Newsletter - 23rd March 2020
Looking forward to Easter? Some good news! DON'T MISS OUT
Findmypast increase subscriptions in the UK EFFECTIVE TUESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 16th March) 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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Just over 20 years ago the management of British Telecom were approached with a revolutionary proposal, one that would have made an enormous difference to the most vulnerable in society, and made it far easier to protect them from the psychological impact of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. It might even have saved lives.
The concept was simple - connect older people to the Internet, not by installing a broadband router and buying them a computer (smartphones and tablets had yet to be invented) but by giving them a device that looked and behaved much like a portable radio.
In other words, they'd be connected to the Internet without needing to know or learn anything about the technology - indeed, they wouldn't even need to know what the Internet was, only how to use a telephone and a radio. Best of all, thanks to sponsorship, advertising, and grants the service could have been free to users as long as they already had a home telephone - and, of course, everyone did in those days.
20 years on, only 47% of people over 75 are Internet users - according to a 2019 government survey. Which means that a large proportion of the people most in need of support donít have an Internet connection, perhaps the most essential utility after water and electricity.
And 20 years on nobody has come forward with an invention that can provide older people with the same level of communication, security, entertainment and information that the original invention offered.
Perhaps I should have worked harder to promote my invention, but after 2 years of banging my head against a brick wall I decided to devote my time to another project which had the potential to make the world a better place - a website that would have been the eBay of rental, years before Airbnb and Uber came up with similar ideas for their own specialist fields.
That didnít get off the ground either - so instead I worked on a third innovation, one that I could make happen without the help of backers (all I needed was an acquaintance with a web design company). And that's why LostCousins succeeded, when the others didnít - I didnít need to convince anyone else that it was a great idea.
In a small way LostCousins is helping the older members of society - a good number of you are my age or older, and the opportunities LostCousins provides for you to connect with people who not only share your interest in family history, but are researching the same ancestors are certainly making the world a better place.
But I canít help thinking that if only BT had taken up my original idea it would have developed to the point that by now it would be saving lives - we need all the help we can get to beat the coronavirus that is sweeping round the world. Just last week this article in Science magazine emphasises how significant the unintended effects of social-distancing could be, quoting a meta-study from 2015 which found that chronic social isolation increased the risk of mortality by 29%.
We may not be able to visit our relatives and friends, but we can still talk to them over the phone, or see them via Skype.
About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Niklas ZennstrŲm, the Swede who co-founded Skype with a Dane (Janus Friis), a few years after I pitched my idea to British Telecom (see the previous article). He might be a billionaire, but he came across as a really nice guy - after he'd given his talk he was waiting for his coat in the cloakroom queue like the rest of us, rather than being whisked away by minders.
Originally designed to save money on phone calls, Skype is now used mostly for video calls - and because it works on most devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops it enables almost everyone who has an Internet connection to see their friends and relatives as they talk to them. And it's FREE!
At a time like this, when social contact is potentially fatal, it's more important than ever before to make use of technology. In some cases this will mean dragging yourself into the 21st century, in others it might mean buying an elderly friend or relative a cheap smartphone and setting it up for them.
By the way, I'm not an expert on Skype, I just use it - so in the unlikely event that you run into problems, please donít ask me for advice, instead do what I would do in the same situation, look online or ask for help on the LostCousins Forum.
Note: there are, of course, other ways of having video conversations with friends and relatives, but using Skype means that everyone can join in.
Self-isolating? Social distancing? Join the LostCousins Forum
My wife and I have been self-isolating since Sunday 15th March, and we had very limited contact with the outside world in the preceding week - I'm sure many of you are in a similar position. At a time like this it's comforting to be able to talk to other people - even if theyíre on the other side of the world - because we can help each in a practical way by sharing tips, and also give each other a boost by sharing experiences.
When you visit the LostCousins Forum you'll find people from all over the planet. But geographically diverse though they might be, they're all family historians, they all communicate in English, and they're all taking part in the LostCousins project to connect cousins around the world.
To qualify to join the LostCousins Forum you need a Match Potential of 1 or more. When you log-in at the LostCousins site look for My Summary in the menu that runs down the left side of the screen - your Match Potential is shown near the top of your My Summary page.
To increase your Match Potential add relatives from the censuses to your My Ancestors page. It'll go up quickest when you enter relatives from the 1881 censuses, because these are the ones most likely to connect you to your cousins. Even if you're starting from scratch you could probably reach the target in under an hour, but who cares if it takes a bit longer, youíre stuck at home anyway!
Tip: it doesn't matter if your ancestors left Britain before the 1881 Census because your cousins are descended from the branches of your tree - your many British cousins are descended from the many †branches that stayed behind.
I see in the news that a lot of people have postponed getting married simply because they cannot have the wedding reception and honeymoon - so much for true love!
Fortunately not everyone is so unromantic - on Friday a couple in New York (which last time I checked had more coronavirus cases than the whole of the UK) got married in the street with the ceremony officiated, from his 3rd floor window, by a friend who was authorised by the county clerk to perform marriages.
Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler not only deserve our congratulations on their marriage, but also our good wishes for long and happy life together! You can read the full story of their wedding here on the CNN website.
It wasn't a normal Mother's Day in the UK this year, and given the expectations that most of us will be confined to our homes for the next three months it wonít be a normal Easter either.
But there's one thing that won't change this year - LostCousins is going to be COMPLETELY FREE over the Easter period, which means that you will be able to send an invitation to any new cousins that you find - or, indeed, any that you have already found.
Now's the time to complete your My Ancestors page by entering your relatives from 1881 - donít wait until Easter, because that's when you'll be communicating with your new cousins. Start now and aim to finish before Easter.
Whilst it makes sense to start by entering the households of your direct ancestors, it's important to remember that ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree, so tracking the branches through to 1881 is the best way of finding your 'lost cousins'.
I don't like to finish on a gloomy note, but sadly some of your 'lost cousins' will pass away this year - which makes it all the more important that you connect with them now, while you still can!
On Friday the 'Forces Sweetheart', Dame Vera Lynn, celebrated her 103rd birthday - and according to this report in the Daily Telegraph the advice she gave her fans is remarkably similar to the advice I'm giving you in this newsletter:
"In a special interview to mark her 103rd birthday on Friday, Dame Vera urged Britons to remain positive, use time isolated at home to reconnect with their families and even rediscover the joy of writing letters to loved ones far away."
Congratulations Dame Vera - I shall sing 'Happy Birthday' twice when I wash my hands!
Findmypast increase subscriptions in the UK EFFECTIVE TUESDAY
It's just over 4 years since Findmypast last increased their prices in the UK, so it's not surprising that - given the billions of new records and articles that have been added in that period - they've decided it is time for another and although the increase in 2016 was a swingeing 20%, this time it's much more modest.
Indeed, one subscription is actually coming down in price - a 12 month Plus subscription is reducing in price by a modest 1p, from £120 to £119.99, though a 12 month Pro subscription goes up from £156 to £159.99, an increase of just over 2.5%
However, it's worth noting that if you live overseas the cost of anything you buy that's priced in pounds is likely to be a lot cheaper this week than it was a month ago †- because the pound sterling has fallen sharply against most major currencies.
LostCousins subscriptions are priced in pounds, so the fall of the pound presents a great opportunity for readers who live outside the UK to support my work by subscribing. For example, if youíre in the US it will cost you under $12 for 12 months (a dollar a month, in other words), whereas a month ago it would have been closer to $14.
It's worth mentioning that LostCousins subscriptions have NEVER increased in price - the cost was fixed at £10 for a single subscription (and £12.50 for a joint subscription covering two accounts) as long ago as 2005. And back then it would have cost a member in the US nearly $18 in their local currency.
It's not just American members who can snap up a bargain - Australian members would have paid around $24 in 2005, but now it's closer to $20. For Canadians the cost has come down from $21 to $17, whilst for New Zealanders it's down from $26 to $21.
LostCousins will keep going whatever happens, but I believe that by remaining independent I'm able to offer advice that's not only more credible, but also more useful. Wouldn't you agree?
Tip: to support LostCousins by purchasing a subscription simply click the logo at the top of the newsletter, then log in using the email address in the email you received telling you about this newsletter. If you canít remember your password you can get an instant email reminder by clicking Password reminder
Family Tree Live 2020 has been cancelled
I wasn't surprised to learn last week that Family Tree Live, due to take place in London's Alexandra Palace next month, has been cancelled. Winners of my New Year Competition who were going to receive tickets as prizes have been given an alternative prize.
Around the world elections and sporting events have been cancelled or rescheduled, but currently the US Census seems to be going ahead much as planned. This page on the census website will be updated with any changes.
First a confession - I've never been to Madame Tussaud's, though I did once go to the London Planetarium, which used to be next door, and was under the same ownership. And despite having spent 7 years learning French at school I persist in referring to the establishment as 'Madam Two-Swords', as that's what we English have called it for the best part of two centuries.
Anna Maria Grosholz, known as Marie, was baptised in 1761 in Strasbourg, close to France's border with Germany, around the same time that my great-great-great-great grandfather was born 100 miles away on the other side of the border. Like him she worked with her hands, and like him ended up in England but there the resemblance ends.
A posthumous child - according to the book her father was killed in the Seven Years War two months before her birth - she learned to create life-like wax models from a Dr Curtius, who gave her mother work as a domestic servant. Marie claimed that Curtius was her uncle; some have suggested that he was actually her father - whatever the truth he was certainly a father figure, and it was his influence that led to Madame Tussaud's.
By a strange coincidence a BBC4 documentary television programme about Madame Tussaud was re-shown while I was reading the book, so I had an opportunity to compare notes. Madame Tussaud's business was all about illusion, and it seems likely that she invented some of the stories about her early life - in particular she claimed to have been close to the French Royal Family in the years leading up to the 1789 Revolution, and their subsequent execution.
Note: the documentary referred to is not currently available online, but this is a link to the BBC iPlayer page.
The book is an interesting, and largely enjoyable read - though you may find some of the descriptions of how Madame Tussaud obtained and modelled the heads of those who had been executed a little gory! The book is well-referenced, but because it can be very difficult to separate fact from fiction in the case of someone who is a 'showman', I would suggest that you regard it as sceptically as you would any biography of a person who died long before the author was born.
Some of the reviews at Amazon criticise the book for being more about the times than the person - and whilst that's fair comment, I believe it makes for a better book.
At a time like this it's salutary to be reminded of a time when things were even worse - especially for women, whose valuable contribution was under-appreciated at the time, and arguably remains so today.
Lucy Adlington's lavishly-illustrated and well-researched book goes some way to redressing the balance, though clearly she's not writing from personal experience, since she mentions that her grandmother died in 2007 - my grandmothers died in 1947 and 1968. †
Donít expect this book to be about fashion, despite the title: the war was a time for 'make-do and mend', and the opportunities to impress were necessarily limited when clothes were rationed. Yes, there are lots of pictures of clothing, but they're pictures of what people actually wore, rather than what they aspired to wear.
At the start of Chapter 3 the author describes how in the USA women made clothes from flour sacks, or aprons from fertiliser sacks. It was poverty rather than wartime shortages that drove them to this, but when rationing was introduced in Britain even well-orff were, in the words of the proverb, forced to 'cut their coat according to their cloth'. However, we also learn that Queen Elizabeth (the mother of our present Queen) received considerably more coupons than other women. The UK government issued a series of information films featuring 'Mrs Sew and Sew' - you can see an example here on YouTube.
Like the author, I was surprised to discover that there was a female equivalent of the Home Guard †(immortalised in Dad's Army) - though they had to buy their own uniforms, so I suspect it was unofficial. There are chapters on women's roles in industry, in agriculture, and in the armed forces - but the author also finds time to look at some of the other challenges that women faced during the war, including cosmetics and grooming, pregnancy, shopping, and leisure activities.
I said at the beginning of this review that the book is well-researched, and this is demonstrated by the 13 pages of notes, 12 pages of bibliography, and the 9 page index to be found at the back of the book. There are lots of pictures, some of them modern day colour shots of authentic clothing, but there also many contemporary black and white photographs. One that stood out for me shows Margery Hall, a theatre nurse whose husband John was an officer in the RAF: his plane went missing when they had only been married for 6 weeks, and it wasn't until 2009 that the wreckage was discovered. John's wedding ring and a bracelet engraved with Margery's name were recovered from the remains.
But the most striking image is of a smiling group of workers, mostly women, on a day out - itís only when you read the caption, and discover that they were members of the SS from Auschwitz, that it becomes totally incongruous.
I'd put off reading this book because I didnít think, that as a man, I'd get much out of it - but I was wrong. In January I reviewed the book Children at War 1914-18 from the same publisher (though a different author); both look beyond the shores of Britain, which serves to demonstrate that nobody has it easy during wartime.
It's salutary to think that many of the women Lucy Adlington writes about in Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 about would have been children during the Great War. Some who lost their father in WW1 will have lost their husband or boyfriend in WW2; some whose mothers worked in munition factories in WW1 will have done the same in WW2. †Both books are well worth reading, especially so at a time when we're all suffering in one way or another.
Whilst there is a Kindle version, a book that is as lavishly-illustrated as this one deserves better.
I read the hardback, which is beautifully-produced and weighs a ton (metaphorically). The cover price is an equally hefty £30, but Amazon sell it for £24 in the UK, and there are Amazon Market place sellers offering even bigger savings (under £18 including delivery when I looked). Wordery have an even better price if you go to their website - and they'll delivery anywhere in the world.
The disasters of the 20th century are nothing compared to what we're experiencing in the 21st century, so in a sense this book by Nigel Blundell, in the Images of the Past series, is almost light relief.
The book begins with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ends with the sinking of the Estonia in 1994, which claimed more than four times as many lives as the better-known tragedy of the Herald of Free Enterprise. The common thread that links them all is human error - so itís a constant reminder of the fallibility of the human race.
Fortunately I'm a bit of a hoarder, so while others have been panic-buying, I've been able to fall back on the supplies that I normally have in my store cupboard. Sometimes they can be a little out of the date - the jar of chillies in brine that I opened last night had a best before date of February 2011, but they tasted fine to me, and they'd certainly lost none of their potency!
I was actually more worried about the root ginger, which had been in the bottom of the fridge for a few months, and was certainly past its best - but judicious trimming revealed a core that was perfectly edible, if a bit soggy. Sliced into thin batons with spring onions, then pan-fried with the addition of seasoning and a little rice wine vinegar, these visually sub-par ingredients made a tasty topping for sea bass fillets served on a bed of rice. Soy sauce provided the finishing touch - delicious!
Regular readers will know that I'm a keen forager, and that I regularly make jams and flavoured gins using berries from the hedgerows. But there's one thing that grows in abundance where we live that I've ignored in the past - stinging nettles.
This week we've been enjoying nettle soup: I had to modify the recipe because I didnít have all the ingredients, but it nevertheless makes a very tasty lunch, and a healthy one too. Nettles are bit like spinach, so I reckon they'd work well in a curry, whilst Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a recipe for nettle risotto with sorrel (another weed that is all too common in our garden).
But maybe one of you has an even better suggestion?
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......
Staying in contact is important at a time like this, so I'm aiming to send out rather more newsletters than usual over the next few months - you might even hear from me again before the end of March.
© Copyright 2020 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?