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Newsletter – 25th December 2023





Century-old photos of British Home Children discovered

The Christmas Truce

Royal British Legion Book of Remembrance

No, Minister: records need to be protected, not destroyed

Ancestry plan to limit free DNA features BREAKING NEWS

Something YOU can do to help your DNA matches

Why are your female ancestors odd?

Do you have more female ancestors?

Womb for one more

A family history of gardening

Peter’s Tips

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 20th 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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Century-old photos of British Home Children discovered

The scandal of British children ‘in care’ who were shipped overseas, often without the knowledge of their families has been told before – but the discovery of a collection of photos in Glasgow in 2018 put faces to names. This treasure trove has now been acquired by the charity Home Children Canada, according to this BBC News article, which includes some examples from the collection. The article also suggests that up to 10% of Canada’s present day population have an ancestor who was a British Home Child.



The Christmas Truce

At a time when there is so much death and destruction it’s heartening to recall the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 – see this BBC article.


In Ukraine they are celebrating Christmas today, having finally adopted the Gregorian calendar – in previous years their Christmas Day was on 7th January. Which I suppose means that in 2023 they have had two Christmases – it’s just a shame that ‘Peace on Earth’ isn’t in such abundance….



Royal British Legion Book of Remembrance

My wife has written this article about a moving experience which may well resonate with you….


In late October this year, I received an invitation to a coffee morning, to help raise funds for the Royal British Legion. I had every intention of going, but changed my mind at the last minute when I realised that there might be significant COVID risk just before some major dental work. I apologised to the organiser and promised to make an online donation instead.


Donating to the Royal British Legion online is a quick and easy process, and I could add Gift Aid even for a fairly modest donation. What I hadn’t expected to see was an invitation to have someone’s name inscribed in their Book of Remembrance – provided that the individual had served in the UK armed forces at some point during their life.


My eldest brother had died in October 2020 following several years of bad health. He’d joined the British army in the late 1960s, and soon after being posted to Germany he married a German girl and raised his family there. After forty years of marriage, he lost his beloved wife to cancer, then a few years later he too died in Germany – at a time when pandemic travel restrictions prevented anyone from abroad attending his funeral. Their sons arranged for both parents to be interred under the same beech tree in a beautiful woodland cemetery. However, there was no memorial of Bob for our family in the UK to visit or see: for his mother (now 96), it was hard to believe that he had even died.


So I asked whether my brother would be eligible for a place in the Book of Remembrance. A representative responded very promptly by email to confirm his details (such as date of birth, full name, regiment and date of death). I was then informed that the inscription would take a while to organise, and things went quiet.


A few days ago I received an email from the representative, enclosing three photos which quite took my breath away. They had made sterling efforts to respond in time for Christmas, and I have to say that it would be difficult to find a better present for me just now. My brother – a stickler for detail, elegant design, and the creation of things to last a lifetime – would have been quietly thrilled to see his name inscribed in such a handsome book. His inscription is bottom right in the photo. And now his family in the UK have somewhere special to see his name and remember him by: the book can be inspected in person by appointment at the Royal British Legion’s headquarters in London.


So - if you were not aware of this Book of Remembrance, it may contain inscriptions for some of your family members who served in the British armed forces (I think, from WW1 onwards). And if you’d like to add someone’s name to the book, now you know how to go about it – just follow this link.



No, Minister: records need to be protected, not destroyed

In the last issue I reported the consultation on the future of original wills for England & Wales – it is suggested that wills after 1858 could be digitised and then disposed of. The thought of throwing away original documents horrifies me – I still have credit card statements from the 1970s – but then it doesn’t cost me £4.5 million a year to store them! Digitised documents are better than none at all, though personally I would insist that the original documents be scanned in colour.


But for me, the biggest danger is that the focus will be on the wills rather than other records which could be destroyed without first being copied. For example, I attempted to obtain a copy of my hospital records from the 1950s – they had been destroyed. I wanted my school records from the 1950s – also destroyed. My tax records from the 1970s and 1980s had also been destroyed – both by the Inland Revenue and my accountants. Even the documentation from my house purchase in 1997 has been lost – because the firm of solicitors was taken over.


2024 will be the 40th anniversary of the first Data Protection legislation in the UK – but it was never designed to protect data, it was intended to prevent data from misuse. Under the current legislation organisations are required to delete records once they are no longer needed – without first referring to the individuals to whom the records relate. It was something that so concerned me that in 2010 I took the opportunity to speak to Ken Clarke, now Baron Clarke of Nottingham, but then the Minister of Justice and Lord Chancellor and thus in charge of the department responsible for data protection. I reported the meeting in this newsletter at the time, but I think it’s worth repeating the key comment that the minister made:


"I doubt that one person in a million is interested in seeing their hospital records"


If that’s still the attitude of the government then what happen to wills is the least of our problems. As I wrote 13 years ago:


how ridiculous it is that so many hospital records from the reign of Queen Victoria have survived, yet most of the records created during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II have already been destroyed”


Remember, I’m not talking about records that were scanned, and only then destroyed – these would have been the only copies.



Ancestry plan to limit free DNA features BREAKING NEWS

In June 2019, when I revealed Ancestry’s introduction of ThruLines I wrote: “The good news is that although ThruLines is being rolled out across the entire user base, it will continue to be available to non-subscribers, at least for the time being.”


But four and a half years later a message has popped up at Ancestry.co.uk which suggests that they have decided to restrict some features to users who have a membership (Ancestry’s name for a paid subscription):






I can’t say that it’s 100% clear to me which features Ancestry are referring to but one interpretation is that it includes ThruLines, Common Ancestors, Shared Matches and previews of trees – so that in the near future these features will only be available to Ancestry users with a paid membership.


A few months ago Ancestry.com (Ancestry’s US site) removed certain features for DNA users without a membership, and at the same time they offered a fairly low-cost membership which filled the gap:




I understand that AncestryDNA Plus also provides access to the full trees of DNA matches, something that users without a subscription/membership currently don’t get. My guess is that they will introduce a similar subscription at the UK site, but I don’t currently have any information, and there is nothing on the Ancestry blog. Just to clarify, the first screenshot above is from Ancestry.co.uk and the second is from Ancestry.com


Note: although about 20 million of the people who have taken an Ancestry DNA test do not have a paid membership, some have appointed other users – who do have a membership – to manage their DNA results. This newsletter article explains how you can appoint someone else to manage your test – or how someone else can appoint you to manage their test.



Something YOU can do to help your DNA matches

If you took the Ancestry DNA you’ll have upwards of 10,000 matches in your list, and the likelihood is that fewer than 1% of them are aware of my DNA Masterclass. For some it won’t be of any interest – not everyone who takes a DNA test wants to build a family tree – but for those who do, the strategies in the Masterclass make the process of knocking down ‘brick walls’ using DNA infinitely easier.


So telling your DNA cousins about the Masterclass is a good idea at any time, but it’s especially important to tell them now, in case they’re about to lose access to some of the key DNA features. Simply copy the link below into a message:




And since it’s Christmas, how about giving them a free LostCousins subscription? When they register at LostCousins between now and Twelfth Night they’ll get a free 6 month upgrade: there are no catches, they won’t have to provide payment information, all they will need to do is to enter the code DNA2024 in the offer codes box near the bottom of the registration page, and activate their account by logging in before midnight on 8th January 2024.


IMPORTANT: please DON’T contact all of your DNA matches, this offer is for the few who are seriously researching their family tree.



Why are your female ancestors odd?

Don’t worry – it’s not just your female ancestors – mine are also odd. What I’m talking about are their Ancestor Numbers, or Ahnentafel Numbers (to give them their proper designation). A glance at the Ancestor Chart below will confirm that female ancestors all have odd numbers, whilst male ancestors all have even numbers. The only exception is YOU – shown as ‘Me’ on the chart – you’re always Number 1, irrespective of gender (but then you knew that, didn’t you?).



At LostCousins you can enter the Ancestor Numbers for the direct ancestors you enter on your My Ancestors page. Don’t worry if they’re of the chart to the right as there is a very simple rule that allows you to calculate the next column: just write the numbers 64 to 127 down in sequence. Thus the parents of Ancestor 32 are 64 and 65, the parents of Ancestor 33 are 66 and 67, and so on.


By now you may have spotted that there is a simple rule that allows you to calculate the Ancestor Numbers for the parents of any direct ancestor – double the Ancestor Number to get their father’s number, add an extra one for their mother’s number. It’s a good idea to print out the chart and fill it - it helps to ensure that you don’t forget any of your ancestral lines when completing your My Ancestors page, and any blanks in the chart act as a reminder that – like me – you’ve got ‘brick walls’ in the last 6 generations.


Tip: entering Ancestor Numbers on your My Ancestors page will help your cousins figure out how they’re connected to you.



Do you have more female ancestors?

If you count up the number of male and female ancestors on your tree you’ll probably find that the number is roughly equal. Yes, there will be some illegitimate ancestors whose mother is known, but whose father’s name is lost in the mists of time (though there may well be clues somewhere in your DNA) – however there will also be some fathers whose wife’s name isn’t mentioned in the baptism register.


But that’s just the ancestors who are named on your tree. What if you were to consider ALL of your direct ancestors, not just those you have identified, and not just those who had names, but everyone who contributed to your existence? You’d expect it to be 50/50 – after all, a child has two birth parents – yet, there is a good reason why you and I have more female ancestors than male ancestors: males are capable of siring an almost unlimited of offspring, whereas woman can only have one pregnancy at a time (except in very rare instances – see the article below). Whilst each child has a father and a mother, the number of offspring is much more variable for males than for females – powerful men such as Genghis Khan are believed to have sired hundreds or thousands of children.


On the other hand, in the last newsletter I reminded you that at some point in the 1500s you had 10,000 ancestors – and if you go back to 1066 the number of ancestors far exceeds the population of the world at that time, so you might think that everyone alive in 1066 was your ancestor. Of course, in those days it wasn’t as easy to travel around the world – so you might have go back many thousands of years to reach the point at which we’re all descended from the same ancestors. But assuming that the world population was roughly equally divided between males and females doesn’t that imply that we have an equal number of male and female ancestors?


It doesn’t – because once again the unevenness of parenthood comes into play. Many of the people who were alive at a given point in the past have no living descendants, but males were much less likely to have any descendants alive today than females. This Guardian article from 2014, which is free to access, reports on a study which came to the same conclusion after looking at DNA.



Womb for one more

A woman in Alabama has given birth to two children in consecutive days – not in itself unusual, since the first could be born just before midnight and the second just after. What makes this double pregnancy different is that the mother has a double uterus, something that affects roughly 1 in 300 women, though the chance of getting pregnant in both at the same time is, according to this news article a million to one (which probably means it’s more like 1000 to 1).



A family history of gardening

Over the last three years my wife has written occasional articles about gardening, but in this article she explains why gardening is in her blood:


Christmas is a time when we reflect on the past and recall memories of spending time with people whom we cannot share more Christmases with. Often, our recollections about “family” revolve around food and get-togethers. While reflecting on this year’s gardening ups and downs, my mind drifted to earlier memories of “gardeners in the family.” The theme of connecting the generations through gardening doesn’t seem to get much airtime. So here are some of my recollections, shared in the hope that the theme of “growing stuff” for pleasure and food (and other purposes!) might encourage other readers to recall their own special memories about gardeners in the family.


Only through Peter’s encouragement did I even begin to research my own family history. Most of it involves Wales, but in the late 1800s my mother’s paternal ancestry centred on Newnham, on the wide banks of the River Severn in the Forest of Dean area south of Gloucester. Although the area was known for coal mining, my mother’s grandfather was a gardener at “the big house” (of indeterminate location); he married her grandmother (a maid), and they set out for Merthyr Tydfil – at that time, a magnet for independently-minded young men willing to work in the iron and coal mines in a rapidly expanding town. While he and his three sons worked as miners throughout the Great War, afterwards there was an abundance of untended allotments which they were able to rent cheaply. His past experience enabled them to grow vegetables for sale, with one of his sons- my grandfather – renting two shops and working a horse and cart to sell wholesale and home grown fruit and vegetables. My mother grew up living above the shop in Bridge Street, Troedyrhiw, south of Merthyr Tydfil in the Taff valley. Now 96, she still remembers how her parents kept cats for the sole purpose of keeping rodents at bay; of five children all knitting socks under the watchful eye of their grandmother in the tiny living room behind the shop; and of a comical incident involving next door’s monkey breaking free onto the rooftops, with several passers-by complaining about being pelted from a great height with freshly boiled beetroots that her mother had left in the yard to cool down. Back then, Bridge Street also had a cinema and an Italian ice cream parlour.


The Great Depression hit the Valleys hard; the family closed their shops and- like many others- sought work in London. In 1937 they settled in Leamington Road Villas (now prohibitively expensive) and my grandparents found work at the Chiswick depot of London Transport; my grandmother became a ‘clippy’ (bus conductress) while Gramps painted the gold and white lines on the red RT buses which, like their Routemaster successors, were open at the back so that you could jump on or off even if the bus was moving. War broke out; the buses were repainted in camouflage, but Gramps had used bright red bus paint on the window boxes he grew geraniums in. At the insistence of the air raid wardens, he repainted the boxes in black – restoring them to bright red as soon as the war was over. The geraniums were still out on show every summer.


After they retired, my grandparents decided to move back to Wales, settling in the small Taff valley village of Abercanaid in an adjacent street to my grandfather’s brother. Henry Square was built almost sideways on a steep hill; I remember hauling my suitcase up the steps of the gully that divided the terrace of cottages from their long, thin gardens. Their home was riddled with damp and there was one downstairs sink and cold tap for all washing requirements. But Gramps had a garden again, and both were happier living on a mountainside in Wales than anywhere else on Earth. Just inside the garden was a shed containing a bench with a hole in it and a bucket beneath; whatever came out of there helped to fertilise the fine, coal-black tilth that sustained heavy crops of vegetables. I never learned any gardening skills from Gramps, but I do remember that we ate vast quantities of fresh vegetables for dinner (back then, dinner was at lunchtime). For supper, we often ate platefuls of roughly chopped and boiled runner beans, eaten with white pepper, bread, lots of butter and tiny porcelain cups of tea. My grandmother made light work of preparing and cooking all manner of food in a kitchen with no fridge, a tiny gas oven, and one small kitchen unit.


Gramps’ main enemies were sheep. The hillside was so steep that although every garden was well fenced, the jump height was reduced by half if the sheep got onto the shed roofs. It was the only time I remember him ever raising his voice: “They have enough grass up the mountain!” he complained.


I’m sure some of you will have similar recollections about this part of Wales, but the tragedy of Aberfan – the next village down from Troedyrhiw – is all that many people know about the area. Others may prefer not to be reminded about the hardships endured by the South Wales mining communities after the mines closed. There is a wonderful online trove Merthyr History which incorporates much of the legacy collection of Alan George, including this fascinating page on Christmas in Merthyr 100 years ago.


My other grandparents began their relationship in an adjacent valley, in the town of Abercynon before settling in Braunstone, Leicester, during the interwar years. Nanna was very particular and insisted that the back garden of their new home was laid with a sunken lawn of bowling green quality. Her husband was a diminutive powerhouse of energy and intelligence; the garden was immaculate and geared more towards fruit production, as she was an avid maker of jellies, jams, cakes and fruit pies. Again, I learned nothing about how he grew such heavy crops along one side of the fence, for his wife to convert the produce into delicious treats. And given Peter’s culinary skills, I would give a lot now to learn from my grandparents about how to garden!


I’m not sure who my father inherited his love of gardening from, but assume it came from his early days in Abercynon living next door to his grandfather. I remember him teaching me to make mud pies in the back garden while he filled every available space with snapdragons, hollyhocks and bedding plants. The same plants went in every summer, even if they made me wheeze or gave me a rash; the worst was white alyssum. We kept a tortoise named Thomas in a chicken wire pen; Dad moved it around so that Thomas could keep the dandelions down. Every spring there would be a moment of suspense when he would call me to check whether Thomas had survived hibernation (in a shoebox in the garage) – I now suspect that he had already taken care to establish that Thomas was waking up.


Geraniums (I should call them pelargoniums) were one of the few plants that Thomas disliked. He bit into a leaf only once, spat it out and his head shot back under his shell. But he formed an unusually close attachment to the radio, which I would leave on the grass for him to get as close to as possible. Keeping a tortoise was not unusual in the 1960s, although strangely I’ve never met anyone else who had one.


Stripped to the waist on a warm day digging the front garden, Dad had a secret admirer in my 8-year-old friend, which rather shocked me (and would have equally shocked him!). Like many firemen and other emergency workers employed on a shift basis, Dad had a sideline as a decorator and gardener. And like his parents, he planted a lot of dahlias and tender perennials – it was a different style of gardening back then, especially compared with the dominance of “hard to kill” shrubs in my own garden. And there were always pelargoniums. Every year, Dad put up a shelf in the toilet window for pots of cuttings, the pong of “geraniums” masking any other odours.


Thoughts of pelargoniums blurring the lines between house and garden now take me to Germany, where my eldest brother settled after having been posted there during his Army days. He married the lovely Sigrid; her family were not unlike the Von Trapps, lined up by age and height when we first visited. A large, ugly postwar house was substantial enough to accommodate her grandparents, parents, six siblings, the new couple and their two children. Winters in northern Germany are notoriously harsh, so my sister-in-law would pot up pelargonium cuttings in old window boxes, storing them in the dry cellar until spring (this was how the huge displays of window box colour were preserved in many snowy European regions). Similarly, she would patiently dig up the dahlia tubers in October and store them wrapped in newspaper in the cellar. In late spring, they were potted into fresh soil and grown on until large enough to fill the borders again. This is a far cry from my tendency to leave dahlias in raised beds, where good drainage and warmer winters offer protection. Sigrid also grew lots of culinary herbs long before they became popular in the UK.


I also recall visiting a special room in the family house in Germany, which had belonged to my sister in law’s grandmother (“Omi”). There was a large south facing balcony attached to the room, lined with “tomato plants” – but which looked and smelled like nothing that my father had grown for our salads. Nor did I ever see a single tomato on any of them. It took me a while to work out why the family rolled their own cigarettes….


And so we come full circle to my ambivalent relationship with pelargoniums, the surprises of hippy gardening, some frustration about not having spent more time with my grandparents learning how to garden (they were keener to see me do well academically) – and the sheer depth of connection I now feel with my green-fingered ancestors. And it is wonderful that the next generation of gardeners in our family are doing it for themselves and learning in their own way and in their own time. Eventually they might also discover that the shared love of “growing things” runs like an invisible thread that joins the generations together.


In the past, most horticultural effort was invested in growing food and medicinal herbs. Although wild and common ornamental plants appeared in many cottage gardens, only the very wealthy could afford to dedicate some of their land for purposes other than food and medicinal plants. But without their creativity and patronage, we would not have the rich legacy of “great house” gardens, municipal parks and public gardens, botanical gardens, kitchen gardens and orchards, or the sheer variety of imported and hybridised species of cereal crops, fruit, vegetables and ornamentals that are now grown around the world. But with population numbers continuing to grow and homes getting smaller and rising into the sky, gardening in (and for) the future may require yet more innovation and ingenuity.


Thank you for reading, I wish you some equally tender recollections of family green-fingeredness – perhaps we can collect them up for others to enjoy reading!


And if you fancy treating yourself or someone else to a beautiful gardening-themed book, here are some that I have been given as presents over the years but continue to use and cherish:


Highgrove: An English Country Garden


Royal Gardens of the World: 21 Celebrated Gardens from the Alhambra to Highgrove and Beyond


The Complete Gardener: A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening


RHS The Rose: The history of the world's favourite flower in 40 roses


Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook


The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It


Christine Walkden's no-nonsense container gardening


With all best wishes for a Happy Christmas and Floriferous New Year!



Peter’s Tips

There will be just the two of us on Christmas Day, so I roasted our turkey two weeks ago when we had friends over for lunch – it was somehow more relaxing. We enjoyed our final roast turkey dinner of the year on Christmas Eve – just the risotto and curry to come!


As I write this, the final article of my Christmas newsletter, it is Christmas morning – and I am temporarily on my own, because my wife has gone to visit her mother in her care home. I was reflecting last night that this will be the 48th Christmas since my mother died: sadly I don’t have any memories of Christmas 1975, though I know I was living at home, having been made redundant in the summer when the large company I had been working for went into liquidation. Of course, Christmas is never the same once we reach adulthood – when we are finally earning a living and able to afford the toys we yearned for as children we’re suddenly no longer interested!


I do remember Christmas 1993, and not just because it was the first Christmas I spent with my future wife. Eight days before Christmas I was at a Sotheby’s postage stamp auction in London, and had been tempted by an unusual lot:



As you might deduce from the circled figure I managed to purchase the lot for less than the estimate – not much more, in fact, than the value of the stamps - though it was not the stamps that interested me, but the family correspondence. Whilst it was not my family – in fact, it took some time to establish who the family were – it was a link to the past that helped to fill a gap in my life, a gap that was finally plugged nearly a decade later when I began researching my own family tree.


My wife and I spent the whole of Christmas 1993 with letters scattered over the living room floor as we attempted to bring some semblance of order to the collection. Even reading the letters was challenging – at that time we were not familiar with early 19th century hands, and the cross-hatched writing was a real challenge! Eventually we realised that all of the letters were addressed to the same person, some before her marriage (to a Member of Parliament), and some afterwards. Amongst the letters was one from a brother in the army, who was going overseas and feared he might not return – inside the folded letter was a lock of his hair, for her to remember him. You can imagine how I felt when it tumbled out unexpectedly – I was, perhaps, the first person to touch it for 150 years!


That was 30 years ago: I’ll be spending much of this Christmas with my own ancestors, hoping that I might uncover some clues that will enable me to knock down one of more than a hundred ‘brick walls’ that are holding me back on different ancestral lines. Will you be working on your family tree over the holiday period? If so, I hope you’ll set aside some time to add entries to your My Ancestors page – collaborating with your ‘lost cousins’ is not only one of the best ways, but also one of the most rewarding ways to knock down a ‘brick wall’. Remember that because your cousins are all descended from collateral lines, it’s the relatives from the branches of your tree who will connect you to them. It’s natural to start by entering your direct ancestors from the 1881 Census, but please don’t stop with them!


Finally, a reminder that the exclusive Who Do You Think You Are? magazine offer in the last newsletter ends today (Christmas Day); you’ve got a few days longer to take advantage of the phenomenal introductory offer from The Genealogist.


Stop Press

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I’ll be back in touch soon, though whether it will be this year or next depends on factors outside my control. In the meantime, have a great Christmas – and remember to complete your My Prizes page, otherwise you won’t win any prizes in my competition!


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2023 Peter Calver


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