Newsletter - 6 April 2012
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 17 March 2012) please click here.
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).For you convenience, when you click on a link a new browser window or tab will open (so that you donít lose your place in the newsletter) - if nothing seems to happen then you need to enable pop-ups in your browser.
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!
Until midnight (London time) on 10th April you can access 750 million US records free at the Ancestry.co.uk site when you follow this link. The datasets in this offer include the entire 1930 US Census, World War 2 Draft Registrations (in which I found three of my 2nd cousins twice removed), numerous birth, marriage, and death indexes, plus migration and other indexes.
On some previous occasions Ancestry have only allowed access to the transcriptions, and not to the images - I'm glad to say that this time you can see both.
Tip: if you're thinking of taking out (or renewing) an Ancestry Worldwide subscription check out my tips column first - you might make some BIG savings!
We think of London as a single city, but in fact the City of Westminster has been in existence since 1540, when Henry VIII turned Westminster Abbey into a cathedral.
Until now it has been frustrating for researchers whose ancestors were born, married, or died in Westminster because most of the registers are missing from the London Metropolitan Archives collection at Ancestry. It's therefore good news that findmypast have launched the Westminster Collection, comprising over 1.3 million records taken from the registers of over 50 churches. More records - covering additional parishes but also including cemetery registers, wills, rate books, settlement examinations, workhouse admission and discharge books, bastardy, orphan and apprentice records, charity documents, and militia and watch records - will be going online in the next few months.
There is some duplication with the records online at Ancestry, because copies of some registers are held by both archives - but many of the records have never been online before. Even where there is duplication it's good to have a second transcription - early parish registers are notoriously difficult to decipher.
Last week Scotlandspeople added the 1915 Valuation Rolls, which were compiled by local assessors in the autumn and winter of 1914. You can find out more here, and there are also links to images of sample records.
Research at the National Archives by Oxford University historian Steven Gunn has found that from 1558-1560 nearly three-quarters of accidental deaths in England occurred between April and September (it seems reasonable to assume that there was a similar pattern in other years).
Many of the accidents involved cutting or moving wood - or falling out of trees - but animals, mainly horses, were another dangerous hazard for the first Elizabethans. You'll find further details in this article on the Oxford University website, and you might also be interested in this article on the BBC site which reported some of Dr Gunn's earlier findings.
It's important to bear in mind that Dr Gunn's research focused on accidents - deaths from illness, malnutrition, or starvation would have been much higher during the winter.
The timing of this new release is clearly designed with the centenary of the Titanic disaster in mind, as you'll see from the announcement on the findmypast website, but it's much more significant than that.
Findmypast have long had the most comprehensive set of birth, marriage, and death indexes - but now they have gone one better by including full colour scans of original entries taken from maritime records held at the National Archives. There are 30 different types of record, from 10 different record series, with over one million entries in all, and while most relate to deaths at sea (including the passengers and crew of the Titanic), there are nearly 39,000 births and a similar number of marriages, many of which took place near naval bases, rather than at sea.
Because the records come from a wide range of sources some of them - especially the birth and marriage entries - appear in more than one index. However you will often learn more information than you would from a single entry: for example, the GRO marriage indexes record the marriage of Thomas James C Pearson to Kathleen Charlotte M Smith in the 3rd quarter of 1906 in Eastry registration district, but the register held at TNA gives not only the precise date, but also the name of the church.
At the same time findmypast released a new dataset comprising over 1,000 service records for White Star Line officers and commanders, including all of the officers who served on the Titanic (you can search them here). The story behind these personnel records is typical - they were rescued by a now-retired employee when the company threw them out. (Well done, Ron!)
I've written before about the tendency to create myths around dramatic events such as the sinking of the Titanic, so I was interested to see a BBC News article about myths that have been created or reinforced by films about the great liner.
Myths can be harmful, especially if they are allowed to perpetuate - I recently had an email from Sandra, complaining that someone had stolen her great-great uncle!
John C Mabey was a 3rd Class steward on the liner who perished along with so many other crew, so Sandra was annoyed to discover an article giving his name as John Howard Mabey.† After considerable research Sandra discovered that a John Howard Mabey had indeed voyaged to the US in 1912 - but on a ship bound for New Orleans. You can follow Sandra's quest to put matters right on the Titanic forum.
Going back to Titanic movies, Wenda told me of an interesting coincidence in her tree: on her father's side she is related to William Mintram, a stoker on the Titanic - and on her mother's side she's related to Kate Winslet, star of the 1997 blockbuster!
And if you still aren't satiated by all the Titanic coverage, there's a one-hour lecture by Nick Barratt - probably Britain's most famous genealogist - at the Society of Genealogists on the afternoon of Wednesday 18th April. The subject is "An exploration of the Titanic and look at the impact on those who escaped the disaster, and what became of them in the ensuing years".
I was fascinated by an entry on the findmypast blog which featured the 1911 Census schedule for The Great Lafayette, a famous illusionist who tragically died on stage in a fire just a few weeks later. Although describing himself as single he lists a 16 year-old daughter named Beauty on the census form - but it turns out that Beauty was not a love-child, but a dog (who had been given to him by the renowned escapologist Harry Houdini). This isn't the only discrepancy on the form - he claimed to have been born in Los Angeles, but he was actually born in Munich, and his parents didn't bring him to the US until 1890.
The entry seems to be have been written in pencil, perhaps because he expected to be told by the enumerator to change it, and in the 'Infirmity' column he wrote "too good" - at least, that's what I think it says, although some of the contributors to the blog believe otherwise!
The Great Lafayette was quite a character and his death was almost as mysterious as his life. Click on the photograph to go to the website of modern day illusionist Dean Carnegie where you'll find more photographs and much more besides.
Including your spouse's relatives on your My Ancestors page is not only confusing for all concerned, it will prevent you getting the best results.
Opening a second account is easy - just click Register - and you can even use the same email address, just so long as the passwords are different. Using the same email address has a side benefit - when I'm sending out emails I usually won't send more than one to the same address. To switch from one account to the other, simply click Log-out, then log-in using the log-in details for the other account.
Of course, you can't be logged in to both accounts at the same time.... or can you? In fact there are two ways to achieve this: one is to have a second computer, but there's a far better solution that won't cost you a penny. All you need is a second browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, either of which can be downloaded free of charge (I'm assuming that you already have Internet Explorer).
Tip: if you've already entered your spouse's relatives on your own My Ancestors page you can copy them to a new account using Refer a Relative (one of the options on your My Referrals page).
This morning I got a phone call from someone who claimed to represent the 'Crime Protection Initiative'. As the caller's number was withheld I was wary even before I picked the phone up, so I casually asked 'Lewis' (almost certainly not his real name) whether his organisation was acting on behalf of the police.
His reply was a classic: "We're not, but the police are aware of us". I bet they are!
I don't know what the scam was in this case, but judging from Google searches they seem to be operating in many parts of the UK - so you could be next. Never divulge information to someone who calls you, no matter who they claim to be, or what they ask about - answering even the most innocuous question can give them the clues they need to progress to the next stage of the fraud.
Whilst we're on the subject of scams, any email you receive that asks you to forward it to everyone you know is a scam of some sort - it's a modern version of a 'chain letter'. Sometimes there's an apparent link to a charity or other worthy cause, but I'd certainly never support a charity that engaged in such tactics, and I suspect very few are aware of how their name is used.
Just because there's no money involved doesn't make an email innocuous - for a start, there might be a virus attached.
Politically-motivated emails can be just as dangerous - extremists strike at the heart of our democratic society by propagating false rumours (Google 'Uncle Remus scam' to see some of the milder examples), so whatever your personal views don't help them succeed. Bear in mind that one of the main reasons people who forward such scurrilous emails do so without first checking the facts is because the content reinforces their prejudices - so anyone who forwards them risks appearing not only foolish but bigoted.
It's great that both the current government and the previous one have allowed citizens to post online petitions - but it isn't always the answer.
For example, over the past 6 months I've had dozens of emails directing me to a petition that suggests that the General Register Office would be able to offer far low prices if they offered plain paper copies of register entries rather than certificates. Several family history societies have told their members about the petition, and it was even reported in the latest Ezine from the Federation of Family History Societies.
However, anyone who reads the LostCousins newsletter regularly will know that most of the costs of providing certificates are accounted for by wages, IT and property costs, and other overheads - which won't change depending on the type of paper used. Indeed, if you look back at my May 2010 newsletter you'll see that "buying the special paper and printing the certificates costs just 16p per certificate".
Knocking 10p or 15p off the cost of producing certificates clearly isn't going to make much difference to the GRO's costs, so any reduction in the price would be minimal. Is it really worth collecting 100,000 signatures and taking up valuable Parliamentary time simply to secure a reduction in price from £9.25 to £9.10? If only the petitioner had been a LostCousins member he might have put forward a more practical solution.
A much better alternative is proposed by another petition. Scanning historic BMD registers and making them available online is something I've been suggesting for many years - after all, it would only bring England & Wales in line with Scotland. If you're going to sign any petition, this is the one that makes most sense.
Personally I feel that petitions should be a last resort, not a first resort. By asking the right questions and talking to the right people there's an awful lot that we can achieve without resorting to mob rule.
For example, after my article on the GRO was published in Family History Monthly 2 months ago the Registrar General herself was forced to defend her position in an article in the current issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Admittedly it was a case of "same old GRO" (to borrow a well-worn phrase from the Leader of the Opposition), but at least she's now arguing her case in a more public arena.
What we really need is for the GRO to focus on what might be done, rather than what can't be done. Surely in the 21st century government departments should be able to offer valuable new services to the public without having to go back to parliament every time - just so long as the new services don't harm anyone?
Is there even one person who has been harmed by the placing of digitised BMD registers on the Scotlandspeople site? I very much doubt it (although I've no doubt there were some objections from busybodies when the proposal was put forward).
Why can't England & Wales follow the example of Scotland? The Registrar General says that it would require changes in legislation - but if it does, then "the law is an ass" (to quote Charles Dickens). The Law Commission has recently called for redundant legislation to be scrapped (see this BBC News article). Perhaps when the government abolishes the 1696 Act to fund the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral and the numerous Acts relating to Indian railways they could also spruce up the 1836 Acts that created the General Register Office?
I stumbled across this T-shirt and matching mug quite by accident when I was searching at Amazon for My Ancestors Were Londoners, a book by Cliff Webb which is the Society of Genealogists Book of the Month for April.
I know it's a truism - genetically half our ancestors must have been women - but you don't always get that impression when you look at family trees, because so often it's the male lines that have been researched the most.
Of course, in the days before personal computers and the Internet it was scarcely practical to research every line: following one or two surnames was all that some researchers could manage. But nowadays there's little reason to give so much emphasis to our male ancestors.
Until recently I didn't know of the existence of the Oral History Society, which promotes the collection, preservation and use of recorded memories of the past. However it's an issue that's clearly of enormous interest to family historians, so I thought you might be interested in an introductory course that they are running. The next presentation is in Sheffield on 2nd May, but I'm sure there will be others in different locations.
It's not unusual for individuals to be recorded more than once in the same census, whether as a result of confusion or a last minute change of plans - but how often do we look for such occurrences? We normally stop searching when we've found the person we're looking for, so the instances we know about could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Alison wrote to tell me that she has three instances in her tree, and that's just in the 1880/81 censuses! In 1881 Mary Miles and her son Alick are recorded not only with Mary's husband in Metfield, Suffolk but also with her father, Stephen Hipkin, in Honingham, Norfolk. On the same census David Pegg and his lodger William West were recorded on their boat 'Olive Branch' in the harbour at Clee, Norfolk but also at home with the rest of their families.
I found the third instance particularly interesting: Thomas Etherington was a Mormon pioneer from England who in the 1880 US census is shown as living in Weber, Utah with BOTH of his wives. Well done, Alison, for spotting all these duplications!
Tip: if one of your relatives is recorded more than once on the censuses we use at LostCousins, whether on the same census or different ones, I recommend that you enter both on your My Ancestors page - after all, your cousins might have only found one of the entries. Remember that the My Ancestors page is really a list of census entries, not a list of relatives - that's the big difference between LostCousins and other sites that aim to link you with your cousins.
In 2006 I warned members that delays of 6 months were common when sending off for copies of Army records, but recent reports suggest that the delays of around a year can now be expected.
As I said in my original article the delays aren't a reason to delay sending your request - they're a reason to do it as soon as possible! You'll find all the details here.
Another delay involves the Kent records held in the Canterbury Cathedral archives.† These were expected to be online at findmypast by now, but so far there is no sign of them - does anybody know why?
First, a reminder for anyone in the US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand who has a Worldwide Ancestry subscription that it's currently significantly cheaper to buy your subscription from Ancestry's UK site.
It's mostly a result of exchange rates and differing tax rates. UK subscribers pay £155.40 but if you live in the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you'll only be charged £135.13, equivalent to US$215, C$213, A$208 or NZ$262 as I write. In each case it's a significant saving on the $299 or more that you'll be charged by your local site (you could be paying as much as A$449!).
Tip: you'll only be quoted the lower rate once you have provided your address - until then you'll be shown the £155.40 rate.
With a Worldwide subscription you can use any of Ancestry's sites - it doesn't matter which one you buy your subscription from. Click here to go straight to Ancestry.co.uk (otherwise Ancestry will try to redirect you to your local site).
If you live in the UK I hope you took my advice to buy 1st and 2nd Class stamps before this month's price enormous increase - but if not you've still got a little extra time. On 30th April the cost of a 2nd Class stamp will be going up from 36p to 50p (+39%) and a 1st Class stamp from 46p 60p (+30%).
Talking of postage stamps, I was reminded by a recent article in Dick Eastman's blog that it's possible to extract DNA from the gum of postage stamps affixed to envelopes (it's only very recently that self-adhesive stamps have become commonplace). Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to solve genealogical mysteries by retrospectively testing our ancestors?
So far as I know there aren't currently any commercial DNA testing laboratories that offer this service, but I'm sure it is only a matter of time. I shall have to drop an email to Family Tree DNA, since they're the company that most family historians recommend!
Hiring a car on holiday can be a lot more expensive than you expect, even when it's out of season. By booking online in advance we got a bargain price - just £53 for 10 days' hire in the Algarve, but had to pay 89 Euros (about £75) for a tank of fuel, even though we were only able to use half of it. Also in the small print was a note that their fuel price was higher than in petrol stations, so even the fuel we did use was expensive (though not as expensive as the fuel we were unable to use). In effect the hire cost me almost twice what I expected to pay.†
Something else they didn't tell me about was the new toll system on the motorway. I don't mind paying tolls, but in this case there were no toll booths. At first I wondered if the system hadn't come into effect yet, but I eventually discovered that cars are tracked by cameras, and that locals have little gadgets called transponders in their car (sounds like something out of Star Trek, doesn't it?). Wouldn't it have been nice if the hire company had warned me, or provided a transponder?
As it was we spent our first weekend worrying whether we would be fined, for late payment - though we eventually discovered that we could pay the toll charge in the local post office (and fortunately the lady there spoke very good English). By the way, don't let this experience put you off going to Portugal for your holidays - the people are very friendly, and they desperately need more tourists.
Finally an Easter present for you - take out (or renew) a LostCousins subscription between now and Tuesday and you'll get an extra month completely free when you quote the offer code EASTEREGG
Tip: you can renew/extend your subscription at any time - you don't have to wait for your existing subscription to expire.
This where any last minute amendments will be recorded or highlighted.
Please keep sending in your news and tips - many of the articles in this newsletter result from suggestions from readers like you!
© Copyright 2012 Peter Calver
You may link to this newsletter, and I have included bookmarks so you can - if you wish - link to a specific article by copying the relevant entry in the list of contents at the beginning of the newsletter. However, please email me first if you would like to re-publish any part of the newsletter on your own website or in any other format.