched to build a permanent memorial at St Paul's Cathedral in London (there is already a register of the names of thousands who have died from COVID-19), but I was reading this week about the financial pressures that the cathedral itself is under. In any case, simply recording names and dates isn’t going to tell future generations much about life in the time of COVID.



Review: Tracing Your First World War Ancestors

Four years ago I reviewed Simon Fowler's excellent guide Tracing Your Army Ancestors, then in its 3rd edition – so when I saw that a 2nd edition of his Tracing Your First World War Ancestors had been published I was keen to take a look.


I wasn't disappointed – the book is crammed with useful information for those whose relatives served in the Army, Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, or Royal Air Force during the Great War. But it doesn't stop there – there's also a chapter entitled Women, Civilians and the Home Front which focuses on the sometimes forgotten contributions that they made, and another which focuses on the dominions: Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.


You won’t find all the answers in this book, but you will get a better understanding of where to look for them – as you would expect from an author who worked for nearly 30 years at the Public Record Office (now The National Archives). Tracing Your First World War Ancestors (2nd edition) is a very handy reference book written by someone who knows his topic inside out! The paperback has a price of £14.99 on the reverse, but when I checked just now it was available from Amazon Marketplace for less, even including delivery. Out now in the UK, due for release next month in other territories.                                                   



Peter's Tips

Knowing how much readers appreciate hearing about my adventures in the kitchen I've asked my wife whether she would consider writing an occasional article about gardening. I think I've managed to persuade her, so watch this space!



Stop Press

In the UK you can currently buy The Sterling Affair the latest instalment in Nathan Dylan Goodwin's Morton Farrier series for just 99p on Kindle when you follow this link.


Also my links to the Findmypast offer were still working at 1pm Sunday, so it's worth trying them if you missed the Saturday deadline.



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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.