Newsletter - 8th November 2017
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 29th October) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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From 9am on Wednesday 8th November until midnight (London time) on Sunday 12th November all UK, Ireland, Australia, US and Canada military records are free at Findmypast's UK and US sites. Whilst at this time of the year the focus is inevitably on those who fell defending their country, we shouldn’t forget those who fought and survived - after all, weren't they just as brave?
Findmypast has an outstanding collection of military records, not just for the 1914-18 war but going back to 1760. Of course, you can’t expect all of the records to have survived - even when it comes to the 20th century only about 40% of the service records have survived for soldiers who fought in the Great War (thanks to the Luftwaffe) - but you will find more WW1 records than at any other site. For example, having searched at another well-known site I thought my paternal grandfather's service file was amongst the 60% that were lost - but when Findmypast launched the same collection a few years later I discovered that 7 pages had survived, including his medical records and a form that recorded all of this postings.
Please use the following links so that Findmypast know that you read this newsletter - believe me, it makes a difference!
According to a story that has been reported widely the Office for National Statistics has been experimenting with the use of mobile phone data to replace traditional census questions about commuting - this BBC News article is just one of many in the media.
It seems increasingly likely that the next census - due in 2021 - will be the last conventional census carried out in England & Wales (and even though they're run independently, it's likely that the rest of the UK will follow suit). We've long known that the heritage value of the census doesn't figure in the ONS calculations - but perhaps it should?
If the 2021 Census is to be the last, surely there's all the more reason to ask respondents to give their place of birth, where known? How else will the family historians, the social historians, and the local historians of the future be able to identify and track individuals? No doubt this information resides in other places, but how accessible will it be - and will it even be kept, given the extent to which the so-called Data Protection Act leads to data being destroyed?
The census is all about people, so isn't it about time that people had a say in the questions that are asked? Even though a vast majority of the people responding to the consultation carried out a couple of years ago asked for a question about birthplace to be added, it was the statisticians who got what they wanted, not us. I'd like to see the 2021 Census be taken over by the people of the UK - surely the ONS should be working for us, not us for them? Let's hear it for the Peoples Census!
A surrogate mother in California who gave birth to twins later discovered that one of them was her own child. To read more about this unusual story please see this BBC News article.
Not only has the phrase 'fake news' made it into the dictionary, it has made it into this newsletter - everyone who wrote in following the last newsletter agreed that the 'unusual' pencilled handwriting in the Lutterworth marriage register read "If any" rather than "Many", so it really wasn't unusual at all (although it was instructive).
But that's not the only example of 'fake news' that has made it into this newsletter this year: just before the mid-April issue was due to be published my attention was drawn to a story on the website of the Daily Mail about a husband and wife who discovered they were twins (it was also featured by many other news sites, including the Daily Mirror, Fox News and the Huffington Post). After carefully checking it out on the website of the newspaper that first published it, I included it in my newsletter, only to discover almost immediately that not only was the story made up, the newspaper that originally published it - the Mississippi Herald - didn't even exist (although, in my defence, it did have a very convincing website, one that clearly fooled a lot of professional journalists).
Perhaps the reason that both I and the Daily Mail fell for that tale is because we'd encountered a very similar story back in January 2008 - you can read it here. You might think it's equally unbelievable, but as part of the research for this article I emailed Lord Alton of Liverpool to verify the report, and he kindly wrote back "I can confirm that these details were given to me by a High Court Judge".
Note: people often complain about politicians, but I emailed Lord Alton at 5.03pm on Saturday, and he replied at 7.18pm the same evening - that's a faster response from a member of the House of Lords than I'd get from most of my friends and relatives.
So it seems that the 'fake news' in the non-existent newspaper was actually inspired by a true story: it reminds me of the way that fictitious family stories are often seeded by a grain of truth - then, several generations on, we join the dots up in a way that was never intended. Family historians operate in an imperfect world - we can't always find the records we need to provide incontrovertible evidence, and even if we do, they sometimes turn out to be ambiguous or downright misleading. We have to try and make sense of the information we have, so there are inevitably going to be occasions when we inadvertently publish 'fake news' about our ancestors - in this context publishing could means putting the information on a public tree, or simply circulating it to cousins who share the same ancestors.
I did something worse than that in 2015 - I wrote in this newsletter about a discovery I'd made about one of my Essex ancestors. I'd managed to convince myself that two people with the same surname, but a different forename, were actually the same person - and I was over the moon about it, because it explained why I hadn't been to find my ancestor's baptism.
To be fair, the evidence seemed pretty convincing: they were both born around the same time in the same Essex village, they were both wheelwrights (hardly the most common occupation, as there was usually only one in each village), and they had both moved to London and remarried to a woman called Mary. Furthermore, only one of them could be found on each of the censuses from 1841-1861. I suspect some of you would have come to the same conclusion as I did - that they were indeed one and the same - and for more than two years I was convinced I was right.
This week I realised that there were two marriages: my ancestor had married his second wife a few weeks before the start of civil registration, but his alter ego had married his Mary a year later. Could they still be the same person - after all, when someone is referred to as a widower there's no way of knowing how many times he has been widowed? Only if my ancestor had suddenly forgotten how to write. I clutched at straws - perhaps he'd been injured in his work, and couldn't sign his name? Hmm… that theory fell apart when I found the 'other' first marriage. Fortunately, whilst I'd written about this in my newsletter I don't have a public tree, so it's unlikely anyone has added the erroneous information to their own tree (I've also added an update to the 2015 article pointing out my error).
But it just goes to show how anyone of us can inadvertently spread 'fake news'….
Before I dish up another selection of interesting entries from the registers let us just revisit the jotting from the Upton with Fishley register reproduced in the last issue. Is it, as some have surmised, a note from the vicar telling his wife that he is planning to spend time with his mistress - or is it, as Margaret suggests, a note from a servant indicating that she plans to remain with her existing employer? I think Margaret's theory is far more plausible, especially after comparing the handwriting with that in the 1783 register - although whatever the meaning, I found it hard to understand how a note from 1783 it came to be on a register page from 1651.
Until, that is, I looked at other register pages from the same era, and noticed that there were a handful of baptisms from 1781 and 1783 opposite christenings from 1648. My guess is that blank pages in the old register were used to record entries when the new register was unavailable for some reason, and I presume - though I haven't checked - that the out of place entries were copied into the correct register at some point. But perhaps you'll spot something I've missed? You'll find the registers here.
Note: it's worth reminding ourselves that the abbreviations 'Mr' and 'Mrs' were contractions of 'Master' and 'Mistress', though they've now acquired a different long form.
An 1831 entry I found in the burial register of Somerton, Oxfordshire was typical of the way that significant tragedies were marked. Written in the margin alongside the records to which it referred (but extending to the entry below, for my 5G uncle John Butwell) were the poignant words:
"These Three Children were drowned in attempting to cross the Canal on the Ice, on the Evening of Sunday Feby the 6th & were buried in one grave. Anne Bayliss was with them but was saved. See No.s 279 & 308 in The Register of Baptisms."
When I looked them up it transpired that the two baptism entries were from 1839 and 1843 - and related not to the survivor and her poor drowned sister Hannah, but to two illegitimate children borne by Anne Bayliss. I wonder, was the entire note added later, by way of explaining how Anne came to be a 'fallen woman'? I very much doubt that PTSD would have been recognised and treated in the early 19th century (although it seems that the symptoms were first noted by Swiss military physicians in 1678).
It's not unusual to find illegitimate children in the baptism register, nor for the cleric completing the register to express his opinion as to the identity of a baby's father, but when I came across this entry in the records of St Mary the Virgin, High Easter dated 15th April 1750 I was taken aback:
Extract from D/P 46/1/2 Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office; all rights reserved
It appears to read "Ann Daughter of Mary Lines & the Revd Mr John Smith, sworn to be the reputed Father, late Curate of this Parish" - if so, I would imagine that the Revd Smith's services were dispensed with pretty quickly when his indiscretion became apparent. And I thought Grantchester was as racy as it gets in the cloisters of East Anglia!
When I reviewed Unseen London I mentioned the Whitechapel Bell Foundry - and was delighted to learn from Mary in New Zealand that her great-great-great uncle, William Warskitt, not only worked at the foundry when Big Ben was made, he was its manager in the 1881 census, at which time he and his wife lived over the shop.
In return I directed Mary towards the London Metropolitan Archive, which has a large collection of records for the foundry business. Business records are sometimes preserved in a local archive - it’s always worth checking, especially if your ancestor worked for the same company for a considerable length of time.
Last month I wrote about the digitised historic Ordnance Survey maps for the whole of England & Wales that can be viewed at the website of the National Library of Scotland. John wrote in to remind me that those of us with ancestors from the West of England can also benefit from another resource, the lottery-funded website Know Your Place - West of England which covers the historic counties of Somerset, Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire (now replaced by seven modern jurisdictions: Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire).
Ancestry have recently come in for stinging criticism on their own blog after revealing that they're offering a new privacy option for people who test their DNA with them. But I think it's a sensible move, and I'm glad to say that DNA experts like Judy Russell (whose blog, The Legal Genealogist, is essential reading), and Debbie Kennett (whose blog Cruwys News is a great source of information on genetic genealogy) agree.
In effect the change allows people who test their DNA, but aren't interested in knowing about matches with genetic cousins, to opt out of the matching process. The good news for the rest of us is that we're less likely to waste our valuable time trying to contact people who don't have a family tree, and have no intention of ever creating one. Now, this isn't the most useful change Ancestry could have made - I'd much rather be able to filter my matches according to the tester's country of residence - but it is a step in the right direction.
Note: some of you might be wondering - why do people test at all if they're not interested in their family tree? The reality is that DNA kits are often bought as presents, especially in the run-up to Christmas, which begins with Black Friday. Others are interested in the ethnicity estimates which provide a broad-brush picture of their roots (though not necessarily an accurate one).
Ancestry also revealed that they have more than 6 million tests in their database, and I'd be surprised if the figure doesn't reach 7 million early next year.
When you find a 'lost cousin', whether at LostCousins or anywhere else how do you communicate with them? Do you treat them like random strangers, shop assistants, or call centre staff - or do you engage with them in the way that you yourself would like to be approached?
Once LostCousins has put two cousins in touch it's entirely up to them what they make of the new connection - the only time I would get involved was if there was a complaint (so far that has never happened, thank goodness). But a few words of advice will help to ensure that things go smoothly…..
The one thing you shouldn't do when you find a new cousin is ask them questions that they're unlikely to be able to answer - this would be the best way of ensuring that you don't get a reply! Instead, imagine you're meeting them for the first time at a family gathering - stick to simple questions that anyone can answer without having to dig deep in their files, and you'll gradually lay the foundations for a long-term relationship. Get it right, and there will be plenty of opportunity later to ask for names, dates, and birthplaces.
Another important thing to remember is that it's not just about past research - because you share the same ancestors and are blocked by the same 'brick walls' it makes sense to collaborate in some way on future research. This might mean working together, or it might mean parcelling out the responsibilities in some logical way. It won't always be perfectly balanced - if you live next door to the Record Office and your cousin is in a remote part of Australia you might end up doing most of the primary research. But it's still better than doing it on your own, when you might have nobody to talk it over with.
Once I've got to know a new cousin reasonably well I generally ask for their postal address so that I can add them to my Christmas card list - this ensures that no matter how busy I am they'll hear from me at least once a year, and it also acts as a reminder for them to pass on to me any new discoveries they've made (plus details of new grandchildren and great-grandchildren that I can add to my tree). This might not work for everyone, but I'm sure you can come up with something that will work for you and your own cousins.
Get it right and a cousin can also be a friend - because irrespective of age gaps or differences in experience, you're both obsessed with the same hobby!
When you complete your My Ancestors page and click the Search button all of your entries are compared against all of the existing entries in the LostCousins database. For the most prolific LostCousins members this involves over 20 billion comparisons, yet the process only takes a few seconds.
But that's not all - your entries are also checked against the thousands of new entries that are made every week, either by new members or by existing members who have found new relatives on the census. This happens even if you don't log-in - because the first thing those other members will do after making their own entries is click the Search button themselves. In other words, it's a two-way search.
There's no guarantee that you'll find a new cousin today, tomorrow, next week, or even next month - it's like a lottery. But the key difference is that IT'S FREE. Each of the entries on your My Ancestors page is a ticket, but you don't pay a penny for those tickets to go into the draw, even though they go into the draw time and time again.
You'd have to be crazy to tear up your tickets and throw them away, wouldn't you? It would be like slamming the door in your cousins' faces (and I sincerely hope you wouldn't do that)!
Tip: make sure that you've completed the 'My beneficiary' section on your My Details page - there will inevitably come a day when you’re no longer able to continue researching, and it's better to be prepared.
I'm not a user of WhatsApp, and I suspect few of you are, but I thought I should mention the scam messages that are circulating - currently offering supermarket discounts, but no doubt the next wave will be completely different. The one thing they all have in common is a minor difference in the domain name - one that you would never notice unless it was pointed out.
Even worse, over a million people were duped into downloading a fake WhatsApp app - again it looked genuine, but there was an imperceptible difference in the name.
As more and more people use apps and the Internet routinely and casually the risks are going to increase, and whilst you or I might not get it wrong, someone in our addressbook, or on the same WiFi network might be more careless. Above all make sure that you have copies of your family history data on read-only media, such as CD ROM or DVD ROM - copies on writeable media such as USB sticks and portable drives could be compromised.
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......
© 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?