Newsletter - 8th January 2020
Rootsweb mailing lists to be discontinued BREAKING NEWS
Interview: Stephen Molyneux EXCLUSIVE
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 25th December) 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!
Unlike some other genealogical newsletters the LostCousins newsletter isn't sponsored by one of the big websites, nor do I simply reprint press releases with little or no comment. Instead you can expect an objective and unbiased commentary, together with investigative journalism that brings to light information that others have missed - to say nothing of my Masterclasses, which distil years of experience into a couple of pages that are easy to follow.
Here are just a few of the highlights of 2019:
In January I summarised the tens of thousands of errors I'd identified in the GRO's online birth and death indexes, whilst February provided me with another opportunity to tell readers about parish register images hidden at the FamilySearch site (it was Essex in this case).
In March I highlighted a bug in Ancestry's search, but explained how to get around it (it's now fixed); I also showed how to find out the cost of postage in a given year (useful if you can't read a postmark, or if you're making a period drama). In the same month I reported that half of LostCousins members had tested their DNA, but commented in April that members living in Britain seem to be the most reluctant, way behind members in New World countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the US.
In May it was the 15th Birthday of the LostCousins website - 15 years during which I've provided free help and independent advice to everyone who was taking part in the LostCousins project; commenting that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery', I pointed out that all the main DNA sites were using the same principle that I devised for LostCousins! I also told readers how they could get a free Esme Quentin short story by Wendy Percival - if you missed it follow this link to the article;' in the same issue I explained what 'Old Lady Day' was, and why it mattered, as well as demonstrating how Wikipedia, normally a reliable source, had got it wrong.
June saw the release of Ancestry's transcriptions of Essex parish registers - and I came up with a way to get quickly from Ancestry's index entry to the register page on the Essex Ancestors website. You still need to have a subscription to Essex Ancestors, but this could be for as little as 24 hours, and by following my advice you can achieve much, much more in the time available. In the same month I published an exclusive article by the author MJ Lee, in which he described how he eventually managed to track down a photograph of his grandfather. (MJ Lee writes the Jayne Sinclair genealogical mysteries, which are firm favourites of mine.)
In July I demonstrated how Ancestry's new ThruLines feature had provided the impetus for me to knock down one of my own 'brick walls', and encouraged others not to disregard clues, even if they came from trees with obvious errors; later in the same month I reported that the cost of post-1858 wills for England & Wales had been slashed by 85% - but it wasn't all good news, because many people had to wait months for their orders to be delivered.
Then in August I revealed that the new arrangements for marriages were likely to take effect from 2nd December - a deadline that was torpedoed by unrelated political upheavals.
In September I exclusively disclosed that questionnaires completed by Second World War evacuees will be kept hidden until 2045, by which time not only they but many of their children will be dead. Then in October there was another first, when I revealed the form for the 2021 England & Wales Census
The journalist Henry Morton Stanley featured in November when I discovered that far from being described on his birth certificate as illegitimate, as he claimed in his autobiography, he didn’t have a birth certificate - because his birth wasn't registered! (See the discussion on the LostCousins forum)
In December I introduced readers to Ernest Cawcutt, a statistician for the Gas Board during World War 2 who kept a remarkable notebook with dates and times of air raids, as well as information about rationing and the prices and availability of various foods.
On Christmas Day I exclusively revealed that there are hundreds of thousands of entries missing from the GRO's birth and death indexes, possibly as many as three-quarters of a million in all - hopefully in 2020 we'll find out how and when the GRO intends to fill the gaps.
Readers of the newsletter also got free e-books (they're still available if you log-in to your LostCousins account and visit the Peter's Tips page), and enjoyed numerous articles describing amazing success stories and DNA discoveries. Not bad for a free newsletter, wouldn’t you agree?
As I was finalising this newsletter news came through that Ancestry will be closing down Rootsweb mailing lists with effect from 3rd March 2020. Past discussions will be archived, but in most cases there is unlikely to be any way of contacting the individuals who posted messages since email addresses are not usually visible.
Rootsweb, which has always been free, was acquired by Ancestry in 2000 - I doubt that many people would have expected that 20 years later it would still be functioning, and still free, so it has exceeded expectations. But in recent years Rootsweb has been attacked by hackers, and this might be one of the factors that has prompted the closure.
Mailing lists are a rather outdated method of communication, but nobody likes change, so the disruption this closure causes will ripple through the family history community for months to come. If you have any comments, thoughts, or suggestions please post them in the LostCousins Forum (if you're not already a member see below for details of how to join).
Have you entered my New Year Competition yet? It's easy to take part - all you need to do is add relatives to your My Ancestors page, which is something that all keen family historians should be doing anyway! There were scores of new cousins exchanging emails over the Christmas period, all because one or other (or both) of them had given up a few minutes of their time.
This year I'm unveiling the prizes more gradually, to keep up the suspense. In previous issues you'll have read about the free tickets for Family Tree Live and the autographed paperback of The Death Certificate - Stephen Molyneux's wonderful follow-up to his debut novel, The Marriage Certificate (I suspect that like its predecessor it will become a firm favourite amongst LostCousins members).
This time I'm proud to announce that Findmypast, Britain's leading family history company, have generously agreed to donate a 12 month Pro subscription - providing virtually unlimited access to every one of the billions of historical records, modern records, and newspaper articles in Findmypast's enormous collection.
And I've got another exciting prize to tell you about - you could be one of the first to have a copy of Family Historian 7 - the newest and best version of this Great British program. To get an idea of the capabilities of Family Historian why not download the 30-day free trial version - it'll give you an idea of what you can expect if you’re the lucky winner.
HOW TO ENTER - HOW TO WIN
Every direct ancestor, and every blood relative you enter from any of the 9 censuses we use at LostCousins will count as an entry in the competition. The censuses I've selected cover the US, Canada, Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales - and most of them (including at least one from each country) are free online, so you don't need any subscriptions to take part.
Relatives you enter from the 1881 censuses (of Canada, England & Wales, or Scotland) count double, so focus on these censuses to increase your chances of winning. These are also the censuses to focus on if you want to maximise the number of 'lost cousins' you find - and whllst there are only a limited number of prizes, there's no limit to the number of 'lost cousins' you can find.
NOT SURE HOW TO START?
On the Help & Advice page you'll find illustrated Getting Started guides that make it easy to enter your first household from the census. And once you've entered one household, entering the rest will be easy.
To find out about the other prizes (and more about how the competition works) follow the links to my 21st December and 25th December newsletters. And look out for the next issue - there are more great prizes to come!
In December Science magazine reported research which suggests that an isolated population of Homo erectus, an ancient species which dates from 1.9 million years ago, survived on the Indonesian island of Java until as recently as 100,000 years ago. This opens up the tantalising possibility that there may have been interbreeding between H. erectus and other human species, possibly including our own Homo sapiens ancestors.
According to the article some modern inhabitants of South-East Asia have a small amount of DNA (1%) that doesn’t seem to have been inherited from modern humans, Neanderthals, or Denisovans. Did H. sapiens wipe out their competitors, or were they simply better at adapting to changing conditions? One possibility that springs to mind is that humans inadvertently wiped out their competitors by spreading diseases to which they had no natural immunity - just as happened when Europeans took smallpox and measles with them to the Americas.
Do you know where your cousins live? I imagine that like most people you know precisely where some of them live, probably fewer than 100. And being a family historian you probably have the names of a few hundred more, and could make a reasonable guess at which country they live in.
But when you consider that the average person of British descent has around 200,000 cousins who are 6th cousins or closer (and millions of more distant cousins), the few hundred you actually know about are just a drop in the ocean.
Fortunately there's a simple answer to the question - it's very likely that most of your living cousins still live in the countries that your ancestors originated from (Ireland is a possible exception because so many of the population migrated). So the way to find your 'lost cousins' is to enter on your My Ancestors page the relatives who were recorded in the 1881 Census.
Of course, this approach will also work for any cousins whose ancestors migrated after 1881. And bearing in mind that you can also enter relatives from the US 1880 and Canada 1881 censuses you can also enter some of the migrants.
It's not unusual for me to get an email from someone who has taken a DNA test and is disappointed with the outcome. Can you guess what all these people have in common?
In short, they haven’t followed my advice. Instead of working through the simple steps in my DNA Masterclass, which sets out straightforward strategies for success that anyone can follow, even if they don't really understand DNA, they've chosen a different path, one littered with pitfalls for the unwary, and which almost certainly leads to failure and despondency.
I don’t know why they do this - maybe if I charged for my advice instead of giving it away people would value it more? Don't worry, I'm not going to do that - my advice is always free to anyone who is taking part in my LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world who are researching the same ancestors.
To children Pocahontas is the name of a Disney character; to many adults it's a jibe used by one politician when referring to another. But Pocahontas was a real person, although not everyone believes every word of the story that has been passed down over the centuries. According to Wikipedia "Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the Colonists during hostilities in 1613. During her captivity, she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca. She married tobacco planter John Rolfe in April 1614 at age 17, and she bore their son Thomas Rolfe in January 1615."
Tests on a mulberry tree, supposedly planted by Pocahontas in Heacham, Norfolk when the 'Red Indian' princess came to England in 1616 with her husband John Rolfe, have failed to conclusively link it with other ancient mulberry trees, including one in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. You can read more about this story in this BBC article.
Pocahontas was buried in Gravesend, Kent in 1617 - she died on her way back to her home in North America. There is a modern statue in the grounds of St George's church in Gravesend - it is a 1958 copy of the 1922 original that stands in Jamestown, Virginia.
It has been estimated that there could be as many as 100,000 living people who are descended from Pocahontas and John Rolfe, even though they only had one child, and he only had one child. This PDF document describes the Pocahontas Descendants Initiative.
At this time of the year many of us enjoy eating roasted chestnuts, though I suspect that few of us roast them on an open fire. In my youth it was common to see chestnut sellers with roaring braziers in London's Oxford Street and other popular thoroughfares, and it wouldn't surprise me if there still a few around today (I don’t go to London very often these days).
When was the last time you bought roasted chestnuts in the street? Please post your replies on the LostCousins Forum rather than writing to me, as this is an extremely busy time of year.
Tip: most people reading this newsletter have either joined the forum, have an invitation waiting on their My Summary page, or would receive an invitation if they added more relatives from the 1881 Census to their My Ancestors page. And now is a great time to do it, because you'll also be entering my New Year Competition!
Unfortunately horse chestnuts, commonly known as 'conkers' in Britain, aren't edible (not even by horses, according to the websites I checked). But they did, nevertheless, play a part in the war effort during the 1914-18 war.
One of the ingredients of the explosive cordite is acetone, which in 1917 was bring produced from maize starch imported from the US. However, German U-boats were preventing supplies from reaching Britain, and when it was discovered that acetone could be produced from horse chestnuts, the population, mainly woman and children, were encouraged to collect as many as they could. A Board of Education circular went out to schools on 15th August 1917; children were incentivised with a payment of 7s 6d for every hundredweight (112 pounds) collected.
Vast quantities were collected, but one of the factories built to process them (at Kings Lynn) didn't open until April of the following year, and many of the conkers rotted. When production finally did commence the yield of acetone was disappointingly low, and that factory closed a few months later. You'll find more information on this page at the Historic England website, which has a photograph of an acetone fermentation tank at Holton Heath in Dorset.
After 5 years of centenaries you'd think there was nothing left to learn about the Great War - but an aspect I'd never really considered before is the impact it had on children, on their everyday lives, on their upbringing, on their education, and on their games. Book publishers, toymakers, and board games makers on both sides of the conflict produced patriotic, and often jingoistic products - some aimed at very young children.
The Everyday Lives in War is a collaboration between 6 English universities which encourages community research, particularly in the following areas:
§ First World War food and farming
§ Theatre and entertainment
§ Conscientious objection and military tribunals
§ Supernatural beliefs
§ Family relationships
§ Cartoons, trench publications and popular culture
This page on the website looks at children's lives, starting with a description of the horrific 'Exploding Trench' game - which was withdrawn from sale soon after its release.
My mother wasn't born until after the war, and my father was only 2 when the war ended - his only memory of the Great War was of being told that a strange man in uniform who had just returned from France was his father. But even I found it fascinating to read Children at War 1914-1918, a recently-published book by Dr Vivien Newman which that looks at almost every aspect of the war as it affected children.
In Victorian and Edwardian times children were expected to be "seen but not heard", but in the Great War many older children made important contributions to the war effort, perhaps as Girl Guides or Boy Scouts on the Home Front, or even on the battlefield (when they lied about their age to join up). So whilst the opening chapter of the book is entitled 'War in the Nursery, War in the Schoolroom', there's much more to this interesting book.
For example, the plight of innocent children whose parents were designated 'enemy aliens' demonstrates how families could be torn apart or interned in camps in appalling conditions. Equally poignant are the stories about children who lost their parents, or their own lives, in the sinking of the Lusitania - which set out from New York despite explicit warnings from the Germans that they regarded the ship as a legitimate target. There are also accounts of the havoc wreaked on England by German bombers, as well as the devastating self-inflicted Silvertown explosion - in each case focusing on the impact they had on children.
All in all, it's an excellent book for anyone whose ancestors were growing up at the time of the Great War - there is a section at the back listing sources used in the book, as well as other books and websites of interest for those who want to know more. I read the paperback but it is also available as a Kindle book (though if you can get the paperback at a discounted price, that would definitely be my choice - there were new copies for under £10 including UK postage when I checked just now).
As usual, using those links will support LostCousins - even if you end up buying something completely different!
Interview: Stephen Molyneux EXCLUSIVE
In 2013 I interviewed Stephen Molyneux, who debut novel The Marriage Certificate impressed me so much that I couldn't believe he wasn't an established author. It has been a long wait for his second book, The Death Certificate, which I'll be reviewing in the next edition of this newsletter - so I wanted to find out more about the author:
Peter: Stephen, when I reviewed The Marriage Certificate in October 2013 I wrote "I find it hard to believe that this is the author's first book - it is so well-written. Will Stephen Molyneux, like Robert Galbraith, turn out to be a pseudonym?". Was it hard to come up with a story that made a worthy follow-up?
Stephen: I feel it’s not for me to judge whether The Death Certificate it is a worthy follow-up. It has only recently been published and it will be up to the readers to decide. However, I was conscious that I didn’t want to write an inferior novel and hopefully that is not the case.
Peter: At the end of The Death Certificate you mention that part of the inspiration for the story came from your discovery that one of your wife's ancestors was shown as a scavenger in the 1881 Census. Did your wife, or anyone in her family inherit objects that the real-life Moses found?
Stephen: No, not as far as I am aware. In fact, it was a surprise to discover that Great Great Uncle Moses was a Thames scavenger. He certainly gave me the germ of an idea and before I had written anything I joined a ‘guided scavenger hunt’ at low tide on the embankment near St Pauls. I really enjoyed it and picked from the surface pieces of pottery, bone, some modern copper coins and a water damaged mobile phone!
Peter: Like Peter Sefton, the hero of your novels, you are interested both in family history and metal-detecting. Do you find that the skills and experience gained in one activity helps you with the other?
Stephen: Yes, definitely. The process of seeking and researching information, so important in family history, can also help in choosing where to detect and what might be likely to turn up. I always like to find out as much as I can about a site’s history beforehand. Maps, aerial photography, archaeological information, newspaper reports and studying the landscape and topography all help to give an indication of what activity might have taken place in the past. For me, wandering aimlessly around a huge field in the middle of nowhere is a bit ‘hit and miss’. I like nothing more than using research to identify a feature worth further investigation and then to find myself standing afterwards on the exact spot. It’s even more satisfying to actually find something worthwhile in that location.
Peter: How far have you got with your research into your own ancestors? Have you ever been tempted to write a book about them and, if so, what stopped you?
Stephen: My attempts to research my own family have been rather frustrating. The interest initially came from a family story that an uncle had once received a letter from a firm of solicitors, seeking an heir to an estate and a dormant title. My uncle ignored it. I’ve never seen the letter nor has any living relative. I set out to establish a connection but unfortunately, I hit a brick wall about 1790. I could find no link with the prominent family concerned. I think I need to have my DNA tested to see if that opens up any new avenues.
Overall, I have discovered some very interesting facts about my ancestors, some sad ones too, but I don’t think they are remarkable enough to warrant a book.
Peter: When I interviewed you in 2013 you mentioned that you had submitted The Marriage Certificate to a number of literary agents without getting any interest. Have you read Fay Weldon's Why Will No-one Publish My Novel? (sub-titled 'A Handbook For The Rejected Writer'), which I reviewed in September 2018? Did you submit your second book to any agents, or were you determined to go it alone after your previous experience?
Stephen: I haven’t read Fay Weldon’s book, but thank you for reminding me about it and I will make an effort to do so. I didn’t submit The Death Certificate to any literary agents. For me, the experience of self-publishing online has been good and I had no reason not to choose the same route again.
Peter: A lot of the books I read and review for my newsletter are written by authors who clearly didn't have the benefit of an editor - I find it particularly annoying when I read non-fiction works which are ambiguous, misleading, or (worse) downright wrong. Am I right in thinking that you do have an editor? Would you agree with me that authors who rely only on friends and family to comment on their books prior to publication are asking for trouble? What advice would you give to budding authors?
Stephen: I finished the first draft of The Death Certificate more than a year ago and at that time a couple of relatives read it and gave me their thoughts. Their comments were helpful and I made a few changes. However, I knew that I needed an independent and more critical opinion.
Prior to publishing my first novel, The Marriage Certificate, I had read several books about self-publishing and all advised that a manuscript can usually be improved by employing a professional editor. I found that to be the case and I had no hesitation in contacting the same editor, Sue Shade for The Death Certificate. She looked at the structure of the novel, carried out copy-editing, checked facts, raised countless queries, made corrections and arranged proofreading and typesetting. It was a long process over many months with a great deal of work going back and forth. However, I know without doubt that both of my novels are better for her advice and input.
The other point I would recommend to new authors is to have the book’s cover professionally designed.
Peter: Admirers of The Marriage Certificate - and I count myself as one of them - had to wait over 6 years for the next Peter Sefton story. Is there a third book in the pipeline, and if so when might we expect to see it?
Stephen: What is it they say? "Never say never!" It is possible, but I’ve put nothing down so far. I will need to think about it. I spent nearly three years 'on and off' doing research and developing the storyline for The Death Certificate. If the new novel is well accepted, then it might spur me on to perhaps write a third. We’ll have to see.
Peter: I don't suppose that the royalties from one book, even a book as highly-regarded as The Marriage Certificate, are sufficient to live on. Do you have a 'day job', and if so are you looking forward to the time when you can spend your days metal-detecting, researching your family tree, and writing Peter Sefton novels?
Stephen: You’re quite right. I wouldn’t be able to live on my royalties! I’m fortunate though, having been retired for several years, that I can afford to give time to a writing project, as well as my other interests which of course include metal-detecting and family history research.
Peter: Thank you, Stephen - I'm looking forward to that third book!
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......
That's all for now, but I'll be back again soon. In the meantime a reminder that you can gift your DNA cousins a free LostCousins subscription that lasts until Easter - follow this link for more information.
© 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?