Newsletter - 26th December 2015
Find cousins and win prizes in your Christmas Competition ENDS 5TH JANUARY
Save 50% on your first 1939 household ENDS 5TH JANUARY
Try the British Newspaper Archive for £1 ENDS 4TH JANUARY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 19th December) 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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Find cousins and win prizes in your Christmas Competition ENDS 5TH JANUARY
There are some excellent prizes in this year's competition, and the great thing about it is that to win, you only have to do what comes naturally - search for your 'lost cousins'. (For those of you who've yet to begin searching for cousins, this is a very good time to put your excuses on one side and make a start, even if you can only spare 5 or 10 minutes.)
Every direct ancestor or blood relative you enter on your My Ancestors page before midnight (London time) on Twelfth Night (Tuesday 5th January) represents an entry in the competition.
Tip: a 'direct ancestor' is someone from whom you are descended, such as a great-great grandparent - most people just call them ancestors; a 'blood relative' is a cousin, ie someone who shares your ancestry.
Shortly after midnight I'll start picking relatives at random from all those entered during the period of the competition, and the lucky members who entered those relatives will be able to choose a prize from the list below (the first person out of the hat gets to choose first, the second person has next choice, and so on).
This year's wonderful prizes include.....
THREE 12 month World subscriptions to Findmypast, each one supplemented with 300 credits to enable you to access the new 1939 Register (generously donated by Findmypast, Britain's leading family history company)
With a World subscription you can access any of Findmypast's historic records and newspaper articles, as well as their modern (2012-14) UK Electoral Register - and you can do this at any of the Findmypast's four sites around the globe.
ONE Printed Family Tree to the value of £45, showing up to 500 of your relatives (kindly donated by Genealogy Printers, Britain's leading tree printing company)
If the winner has wall space for an even larger family tree it will be possible to upgrade by paying the difference. Genealogy Printers can accept files from just about any family tree program - if your program isn't on the list just ask.
ONE copy of Family Historian v6 (kindly donated by Simon Orde, the designer and lead programmer of Family Historian)
If the winner lives outside the UK the prize will be a downloaded copy; winners in the UK can choose between a downloaded copy and a boxed copy (they function identically). Check out Family Historian now with a free 30-day trial - just follow this link.
TEN 12 month subscriptions to LostCousins
If you already have a subscription I'll extend it by 12 months
Even if you don't win one of these prizes there's a far greater reward at stake, and at it's one that everyone can win - you could find a 'lost cousin'. Every single relative you enter is a potential link to another researcher who shares your ancestry - and whenever you click the Search button the LostCousins computer will compare every single entry you've made against the millions of entries made by other members!
Tip: unlike some websites, which update their databases at intervals, the LostCousins database is updated instantly - there is no waiting, whether you're entering a new relative or updating an existing entry.
This year your chances are better than ever before - for example, when you enter a household from the 1881 England & Wales census there's 1 chance in 18 of an immediate match!
In the past week representatives of the General Register Office - including Andrew Dent who, as Deputy Registrar General, runs the organisation - met with representatives of family history societies, professional genealogists, probate researchers and other organisations (such as UKBMD and LostCousins).
The aim of the meetings was to explain how the change in legislation promoted by Baroness Scott had opened up opportunities for the GRO to offer new services that were not possible under the previous legislation - which, in essence, had changed little since civil registration was introduced in England & Wales nearly 180 years ago.
Unfortunately the changes to the law probably aren't sufficient to enable the GRO to bring in a commercial organisation such as Ancestry, Findmypast, or The Genealogist to provide online access to historic registers - which means that any proposals that the GRO might forward must be funded from the ever-shrinking public purse.
But it's not just about how the project is financed - there are several other constraints. Whilst the GRO is not allowed to make a profit from the sale of certificates, they're also expected to present a balanced budget, ie they can't budget for a loss. Maintaining this fine balance must be a challenge at the best of times, but it will seem almost impossible if the range of services and prices are changing.
The GRO must also balance the needs of different types of users: whilst the vast majority of copy certificates are bought by family historians who pay the standard £9.25 price, urgent orders from probate researchers (heir hunters), professional genealogists, solicitors, and people who need their birth certificate urgently in order to apply for a passport can provide up to 40% of the income (because the price of £23.40 is two-and-a-half times higher). Reading Nathan Dylan Goodwin's latest novel, The America Ground, I couldn't help wincing every time Morton Farrier, the forensic genealogist hero of the story, used the priority service - but when you've got an urgent assignment and you need the information in order to determine what to do next, the premium price is likely to be worth paying.
Furthermore, in balancing the needs of different types of user, the GRO must ensure that there isn't any element of cross-subsidy - in other words, they can't use their near-monopoly to favour one group of users over another.
A further complicating factor is that the legislation passed earlier this year relates ONLY to the General Register Office - it does not change anything so far as local register offices are concerned. Nevertheless the impact on local register offices must be considered in any proposals that the GRO puts forward, otherwise it might become unviable for them to provide copy certificates.
It was against this complex background that the three meetings were held - at the GRO in Southport on the afternoon of Friday 18th December, and at the Home Office on the morning and afternoon of Monday 21st December. The afternoon meetings were primarily for family history societies, though I know that Ian Hartas of UKBMD attended the Southport meeting, whilst Baroness Scott - who is responsible for the liberalisation of civil registration law - was at the London meeting.
I was at the Monday morning meeting, which was also attended by probate researchers, professional genealogists, and representatives from Ancestry. Although the ground covered at the three meetings was similar, the meeting I attended was particularly interesting because of the mix of attendees - probate researchers are primarily interested in the turn-around time, whilst family historians like you and I are more sensitive to cost (on the way to the meeting I calculated that to get all of the historic certificates for the relatives on my family tree would cost over £50,000 at current prices).
In the next article I'll set out some of my thoughts about how family historians might benefit from the change in legislation.
Many of you will recall that in the summer of 2008 the GRO announced that the DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) and MAGPIE (MultiAccess to GRO Public Index of Events) projects were being put on hold, as the contract with Siemens, the contractor entrusted with the work, had not been renewed.
Subsequently, in September 2012, I published in this newsletter key details that I had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, including an estimate that to complete the project would cost a further £25-30 million, on top of the £8.33 million that had already been paid to Siemens.
The good news was that even though the project was abandoned, the money spent had not been wasted - births from 1837-1934 and deaths from 1837-1957 had been digitised before the contract ended, and those digital copies were being used to produce copy certificates. Previously the certificates were all created from microfilm - the new system is much more efficient.
At Monday's meeting I was also able to confirm that most of the information in the digitised registers had been transcribed. This was done with a view to creating new indexes - and offers all sorts of opportunities, as we'll see in a moment.
Whilst the Scotlandspeople model - online digitised images from historical registers available instantly - is clearly attractive, given the many constraints it seems most unlikely that the GRO will be able to put such a system in place in the foreseeable future. That was the bad news.
The good news is that the GRO are keen to provide what their customers want - and this is why the meetings were arranged.
No doubt there will be more discussions in the coming months, but I would personally like to see the data that has been captured from the already-digitised registers made available to search, since this would make it much easier for family historians to identify the entries they're looking for. After all, one of the problems with the current cost of certificates is the likelihood that when it arrives it turns out not to be the right one!
There is also the possibility that partial transcriptions of historic birth and death register entries could be made available at a significantly lower cost than certificates - these could be based on the information that was captured when the registers were digitised. Whilst in many ways a transcription is a poor substitute, we have to remember that the registers held by the GRO are themselves only copies of the registers held by the local registrars (in other words, they also transcriptions).
I could envisage a situation in which family historians purchase transcriptions from the GRO, but follow-up by ordering copy certificates from the local register office.
Of course, what I'm talking about is really nothing new - most of you will know about the UKBMD site and the projects to put local indexes online in order to make it easier to order certificates locally. However coverage is quite patchy - for example, none of the projects cover the areas where my ancestors lived - and whilst some of the local indexes have been enhanced by the inclusion of information not given in the GRO indexes for the same period (such as the mother's maiden name prior to 1911), this isn't always the case.
I was impressed by what I heard on Monday, both from the GRO and from the customers who attended. The GRO were very open about the constraints they face, but also receptive to suggestions put forward by customers. Provided the dialogue with stakeholders continues - and I think it will - we can be confident that we'll get the best system possible in the circumstances.
In 2002 the Scotlandspeople site was launched, powered by a then little-known IT company called Scotland Online, which was part of the DC Thomson publishing empire. Five years later Scotland Online took over Findmypast which, because Scotland Online had secured the contract to publish the 1911 Census, helped to cement Findmypast's reputation as one of the leading providers of online family history data in the UK.
The DC Thomson group continued to manage the Scotlandspeople site even though the nature of their business was changing from IT services to online publishing, but I've heard that when the contract came up for renewal earlier this year they chose not to pitch. As a result the contract was awarded to the IT company CACI (no, I haven't heard of them either).
I wonder whether, now that there is no longer a conflict of interest, we might finally see images from the Scotland censuses on sites like Findmypast and Ancestry?
Just as my last newsletter was being sent out I noticed that nearly 3 million additional entries from the 1939 Register had appeared on the Findmypast website - most of you will, I hope, have seen the update I added within hours of the newsletter being published.
At the time I couldn't be certain whether these new entries were the result of Findmypast successfully matching closed entries against the death indexes, but 2 days later Findmypast confirmed this on their blog - you can read it here.
For my family and myself it was a great Christmas present, because one of those 2.8 million people was my mother who, as a 13 year-old schoolgirl, had been evacuated from Ilford in Essex to Ipswich in Suffolk:
© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England and Findmypast
I now know that she and another girl were living with Mr & Mrs Orlando Horrex, a couple in their 30s. They had no children of their own, which is a great shame - because they clearly had excellent genes. Who could have predicted in September 1939 that they, born in 1904 and 1907 respectively, would both outlive their 13 year-old evacuees?
The evacuation of millions of British schoolchildren during World War 2 will have had a lasting effect, not only on their lives, but also on the lives of the families with whom they were billeted. Having found my mother on the 1939 Register I wondered how feasible it would be to track down members of the family she lived with - and realised that one way of doing this would be to use the My Ancestors page....
Whilst you can't enter people from the 1939 Register on your My Ancestors page (at least, not at the moment), many of them will also have been recorded on the 1911 Census. I've therefore created a new category in the Relationship or category dropdown menu - WW2 evacuation - so that I and other members can search for relatives of the people who looked after the evacuees in our families during the war.
Here's the first ever entry using this new category:
I'll let you know if I get a match! In the meantime, why not see who you can find?
Save 50% on your first 1939 household ENDS 5TH JANUARY
Until midnight on 5th January you can save 50% on your first purchase of 60 credits (sufficient to view a single household) when you use one of the links below:
By using one of those links you'll also be supporting LostCousins - whether you buy 60, 300, or 900 credits.
If, like me, you want to track down your wider family then the cheapest option is to buy 900 credits (sufficient for 15 households).
All of the main websites in the Findmypast group are using special offers to promote Family History Week, recognising that this is a time when people are most likely to start researching their family tree for the first time. However, you don't have to be a beginner to take advantage of the offers - anyone can get a 1 month Platinum subscription at Genes Reunited by following this link and entering the discount code: GRSYFT15
Warning: don't take advantage of this offer if you have currently have a Standard subscription - you'll lose your existing subscription (and any preferential rate). By default subscriptions renew automatically at the full rate - if you don't want to renew at the end of the month simply change the setting on the 'Subscription Details'.
Try the British Newspaper Archive for £1 ENDS 4TH JANUARY
Subscribers to Findmypast can get access to British newspapers as part of a Britain or World subscription, but many find that the advanced search features at the British Newspaper Archive justify a separate subscription.
Now's your chance to find out whether you would also benefit - you can get a 1 month subscription for just £1 when you follow this link and enter the discount code: HAPPYNY2016
On Christmas Eve The Genealogist announced that they had completed their collection of searchable Tithe Maps and Schedules for England and Wales with the release of more maps covering 40 counties.
I was able to find my great-great-great grandmother in one of the earlier batches of Tithe Schedules, but I can now see on the Tithe Map precisely where she was living in 1838.
Note: you'll need a Diamond subscription to access tithe records.
Searching Findmypast's collection of Dorset Memorial Inscriptions I got these rather unusual results:
The transcriptions revealed little more - other than the denomination "C of E". But surely these were pets, and not people? Ancestry has online registers for many Dorset parishes, but unfortunately there are no burial registers in the collection for St James, East Chelborough, a church so hard to find that in Dorset: The Complete Guide the author erroneously described it as a parish without a church.
Perhaps there's a LostCousins member in the area who can confirm that Fly, Tango, and Twinkle were indeed much-loved pets, and not the short-lived offspring of a Bohemian mother? Should you have trouble locating the church this page from the Dorset Historic Churches Trust website might be of assistance!
There's an amazing story on the BBC website - about a Christmas card sent from Germany which arrived at the right house, even though the address of the recipient was missing.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: "Royal Mail's team of 'address detectives' are renowned for their ability to ensure poorly addressed items of mail reach their intended recipients however, even by their standards, this is pretty impressive."
Perhaps we should hire them to search for missing ancestors?
It was the Victorians who invented Christmas cards - but it seems that they weren't all as 'traditional' as we might think - just look at the examples in this BBC article!
Each year my wife and I buy a traditional Christmas tree from our next door neighbour's farm - they're such beautifully-grown trees that people come from many miles away to buy them (and if you've got stout boots you can choose one that's still growing in the field).
Artificial Christmas trees are a relatively recent invention - or so I thought, until my wife pointed out this article on the Mirror website about an artificial tree that was bought from Woolworth's in 1920, and is still in use!
These days Royal Mail has a whole department dealing with letters addressed to Santa Claus, but I suspect they weren't as imaginative in 1899. So I was fascinated when LostCousins member Michael sent me a scan of this postcard from his collection:
Following on from previous articles about letters to Santa found in chimneys, LostCousins member Julien sent me this charming letter, which was written by her mother around the end of the Great War:
I wonder whether little Joyce got her Christmas tree with a fairy dressed in pink? If only children were as easily pleased these days!
It's perhaps a little too late to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway - it's still Christmas Day in our house.
Google have an online Santa Tracker which allows you to follow Santa Claus on his journey round the world - but it doesn't come top of searches, even at Google. No, the top result is the NORAD Santa Tracker, which was inspired by a misdialled telephone number 60 years ago - you can read all about it here.
The best advice I can give to any family historian is to take every opportunity to connect with their living relatives, especially the ones who also have an interest in family history.
LostCousins are all keen family historians, so I shouldn't really need to persuade you to complete your My Ancestors page, but I recognise sometimes we need a bit of push to overcome the inertia - and hopefully the prizes in my Christmas Competition will give you the added incentive you need.
It was particularly heart-warming to see members connecting with new cousins on Christmas Day, but I can assure you that any day when you find a new cousin will seem like Christmas!
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......
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?