Newsletter - 7th November 2015
Free Military records at Ancestry.co.uk ENDS WEDNESDAY
Save on Findmypast credits ENDS FRIDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 31st October) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-14 click here. Or do what I do, and use the customised Google search below (it only searches these newsletters, so you won't get spurious results):
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Free Military records at Ancestry.co.uk ENDS WEDNESDAY
Until Armistice Day, 11th November, you can search and view hundreds of millions of military records completely free at Ancestry.co.uk - so it's a great opportunity for me to repeat the challenge I posed in February....
When we think of war cemeteries we think of poppies and neat rows of stone crosses - but it wasn't always like that, as you can see from the photo that Miriam sent of her great uncle's grave:
"My grandmother's brother Christopher (Kit) Bowman fought with the 9th Durhams in WW1 and died in June 1915 aged 23. I had often wondered whether he had married before he went to war but couldn't prove it. Your link to WW1 Soldiers' Effects on a free Ancestry weekend was the perfect combination and I went straight to look - and there he was or, rather, there was the name of his widow Martha who received £1 2s 6d. I am delighted to have found that out, but would you believe it I can't find a record of their marriage!"
I could indeed - there are a number of reasons why a marriage can't be traced, one of the most common being that the couple didn't actually marry at all!
But even when a marriage did take place it can be difficult to find - for example, if (unbeknown to us) the bride was a widow, she would almost certainly have married using her first husband's surname. However it wasn't a factor on this occasion because neither Miriam nor I knew what Martha's surname was - or at least, we didn't when Miriam wrote to me that winter morning. But by the afternoon we knew just about everything, and that's when I realised what an interesting challenge this would make for readers of this newsletter.
Your challenge is to discover whether or not Christopher and Martha married, and provide convincing evidence either way. I'll give you a little bit of extra information to get you going - Christopher was born in Gateshead, his mother's maiden name was Armstrong, and on the 1901 Census his age is shown incorrectly as 11. You already know that military records are the key - make the most of them!
Tip: whilst the Soldiers' Effects register entry shows C J Bowman, not Christopher Bowman, it's definitely the right entry as his army number tallies with the one shown on wooden cross in the photo above. If you have a subscription to Findmypast it's worth checking the military records there, but it isn't necessary to solve the challenge.
Have fun - there are no prizes as I've already used this puzzle before, but if you didn't succeed then, it's a great time to have another go. Remember, it's only by honing our investigative skills in this way that we're going to make breakthroughs in our own tree - and if you can't solve a puzzle like this, with all the pointers I've given you, what chance are you going to have with those 'brick walls' in your own tree?
Save on Findmypast credits ENDS FRIDAY
You can save 10% on 300 Findmypast credits when you take advantage of the offer I've arranged. It's available at all four of Findmypast's worldwide sites, and when you use the relevant link below you'll be supporting LostCousins:
Whichever site you choose you can use the credits to view ANY of Findmypast's worldwide records, including the 1939 Register - simply follow the link and enter the discount code LOSTCOUSINS1939 in the box for discount codes (not the box for voucher code). This offer ends at midnight on Friday 13th November - hope you're not superstitious!
Tip: at current exchange rates credits work out a little bit cheaper at Findmypast's Australian site than at the other three sites.
With the threat of war looming, the British Government prepared plans for mass evacuation. During WW1 Germany had bombed London and other targets using Zeppelin airships (you can read more about it here), but now the enemy had modern bombers (over 1000 were operational by September 1939), and the bombing of Guernica† in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, had demonstrated the devastation that could be wrought. Preparations started long before the war: this form headed Government Evacuation Scheme is dated May 1939 - note that mothers were asked if they wanted to go with their children.
Operation Pied Piper went into action on 1st September 1939, two days before Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister made his momentous radio broadcast to the nation:
"This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would† exist between us.
"I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany."
Children had assembled in school playgrounds on the morning of 1st September, each with a luggage tag attached to their coat, and carrying bare necessities: their gas mask, underwear, pyjamas or nightdress, plimsolls, toothbrush, comb, soap, and a face flannel. Over half a million children were evacuated from London alone during September, and my mother - then 13 years old - appears to have been one of them, because on Registration Day (29th September) she wasn't at home with my grandparents.
Over the course of just three days around 1.5 million mothers and children were sent from towns and cities into the countryside, mostly by train - you might this Southern Railways poster interesting. However, because bombing raids on cities didn't materialise in the first few months of the war, many children went back home - over half had returned by January 1940, despite Government warnings (I believe my mother was one of them).
There were further waves of evacuation during 1940, and my mother's school was evacuated to Finnamore Wood Camp, Marlow, Buckinghamshire on 22nd April - you can see a photo here which shows some of the schoolgirls. My mother wasn't amongst them, however - my grandmother wouldn't allow her to leave home again - and so my mother left school and spent the duration supporting the war effort, working at the nearby Ship Carbon factory, which made carbon rods for cinema projectors and searchlights.
A smaller number of children were evacuated overseas, a story told in the book Out of Harm's Way, written by an evacuee - but this programme came to end when the SS City of Benares was sunk in September 1940, killing most of the children on board. However some children were evacuated privately even after this incident.
Worried that the Findmypast site might be overloaded if I got up a sensible hour, I was up at 4.45am on Monday to search for my relatives in the 1939 Register - and as I made discovery after discovery I added information to the unofficial web page I'd set up at 1939Register.info
(I know that a lot of members found it as exciting to read as I did to write - I don't think I've ever been as popular on Twitter before!)
Over the past 6 days I've been flooded with questions from LostCousins members- some wanting to know what they would find, some wondering why they couldn't see relatives they had expected to find, some telling me about wonderful discoveries they'd made.
A number of members reported transcription errors - sadly these are inevitable when the source records are handwritten. For example, the entry below is for my aunt, who was working as a house maid at Plaistow Fever Hospital in East London:
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
The transcriber recorded her forename as 'Mahon' - and quite correctly, because that's what clearly the enumerator has written - but her name was really 'Marion' (though we always knew her as 'Min'). Whether the enumerator misread the original schedule we'll never know, but it's noticeable that the handwriting of the later entries is worse, so it's possible the enumerator was simply fed up with the mindless task of copying the information from the schedule in to the register.
But it's not all bad news: some entries have a lot more information than you might expect - that's because this wasn't a census, taken at a particular date and then set in stone, it was a working document. It was still compulsory to carry identity cards until February 1952, and when the NHS was founded in 1948 the register became the core of the NHS Central Register.
As a result you'll often see name changes recorded, usually on marriage. This entry appears a few lines below my aunt's:
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
This tells us that May E Lawson became Dalrymple on her first marriage (which was in 1951), and Noon on her second marriage in 1955. She died in 1985, but the record would be open in any case as she was born in 1904, which is more than 100 years ago.
This extra information has enabled some people to make ground-breaking discoveries about their relatives - I'll tell you about a few of them in a moment.
Several people have complained to me about the number of closed records - even though I pointed out in my last newsletter that nearly a third of all the records would be closed at the time of release.
The reality is that if the 1939 Register were covered by the 1920 Census Act, which is what the Office for National Statistics contended when I tried to get access in February 2007 (and confirmed in their letter of 29th March 2007 - see below) we wouldn't be able to see ANY of the records before 2040 - which would have meant that many of us never got to see them.
Fortunately they were wrong in their contention - and the rest is history, history that was unveiled on Monday.
Under Data Protection legislation it's illegal to publish personal details relating to living individuals, but the Information Commissioner has wisely decided that if people were born more than 100 years ago it isn't necessary to prove that they are deceased.
Fortunately we don't only see those records when we search the 1939 Register - because the register continued to be used by the NHS until the early 1990s many deaths up to this date were noted, allowing those records to be opened.
However I haven't noticed any markings that identify an individual as deceased - when I checked dates shown in the register against the GRO death indexes they usually didn't correspond. It may be that there is more information - which we can't see - on the right hand page of the register, but it's also possible that the death information is kept separately.
Until April 2008 the NHS Central Register (which incorporated the 1939 Register) were managed on behalf of the NHS by the GRO. Indeed, it was this register that the GRO used to operate their invaluable and innovative service Traceline, which enabled people to connect with lost relatives:
Sadly this came to an end when the GRO was transferred from the Office for National Statistics to the Home Office, and the NHS Information Centre in Leeds took responsibility for the NHS Central Register.
The National Archives have put in place a system for opening closed records when satisfactory evidence of the person's birth is provided - often a death certificate is sufficient, but if they changed name on marriage or remarriage it might be necessary to provide the marriage certificate as well. Similarly additional evidence might be requested in respect of someone with a very common name (although if the date of birth is shown on the death certificate this shouldn't really be necessary).
Unfortunately the National Archives have to recover their costs and they have set the charge at £25 per individual, which is a considerable disincentive.
The good news is that Findmypast subscribers who have a 12 month Britain or World subscription will be allowed to submit requests via Findmypast, and these will be free of charge. Findmypast reserve the right to set a limit for any one subscriber - but I doubt that this will affect normal users of their service.
How to open a closed record if you are a subscriber
To open a closed record you need to start from the transcription, not the image.
You might think that the first step is to click Check if you can open a closed record - and it might be, but only if you want more information about the procedure before you start.
When you're ready to go ahead and ask for the record to be opened you'll need to click Update the record and choose Ask us to open a closed record from the drop-down menu.
This displays the form that you'll need to complete - whilst it asks for an address there will be occasions when you don't know the address (eg because the individual had been evacuated). You have to type something in the boxes however, so when I asked for my mother's record to be opened I wrote something along the lines of "address not known, probably evacuated to Suffolk", which is the story in the family.
I got an acknowledgement back a few hours later, and so far I haven't been asked to provide additional information - but I do know that some LostCousins members have.
I suspect that, as with any record set of this size, there will be some records that have not been included in the original release. Fortunately, because we can search by address, as well as by name, or birthdate it will usually be fairly obvious if a street or part of a street is missing.
I hope that if and when extra records are added Findmypast will give some indication of the content, and tell us whether we can expect further releases.
Update: a lot of addresses don't show up in the address search, even though other houses in the same street do appear in the search results, and the missing households can be found if you search by name! I shall post further updates as more information becomes available.
Already there have been some exciting discoveries - but for once I'm not going to mention the name of the members involved since some of the topics are a little sensitive.
For example, one member wrote in to tell me that:
"I finally confirmed that a hush-hush family rumour was true. My uncle 'lived in sin' - as it was known, with a lady who was not his wife and who he never married. They split up and he later married the lady who I always knew as my aunt. I am sure you have received many such revealing stories already and I'm sure there will be many more to come."
I'm sure that's true - there will be many more interesting stories. Another member found out what happened to a cousin who had been adopted - the 1939 Register not only showed their name after adoption, but also their name after they married. I can't think of any other way of finding out this information - itís little things like this that make the 1939 Register special.
In 1939 the country was divided into more than 1400 administrative areas, each of which was assigned a three letter code, such as† CJL for Bromley in Kent and ZDJ for Portmadoc in Caernarvonshire. When you find one of your relatives you've find that a fourth letter has been appended to the end - this specifies the enumeration district.
You will find a table of all the codes and areas here.
When you're reading my newsletters I hope you click the links to see the other information that I've hunted down. There are two key reasons why I use links, rather than include everything in the body of the newsletter: one is copyright (especially when it comes to photos and other images), the other is to avoid to repeating things that are perfectly well-expressed elsewhere.
For example, in my 15th October newsletter I linked to a copy of the form that householders completed on 29th September 1939, so that you'd know precisely what information was collected. I also linked to an image of the first page of the form, showing the instruction to householders, so that you would have a better idea of how to interpret the information you were going to see.
I know that there's a lot in each newsletter, but if you don't follow up the links you'll miss out on an awful lot - which is one reason why you should read the newsletter online, rather than printing it out. In an era of tablets and electronic books surely we don't need to have a hard copy? All my newsletters as far back as February 2009 are still online, and still at the same web address as they were when first issued - there really is no need to print them out. In fact, they're easier to read on screen because you can change the text to any size you want (using the Zoom function in your browser).
By all means skim through the newsletter first time round - but please, please, please go back and read it properly afterwards. It won't be just you who benefits - it will also save me getting grumpy (there's nothing worse than having to point out for the umpteenth time that the answer was in the newsletter all along).
Following a change of government in Canada the 'long form' census has been reinstated - you can see one of the many articles about it here.
But before those of us concerned about the future of the British census get too excited, it's worth considering that it was primarily statisticians who were up in arms. In Britain the interests of family historians and statisticians are very different - we want to know about people, whereas they just want numbers.
Jenny, one of the secretaries at the company I was working for in 1974 had previously been employed by Lady Lucan. It was probably just as well she changed jobs, because in November 1974 the nanny who looked after the Lucan children was brutally murdered - and, as Lord Lucan disappeared around the same time, it has long been thought by many that he was the assailant. Most people believe that he took, or lost, his life shortly afterwards, but no body has ever been found.
A quarter of a century later, in 1999, Lord Lucan was formally declared dead in the High Court, allowing his will to be proved, but it still wasn't possible to issue a death certificate - and so his son George was unable to succeed to the peerage.
Note: Missing People is a charity which will search for missing people on behalf of the friends and family left behind and provide specialised support to ease their heartache and confusion.
On the day that the 1939 Register was launched the BBC reported the accidental discovery of a family vault at Gloucester Cathedral - it was found by archaeologists while surveying the site ahead of the installation of a new lift.
You can read more about this discovery here; there's also a link to an article about the discovery of a 1000 year-old cemetery at the same cathedral earlier this year.
No actual tips this time - I just wanted to thank the dozens of people from all over the world who have sent in tips following the disclosure that my wife and I are finally going to get a new kitchen next year (our existing kitchen is 32 years old).
I have, I hope, thanked you all personally, but I wanted to take this opportunity to do so in public!
Tony on the LostCousins Forum spotted this very informative blog post about the 1939 Register. Please also see an important update to the article Are there records missing?
Finally, an apology to anyone who I might have been a little sharp towards this week - I've had very little sleep as a result of the release of the 1939 Register and all the extra work that this has entailed, so on occasions I may have allowed my weariness to show through. Thanks for putting up with me!
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
Please do not copy any part of this newsletter without permission. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or email a link to your friends and relatives without asking for permission in advance - though why not invite them to join LostCousins instead, since standard membership, which includes this newsletter, is FREE?