Newsletter - 15th October 2017
GRO latest: PDF trial will last at least 3 months BREAKING NEWS
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GRO latest: PDF trial will last at least 3 months BREAKING NEWS
When I was using the GRO site on Wednesday I noticed a warning about scheduled site maintenance on Thursday morning - and immediately wondered whether they were about to launch the new PDF trial foreshadowed in my article last month.
My suspicions were right - the trial began on Thursday morning and will run for a minimum of 3 months. Why so long? Because the GRO need to gauge what the demand is likely to be if they offer PDFs on a permanent basis - and how the provision of information in PDF form impacts on the sale of conventional paper certificates.
It's important to remember that civil registration and the General Register Office weren't created for the benefit of family historians, and even today a sizeable proportion of the GRO's income from certificate sales comes not from researchers like us, but from executors, solicitors, and heir-tracing companies.
Note: for legal purposes, only a certified copy of an entry in the registers will do - but most family historians are only interested in the data, not the form in which it comes, or whether it is certified. Indeed, if we are looking for authenticity we should not be ordering certificates from the GRO at all, but from the local register offices which hold the original registers (because the GRO only has copies).
Although you don't have to use the GRO's own online indexes to place an order, it will be a lot simpler and easier if you do. The records available in PDF format during this trial are as follows:
It's possible that in the latter part of the trial, from 1st January onwards, births from 1917 will also be included - but that's just speculation on my part.
To order a PDF you must provide the index references - which is very easy now that there are online indexes of births and deaths at the GRO site. But when you order a certificate you're not obliged to give the index references - and it might surprise you to know that in some cases it might be in your interests not to provide the index references, even though it means waiting longer for the certificate to arrive!
After all, there are always going to be times when you can't be sure which is the right birth or death entry, and whilst you could just guess, it's expensive when you get it wrong.
Fortunately you can remove much of the risk by omitting the index references. Instead provide the minimum information required - name, year, and registration district - and add extra optional information that will probably only match the event you're looking for. For example, if you were after a birth certificate you might give the forename of one or both of the parents - and if you were looking for a death you might specify the person's occupation (which for a woman might be "widow of John Smith").
It's not a completely foolproof solution, since the information recorded won't always be what you expect - but it greatly reduces the chance of paying for an incorrect certificate.
Tip: if there are no matching entries in the specified year, or one year on either side, you'll get your money back.
The last place most people would think to look for historic Ordnance Survey maps of England & Wales is surely the website of the National Library of Scotland - and yet for the past 3 years they've been scanning nearly 90,000 map sheets from 1841 to 1952 in order to make them available (free) to users all over the world.
Although I've written about this wonderful resource on a number of occasions, it was only this summer that the project was finally completed. You can view the maps and print extracts if you follow this link.
Some of the maps are very detailed - 6 inches to the mile, or even 25 inches to the mile. I can make out my house on the 1881 map of Essex, which is based on surveys carried out in 1875/76 - the next step is to pinpoint where my ancestors were living - for whilst few of their homes will have survived it would be good to know where they stood in relation to the modern towns and villages that have sprung up around them.
One of the leading experts on wages earned by English labourers and craftsmen, and the cost of rent and food over the centuries, is Gregory Clark, Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis. If you follow this link you'll find a range of spreadsheets covering some or all of the period 1150-1914.
Most of my ancestors were poor farm labourers, but the earliest ancestor I've traced was a carpenter in the mid-16th century - so it was interesting to see what the average wage would have been from craftsmen like him, and how little it changed over the succeeding generations.
Most of the parish registers for Wales are online at Findmypast, with transcriptions at FamilySearch - but there are some exceptions, and if you have Welsh ancestry you'll find this page on the FamilySearch wiki useful, because it lists parishes which aren't included for one reason or another.
I recently reported that the Society of Genealogists have restructured their memberships to better reflect the reality - that we don't all live within a short distance from their London headquarters. And whilst the subscriptions have gone up, they've abolished the joining fee.
I'm delighted to say that I've been able to persuade the SoG to offer a 25% discount on the first year subscription for LostCousins members who join the SoG before the end of November using the offer code LC25
The discount applies to both Full Membership (which offers free access to the Library) and Associate Membership. You can find out more about the benefits here.
There are many family history societies around the world, but there is only one Society of Genealogists!
British Newspaper Archive offers 3 month option NEW
The world's largest collection of historic British newspapers just got cheaper for those who aren't prepared to spend out on a 12 month subscription. Rather than pay £12.95 a month you can now opt for a quarterly subscription costing £25.90 - so, in effect, the third month of the quarter is free.
Of course, if you have a Findmypast Britain or World subscription you'll already have access to the hundreds of millions of articles in the archive - but you won't be able to use the Advanced Search features that the dedicated BNA website offers.
Over 22 million pages (with more than 200 million articles) have already been added to the collection, and the number goes up by an average of 100,000 pages (around a million articles) a week. So being able to search only pages added between specific dates is incredibly advantageous, especially if you're looking for ancestors with a common surname, or one that happens to coincide with a place name.
Note: if you have as Findmypast subscription you could search free at the BNA site, then do a follow-up search at Findmypast. But it's not an ideal solution - and that's why some researchers have subscriptions to both sites.
You can support LostCousins when you subscribe to the British Newspaper Archive using this link.
There's a new free website where you can search over 11 million British Army records, and whilst most of those records are hosted at other sites, including the National Archives and Findmypast, finding army records can be pretty challenging, so having a new way of searching is always useful.
Tip: if you find the Medal Index Card for your ancestor don't spend £3.50 downloading the black & white image from the TNA website, because if you have an Ancestry subscription you can download a colour version (and whilst the reverse of the card is usually blank, Ancestry have digitised them anyway - because occasionally there's some useful information that has been recorded). You can search the medal cards at Ancestry here.
But it's not just about records at the British Army Ancestors site - you'll also find photographs, and you can upload the photos that you have of your own ancestors.
UPDATE: the British Army Ancestors site was hacked on the evening of Monday 16th October, but the malware has been removed and the site security upgraded. You don't need to register, but if you do it is good practice not to use a password that you also use at other sites.
Last week The Genealogist launched indexes of men who were serving in the British Army in 1851, 1861 and 1871 - based on War Office Paylists held in the National Archives. Although these are census years most of these men won't be found in the censuses - even if they were no further away than Ireland. You'll find these records under Muster Books and Pay Lists, but if you don't have a subscription to The Genealogist another option is Findmypast, where they also have an equivalent index for 1841.
Finally, Ancestry have an index to soldiers who were discharged from the army after 1920, but born before 1901. There are over 300,000 soldiers in the index, which you can search here. This index is also at the British Army Ancestors site, and because of differences in transcriptions it's worth checking both sites. If you find an ancestor in this index you can order a copy of their service record from the MoD, although at £30 a time it would have to be an important part of your research.
There's currently an offer in the UK which offers a 20% discount to those who have previously bought a test - ideal if you want to compare your matches with those of a cousin, or if you want to add to your matches by asking a sibling to test.
Tip: it's worth checking the link below to see whether you can get the same offer - you never know!
This brings the cost down from £79 to £63 (plus shipping) for those in the UK; in the US the cost is currently down from $99 to $79. Unfortunately I can't tell you what the prices are in other territories because I'm automatically diverted to the UK site, but I've provided links so that you can check yourself.
If you do decide to place an order please use one of the links below:
Living DNA have further reduced their prices, though only for a limited period. UK customers can now buy a test for just £99 (previously £120, then £109), whilst US customers will pay just $99 (previously $159). In Canada and Australia the current price is $169 in local currency (down from $199), and in the European Union the cost is €129 (down from €159).
Living DNA probably isn't the first company you think of when you consider taking a DNA test - nor should it be, because the primary purpose of autosomal DNA testing is to find genetic cousins who can help you to knock down your 'brick walls', something that companies like Ancestry and Family Tree DNS do very well.
Ironically the biggest companies tend to market their tests based on their ability to analyse the ethnicity of an individual - even though they don't do it very well - and even worse, they're typically identifying where your ancestors may have been a couple of thousand years ago, well outside the scope of genealogy (since records don't go back that far).
By contrast, if you have British ancestry, Living DNA offers a more detailed analysis of your ethnicity than anyone else - and because it relates to where your ancestors lived a few hundred years ago it's likely to be very relevant to your research. If you have already tested with Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, but would like to know more about where your ancestors came from so that you can take a more focused approach to tackling your 'brick walls', the Living DNA test is well worth considering.
You can support LostCousins by using the relevant link below:
Family Tree DNA
Currently you can get an autosomal DNA test (Family Finder) for just $69 - the usual price is quoted as $89, although as I recall it was previously $79. Whilst FTDNA provide more tools than Ancestry they offer fewer matches because they have a much smaller database, and my feeling is that their matching is less accurate (because Ancestry use a phasing algorithm to minimise false matches).
Nevertheless, the fact that FTDNA also offer Y-DNA tests and can use the same samples for both tests is attractive - just remember that you cannot transfer FTDNA results to Ancestry, though you can go the other way round. FTDNA also offer tests worldwide at the same price (except in countries like France where testing is illegal).
You can support LostCousins by using the link below:
Researchers at Edinburgh University have analysed the DNA of over 600,000 people in order to find correlations between gene mutations and longevity - you can read a summary of the results in this BBC article.
But should information from DNA tests that family historians take be used to provide these sorts of insights? An article in last week's New Scientist questions whether it's right for the companies that provide our tests to sell the anonymised results to researchers and pharmaceutical companies.
I'd personally be delighted if my genetic information played even a small part in finding a cure for cancer, and I've certainly no objection to my own results being used. But it's hard to see how my DNA could help unless the researchers also knew about my medical record - and that's something I've never divulged to any DNA testing company, and probably never would (unless I knew precisely how it was going to be used).
But some family historians may have handed over medical information: according to the New Scientist article 23andMe sends out questionnaires to some of their users. I've never recommended the 23andMe test because in the UK it's so much more expensive than tests from other providers, but over 2 million people worldwide have tested with them - so I'd be interested to know whether any readers of this newsletter have completed the 23andMe questionnaires and, if so, what your thoughts are on this often controversial topic?
Also in the news this week was a DNA test that will help to identify the women most as risk from breast cancer - you can read about it here.
In France DNA testing is virtually illegal - but in 2015 a law was passed in Kuwait which made it compulsory. However last week Kuwait's Constitutional Court ruled that the law violated the constitutional guarantee of personal liberty.
There's a lot to be said for using DNA to identify people - with the exception of identical twins no two people have the same DNA, and it's something that people can't easily change or forge. It's reminiscent of the system invented by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, who I wrote about 3 years ago.
Although a lot of the stories that feature in this newsletter are based on experiences of LostCousins members, what you read is just the tip of the iceberg - there are many more tales that I can't publish because of the need to protect the privacy of living people. So when I wrote the following lines in the last issue I was not writing from my own experience, nor expressing my own opinions, but passing on some of the accumulated knowledge that I had acquired from members:
"DNA testing has become popular amongst adoptees (and those conceived as a result of sperm donation) as a way of tracing their genetic parent(s), but it's not something anyone should embark upon without serious consideration.
"If you're an adoptee you might think that the worst possible outcome is that you're rejected for a second time by your birth parent(s), but the real tragedy, I suspect, would be to ruin someone's life by turning up out of the blue."
In England adoption was only legally regulated from 1927 onwards, so it's inevitable that most of the children who have been adopted are still alive, and that in many cases their mothers (and perhaps their fathers) are also still alive. Some of those fathers might never have known that they had fathered an illegitimate child; some of the mothers would have been forced by circumstances to give up their child, and would have eventually begun new lives and new families with new partners.
As family historians we often delight in tales of adultery and worse, even when our own ancestors were involved - I certainly don't shy away from the fact that several of my 19th century ancestors were illegitimate. But I'm always very careful of what I say about 20th century relatives, in case I inadvertently hurt somebody, and I'd like to think that readers of this newsletter are similarly concerned about the possible consequences of their actions.
When I wrote the words in italics I hadn't seen this article from The Guardian or the many comments, some of them extremely insightful, that it prompted. But if I had done, it would have only reinforced the stories I've heard privately from members who were faced with similar situations - and dealt with them in an extremely caring and unselfish way.
Just one year after Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne, and well over a century before the Swinging Sixties got under way, a visionary set up a commune in rural Cambridgeshire where 'free love' was practised.
Founded by William Hodson, a farmer, former sailor, and Methodist lay minister, the Manea Fen community abolished money and laboured on the land together. Hodson had fallen out with his church when he married his dead wife's sister - a practice that was illegal between 1834 and 1907 - and it seems it was the attitude to marital relations that undermined the success of his Utopian project, according to this Cambridge News article which reports that the site of the community is currently being investigated by archaeologists from the University of Cambridge.
The project apparently failed around the time of the 1841 Census, when a key investor died, but Hodson himself stayed on until 1846, when he migrated to the recently-founded city of Janesville in Wisconsin.
You can read a lot more about the Manea Fen project here - I wonder whether anyone reading this newsletter has an ancestor who was involved?
In the last issue I deliberately didn't draw a parallel between the real life stories I was writing about and the plot of The Suffragette's Secret, the latest Morton Farrier story from the pen of Nathan Dylan Goodwin (you can read my review here). But I was quite surprised that none of you wrote in to point out the similarities…..
Note: driving past Audley End this weekend I was dismayed to see a 'For Sale' sign for 'an historic estate of 715 acres'. It's not the main Audley End Estate that's for sale, but the adjoining Shortgrove Estate - Shortgrove Hall no longer stands but part of the Capability Brown designed grounds remain. If you've got £7.5 million to spare I suggest you follow this link to find out more.
It has taken me a while to get around to reading The American Candidate, the third novel in MJ Lee's series about Jayne Sinclair, policewoman turned genealogist - but only because I wanted to do the book justice. For me reading genealogical mysteries is a welcome pleasure - provided I can relax, and not worry that I've got a pile of unanswered emails from LostCousins members (or a newsletter to write) - and I wanted to savour every moment.
At a time when it seems impossible to turn on the news without hearing some new pronouncement from the current incumbent - or his opponents - a story that revolves around a potential candidate for the 2020 US Presidential Election couldn't be more topical. And considering that the title of the book pays homage to a classic movie that was released in the year that JFK was elected I was also intrigued to discover whether there were any similarities in the storyline.
You might expect that, given the nature of her assignment, our heroine would be clocking up air miles, but the most exotic form of transport she employs is a Southern Railways train to Battersea (predictably delayed by a points failure at Clapham Junction). Instead the focus is on the storyline, which takes us back to the Second World War, and reveals some uncomfortable truths about the way in which Hitler used captured British soldiers to support the German war effort.
It's full of surprises - just when I thought I'd got it all worked out another twist in the tale set my head spinning all over again. I can't tell you much more without spoiling your enjoyment, but I will reveal that our intrepid heroine survives, against all the odds, so there's every prospect that we'll encounter her between the covers of another MJ Lee mystery next year.
The American Candidate is available either as a Kindle book or as a paperback. You don't need to have read the previous books in the series, but they're both cracking good stories which are rooted in historical fact, so it's well worth catching up on them at some point. You can use the following links to support LostCousins (even if you end up buying something completely different):
Did you watch the second series of How to Stay Young with Angela Rippon and Dr Chris van Tulleken? One of the tips was to burn up more calories by standing at a desk instead of sitting down - what a great idea! Coincidentally I'd already bought myself a laptop stand that I could put on the breakfast bar in the kitchen so that I can use my computer while standing up, and whilst this was primarily intended to help my back, I was delighted to learn that I could lose weight at the same time. A win-win opportunity!
Or so I thought - until I read some research published recently by the Institute of Work and Health in Canada, which revealed that workers whose jobs required them to stand up most of the time were twice as likely to develop heart disease as workers in sedentary occupations. This conclusion remained even after other lifestyle factors were taken into consideration. Perhaps it's just as well that I don't stand up to use the computer all the time!
Last week I received two brochures from a company called Premier Radiators - one came with the post, the other fell out of Saga magazine. There are a number of companies that target older people in an attempt to persuade them to buy expensive electric heaters that look good but can't possibly meet the expectations of the customer when it comes to energy efficiency and running cost. My advice is to keep your money in your bank account and send the salesman packing with a flea in his ear.
Tip: there is really only one way to save money on electric heating, and that's to use heat pump technology (as deployed in air conditioners).
As I was finalising this newsletter I spotted a 'good news' story on the BBC website (there aren't many of those nowadays, sad to say): a family who had been stranded in the Scottish Highlands after their canoe was washed away by a swollen river were rescued by a steam train.
That alone would make for an interesting story to tell the grandchildren, but this wasn't any steam train - it was the Hogwart's Express!
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......
I'll be writing to you again before the end of the month - but until then, keep on searching for those 'lost cousins'!
© Copyright 2017 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?