Newsletter - April 17, 2010



·        You heard it first...

·        Will history be repeated?

·        The GRO plays politics

·        Which censuses does LostCousins use?

·        Dating photographs

·        National Burial Index 3rd edition

·        Northern Ireland - BMD indexes

·        Access to the 1939 National Register

·        Electoral roll site has major flaw

·        Visiting archives? Take the right identification

·        WDYTYA? US series to air in the UK

·        TV programmes to look out for

·        Railway shareholders online

·        Register surprise

·        Finding this newsletter hard to read?

·        Peter's Tips

·        Have you tried.....

·        Stop Press



About this newsletter

The LostCousins newsletter is published twice a month on average, and all LostCousins members are notified by email when a new edition is available (unless they opt out). To access the previous newsletter (dated April 1, 2010) please click here. Each newsletter links to the one before, and you can go back to February 2009 when the newsletter first went online; in due course there will be an online index to articles.


Whenever possible links are included to the websites mentioned in the newsletter (they are highlighted in blue or purple and underlined, so you can't miss them). Note: when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open so that you don’t lose your place in the newsletter.


Although the newsletters are hosted at LostCousins, they are not part of the main website. Click here to go to the main website and search for your living relatives.


You heard it first….

As I was writing this newsletter one of the two big news stories was the volcanic eruption in Iceland, which resulted in all commercial flights to or from the UK (and much of north-western Europe) being grounded because of the danger from ashes and rock particles in the atmosphere. Many people have been stunned that an event so far away could have such an impact on life in Britain.


LostCousins members won't have been surprised, however, because in February 2008 I wrote in my newsletter about the impact of the 1783 eruption in Iceland:




In June 1783 the Laki volcano in Iceland began to erupt, producing in the months that followed clouds of volcanic gases 80 times greater than in the Mount St Helens eruption of 1980. The impact of the gases on the climate was far-reaching - in the eastern United States the winter of 1783-84 was almost 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) colder than average, and icebergs floated down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico.


Half of the horses and cattle, and three-quarters of the sheep on Iceland died, but the death and destruction was far more widespread. It has been estimated that 23,000 people died in England as a result of the eruption - in parts there were twice as many deaths as in a normal summer - and some historians believe that as many of 5% of the French population died in a single year.


Perhaps the next time you're searching parish registers you'll look particularly closely at the burials register for the summer of 1783….


So far there is no indication that the effects of the current eruption will be as cataclysmic; nevertheless the NHS has warned people with asthma and other respiratory diseases to take precautions, according to this BBC article.


Will history be repeated?

The other big story here in Britain is, of course, the forthcoming General Election - which polls predict will end in a stalemate with no one party having a clear majority. I'm old enough to recall the last time this happened and to remember the devastating impact it had on the political and economic stability of the UK (see this Guardian article if you need a reminder of how bad things were in the 1970s).


It's said that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. In 1974 I made the mistake of not voting - I certainly won't make the same mistake this time!


The GRO plays politics

At least, I think that's what is happening. On March 3 I submitted a Freedom of Information request in order to discover the true facts and figures underlying the 32% increase in the price of copy birth, marriage, and death certificates which had been announced 2 days previously. Under the Act this information should have been supplied within 20 working days, ie by April 1.


You may recall that in my last newsletter I mentioned that the deadline had passed, which meant that the GRO had breached the guideline set down by the Information Commissioner. By April 7 I was still waiting, and so I sent a reminder - which was ignored. Eventually, on April 15 I telephoned them - only to be told that the response had been drafted for some time, but that the approval process was taking longer than anticipated.


Now, I may be doing them a disservice, but it certainly seems as if the GRO want to ensure that the release of this information won't embarrass their political masters. So much for Freedom of Information!


Which censuses does LostCousins use?

Over the past 2 weeks I've been writing to members who haven't yet made use of LostCousins to search for their living relatives. You might think "that's their decision, surely" but on the other hand, if members don't enter any data, not only can I not find their 'lost cousins', their cousins can't find them.


One of things that became clear from the correspondence that ensued is that many members aren't aware that there are now SIX censuses that LostCousins supports, covering not just Britain, but also the USA, Canada, and Ireland - they are listed on the Census Links page.


Of those censuses four are available FREE online, which vastly extends their reach - indeed, it's because they are available free that I chose those particular census years.


Why is there typically only one census year for each country? Because automatic matching can only be 100% accurate if everyone takes the information from the SAME source (I couldn't reliably match your entries from one year with your cousin's entries from another).


How accurate is LostCousins matching system? So far it hasn't made a single error in the 6 years since the site began! That's doesn't mean there haven't been any errors at all - occasionally a member will identify the wrong person on the census - but the overall chance of an incorrect match is just 1 in 1000.


Dating photographs

Isn't it frustrating when you come across an old family photograph, but can't be certain when it was taken - or even which generation of the family are shown? Who Do You Think You Are? magazine recently named the top websites for dating photographs, and I'm sure they won't mind me passing their tips on to you:


(1) Victorian & Edwardian photographs has an enormous collection of photographs that you can compare against your own

(2) PhotoLondon has a database of 9000 photographers who worked in the London area, with short biographical notes that will help you date the photographs they took.

(3) Early Photographers has a dating calculator for postcards and cartes de visite

(4) Great War Forum would be useful if you have a photograph of your ancestor in uniform

(5) Wedding Fashion has photographs of wedding dresses from the Victorian era onwards


National Burial Index 3rd edition

The new edition of the National Burial Index, compiled by the Federation of Family History Societies from information collected by member societies has over 18 million records covering most counties in England & Wales. If you already own the 2nd edition you can upgrade for a mere £15; otherwise the cost is £30. For more details of the coverage, or to obtain an order form click here.


Most of the NBI entries (and millions of other burial records) are online at findmypast.


Northern Ireland - BMD indexes

As regular readers will know, you can search indexes of births, marriages and deaths for Ireland free of charge at the FamilySearch pilot site. The indexes cover the whole of Ireland until 1921, then the Republic of Ireland from 1922 onwards (they extend to 1958).


So far as I can ascertain, the ONLY way to search the BMD indexes for Northern Ireland for the period from 1922 onwards is to visit the General Register Office for Northern Ireland in Belfast.


When I emailed the GRONI to find out whether they had any plans to make the indexes available online I discovered that there is legislation in hand that will make the registers available to the public on a similar basis to the Scottish registers, ie births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years old, and deaths over 50 years old. However, there seems to be no specific provision in the bill for wider access to the indexes, and I am making further enquires.


Access to the 1939 National Register

As you will know from previous articles, access under the Freedom of Information Act to the register for England & Wales costs £42 per household. By contrast, the General Register Office for Scotland, which holds the section of the register relating to Scotland is charging only £13, though this is per individual, not per household.


In Northern Ireland the relevant section of the register is held by the Public Records Office for Northern Ireland, which does not currently appear to charge for access - although I'm sure that this will change in the near future. Chris Paton, the well-known writer on Scottish genealogy (and, like so many experts, a LostCousins member), obtained information relating to his grandfather from PRONI recently. For full details see the article in his Scottish Genealogy News and Events blog.


Electoral roll site has major flaw

The very first site to offer online access to the UK Electoral Roll was, and over the past decade I've often taken advantage of their free search to verify information. Or at least, I used to…..


What I discovered recently is that sometimes you'll be told there are no results even when there are, and when I investigated further I found that it made a difference which web browser I used!


Another site that offers access to the Electoral Roll is Tracesmart, and whilst they don't seem to offer any form of free search, the minimum amount you have to spend to see paid results is much lower (£3.49 rather than £34.95). Has anyone found a better site?


Note: if you've never searched the Electoral Roll before you need to be aware that since 2003 voters have been able to opt out of the online version - and about half the population has done so (me included!).


Visiting archives? Take the right identification

When Nancy came over to England from Canada she not only planned to visit the 'lost cousin' she had found through my site, she also wanted to visit the London Metropolitan Archives to examine some original documents. Imagine her surprise to be told that her passport wasn't sufficient identification, because it didn't show her address.


I had a similar problem the last time I visited the Essex Records Office. Arriving early for a lecture I thought I'd make use of the time to look up the 1910 'Doomsday' records - but not having had the foresight to bring a utility bill with me I was unable to prove my address. Ironically on my previous visit to the Records Office I had been the guest speaker - but that counted for nothing.


In general, if there's a chance that you will want to look at original documents, make sure you can not only prove who you are but where you live. This page on the National Archives website has a very useful guide to what they consider acceptable.


WDYTYA? US series to air in the UK

Whilst we've had 5 years to enjoy Who Do You Think You are? in Britain, it was only this spring that a US series began on NBC. It's now been revealed that 4 of the episodes will be shown on BBC One, starting on April 25 (or perhaps on a later date - there is no mention of it in my copy of the Radio Times). Ancestry sponsors the series in the US - it will be interesting to see whether this aspect of the programme is airbrushed out when it is shown on public television in the UK.


TV programmes to look out for

Over the next week there are two other TV series that you might find interesting (I'll certainly be recording them so that I can view them at my leisure). The Beauty of Maps is a 4-part series that will be showing at 8.30pm on BBC4 from Monday to Thursday; following on at 9pm on Monday is the first part of a Channel 4 series called Blitz Street in which a row of terraced houses specially built for the series is torn apart by a series of explosions that recreate the trauma of the Blitz.


Railway shareholders online

One of the more esoteric databases in the library of the Society of Genealogists is an Index of Great Western Railway Shareholders from 1835-1932. Mentioned in the index are not just shareholders, but also executors and beneficiaries - in total there are about 440,000 names.


Whilst none of my relatives were rich enough to own shares, I did find a name I knew well. Long before I began to research my own tree I researched the family of William Aldam and his wife Mary Wright: she was the daughter of a parson, he was an MP with interests in canals and railways. My interest began when I acquired hundreds of letters addressed to Mary, some written before and some after her marriage - it is a fascinating collection spanning 30 years that gives a wonderful insight into the private life of a Victorian lady, and one day I may share some of the letters with you.


Anyway, I digress... what I really wanted to tell you is that the Index of Great Western Railway Shareholders is now available online at findmypast.


Register surprise

I've come across some strange entries in parish registers before, but this was totally unexpected:


For Epileptic Fits

Get some Missletoe leaves. Bake them in an oven till they will Powder, take as much of the Powder as will lay upon a sixpence in the morning fasting, in a Wine Glass of Wine, or Beer. Continue the same.


I have known the above to cure epilepsy in one Dose only. Try it.


Geo. Pawson 1847, Little Tey


George Pawson was Rector of the parish church of Little Tey, in Essex, from 1806-54. Many of the Essex parish registers are online, and whilst they aren't indexed, the quality of the scans is so good that it is a joy to browse through them!


Finding this newsletter hard to read?

From time to time I get emails from members who have trouble reading my newsletters - typically they ask me to increase the font size, or reduce the line length.


The good news is that if you have a modern browser both of these are under YOUR control. To change the text size hold down the Ctrl key and click + or - and to change the line length simply change the size of the browser window.


Peter's Tips

Whether I'm visiting records offices, attending a family history show, or visiting one of my aged relatives, I always have my netbook with me. A netbook is a lightweight laptop computer with a smallish screen but a much longer battery life than usual, and until recently I used an Asus PC-901, an attractive looking computer, but with two fatal flaws - the keyboard and the storage capacity.


For some time I've been looking at the Samsung range, and when they launched the N210 in January I was one of the first to buy it - a decision I've never regretted. Samsung claim up to 12 hours battery life (depending on the settings), and since I've never yet managed to run the battery down I have no reason to doubt their claims. The keyboard is an absolute dream!


The best price I've found is at Amazon, where you can also read user reviews. It's available in black or white - I chose white, and am very happy with my choice.


When I was at school in the early 60s one of my friends introduced me to a scurrilous magazine called Private Eye and edited by a young chap called Richard Ingrams. Nearly half a century on, Ingrams is older and perhaps wiser, but still a magazine editor - for The Oldie.


If you like my style of writing then you'll probably enjoy reading The Oldie as much as I do - it's crammed full of writers who you probably thought were dead, though they do allow one or two young whippersnappers to contribute, possibly to comply with the Age Discrimination legislation. My eventual aim is to persuade them that they should have a regular column on family history....


Have you tried....

I wrote about Google Street View shortly after it was launched, but at that time the coverage was very limited. Now most of Britain's streets are covered by photographs, so the chances of finding a picture of the house where your ancestor used to live is pretty good (assuming that it is still standing). In Google Maps simply drag the little yellow man onto the map - the streets which have been photographed will be outlined in blue.


Though almost all of London has been photographed, it's ironic that one street that you can't view is Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister. Mind you, we'll probably see more than enough pictures of the world's best-known front door over the next 3 weeks!


Stop Press

This is where any late updates will appear.


That's all for now - I hope you've found some of the articles relevant to you and your family tree.


If you want to show your appreciation then the best way of doing this would be to add an extra couple of households to your My Ancestors page (it only takes 1 or 2 minutes per household). Much as I enjoy receiving complimentary emails, the true measure of my success is the number of 'lost cousins' who make contact, and it's the data that you provide that allows me to match you with your living relatives.

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated