1st March 2008
Upstairs, downstairs - where were YOUR ancestors? "Upstairs, Downstairs" was one of the most successful TV series of the 1970s, winning awards on both sides of the Atlantic as it told the tale of the Bellamy family and their servants. But what was an enjoyable drama for us could have been grim reality for our ancestors, because in late 19th century England over a quarter of girls aged 15-19 were live-in servants and for most of them their only hope of escape from a life of drudgery was to marry.
Whether your ancestors were "upstairs" or "downstairs" you can now use the LostCousins site to look for the descendants of the people they lived with - whether employees, co-workers, or employers - who may well have known them better than their own family.
It's a chance to get behind the stark facts set out on censuses and certificates and find out more about how people really lived. For example, the household accounts may have been preserved, revealing how much each member of staff was paid - or perhaps one of the servant girls kept a scrapbook or a diary.
Wealthy families often had at least two residences - a house in town and an estate in the country - but this typically won't be obvious from censuses, since people couldn't be in two places at once. Many domestic staff would re-locate with their masters, and this frequently explains how romance could blossom between people born on the opposite sides of the country.
With luck you might solve a mystery that has lasted more than a century such as whether the father of an illegitimate child was the heir to a fortune, or a humble stable lad. (Did another servant leave the household at around the same time? Was one of the sons sent abroad, ostensibly to broaden his mind?)
Some members will have relatives who worked for famous politicians or celebrities, for members of the aristocracy, or even for royal personages. Who knows what you might discover by contacting the descendants of a fellow servant, or a member of the employer's family?
The LostCousins website has a unique system that matches people with a common interest automatically, confidentially, and with virtually 100% accuracy. But what makes the LostCousins really special is this - you'll know how you're related or otherwise connected to the other member even before you get in touch!
All this is achieved with a very simple system that utilises census data as a 'key' to open the door to new contacts, new information, and new opportunities. Once LostCousins members have entered their information from the census it takes just one click to look matches with the data entered by other members, and you can repeat the search as often as you like.
Because the LostCousins system is fully automatic the information members enter remains hidden - there's no chance that anyone else can see your entries. At a time when concern is increasing over the disclosure of confidential personal data it's reassuring to know that, from the very beginning, the LostCousins system was designed to protect members' privacy.
How much extra will members have to pay to use these new features? Nothing - basic membership of LostCousins remains FREE and, for those who want to upgrade, a 12-month subscription is still only £10 ($20).
To find descendants of your ancestors' employers, employees, or co-workers simply enter them on your My Ancestors page and specify the relationship as 'Employment'. Then, when you click the Search button, we'll let you know what connections we can find!
For the latest LostCousins member newsletter click here