Newsletter - 10th October 2018
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There's so much information online these days that it's understandable that newer researchers might never have visited a county record office - and even I find myself putting off my visits in the hope that the parish registers I'm interested in will miraculously appear online.
But this week my wife is in Cyprus visiting her father's 1st cousin, so it's an ideal opportunity to spend time at the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Suffolk Record Office - and since at least a quarter of my ancestors hail from that county there are lots of loose ends to tie up. I can't call them 'brick walls' because until I've done the basic research - examining the parish registers for which there are no online transcriptions - the barriers are primarily of my own making.
When I first visited the Suffolk Record Office 16 years ago there was little to guide me, but this time there are clues from online trees, and these are proving particularly useful on the lines which I've recently 'cracked' using DNA - though inevitably some of the clues are actually 'red herrings'. Even when I find a register entry to back-up the tree it doesnít mean that it's the correct entry - often there are several baptisms that fit, so itís necessary to look for corroborating evidence. This is particularly important when the baptism you've found took place in a different parish from the one in which he married and baptised his own children.
What counts as corroborating evidence? For a start, you have to make sure that the person you've identified as your ancestor didn't die as a child - infant mortality was very high, and in some of the poorest families was over 50% - but the next step is to build up a picture of the family by looking for siblings. This is something you'll want to do if it's the right entry, so the sooner you do it the better - it's much easier to establish that an ancestor born in one parish is the same person who married in another if you can find evidence that other members of the family did the same.
When youíre looking for baptisms it often helps to start by searching for marriages. Why? Because in some parishes and some counties marriages have been transcribed from an earlier date than baptisms - this is a particularly useful tip if you're researching in a county like Suffolk which has good coverage in Boyd's Marriage Indexes (which are online at Findmypast). Even though families weren't as mobile as we are in the 21st century, there can be 50 parishes within a 10-mile radius, so if you know where people with the right surname married that's a useful clue to where their children were likely to have been baptised.
Tip: Boyd's Marriage Indexes cover the period 1538-1840 and include more than 2.5 million marriages from 4300 parishes across England; however, the collection is particularly strong in Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, and East Anglia.
Many marriages took place between people from different parishes, and from 1754 onwards the register entry should indicate where the bride and groom were living (and occasionally earlier entries will also provide clues). Banns registers and marriage licences are another source of clues.
There are lots of other tips that I could give you..... but you'll have to wait for my Masterclass!
Everyone can save 15% at Findmypast ENDS TUESDAY
Recent offers from Findmpast have differentiated between new subscribers and those who have had subscriptions before - and I know this has caused some confusion, so I was pleased to learn that their latest offer allows everyone to get a 15% discount on 12 month Pro, Ultimate, and World subscriptions.
Remember, annual subscribers get a 15% discount on their renewal thanks to Findmypast's unique Loyalty Discount, so - barring price changes - you'll pay the same discounted price next year, the year after, and so on.
Although the names of the subscriptions in the offer are different, they offer the same features - unlimited access to ALL of the billions of records and newspaper articles in Findmypast's massive collection, including parish register images that you wonít find at any other site. Only these top-level subscriptions offer access to the fast-growing British Newspaper Archive collection, which is already the biggest online collection of British and Irish newspapers in the world.
Once again I'm offering a free LostCousins subscription to everyone who supports LostCousins by using my links (but also see the note below); it's my way of thanking you for helping to keep this newsletter independent - and free!
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This offer ends at midnight (London time) on Tuesday 16th October.
Note that LostCousins can only benefit if your purchase is tracked as coming from one of those links. If you haven't changed the default settings in your browser, haven't installed any browser extensions, and donít use an Internet security package that blocks tracking itíll be fine. If youíre not sure whether tracking is blocked in your browser, here's what it should look like in Chrome and Edge:
In other words, the slider should be in the Off position whichever browser you use. If you purchase a 12 month Pro, World, or Ultimate subscription please note the precise time of your purchase because you'll need it to claim your bonus (see below).
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If you support LostCousins by using one of my links to buy a 12 month Findmypast Plus, Pro, World, or Ultimate subscription under the offer above I'll give you a free 12 month LostCousins subscription worth up to £12.50 on top of the savings of up to £24 on your Findmypast subscription. Your LostCousins subscription will be paid for by the commission we receive from Findmypast, so please make sure that tracking isn't disabled in your browser, or by some other program on your computer (such as an adblocking program, or Interrnet security program). If we donít receive any commission then I'm afraid you won't qualify, so if in doubt ask for my advice before purchasing your Findmypast subscription (afterwards will be too late).
To claim your free subscription please forward to me the email receipt from Findmypast, ensuring that the time and date of your purchase is shown. If the email doesnít arrive you can send me a screenshot showing your purchase, but you must also tell me the precise time of the purchase, ie to the minute. My email address is shown in every email you receive from me, including the one that told you about this newsletter.
Your subscription will start from the day you buy your Findmypast subscription - unless you already have a LostCousins subscription, in which case I'll extend it by 12 months. The offer includes a joint subscription where required, so if you're researching your partner's tree, now is the time to open a LostCousins account for them, and link it to yours (by entering their membership number on your My Details page). Note that you can have two accounts at the same email address just so long as the passwords are different - indeed itís usually the best option.
Now that it's possible to purchase PDF copies of historic birth and death register entries for England & Wales from the General Register Office, and an increasing number of church marriage registers can be viewed online, it's tempting to ignore the possibility of ordering certificates from a local register office. But are there circumstances in which this more expensive and (generally) less convenient option can be worth the money?
The first thing to bear in mind is that all of the historic entries in the GRO's registers are copies, not originals. So you won't see the signatures of your ancestors (unless they happened to be a registrar or vicar acting in their official capacity), and there's also the possibility that errors were introduced when the copy entry was created. The names of marriage witnesses are particularly likely to be wrong, as they only appear as signatures - and I defy anyone to read my signature, even if it hasnít been written with a quill pen (as many 19th century signatures were)!
In some circumstances you might need to see an original signature in order to confirm the identity of the individual: for example, there's an interesting discussion on the LostCousins Forum about a man who had two wives, one called Maria Ann and other Mary Ann, and itís not clear which of the two was the M A who registered the births of some of the numerous children (and was, presumably, their mother). In other cases you might suspect that the information shown in the GRO register has been copied incorrectly.
But ordering a certificate from the local register office doesnít guarantee that you'll get a facsimile copy of the register entry (as you usually would when ordering a certificate or PDF from the GRO). Not all offices have the necessary equipment, and even if they do, they may not have the time - it's quite a fiddly process - so make sure you check before you place your order, as once a certificate has been provided they're unlikely to be able to change anything.
Note: I have heard it said that some local registrars will provide an uncertificated photocopy of a register entry, but I have never been able to confirm that this has actually happened.
When you order a certificate from a local register office itís not quite as simple - for a start you have to figure out where the event occurred, and where the registers are currently held (changes in boundaries and the consolidation of services are added complications). It's not just a question of looking up the entry in the GRO indexes, because the volume and page number identify the location in the GRO's registers, not the local registers. Fortunately some areas have local indexes which are available online, and where they are, these may contain additional information - or be searchable in ways that the GRO indexes aren't. The UKBMD website has links to most or all of the local indexes (note that they're not shown in strict alphabetical order - areas which use the UKBMD software are listed first).
Note: a reminder that ALL certificates are copies - there is no such thing as an original certificate, since a certificate is a certified copy. The closest you can get to an 'original' is a certificate issued at the time an event occurred - but this won't show the signatures of the parties, only that of the registrar.
There's nothing worse for an expectant mother than to miscarry, but research suggests that most miscarriages occur very early in a pregnancy, before the mother is even aware that she is pregnant. Geneticist William Rice, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has calculated that even in her 20s a woman is just as likely to miscarry as to give birth, and for older women the statistics just get worse.
I was reminded of this research when reading the poignant story of a BBC journalist whose daughter was still-born - you can read it here. You may also recall that three years ago previous research suggested that female embyros were more likely to die, contradicting the long-held belief that males are more vulnerable (it was reported in this article in The Guardian).
Analysis of millions of profiles on a genealogy site has allowed researchers to produce a family tree with 13 million individuals, certainly far larger than mine, and perhaps the largest tree ever put together. By analysing this tree the team apparently concluded that marriages between cousins continued to be common into the second half of the 19th century, despite increased mobility.
There are cousin marriages in my tree, certainly, but they're the exception - so I wonder whether the data is biased towards the US? Unfortunately I donít have access to the paper, only the abstract, but the lead researcher is now working just a few miles down the road (at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) so I'll see if I can find out more.
Why do we do what do - is it just a hobby, or is there a greater purpose? Just this morning I received an email from a distant cousin (we found each other through DNA) in which she wrote:
" I am trying to document the lives of both of my parents and their heritage - telling the stories of their ancestors, the people who made them the wonderful people they were."
It's a marvellous way of expressing how I feel about my own research - do you feel the same, I wonder?
Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, is working on technology that would enable a computer to mimic the voice of a human after hearing just a few samples of that person speaking. So if you've got a tape-recording of a parent or grandparent that's gathering dust in the attic, perhaps it'll soon be time to dust it off?
Just imagine your ancestors telling their stories in their own voices - and you could literally put words into their mouths by adding a soundtrack to home movies! Baidu are not the only people in this field - the Canadian firm Lyrebird is working along similar lines, and if you go to their website you can turn your own voice into a digital version. I could recognise my tones in the Lyrebird digital equivalent, though I think they've got some way to go before I can send my computer to do a presentation to a family history society!
At the mediaeval church of St Mary, in Clophill, Bedfordshire a path has been laid using headstones that had been moved from their original site half a century ago. Some see it disrespectful, but what do you think? There's more in this BBC News article.
Peter Jackson, the film director best known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy has shown just what can be done with old film footage in They Shall Not Grow Old, a collaboration with the Imperial War Museum and others that uses original footage of the Great War from the museum's archive, but updates it with colour, sound, and even 3D! You can see the trailer if you follow this link.
Note: a few months before my father died I was able to film him with a 3D video camera at a family Christmas party that we organised for him in his care home. It's not the last memory of my father, but it's probably the last time I saw him really happy - surrounded, as he was, by the people who mattered to him, and who cared about him.
You might have read about this elsewhere, as the article has been sitting on my desk for ages - but this is surely some† kind of record.....
John Tyler, born in 1790, became the 10th President of the United States in 1841 on the death of the 9th President, William Henry Harrison. His 13th child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853, and two of his sons, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. (born in 1924), and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born in 1928) are still alive - they were interviewed by CBS News last year (see this article).
The story of how the Golden State Killer was caught has gone round the world many times, but since these things tend to get distorted in the retelling I think you'll be as interested as I was to hear CeCe Moore describe how she got involved in tracking down criminals using the DNA they left behind - you'll find the ABC News clip here.
For family historians DNA is a less newsworthy - but equally useful - tool, especially when we're trying to solve mysteries of adoption or illegitimacy (the two often go hand in hand, of course). LostCousins member Ilona wrote in last week with a wonderful story from her own tree, and she's kindly allowed me to reproduce it here:
Quite a few years ago, 2007 in fact, my mother and I were discussing some family history research I had been carrying out on behalf of my maternal grandmother. "You know, Iíve never had a proper copy of my birth certificate, only an extract of birth", she said. My reply was to log on to the magic of the internet and order her a certificate from the GRO then and there using the number on her Ďextract of birthí, dated 1948. As Mum was born in the UK in 1937 and we live in Australia it was a six week wait for the certificate to arrive. When it landed in my letterbox I drove straight to her house (45 minutes away) so that she could open it. Excitedly I handed it to her, she ripped the envelope open and started reading, "Oh", she said, then again a longer, drawn out "OhhhÖ"
"Mum? What is it?" She handed it to me and I saw that there was no father named and at the end was an addition - Adopted. We looked at each other while we digested this new fact and then she said, "Oh well, it doesnít really matter now but Iíd like to know the story". My mother was reluctant to bring it up with her mother as she didnít want to upset her - after all, my Gram had managed to keep her secret for 70 years! (Clarification: my grandmother is her biological mother, she was officially adopted by her step-father).
My grandmother passed away the following year without revealing any information and left no clues behind; we were hoping to find a letter explaining everything or other documents but this story has a different plot. So I started researching.....
My mother was born in March 1937 in Hammersmith; the first thing to look for was my grandmotherís marriage record. Visited the State Library of Victoria and searched the microfiche starting with 1935 (my grandmother would have been 17 in 1935). Found the marriage record in September 1939, the day after WW2 was declared! My grandmother and her beau had rushed off to the Hammersmith Register Office to ensure my mother would be looked after should something happen to them during the war (my grandmother was in the army reserve and was called up to serve under Montgomery but thatís a separate story). I do recall her telling the story of pulling a couple of passers by in to the Register Office as witnesses and that she was wearing a mustard-coloured suit. There are no photographs. So my grandmother didnít actually marry until my mother was two and a half years old, hmmm....
She had often talked about living with her aunt and uncle and how much they enjoyed looking after my mother while she was at work. Being a single, working mother in the late 1930s was certainly unusual. We did wonder what her husband was doing at this time but we now know he wasnít around yet. Also she had told us about ďrushing out to buy a wedding ringĒ which now made sense Ė she bought her own wedding ring to hide the fact that she was pregnant and unmarried. Unusually for the time my mother was not put up for adoption; my Step-Grandfather officially adopted her in 1948 when her birth certificate was needed for school enrolment.
Next I started quizzing any older relatives to see if they knew anything but they didnít know any more than I had discovered. Dead endÖor so I thought.
Cut to 2016 and the DNA testing fad was really taking off. I decided to test on a whim as my father was a European displaced person and my mother an English immigrant. When my mother and her half-sister heard what I was doing they wanted to test as well.
A couple of months later the results came in and confirmed that my mother and my aunt definitely did not share the same father. But what did this mean? This meant that anyone who matched my mother and me but not my aunt could possibly be related to my paternal grandfather. OK, what next?
I started to compile a spreadsheet of how much DNA the common matches shared with my mother and with me. One day midway through 2017 a new match sharing 332 centimorgans, ST, popped up Ė Ancestry predicted a 2nd cousin to my mother. Wow, thatís pretty close, I thought. ST had created a public family tree. Another close match (268 centimorgans), LRA had also published a family tree and from those trees I could see which ancestors they had in common. As this point I started a family tree for my motherís paternal side with information gleaned from ST and LRA and a couple of more distantly related matches, MB and AJF. By painstakingly researching their common ancestors I was able to work out how these four people were related to each other within the family tree. From this I was able to identify my motherís paternal grandparents Arthur Henry Zealey and Alice Hannah Skinner (which was amazing to be able to get that far). This meant that ST was her 1st Cousin Once Removed (1C1R) and LRA a First Cousin Twice Removed (1C2R) Ė ST is the uncle of LRA. The DNA amounts they share support the result of my research.
Arthur & Hannah had four sons and eight daughters - four candidates for my motherís father:† Arthur, Albert, James and Walter. So glad it wasnít the other way around!
I plucked up the courage to contact ST and introduce myself. Our correspondence established that his uncle DZ, was a potential half-brother to my mother, and the last living descendant of one of the four sons, Arthur. Broaching the subject of a DNA test was a delicate operation but eventually his uncle decided he would do it in early 2018. Six weeks later the results arrived Ė he and my mother were first cousins as they share 958 centimorgans. So Arthur turned out to be my motherís uncle.
That left Albert, James and Walter as a potential biological father.
Fate more research led me to a living descendant of Albert, JZ, his grandson. I wrote and introduced myself to JZ and explained the reasons for my search. He responded quickly but said he wasnít sure he could help as his grandfather left the family when his father (now deceased) was a child. I then told JZ there was one way he could help and that was by taking an Ancestry DNA test. He agreed without hesitation. About seven weeks later the results popped up on Ancestry Ė JZ and my mother share 1,078 centimorgans Ė more than enough to be her half-nephew. So Iím quite confident that Albert Edward Zealey was my motherís biological father.
A combination of research, DNA testing and luck has led to this amazing result. Along the way many people have helped with tips and information. Huge thank you especially to you, Peter Calver, for sharing your knowledge and experience with your members; over the years I have gleaned many useful tips and research methods from you.
Thank you, Ilona, for sharing that wonderful story (and - interestingly - the techniques you used were not so very different from those employed by CeCe Moore to identify the Golden State Killer).
Note: centiMorgans, usually abbreviated as cM, are a way of measuring the importance of shared DNA segments; although they're not actually a measure of physical length it doesn't do any harm to think of them that way (unless the person you're talking to has inherited the pedantry gene). There's a chart in my Masterclass which shows how much DNA is typically shared between relatives, depending on how close the relationship is - you'll find it here.
As far as I know there are currently no special offers running (if that changes I'll update this article), but if you do decide to order a DNA test (or two) you can still support LostCousins by using the relevant link below (please don't use earlier links as there have been changes - wheels within wheels and all that):
Ancestry.com.au (Australia and New Zealand)
Note: I've personally tested with Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA, and 23andMe, and I've also had an ethnicity analysis performed by Living DNA. But if youíre testing for the first time and have ancestors from the British Isles (as all readers of this newsletter do), I strongly recommend Ancestry, since they have the biggest database - by far - and you can get access to it ONLY by taking their test (ie they do not accept transfers from other providers). As of today I have 15803 matches at Ancestry, whereas at the last count I had just 2118 at FTDNA, 979 at 23andMe, and 3193 (including some of my Ancestry matches) at another site which I'll be reviewing in a future article.
Staying mentally active - researching your family tree, for example - is a great way to delay the onset of dementia, but what can we do for those who have already succumbed? The BBC has a Reminiscence Archive with around a thousand photos, videos, and sound-clips designed to trigger memories. You might be surprised by what they remember, given a chance! You'll find the archive here.
According to the calendar I'm a year older than I was when you last heard from me, though as Richard Branson - who is a couple of months older than me - is talking about going into space I donít consider myself old. My wife and I discussed going out for a meal to celebrate (?) my birthday, but in the end we decided on the ultimate treat - a quiet dinner at home with something extravagant that we couldn't normally bring ourselves to buy. I chose fillet steak.
I was resigned to paying through the nose, but when I accompanied my wife to Sainsbury's to collect something she'd ordered from Argos (not my birthday present), I idly glanced at the reductions shelves - only to realise that they had fillet steak at a quarter of its original price! So we ate like kings for under £4; and, to accompany our steaks we uncorked a superb bottle of 2005 Thomas Hyland Shiraz which would cost an arm and a leg today, but only cost a couple of fingers when I bought it a decade ago.
I don't usually have a birthday cake (can't afford all those candles!), but my next piece of good fortune was to spot a delicious chocolate cake in Tesco that was reduced from £12 to £3 - it lasted us for a week. I wish all birthdays were like this one!
Finally, I have to report that somebody complained about the 'marketing' in my last newsletter. Well, here are some salient facts:
(1) I only recommend products and services I've bought myself (which means you can trust what I say)
(2) It's the commission from links that keeps this newsletter FREE and INDEPENDENT
(3) I donít charge a penny for the one-to-one help & advice I provide (but if you ignore it, please donít ask again - there are 65,000 researchers who receive this newsletter, so I have to budget my time very carefully)
So I hope that in the circumstances you can put up with the 'marketing' - to say nothing of the occasional grammatical or typographical mishap!
This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......
I'll be in touch again soon - in the meantime keep searching for those 'lost cousins'.
© Copyright 2018 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?