Newsletter - 26th February 2018



Last chance for Findmypast offer ENDS WEDNESDAY

Free cousins ENDS TUESDAY

DNA for Dummies

Save 20% with Ancestry DNA

Why DNA matches aren't always as close as they seem

Save 40% on Who Do You Think You Are? subscriptions

Review: The Rosie Project

Review: Bottleneck


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The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous newsletter (dated 22nd February) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search below (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):



Whenever possible links are included to the websites or articles mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). If one of the links doesn't work this normally indicates that you're using adblocking software - you need to make the LostCousins site an exception (or else use a different browser, such as Chrome).


To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!



Last chance for Findmypast offer ENDS WEDNESDAY

You've got until midnight (London time) on Wednesday to take advantage of the 10% discount on NEW World & Pro subscriptions and save up to £28 in total. Please see this article for full details, including how you can get a free LostCousins subscription.


Tip: please read the instructions in the article carefully!



Free cousins ENDS TUESDAY

Those of you who have been taking part in the LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world have done so well over the weekend that I've decided to extend the free period for an extra 24 hours. If you havenít entered all of your relatives from 1881 - and the chances are you haven't, even if you think you have - now's the time to do it.


Tip: several members found cousins not by entering additional relatives but by correcting entries they'd made previously. The grey arrows are there to help you check your entries quickly and easily - even if you donít have time to add anyone else, please spare 5 minutes to check the relatives you've already entered.



DNA for Dummies

Long before civil registration began, long before parish registers were kept, even before humans could write, our ancestors were keeping genealogical records They didn't know it, but in their DNA they carried remnants of their own ancestors' DNA, just as their descendants would, in turn, inherit theirs. And yet, ignorant as they were by today's standards, all parents knew instinctively that their children would inherit some of their own characteristics - they just didnít know how it worked.


Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian friar who is now recognised as founding the science of genetics with his experiments on pea plants, didn't commence his research until 1856, yet the DNA that my great-grandmother inherited more than a decade earlier in 1842, and passed on to her own children, has confirmed the identity of her father - and connected me with several of my own living cousins.


The thing is, we don't necessarily need to understand how DNA works for it to be useful - so the way that Ancestry shield their users from the detail, frustrating as it may be for experts, makes things a lot easier for beginners. After all, when it comes to DNA, most of us are beginners, even though we may have been researching our family tree in the conventional way for 40 or 50 years.


They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that's never been more true. Millions of DNA tests have been sold to people who know nothing about genealogy, yet the vast majority of seasoned family historians have yet to test themselves, let alone their cousins (which is when it really pays off). So here are some simple facts for those of you who are still hesitating:



I recommend Ancestry DNA, not because it's the cheapest test (it isn't), but because they have by far the biggest database of results. Buying a different test because it's cheaper is a false economy - I'm sure you don't want to end up like me, having to test all over again in order to get access to the thousands of cousins who tested with Ancestry.


Tip: when you test with Ancestry you can transfer your results to other websites, such as GEDmatch and FTDNA. But it doesn't work the other way round - if you test with different company you can't transfer your results to Ancestry.




Save 20% with Ancestry DNA

If you live in the UK or Ireland you can save 20% on Ancestry DNA tests until Mother's Day (11th March). This brings the price down from £79 to £63, or from Ä95 to Ä76. There's no discount on shipping charges, of course, but there's a reduction from £20 to £10 for the second and subsequent test ordered at the same time.


Tip: you donít have to decide who is going to take the test at the time of ordering - you can make the decision at any time.



Why DNA matches aren't always as close as they seem

Note: this article is for those who want to now more about DNA - it isnít something everyone needs to understand.


If you read the Masterclass in the last issue you may have noticed in the table that you're likely to get more matches with 7th, 8th, 9th or even 10th cousins than with ALL of the closer cousins combined.


This isn't, of course, because you're more likely to match with such distant cousins, but a result of the fact that you have so many more distant cousins that you might match with. The key is the random element in the inheritance of DNA - whilst you inherit half of your DNA from each parent, and they got half of theirs from each of their parents, you do NOT inherit 25% from each grandparent - it could be as little 0% or as much as 50% (although the extremes are very unlikely).


This amazing chart from Blaine Bettinger's blog shows how variable the amounts can be, and how this affects the amount of DNA shared by more distant relatives:



In each box there are three figures: the lowest and highest amounts shared between relatives of each order, together with the average. However the average only takes into account matches - if there was no detectable shared DNA then that example was ignored.


What you will notice is that the average stabilises at around 12 or 13cM even for the most distant relationships in the chart. The average DNA shared between 8th cousins is just 0.055cM, but the average in the table is over 200 times greater. That's because unless there's a matching segment of at least 6 to 10cM most companies won't report a match at all - and this brings up the average, which only includes matches which were actually detected.


Very interesting, you might think - but what does it actually mean in practice? What it tells us is that neither you nor I, nor any of the DNA companies can reliably predict how closely we are related to our more distant cousins. Suppose that you and your cousin share a 32cM segment of DNA - you can see from the chart that this is compatible with being anything from 3rd cousins to 8th cousins (or more distant), an enormous range, when you consider that you have only 16 2G grandparents, but 512 7G grandparents. I won't embarrass myself by telling you how many of my 7G grandparents I can name. All right, I will - itís just 23.


You can see why in the Masterclass I discourage going down the list of matches in order, and instead suggest strategies that highlight the matches that are most likely to be resolvable!




Save 40% on Who Do You Think You Are? subscriptions

After the sad demise of Your Family History (formerly Your Family Tree) a number of members have written in asking me to suggest an alternative. I started subscribing to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine from the very first issue, and I've read every issue since - so I'm very happy to pass on this subscription offer (which is for the UK only - if I can come up with an attractive offer for readers overseas I will).


To take advantage of the offer (and support LostCousins) either click the banner above or use this link.



Review: The Rosie Project

This captivating book is not strictly a genealogical mystery, since none of the main characters are genealogists, but at its very heart is the hero's quest to identify Rosie's father. It was on my Amazon wish-list for months before I got around to downloading it to my Kindle, but when I eventually did - wow, what a treat!


The hero is Don Tillman, an Australian academic - but I had to keep reminding myself that most of the action was taking place in Australia, because it could easily have been the US. Don isn't an average person - he's not even a average academic, but for all his faults I found myself willing him to succeed. My wife would probably say itís because there's a little of Don Tillman in me; I would argue that itís really because there are some similarities between me and the author, Graeme Simsion.


The Rosie Project is really a love story, and there's certainly a little of When Harry Met Sally about it, so it's ironic that The Rosie Project started off as a film script - and what a great film it would make, if only you could see inside Don's head!


I paid £3.99 for the Kindle version, which I consider money very well-spent - but right now you can get it for just 99p (I don't know for how long, so just do it!). I'm off to buy the follow-up, which by all accounts is just as good (I doubt it could be better). Itís also available as a paperback - published by Penguin - and in hardback. There were some cheap second-hand copies when I checked, but they may gone by the time you read this.


You can support LostCousins by using the appropriate link below (we get just under 5% commission on the price, but nothing on the shipping):†††††††† -†††††††††††††††††† -††††††††††††††††† -†††††††† The Book Depository (free delivery worldwide)



Review: Bottleneck

This review was originally published in May 2015, and I am republishing it in honour of LostCousins member Richard Epworth who has sadly died of a brain tumour. Next month I'll be speaking about genetic genealogy at Stansted U3A (it's already sold out - though only because itís a small venue, I hasten to add); it was Richard who suggested they invite me.†††


Not a genealogical mystery, but a real-life psychological mystery, Bottleneck: Our Human interface with Reality by Richard Epworth is a most unusual book, which convincingly demonstrates that our brain can only take in information very slowly (ironically the author spent much of his career working with optical fibres, which transmit incredible amounts of data at approaching the speed of light).


However, we're very good at convincing ourselves that we know more than we do, which is why witnesses to crimes often give plausible, but highly inaccurate, accounts - and why family stories are often at odds with the documented facts.


Everyone will get something different out of this book - in my case not only did I end up understanding myself a little bit better, I also began to realise why my view of the world is so often at odds with the views of others. The author quotes from hundreds of sources in order to make his case: from the writings of Alan Turing and Oliver Sacks to humbler sources, such as song lyrics - and even the LostCousins newsletter!


It isn't light reading, but nor is it hard to read - I read it from beginning to end over the course of three days. Will it change my life? Probably. Not bad for under £2 on Kindle!


You'll find the book and more reviews here:†††††††† -†††††††† ††††††††† -††††††††


Last time I checked all the reviews gave the book 5 stars - pretty impressive!


Update: only 20 of the 21 reviews at Amazon UK are now 5 stars, but you wonít find many non-fiction books with a better rating. Bottleneck is also available in paperback - get one while you still can.




RootsTech starts on Wednesday, and itís likely there will be some interesting announcements - please check back in a couple of days to find out what's going on! If you want to find out what's happening as it happens many of the presentations can be viewed live here.


Wednesday: Findmypast have announced the acquisisition of Twile.



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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 back next month with more news, more articles, more tips, and more book reviews!



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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© 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?