Getting started at LostCousins
by Peter Calver
It's surprisingly easy to search for living relatives at the LostCousins site, and in this article I'm going to demonstrate how you can use census information you've found (using free searches in the 1881 England & Wales Census at findmypast.co.uk) to connect with your living relatives.
Start by clicking here to go to the 1881 Census search page (please note that the Scotland Census isn't available free online):
As you can see, I've typed in the name of my great-grandfather, John Calver, and entered his approximate date of birth (ages are often wrong on the census, but hopefully a 5 year range will be sufficient
I could enter more information in the other boxes on the form but there's the danger that some small discrepancy will prevent the right record being found - unless you're looking for someone with a very common name it's best to enter as little as possible on the Search form (you can always enter more if necessary).
Here's what I get when I click the Search button:
The last entry down is the one I'm looking for - my ancestor was born in Great Barton, Suffolk and although his birthplace isn't shown quite correctly, it's close enough.
Tip: it's usually best not to enter a birthplace when you're searching the census because they were so often written down incorrectly, or mistranscribed. And a surprisingly large number of people simply didn't know where they were born - you might well know more about where your ancestor was born than he did!
When I click the <![if !vml]><![endif]> symbol at the end of the line I get the following page, which shows all the members of his household:
This is great - on a single page I've got all the information I need to be able to enter my great-grandfather and his family at LostCousins! I usually print the page for easy reference, but it isn't essential.
Now open another tab in your browser (or another browser window), log-in to your LostCousins account, and click My Ancestors in the menu that runs down the left hand side of the screen:
Tip: if you haven't entered any relatives on your My Ancestors page the 'How to use this page' advice is displayed by default; once you start entering information it will be hidden, but you can make it visible again by clicking <![if !vml]><![endif]>at the top right.
To enter your first relative click <![if !vml]><![endif]> at the top of the page (as you'll see shortly, there's a quicker and easier way to add someone to an existing household):
The instructions on the form are there to help you, and answer most of the questions you might have; they vary depending on the census. Always start by checking that the correct census is selected - if not, click the arrow and choose the right one from the dropdown menu, ie:
The form might look a bit daunting the first time, but remember what I said about the printout from findmypast - it contains ALL of the information you need. Start by entering the census references - these are important because they identify the precise page on the census (out of over a million pages) where the household can be found:
I've highlighted the census references just in case you didn't spot them. RG11 is the National Archives reference for this census - you don't need to enter it because it's the same for every record in this census, but it's useful to know what it means.
The good news is that you only need to enter these references once for each household - and whilst households can be split over two census pages, for simplicity we use the references for the head of household to cover everyone.
Next enter your relative's surname, first name, middle names or initials (if shown on the census), and age:
Note that on this part of the form you don't need to worry about entering capital letters - however you type a name it will end up with the first letter, and only the first letter, capitalised. This saves you time and ensures consistency.
Next choose the appropriate relationship - this is important. Someone from whom you are directly descended is a direct ancestor - this includes your parents, their parents (your grandparents), their parents (your great-grandparents), and so on as far back as you've been able to research.
Tip: you can download a blank Ancestor Chart from the LostCousins site - it's got spaces for 5 generations of your direct ancestors, all the way back to your 32 great-great-great grandparents. The Ancestor Chart shows a number for each which defines their position on your tree - entering the Ancestor (or Ahnentafel) Number in the box provided is a very good idea (although it isn't compulsory).
Most of the people on your family tree - and most of the people you'll be entering on your My Ancestors page - are blood relatives - so called because they share some of your ancestors (and some of your DNA).
Not everyone on your tree shares your ancestors - there will be some who are only connected to you by marriage, and there could also be some who are related by adoption (legal or otherwise - remember that adoption was only legally regulated from 1927).
Note: it's also possible to enter people who aren't on your tree, but why you might want to do that is beyond the scope of this article. However it's worth mentioning now that you shouldn't enter your spouse's relatives or a friend's relatives (because the LostCousins system won't work properly); instead open a separate LostCousins account for the other person, even if you're the one doing the research on their behalf (you can use your own email address if you wish).
That's all the information that needs to be entered. But if you wish you can also complete the optional part of the form - this might include corrections or information such as a married woman's maiden name. Whether you add this optional information is up to you - it's primarily for your own use - but I do recommend that if your relative's surname is shown wrongly you enter the correct spelling and that you also enter maiden names where known. Information you enter in the optional part of the form isn't automatically capitalised.
Finally click <![if !vml]><![endif]> to save the information you've entered - here's an example of what you'll see next:
Now that you've entered the first person in the household, usually the head of household, the next step is to enter the other members. Remember that I said earlier that this would be easy - I can simply click the <![if !vml]><![endif]>symbol at the end of the line to add another member of John Calver's household:
All the information on the form has been filled in automatically - all I need to enter for my great-grandmother Emily is her forename, her age, and her relationship (she's also a direct ancestor, or course).
So whilst it might have taken you 30 seconds to enter the first person in a household, the others could take 10 seconds or less - typically an entire household will take just 1 or 2 minutes:
Once you've finished entering your first household click <![if !vml]><![endif]> to start on the next - it really IS that easy! The more relatives you enter the more cousins you're likely to find - not just immediately, but over the course of your membership - so if you have time, enter ALL the relatives you can find on the 1881 Census.
Tip: whilst you're entering relatives only the current household is shown - this makes the process much faster, especially for those members who have thousands (!) of entries
The most exciting part is when you search for 'lost cousins', which you can do at any time by clicking the <![if !vml]><![endif]> button. Each time you press the button EVERY entry on your My Ancestors page - not just the most recent - is compared against the millions of entries made by other members, yet you'll find out in a matter of a few seconds what new matches have been found!
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>If you don't want to print out the page at findmypast which shows the household you're planning to enter another option is to open a second browser window (rather than having two tabs in the same browser window) - this enables you to see the page at findmypast whilst you're entering the data on your My Ancestors page.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Perhaps surprisingly, the relatives most likely to link you to your 'lost cousins' aren't your direct ancestors or the members of their households, but the members of their extended families. Nevertheless it makes sense to start by entering the households of your direct ancestors - but don't stop there!
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>More of your cousins have entered relatives from the 1881 Census than 1841 or 1911; if you're looking to connect with new cousins it's best to delay entering anyone from 1841 or 1911 until you've entered everyone you can find in 1881.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Relatives in a household are shown in the order of entry so, if it's important to you that they appear on your My Ancestors page in the same order as on the census, then that's the order in which you should enter them. However, it won't affect your chances of finding cousins because the site matches individual relatives, not households.