Newsletter - 25th December 2019
The Royal Palace on the High Street EXCLUSIVE
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 21st December) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
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We've all got tens of thousands of distant cousins, though I doubt there's anyone who's in touch with a few hundred of them. But, as anyone who has taken an autosomal DNA test (such as Ancestry DNA, Family Finder, 23andMe, or MyHeritage) will know, the number of cousins you're in touch with increases dramatically once you've tested - and, of course, they're not cousins picked at random from the phone book or the electoral register, they're cousins who are interested in their family tree (otherwise they wouldnít have taken the test themselves).
But youíre not the only who has made dozens of new contacts as a result of testing your DNA - your cousins will have many other connections, most of them on the parts of their tree that donít involve you. So how do you stand out from the crowd? Give your genetic cousins a Christmas gift, a free subscription to LostCousins that runs all the way from Christmas to Easter.
Note: free subscriptions are only valid for new members - you canít upgrade your own account. There are two reasons for this - one is that website software can't handle it, the other is that without the income from subscriptions LostCousins couldn't retain its independence, and you'd miss the valuable insights that you get from this newsletter.
Giving away subscriptions to attract new members is good news for everyone - the more people who take part in my LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world, the more 'lost cousins' we'll all find. Documented cousins who have tested their DNA are key to making sense of your matches with genetic cousins - when you connect with a 'lost cousin' who has tested their DNA the value of your own results goes up! Few of us can afford to buy DNA tests for all of the cousins we know, but it costs nothing to connect with 'lost cousins' who have already tested (as all of these new members have done).
All you need to do is tell your genetic cousins about the LostCousins project and give them the code CHRISTMAS (which they should enter at the bottom of the registration page). You could also mention these newsletters and especially my DNA Masterclass, which has transformed the trees of so many family historians by focusing on what really matters, rather than blinding you with science.
Regular readers of this newsletter will be aware that with the aid of LostCousins members I was able to identify six blocks of entries, mostly complete volumes (each comprising thousands of entries) that were missing from the GRO's online birth and death indexes. In all we identified about 30,000 missing entries, and almost as many which had been erroneously duplicated in the wrong quarters.
In the last issue I reported that the GRO had corrected 36,000 death entries which had been indexed with the wrong volume number. However, at that time I was still waiting to find out what progress, if any, has been made in relation to the missing entries.
I've now been informed by the GRO that they are aware of 85 volumes of births and 50 volumes of deaths which "are yet to be digitally data captured". The number of entries in each volume varies, but if an average of 5000 entries is assumed then the total number of missing entries will be in the region of 700,000. I understand that there is a project in progress to resolve the discrepancies, but no timescale has been given, and I suspect that funding may be an issue.
Fortunately all of these entries are in the contemporary indexes, which were compiled at the end of each quarter - these are the indexes that you can access at numerous sites, including FreeBMD, Ancestry, and Findmypast. Nevertheless, the release of the GRO's own indexes provided a wonderful opportunity for family historians, because they included information that wasn't in the original indexes, such as the mother's maiden name (births) and the age at death.
It's important to remember that we're fortunate to have these indexes at all - the project to digitise the birth, marriage, and death registers was abandoned half-way through - whether that was an issue of cost, quality control, or a combination of the two hasn't been made clear - and the GRO deserve credit for the fact that it was possible to salvage so much useful information, and for making it available to the general public.
This latest news arrived in my inbox at 2.45pm on Christmas Eve, so I've not had a long time to think it through - however, it strikes me that if the GRO needs people to transcribe and index the missing registers, they will have volunteers queuing all the way from London to Southport!
Note: if you wish to share the information in this article (or any other article in the LostCousins newsletter) please share a link to the newsletter, rather than copying the text. You can link to a specific article by going to the contents list above, right-clicking, and choosing 'Copy link'.
We live our lives in three dimensions, but it's surprising how many family historians are one-dimensional in their approach. Even amongst the LostCousins membership there are a few who relentlessly plough the same furrow, never once looking around to see what clues there might be scattered around.
The best family historians are continually looking from side to side, and disappearing down side tracks to see what's down there. Partly it's curiosity, but mainly it's the result of experience and/or training - our ancestors had families, friends, and work colleagues just as we do, so when we ignore what was going on around our ancestors we risk missing vital clues.
When we're researching before 1837 (the introduction of civil registration in England & Wales - it was later in other parts of the UK) there's rarely sufficient information included in a baptism register entry for us to be 100% certain that we've found the right entry. Although some forenames and surnames are rare across the country and throughout history, most of those names are nevertheless fairly common in certain places, or certain families, or at certain times. For example, I was in my 60s before I met another person who shared my surname, but in the Suffolk village where my great-grandfather was born it was more common than Smith.
The one-dimensional approach, focusing on the direct line, simply can't work reliably - and even worse, you may never know that you've gone wrong. In genealogical terms, nothing could possibly be worse than researching the wrong line - no wonder some people are so scared of taking a DNA test!
When there's only one entry that fits, surely it has to be the right one? If only the life of a family historian was so simple! The baptism of my great-great-great grandmother Elizabeth Keehner isn't recorded in the register of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey - unlike the baptisms of her sisters and brothers, who were all younger. Indeed, I couldn't even be certain who her parents were, because having been born c1793 she doesn't appear in any censuses with her supposed parents and siblings, and because she died before 1851 Census all we know from the 1841 Census is that she wasn't born in Middlesex (which at that time included London). Bermondsey might be in London today, but in those days it was in Surrey - so the 1841 Census doesnít help very much.
Keehner is an adaptation of the German surname Kuehner, and the spelling varies quite wildly until the 1830s (the baptism of Sarah on Christmas Day 1794, precisely 225 years ago, shows the surname as 'Keenar'. Furthermore, in the Bermondsey register the father is sometimes shown as Jacob (as in Sarah's case), sometimes as John Jacob. This meant that the baptism of Elizabeth Keener, daughter of Jacob Keener at St Peter & St Paul, Mitcham, Surrey in February 1793 seemed like a very good fit for my ancestor. Indeed, this baptism is recorded in many online trees, and even appeared in my own tree (which wasn't online) for over a decade.
But in truth, I was never totally convinced, since I couldnít find any other connection with Mitcham. The final nail in the coffin came when Surrey registers went online at Ancestry, and I discovered the burial of an Elizabeth Keener (infant) at Weybridge, Surrey in May 1793, and since there were no other Elizabeth Keener baptisms in Surrey that I could find it seemed very likely that this was the child who had been baptised at Mitcham.
My current theory is that my ancestor was baptised at Bermondsey, but her baptism was not included in the register because it would have incurred Stamp Duty - several of my ancestors who were born between 1783-1794 donít appear in baptism registers, and I'm sure my family is far from unique in this respect. Sometimes the most likely baptism entry isnít the one you've found, itís the one that doesnít exist. Thank goodness we can now overcome missing records using science.
Of course, the primary reason I had wanted to find Elizabeth Keehner's baptism was to confirm who her parents were. Fortunately her mother left a will which mentioned all of her daughters and, because she included the names of their husbands, I could be absolutely sure that the Elizabeth referred to in the will was my ancestor. But most of our ancestors didnít leave wills, or - if they did - their wills didnít go to probate. But there's often other evidence to be found - in this case the sisters were witnesses at each other's weddings, which - whilst not absolutely conclusive - was strong supporting evidence.
We're all at risk of falling into traps during our research - family history is a bit like driving, once they've discarded their L-plates, everyone thinks theyíre a better driver than average. The traps in your tree wonít be exactly the same as the traps in mine, but the one thing you can be sure of is that the more confident you are that you can avoid the traps, the more likely it is that youíre wrong - pride comes before a fall.
So donít be a one-dimensional research. Instead look around - research the branches of your tree, and continue looking even when you think you've found the answer. I made the mistake of stopping when I found the 1769 marriage of my great-great-great-great-great grandparents John Sheiring and Anne Cobbet in 1769, which described them both as single. But one of my distant cousins was more persistent: she also found their marriage licence, which said that Anne was a widow - which makes a BIG difference. Now I know that I should be looking for a marriage, not a baptism.
Earlier this month I introduced you to Ernest Cawcutt, whose notebook from World War 2 has miraculously survived, proving facts and figures that 80 years on would be hard to find (if, indeed, any other records still exist). Lots of people were in the right place at the right time, but the importance of Ernest's contribution is that he wrote it all down.
In my first article I reported on the shortage of Christmas 1941, and compared the limited fare on offer with the cornucopia of delights at my local supermarket. Things hadn't changed much by the follow year:
Fresh fruit was once again unavailable; poultry was still dear and scarce. On the bright side, sultanas and prunes were plentiful, though subject to rationing - so Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings would have been made.
Fresh fruit was still scarce at Christmas 1943, but there was some dried fruit (still rationed), and fruit cordials were plentiful. Ernest write of poultry that there was "none on open market". I'm not sure whether he means that is was only available on the black market. Vegetables, however, were plentiful.
Christmas 1940 was in the middle of the Blitz - 3,793 civilians were killed by enemy bombing in the month of December alone, more than half of them women or children. †But tragic as those statistics are, they were a considerable improvement on the months of September and October - over 6,000 civilians lost their lives in each of those months, and in November it was still over 4,500.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day brought a brief respite - supposedly because of the weather, but Ernest commented in his notebook that it "looks like an unofficial truce". However it didnít last long - he records that at 6.37pm on December 27th the air raids recommenced, causing considerable damage in London, and it was even worse on 29th December, when the Guildhall and many churches were gutted.
According to Ernest the last time the air raid sirens sounded in London was at 7.50am on 28th March 1945, and the 'All Clear' was just 7 minutes later. At 12 noon on 2nd May the National Air-Raid Warning System was discontinued. (VE Day was on 8th May)
In his notebook Ernest records 1225 air raid alerts in London during the 6 years of the war; the official figure that was given out was 1228, but my money is on Ernest getting it right!
This story is nothing to do with family history - but it is about family, and I suspect most of us could do with some heart-warming stories given what's happening in the world.
It's only 4 days since the New Year Competition was announced, and already I'm receiving appreciative emails from members who have found new cousins as a direct result of taking part. In fact, the benefits of completing your My Ancestors page are so blindingly obvious that you might question why I have to give away prizes in order to encourage members to do their bit!
It's all about inertia. We all have such busy lives that we need an incentive to take on an additional responsibility, even one that brings such enormous benefits. It's a bit like people who stick with the same energy or broadband supplier for years on end because they canít face the hassle of switching, even though it will save them £100 a year or more (that's something else that only takes about an hour when you set your mind to it).
Remember, all you need to do in order to take part is add relatives to your My Ancestors page. Every direct ancestor (ie someone youíre descended from) or blood †relative (a deceased cousin) counts as an entry in the competition, and those from the 1881 Censuses (England & Wales, Scotland, or Canada) count double.
In the last issue I revealed the first of the many prizes - the chance to win one of 5 day tickets for Family Tree Live 2020, which takes place at Alexandra Palace in April.
The next prize to be unveiled is something really special - a copy of The Death Certificate, signed and dedicated by the author, Stephen Molyneux. If it was me I'd keep it somewhere very safe and read the Kindle version instead - who knows how valuable it might become in the future?
If you want to buy a copy please use these links - as I mentioned in the last newsletter I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the first book in the series is a firm favourite of mine:
All too often family correspondence passes out of the family - but at least this collection of love letters has survived. Are there relatives out there who would like to have them back? I'd like to think so.
The Royal Palace on the High Street EXCLUSIVE
You may know Newmarket as the home of horseracing, but what few people know is that †it became famous for horseracing only because it was patronised by the Royal Family who built not one, but two Royal Palaces in Newmarket!
James I of England (James VI of Scotland) visited the area so he could hunt and built the first palace at Newmarket in 1606, the year that Guy Fawkes was tried and †executed for trying to blow up the Palace of Westminster. Charles I also regularly visited Newmarket with his son - who became Charles II after the Interregnum which followed the execution of King Charles in 1649 (at one point he had been held captive in Newmarket). Unfortunately, there are no remains of this first palace as it fell into ruin during the Interregnum and was ultimately demolished. However, after the Restoration, Charles II returned to Newmarket and brought with him his passion for horseracing, which led him to commission a new and larger palace, part of which remains today as ĎPalace Houseí.
Palace House is now part of The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art Ė which, as well as housing an Art Gallery in the former Royal Palace, also boasts historic stables with real horses, and family-friendly interactive displays (including a horseracing simulator you can ride) in the Kings Yard and the National Horse Racing Museum in Trainers House.
Amazingly, during a recent refurbishment an original sash window was discovered on what is now an internal wall. The window, estimated to have been installed in 1671, is the oldest counter-balanced sash window in England, and with the cottage Charles bought for his mistress at 4 Palace Street visible from this window, I wonder if they used to communicate with each other in secret?
There is also rumoured to be a tunnel from the Palace to Nell Gwynís cottage but this has not yet been discovered. All in all, it's very interesting historic site which few people know about - well worth visiting even if you are not a horseracing fan.
Note: if you have ancestors of relatives who were in the horseracing industry, you'll be interested to know that the museum is planning to open its Library one day a week, starting in early 2020, and visitors to the Library will be able to access documents from the archives (by arrangement).
According to the Office for National Statistics people aged 70 today feel just as healthy as those of 65 would have done in the 80s and 90s. As I'm going to reach the 70 mark during 2020 I'm looking forward to feeling reinvigorated!
This Guardian article about the recovery of human DNA from birch tar that had been chewed by a young woman 6,000 years ago opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Technology has moved a long way, but when a member wrote to me recently asking what chance there was of recovering DNA from her mother's ashes, I couldnít come up with a hopeful answer.
But that doesnít necessarily mean that her mother's DNA is lost for ever - most people will have left DNA samples behind, perhaps on a hair brush, or when they licked a postage stamp. Perhaps in a century's time family historians will be lamenting the invention of self-adhesive stamps?
The National Genealogical Society in the US has launched a $100 online course entitled Understanding and Using DNA Test Results. Alternatively you can rely on the tried and trusted information you get in the LostCousins newsletter - you'll save $100, and I'll only tell you about the things you actually need to know!
Even better, if you do it my way, you can use the money you save to buy a DNA test for another member of your family.
The Apostrophe Protection Society has closed, and this BBC article asks whether this spells the beginning of the end so far as English grammar is concerned.
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 hope you are one of the many who will discover a new cousin this Christmas - it's the gift you can't buy in any store!
© Copyright 2019 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?