Newsletter - 31 October 2010
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 17 October 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 or articles 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 donít lose your place in the newsletter - you may need to enable pop-ups.
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.
For over a year the parish registers held by the London Metropolitan Archives have been online at Ancestry, but until pre-1813 baptisms and burials have been unindexed, as have pre-1754 marriages - making it very difficult to find early entries.
I was delighted to learn that these early registers have now been fully indexed, although fading ink and poor handwriting has meant that some transcriptions are incomplete.
Note: when you're searching for marriages in the period 1754-1812 the main source is London Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921, but I did notice a handful of marriages from this period in the new dataset - so be on the safe side I'd suggest searching both.
In my tips column in the last newsletter I reminded members that most of them can get free access to many online databases at their local library. But what if you don't live in the UK - where does that leave you?
I've recently discovered that libraries in some counties (eg Lancashire) are prepared to allow non-residents to become members, just so long as they have a connection with the county - for example, an ancestor who lived there. Once you're a member you'll be able to access most of the databases from home - even if you're on the other side of the world.
Of course, a few services - such as Ancestry - can only be used within the library building. But the newspaper archives, which many people find invaluable, can usually be accessed remotely.
Note: it's also worth checking what is available free at your local LDS Family History Centre.
It has been proposed that in future Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies in Hertford will open for only 38.5 hours a week instead of 49 - this will be implemented by closing completely on Mondays and eliminating evening opening on Thursday. Public libraries throughout Hertfordshire will also be opening for shorter hours.
At the same time it is being suggested that the historical registers of births, marriages, and deaths be held in one location (Hatfield) rather than being spread out between 8 different sites. As well as saving costs this could make it simpler for family historians seeking copy certificates, though I suspect some researchers will be adversely affected.
I would be very surprised if Hertfordshire is the only county planning cutbacks. To comment on the Hertfordshire proposals follow the link above.
It's not all bad news from HALS - since 7th October it has been possibly to search an index of pre-1858 Hertfordshire wills, some going as far back as 1413! Though I haven't identified any of my ancestors in the wills index, several of them are recorded in the marriage indexes from 1538-1922 at the same site. Click here to see what else is available, or to carry out a free search.
Whilst visiting the HALS site I noticed that on Wednesday 10th November they are holding a one-day course entitled Life in the Workhouse - and as my great-great-great grandmother died in Watford Union workhouse in 1855 I'm tempted to go along to see what I can find out.
I discovered recently that some workhouses issued tokens that were used as coinage - and all because I noticed an 1812 Birmingham Workhouse token for sale on eBay. I then discovered this page which has information and pictures of tokens, some as old as 1666.
I suspect that a primary motivation for the issue of tokens was to ensure that money provided to feed a starving family wasn't frittered away on drink, but it seems that it was also prompted by a shortage of low value coins in the early 19th century.
If you search at eBay for 'workhouse' you should not only find the odd token for sale, but also other items relating to the institutions.
Findmypast have announced that not only will they be digitising, transcribing, and indexing parish registers for Wales† - a total of 893,000 images and 8 million entries, they will also be making them available free through all county archives in Wales.
This is a massive project that will take two years to come to a fruition, but as anyone who has struggled to research in Wales will know, it's far more difficult than England - so it will be well worth waiting for.
One proviso - as far as I can see this project only covers the registers for the established church, and not non-conformist churches and chapels, which were and are numerous in Wales - indeed, by 1851 75% of the population were non-conformists. However between 1754 and 1837 they would still have married in the parish church, and might well have been buried there, as many non-conformist churches did not have their own burial grounds.
GRO pat themselves on the back
The General Register Office for England & Wales have conducted a customer satisfaction survey in the wake of April's unwelcome price rises, and they're delighted with the results. Apparently 97% of customers would be likely to recommend the services of the GRO to a friend, and 80% are happy with the time it takes to receive certificates.
But wait a minute - is that 97% figure really as convincing as it sounds? Considering that the GRO is the only organisation able to supply copy certificates for the whole of England & Wales, who else are you going to recommend? The only alternative is to order certificates from the local Register Office, which is inherently a more complicated process because you have to start by figuring out where the local registers are held - which often isn't easy given all the changes in boundaries over the past 150 years.
Furthermore, if only 80% are happy with the time it takes to receive certificates, that implies that there are 20% of customers who aren't happy, which is a sizeable percentage. Maybe it's a bit too soon for the GRO to be patting themselves on the back?
The letter I received from Stephen Penneck, the Director General of the Office of National Statistics, and which I briefly referred to in the last newsletter, has now been posted online here.
In it he argues that the £482 million cost of the 2011 England & Wales census compares favourably with the equivalent costs in other countries - and, to be fair, it's certainly far cheaper than this year's US census (which is projected to cost an amazing $11 billion!). Yet as long ago as May 2008 an all-party Treasury Select Committee concluded "that the traditional census has almost had its day" and recommended " that the Statistics Authority set strategic objectives to ensure that the data currently gathered throughout the UK can be used to produce annual population statistics that are of a quality that will enable the 2011 Census to be the last census in the UK where the population is counted through the collection of census forms."
The MPs looked at the way that statistical data is compiled in Scandinavian countries: in Sweden there is a population register which gives a snapshot of the population at any point in time (not just once every 10 years), and can be analysed at any level of geographical detail. According to an article in the Economist the last census in Finland cost less than £1 million pounds and, even if you multiply this figure by 10 to allow for our larger population, it's far far less than we'll be paying for the England & Wales census. You can find the full report of the Select Committee here.
In his letter the Director General also referred to the Beyond 2011 project, which is a joint project between the National Statistician and the Registrars General of Scotland and Northern Ireland to look at alternative ways of collecting the data that the census currently provides, and which is used by government bodies across the UK. But there seems to be account being taken of the needs of family historians like you and me - perhaps those of us in the family history community need to set up a working party of our own?
I'll be interested to learn how you think we should proceed.
You may recall that I wrote about records from the Boer War a few months ago - and criticised the lack of information about nurses and civilians - but what I didn't know at the time was that findmypast were planning to release registers of soldiers, sailors, nurses, and civilians who were involved in the 2nd Boer War, from 1899-1902. There I found that John Felix Driesen, my 2nd cousin twice removed, was a Lance-Sergeant with the City of London Imperial Volunteers; sadly he was to be killed in action during the Great War.
You can now search the records of prisoners held at the infamous Alcatraz penitentiary free through Ancestry. I didn't find any of my ancestors (thank goodness!), but I did find the record for Robert Stroud, played by Burt Lancaster in the film The Birdman of Alcatraz.
The only family connection I have with prison (that I'm aware of) is a rather round-about one: Calver Mill, in the village of Calver, Derbyshire, looked so austere that it was used as a stand-in for Colditz Castle in the TV series. But now, like so many historic buildings, it has since been turned into flats.
I recently mentioned the historical records online at the Met Office site, and bemoaned the fact that they go back only as far as 1853 (though there are older records offline). Mary kindly pointed out this site which has many older records.
Eileen recently reminded me that there are dozens of free podcasts that you can download free from the National Archives, many of them related to family history. The titles include:
Workhouse records for family historians
Marriages at sea - fact or fiction?
Tracing your Irish ancestors at The National Archives
Creating a legacy from your family history
Three weeks ago I saw a demonstration of 3D television, and I was absolutely amazed by how lifelike the pictures were. To see the effect I had to wear a pair of what looked like sunglasses (though they were much more sophisticated than that), but it wasn't at all arduous - after a while I forgot I was wearing them, and you can even fit them over normal glasses.
The experience was a bit like walking round a car showroom, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I wouldn't be able to afford one of these wondrous gadgets. Or so I thought.... for just a few days later I saw a special offer advertised that really was affordable (I had some money I'd put aside for a 60th birthday present for myself, so why not - after all, you're only young once!).
I certainly wasn't disappointed when I had it all set up and working - it did everything I expected. But what I hadn't realised at the time I bought the TV was that whilst it was primarily designed to display programmes and movies that have been filmed in 3D, it also had the ability to add extra depth to 2D footage. This set me thinking - could it really add an extra dimension to the mostly black and white cine footage from the 1950s and 60s that are the only moving images of my mother, who died in 1976, and her mother (my grandmother) who died in 1969?
I'm delighted to say that it did work quite effectively, and - whilst I never felt that I could reach out and touch the people in the films as I might have done if they had been filmed using modern technology - it certainly brought my ancestors to life in a way that I could never have anticipated a month ago.
Don't buy one of these TVs until you've been to a shop and checked that you can see the 3D effect - supposedly a small percentage of people can't. And when you do buy, remember that the best deals are online - for example, there's an offer here on the very same Samsung TV that I bought which includes a free Blu-Ray player and gives a 5% discount when you buy before 7th November and enter the code 3005 at the checkout. Of course, although it can handle 3D programs you can also watch regular movies and TV either HD (there's a built-in Freeview HD tuner) or standard definition.
By the way, if you're buying an HD TV or a Blu-Ray player don't be conned into buying an expensive cable (or the wrong cable - one website recommends a SCART cable when in fact you need an HDMI cable for all HD TVs). The shop assistants will try and convince you to buy a £100 cable but there's nothing wrong with the HDMI cable I'm using, which cost me just £2.99 on Amazon!
I've probably mentioned it before, but it's such a gold mine of information that I offer no apologies for referring to it again. The History of Parish Registers at the Joiner Marriage Index site is a brief but valuable guide that will give you insight into the reasons why so many 16th century registers simply don't exist (amongst other things).
The Joiner Marriage Index, by the way, includes nearly 1.9 million pre-1837 marriages from 2742 parishes. It isn't free but I suspect that, if you had devoted 30 years of your life to compiling such a valuable resource, you too would want to see some return on all that effort!
In the past week I met with Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke who, as Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice, is responsible for the administration of the Data Protection Act.
I suggested to the Minister that a statute relating to 'data protection' ought to serve to protect data, not just against its misuse, but also against its destruction. As many of you will know, the introduction of the Data Protection Act encouraged organisations to destroy personal data rather than bear the cost and inconvenience of providing access to the subjects.
A specific example I quoted was the destruction by hospitals of patient records after a period of as little as 8 or 10 years without those records first being offered to the patient or her personal representative.
The Minister wasn't convinced by my arguments. "I doubt that one person in a million is interested in seeing their hospital records", he said. LostCousins members know differently - and we can also see how ridiculous it is that so many hospital records from the reign of Queen Victoria have survived, yet most of the records created during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II have already been destroyed. †
I'll be returning to this issue in a future newsletter. In the meantime I'd like to hear from any member who has used the Data Protection Act to obtain their medical records from their GP.
The 1881, 1893, 1896 & 1911 New Zealand Electoral Rolls which contain over 1.3 million records are now available to search at findmypast.com.au and you can get 24 hours free access to the records here (no credit card is required).
Congratulations to everyone who entered the competition in my last newsletter - you all answered at least 3 of the 4 questions correctly, and many of you got all 4 right. Of these the winner selected at random was Madeline in Sussex, but unfortunately she was unable to use the tickets - so instead the lucky recipient was John (who is also from Sussex). He took his wife to the Tesco Wine Fair in London and had a very enjoyable time - as did I.
Look out for more competitions between now and Christmas!
I've written in the past about the advantages of collecting Tesco Clubcard points - but sadly the scheme is changing, making them less valuable than they have been up to now. The good news is that until 5th December you'll be able to exchange them at the existing rate (4 times their face value): from 6th December you'll only get 3 times their face value. If you've been saving for a holiday this change could cost you hundreds of pounds - so don't delay, check out the changes and redeem as many points as you can before the deadline.
Thinking of retiring in Australia? LostCousins member Jill Weeks and her husband Owen are the experts, having written an award-winning book on the topic - and they also have a website called Where2Now, where anyone planning a change of lifestyle can get advice.
Here in the UK the clocks have just gone back, signifying the imminent arrival of winter - time to dig out the Christmas card list and start buying Christmas presents. Last year I gave lots of books as presents, and for once I didn't buy them at Amazon, but from the Book People, whose prices are amazingly low. It's like a book club except that there is no membership and no commitment, and if you spend £40 or more you'll get a free Royal Horticultural Society 2011 diary (I gave one to my wife last year, and the pictures were so beautiful that she refused to deface the diary by writing in it!). I'm not going to tell you which books I'll be buying this year, as - not surprisingly - some of the people on my gift list read this newsletter, but there is something for everyone (including lots for children).
Not everyone I know reads my newsletter. Indeed, one of my oldest friends not only abhors the idea of genealogy, he eschews modern technology - it was only a few years ago that he got a home telephone, and even though I gave him my old mobile phone a year ago I don't think he's taken it out of the box since. So it was with some trepidation and a degree of resignation that I took my Kindle along to show him when we met at the Tesco Wine Fair last weekend, because even though he's an avid book reader I didn't rate my chances of converting him to the concept of electronic books.
Well, I was right - he wasn't interested in looking at my Kindle, but only because he wanted to show me his! He'd even bought the same model, the one with 3G wireless, so that he could download books almost anywhere in the world. What a turn up for the (electronic) books!
This is where any updates or corrections will appear.
That's it for now - I hope you've enjoyed reading this newsletter as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it!