Newsletter - 15th October 2015
Peter's Pension Tips SPECIAL FEATURE
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 28th September) 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):
Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).
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!
It couldn't have been much closer - but I'm delighted to say that we reached our target of 100,000 members by the end of September with about 19 hours to spare. Well done, everyone! The next challenge is to encourage those members who haven't entered any relatives on their My Ancestors page to make a start.
When LostCousins first started in 2004 it was nearly 2½ months before any of the members got a match - now a new member who joins can typically find a new cousin in less than an hour. Around 5.5% of all the people recorded on the 1881 England & Wales census have already been entered by one or more members, which means the chances of making matches are higher than ever before.
Incredible though that is, it could be so much better - can you spare an hour to enter your relatives from 1881? You'll make your cousins very, very happy!
First announced in March 2011, the British Library collection of Electoral Registers was finally launched by Findmypast on Friday - 3 years later than originally anticipated. There are 220 million entries in the collection, which covers the years 1832-1932, though it is strongest from 1885-1915.
The registers turned out to be well worth waiting for - I was able to track several of my direct ancestors as they moved around between censuses, or after 1911. However, because the names do not appear in the search results you need to be quite specific in your search (unless the surname is a very rare one).
You can search the collection (and find out more about who was entitled to vote at different points in time) if you follow this link. Findmypast have a much a smaller collection of searchable Electoral Registers for Cheshire, and a browsable collection for Manchester.
Tip: at Findmypast you can also search modern UK Electoral Registers from 2002-14 - I find these invaluable when I'm trying to track down a member who has changed their email address, but forgotten to update their My Details page. However, it's not a very good use of my time - in the time it takes to track just one person down I could have helped half a dozen members with their research ( so please make sure you've provided alternative contact information, either a secondary email address or a postal address - or ideally both).
Findmypast aren't the only ones with historic registers: Ancestry have Electoral Registers for London, Birmingham, West Yorkshire, Surrey, and Dorset. Coincidentally Electoral Registers also feature at the beginning of The America Ground, Nathan Dylan Goodwin's latest Morton Farrier novel (which I'm reading at the moment).
At 6.30pm on 29th September 1939 the Registrar General broadcast to the nation to explain how the schedules should be completed - you can listen to a re-creation of this broadcast here.
I think you'll also be interested in this blog posting by Audrey Collins, which includes a blank Household Schedule - something you may not have seen before. Whilst I couldn't make out most of the wording, by searching using the reference I was able to find a much larger image here (and the front page of the form, showing the instructions, is here).
However it was another document, the first page of the instructions to enumerators, that was of particular interest to me - it starts with the words "It must first be emphasised that these Instructions and the documents and forms referred to therein relate to an enumeration for a National Register, not for a Census."
When I was applying for access to the 1939 Register in February 2007 I argued that the National Register was not covered by the Census Act, 1920 - but in their wisdom the Office for National Statistics disagreed. Perhaps they should have done their research a little better? Nevertheless, their stalling tactics worked for a while - and 8½ years later we're still waiting for the National Register to be published.
Note: there's a very good reason why the authorities wouldn't have wanted the National Register to be considered a census - have you any idea what it might have been?
Two years ago I interviewed Gordon Honeycombe, who passed away on Friday at the age of 79. It may well have been the last interview he gave to someone in the UK - we spoke over the telephone (he was at his home in Australia).
Whilst most people of my age will remember him as a newscaster with ITN, it was his role as presenter of the 1979 BBC television series Family History that earned him a place in this newsletter. You can read his obituary in the Independent here; you can also re-read my interview with Gordon, in which he told me about his research into the Honeycombe line, if you follow this link.
The Valuation Rolls for 1855 went online at ScotlandsPeople at the beginning of the month. You can find more information here.
Workhouses expert Peter Higginbotham has been awarded the Society of Genealogists' 2015 Certificate of Recognition, given for exceptional contributions to genealogy by individuals and institutions.
Also honoured was Wendy Hibbitt, the village archivist for Writtle, Essex - the parish where my great-great-great-great-great grandmother married her first husband in 1765, but perhaps better known as the site (in 1922) of the world's first regular radio entertainment broadcasts.
You can read more about the awards here, on the SoG website - nominations for the 2016 awards close on 8th January.
Genealogy in the Sunshine delayed until 2017
I'm sorry to announce that there won't be a Genealogy in the Sunshine course in 2016. This decision has been made partly because the early date of Easter would have pushed up the cost significantly for participants, but mainly for personal reasons - I simply can't spare the hundreds of hours that it takes to organise the course when there are major repair works taking place at home (our 40 year-old central heating system needs replacing, and it makes sense to update our 33 year-old kitchen at the same time).
(The fact that I've just passed my 65th birthday has absolutely nothing to do with the decision - I'm just glad that my wife hasn't decided that I should also be replaced with a new model.)
The good news is that we should be back at the beautiful Rocha Brava resort in March 2017 - I look forward to seeing you then! In the meantime I'm going to do my best to negotiate an exclusive discount for any readers of this newsletter who fancy a holiday in Portugal (it's a wonderful place to go to out of season).
Twice in the past week I've been asked for my mother's maiden name when talking to banks although it was just one of many things I was asked as part of their telephone security process. However, a recent article in The Guardian suggest that the term 'maiden name' is dated and sexist - do you agree?
DNA testing company 23andMe recently raised $115 million from investors in a deal thought to value the firm at more than $1 billion. Mind you, as the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin (their divorce was finalised in June), I doubt that Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, really needs the money!
In my articles to date I've focused on the different tests that are available, and hopefully provided you with sufficient information to be able to decide which test (or tests) might help to knock down the 'brick walls' in your tree. However, in isolation your DNA results mean little - it's only when they are compared with the results of others that you can progress.
Although genealogists have been taking DNA tests since the end of the last century, the early tests were very primitive compared to those we have available today - and the number of people testing was very small, partly because the cost of the tests was high, but also because few people understood what could be achieved. One of the earliest studies, which involved British men with the surname Sykes, tested only 4 STRs (short tandem repeats) on the Y-chromosome, whereas today nobody should consider a test that involves less than 37 STRs. (You might find this BBC news article from April 2000 interesting.)
Until recently Y-DNA tests were the most popular - and by far the largest database of Y-DNA results (around 545,000) is held by Family Tree DNA. You'd have to be crazy to test Y-DNA with any other company - they charge $169 plus $9.95 shipping (that's about £116 at the current exchange rate, though your bank may add an extra 2%).
As you'll know from my previous articles I don't recommend mtDNA testing, except in exceptional circumstances (for what it's worth, I tested my mtDNA with Family Tree DNA).
It gets much more complicated, however, when you decide to test autosomal DNA - and in most cases this IS the decision you'll make, simply because atDNA can potentially help you with any of your lines.
The three largest providers - Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA, and 23andMe - offer substantially similar tests, but they have very different user bases (for example, until this year Ancestry sold ONLY to customers in the USA). And, unless you live in the US (where they all charge $99), they have very different prices - only Family Tree DNA charges the same price all over the world, which means that genealogists in Europe and Australasia are particularly likely to have tested with them.
The decision is further complicated by the fact that in some countries (Canada and the UK) 23andMe offers both ancestry AND health reports, but charges a higher price (these dual-purpose tests used to be sold in the USA but were banned in 2013 - see this BBC News article). What this means is that a significant number, possibly most, of the people who have tested with 23andMe did so primarily for health reasons - so they may not respond to your enquiries if you match with them, or have any useful information to share with you.
As I mentioned earlier, Ancestry's database is skewed by the fact that up to 2014 they only sold their test in the US; 23andMe also began by selling exclusively in the US - this means that most of your matches are likely to be with people in the US, many of whom won't know precisely where their British or other European ancestors came from. So you could find that yourself providing more help than you get (though why wouldn't you want to help one of your own cousins?).
On the other hand, both Ancestry and 23andMe are thought to have over a million results in their respective databases - substantially more than Family Tree DNA, who were estimated earlier this year to have a mere 150,000. On the other hand, I've got over 600 matches through Family Tree DNA, which is more than enough to keep me busy.....
The most important thing to remember is that whichever of the three major companies you test your autosomal DNA with, you can upload your results to the mostly-free GEDmatch website, which is a sort of LostCousins for DNA. Whereas at LostCousins you enter data you've collected at Ancestry, Findmypast, FamilySearch , or ScotlandsPeople so that you can find cousins based on census records (irrespective of which site your cousin used), at GEDmatch you upload your atDNAresults from Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA, or 23andMe so that you can find cousins based on your DNA (irrespective of which site your cousin tested with).
Another way to increase the number of matches is to transfer atDNA results from Ancestry or 23andMe to Family Tree DNA, which costs $39. However, you'll already have paid significantly more for your test (unless you live in the US) and this transfer charge bumps up the price further. Most people outside the US are likely to get better value for money by testing with Family Tree DNA, then transferring the results to GEDmatch (which costs nothing); pricing is important because once you've tested your own DNA you'll almost certainly want to persuade your cousins to test as well!
Cost comparison for autosomal DNA tests (not including shipping)
Family Tree DNA (Family Finder)
£99 (also Ireland)
$99 (about £64)
$149 (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada)
$199 (Canada only)
I've simplified things a little - you'll find more detail on this page at the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) website.
Links to testing companies
If you've found my DNA articles useful you can support LostCousins by using the appropriate link below when you order a test, whichever company you choose:
Who should test?
Ideally you would want as many known cousins as possible to test their atDNA - because no two people inherit the same mix of DNA, even if they're siblings (identical twins are an exception). However you should usually start with the earliest generations - partly because their DNA is going to reach back further, and partly because they may not be around in a few years' time.
Tip: remember that someone can be younger than you but still be from an earlier generation - this is particularly important if you're trying to knock down a 'brick wall' which is more than 4 or 5 generations back.
If two cousins match with the same person you'll be able to home in on the common ancestors much more quickly - when it's just you the match could be in any part of your tree.
How long does it take?
I'd suggest allowing up to 3 months, especially if there was a promotion running at the time you placed your order. However, it really doesn't matter if the results take a bit longer to come through - after all, it'll take you years to investigate all the matches you make!
In my next article in the series I'll be talking about what to do when you get your atDNA results, including how to download the raw data and upload it to GEDmatch.
Links to the previous articles in this series:
This week's 'Book of the Week' on Radio 4 is 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro. The snippet I caught yesterday morning was about the plague outbreak of that year, which led to the closure of London's theatres, including the Globe - but it was the few surviving accounts of people who were there that intrigued me the most (you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer - even, I believe, if you live outside the UK).
Note: I also very much enjoyed the excerpts I heard from Maggie Smith's biography - this is also still available on iPlayer.
If you have read Voices from the Workhouse, Peter Higginbotham's excellent compilation of mainly 19th century writing on workhouses and workhouse infirmaries (which I briefly reviewed in the last issue), you will no doubt have been affected by the article 'London Pauper Burials', which described the indignities meted out on those whose relatives and friends - if any - were too poor to give them a proper sending off.
Many of my ancestors (and members of their families) were buried in pauper graves, sharing their final resting place with other poor unfortunates whose only relationship to them was their common misfortune. There would have been no headstones or other memorials - just a grave marker "with a letter and number on it to denote... when the short lease of the land granted to its occupiers would expire, so that new tenants might come in."
One of the attendees at last year's inaugural Genealogy in the Sunshine was Helen, from Canada. She came to Europe again last month, though sadly her experience was marred by the sight she encountered at a Glasgow cemetery. I'll let her tell you what happened in her own words:
"We had planned some trips to cemeteries to search for family graves. The first cemetery we visited was Tomnahurich in Inverness. This is a well-cared for cemetery which we had been to previously.
"The next cemetery we visited was Cathcart Cemetery in Glasgow/East Renfrewshire. I had been looking forward to this trip, as I had section, compartment and lair information for three burials, dating to the 1920s and 30s. But when we arrived at the cemetery, we were shocked by the sight. It literally looked like a war zone. Grave markers were pushed over everywhere, and were lying, more often than not, face down, off to the side or over inclines. Although nothing was marked, and cost-cutting measures mean there are no officials in the gatehouse to give assistance, we were able to locate what we believed to be the correct section. However, it was impossible to find the grave sites. Too many of the stones were face down or broken.
"At first we thought it was a terrible case of vandalism. Then we talked to a person who was in the cemetery, and he said there had been a case where someone was killed by a falling headstone. (I don't know if it was in Cathcart Cemetery or elsewhere.) So the council paid some people to go through the cemetery pushing over loose headstones. I would certainly never want anyone else injured or killed by a falling grave marker. But surely the council could have done this in a more dignified and respectful manner. The markers could have been placed neatly face up on the grave. It would have cost them more but the cemetery wouldn't be an eyesore and a great loss to families of the deceased."
Sadly there had been an incident at another Glasgow cemetery in May when an 8 year-old boy killed himself jumping from a tree onto a headstone, which collapsed on top of him. However the process of toppling gravestones deemed to be unsafe has been going on for years, as you can see from this 2010 article.
Of course, finding a broken headstone is better than finding no headstone at all.....
Last month I wrote about the tours that LostCousins member Elaine was organising in India and passed on Elaine's kind offer to look out for the graves of members' ancestors.
One member who asked Elaine for help was Kay, whose ancestor Alexander Wightman had died in India - and a few days ago Kay received this photo, with the promise of more to come.
Incidentally, Kay tells me that it thanks to the help she had from a relative she found through LostCousins that she was able to confirm that she was tracking the right Wightman line - LostCousins members tend not only be more experienced and knowledgable than the people you'll typically to find at other sites, they're also more helpful.
The Imperial War Museum's "Bond of Sacrifice" collection includes over 16,000 photographs of people who took part in the Great War - mostly men in the British Army, though there are also sailors, airmen, and combatants from other countries. You can search the collection here.
Monday was the centenary of the execution, at the age of 49, of the British nurse Edith Cavell who, working in a Belgian hospital, treated soldiers from both sides. However, she also helped Allied soldiers escape from Belgium, and it was this brave 'crime' that led to her conviction under German military law.
You can read more about Edith Cavell in this blog posting on the Findmypast site - you don't need to be a subscriber.
Ancestry have added records of suffragettes and supporters who were arrested between 1906-14, but later given an amnesty. Although there are five ladies with the surname Pankhurst, the people on the list aren't all women - the records include over 100 men. You can find out more about these records and search them here.
Were your ancestors dwile flonkers?
There has been a legal battle going on at Royal Courts of Justice in London to determine whether Contract Bridge might be considered a sport: arguably the fact that two top players were recently accused of cheating puts it into the same category as cycling, athletics, and even cricket - all of which have been in the news for the wrong reasons of late. I'd quite like bridge to be classed as sport, since it's the only activity at which I've represented my county - I fact I played for two different counties. However, earlier today the judge rejected the English Bridge Union's request for a judicial review.
Another controversial sport is the - allegedly - ancient pastime of dwile flonking. According to this article from the Telegraph, the 2010 World Championships nearly didn't take place because of Health & Safety concerns. Ultimately, however, the event did go ahead, and was won by a team from Coventry - who also won in 2011 and 2015. I just missed seeing the 2015 championships, arriving at the Ludham Bridge venue just a couple of hours too late (though I did get to see some of the winners celebrating - or was it the losers drowning their sorrows?).
Is it a traditional Norfolk sport, as billed in the publicity? Fortunately, being of advanced years, I can remember the origins of dwile flonking - I saw it on television in the early 1960s, in a Michael Bentine comedy programme.
So no, your ancestors wouldn’t have been dwile flonkers - unless they were TV actors in the 1960s!
If links to Findmypast in my newsletters appear not to work you'll need to disable your adblocking software (browser extensions in Firefox are the worst culprits). Remember that many free or nearly free genealogy sites - including FreeBMD, UKBMD, and LostCousins - depend on the commission they receive from companies like Findmypast and Ancestry.
But did you realise that, as well as depriving smaller sites of the commission they need to keep going, you're boosting the profits of the big companies? If that's what you want, then keep on using that adblocking software - but don't be surprised if one day you find that your favourite website has disappeared!
Peter's Pension Tips SPECIAL FEATURE
In the past week the terms of the UK State Pension top-up have been revealed. The top-up is a one-off opportunity for men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953 to add anything from £1 to £25 per week to their pension by paying a lump sum to the Government. I was so shocked by the appalling quality of advice from so-called experts that I decided to devote a special column to the topic, because even though only a few thousand readers are at risk there's a lot of money involved.
In short, my advice to anyone considering the top-up is the same as George Bernard Shaw's advice to persons about to marry: DON'T! And here's why.....
It's very simple - anyone who qualifies for this top-up also has the option to defer their State Pension on the current favourable terms (under which it will increase at the rate of 1% for every 5 weeks of pension sacrificed). This is usually going to provide a significantly better deal, as I'll illustrate using my own figures.
I've just been told that my State Pension is £160.24 per week (goodness knows how they work it out - it's a bit more than I was expecting). To purchase a £25 per week top-up today I'd have to pay a lump sum of £22,250 - equivalent to 120 weeks pension at £185.24 per week (ie £160.24 plus the £25 top-up). However if, instead of buying the top-up, I defer my pension for 120 weeks my pension would increase by 24%, or £38.46 per week, more than half as much again as the top-up would provide, even though the amount of pension sacrificed would be almost exactly the same as the lump sum.
For someone who is continuing to work, or has income from other sources, and pays tax as a result the top-up is an even worse deal. If their other income exceeds the Personal Allowance they'll pay tax at 20% on their entire State Pension, which means that the amount they'd be sacrificing by deferring that pension would be 20% lower. Using my entitlement as an example, the lump sum of £22,250 is equivalent to 150 weeks of taxed pension - and deferring for that period would earn me a 30% increase, or £48.07 per week, almost twice as much as I'd get by going down the top-up route.
Of course, the actual numbers will vary according to age, gender, and circumstances - and in some cases the difference may not be as pronounced - but I hope that I've done enough to make anyone who is eligible think very hard indeed before accepting the Government's invitation to buy a top-up. By the way, it's worth pointing out that you can defer your State Pension even if you have already started drawing it (although you can only defer once, and the older you are when you defer the worse the return you can expect).
For more information about pension deferral see this page at the GOV.UK website: there are some rather complicated rules that determine whether a surviving spouse can inherit their partner's extra pension. Please bear in mind that deferral won't usually be suitable for people who receive benefits, or whose spouse receives income-related benefits.
IMPORTANT: please remember, I'm not a financial advisor - just an ordinary person who has a way with numbers. So don't take my word for it, do the sums yourself (I suggest you start by downloading this Excel spreadsheet with life expectancy statistics) and if in doubt seek professional advice. But whatever you do, don't rely on the so-called expert quoted in this BBC article - either he's been quoted out of context or he simply hasn't thought it through (there's a free LostCousins subscription for the author of the best critique I receive in the next week).
As it has been a particularly good crop this year I made another 7lbs of Shepherd's Bullace jam to add to the 14lbs I wrote about last month - this should last us until 2017 (just so long as I don't give too much of it away). I also made a compote - this has been exceptionally good at breakfast with a spoonful of Greek-style natural yoghurt.
The remaining elderberries are still in the freezer - I haven't decided what to do with them yet. Next year I may go back to picking the flowers - elderflower cordial is delicious and refreshing.
There's a special offer that's coming to an end at Ratesetter, the peer-to-peer lending company which I use the most. If you click this link, then lend £500 before the end of October we'll get £50 each - and you'll also benefit, as I already do, from the generous interest rates, typically over 3% pa on monthly lending and 6% pa on lending over 5 years.
I've had some very positive feedback from readers who bought the BT8500 cordless phone with Call Guardian. For example, Alison wrote: "Thanks for your advice re the BT true call phone that stops 100% nuisance calls. We have moved into a rented house and were getting endless calls for previous tenants. Since I read your comments re this phone we purchased one and have not had one nuisance call since. Many thanks."
This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......
© 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?