Newsletter - 15 December 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 21 November 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 don’t lose your place in the newsletter - you may need to enable pop-ups (if the link seems not to work look for a warning message at the top of the browser window).
Although these newsletters are hosted at LostCousins, they are not part of the main website. Click here to go to the main website and take part in the LostCousins project to link relatives around the world.
With effect from 1st January the cost of Scottish birth, marriage, and death certificates from the GROS is increasing from £10 to £12 (or from £8 to £10 when ordered at the ScotlandsPeople Centre), whilst the GRO in Northern Ireland are increasing their price from £12 to £14.
Whilst these increases push the prices above those that have applied in England and Wales since April, it's worth bearing in mind that researchers with Scottish ancestors order certificates less often than those with English or Welsh ancestors, because copies of the register pages for earlier years are available online at the Scotlandspeople site.
From April 2011 the cost of using the Scotlandspeople website will increase: currently it costs £6 for 30 credits, a price that has been maintained for many years. The new price will be £7, although this is counterbalanced to some extent by an increase in the period of validity from 90 days to 1 year.
Tip: You may be able to purchase credit vouchers at a reduced price - see my previous articles on this topic.
Over the past 2 years FamilySearch have been trialling new databases and a new interface on their beta site - now the new site has gone live, with a link from the old home page.
However comments on the FamilySearch blog suggest that many users are disappointed with the change, and whilst I haven't had a chance to check everything out myself, it seems that some functionality has been lost compared to the beta site. I'd be interested to know what you think of the changes, especially if you have been using the beta site, or the Pilot Search at the original site (which offered similar features).
Since my recent articles about the dangers of sharing information online I've been showered with sad tales from members whose carefully researched trees have been purloined and misused by people they initially trusted.
One of the problems with the Internet is that once data is out there, it's impossible to retrieve, and if you're not extremely wary your carefully researched facts could easily become someone else's pulp fiction. Another is that incorrect data tends to multiply quite prolifically, as I demonstrated in an article I wrote for this newsletter 4 years ago. Since most readers of the newsletter will have joined LostCousins more recently I shall take the liberty of repeating myself.
Have you ever come across the ancient occupation of 'crayman'? No, neither had I until I was scanning though an online list of old trades. The funny thing was, when I read the description I suddenly realised the occupation described was that of 'drayman' - and it didn't take a genius to work out that 'crayman' was simply a typing mistake (the letters 'c' and 'd' being adjacent on most computer keyboards).
Amazingly this one typographical error now appears in numerous lists of old occupations, each of them - I suspect - deriving from a single source, though probably not directly.
I was reminded of this story by the experiences that members related to me, because in almost every case information from their family tree had not only been copied without permission, but altered (quite erroneously) before being copied yet again. For example, Mary passed information to someone she believed was a distant relative, only to find that it appeared online with incorrect additions and other errors (her own mother's name was mis-spelled).
Another cautionary tale came from a Genes Reunited user: "One day I was contacted by a man who claimed a connection with my great-grandfather so I let him look at my tree to see if we could prove a connection. The next thing I knew was that he had added my entire family tree to his, including people he couldn't possibly be related to. When I looked at his tree, I couldn't find any connection between us at all and when I asked him to supply exact details he was very vague and refused to comply, saying it was 'complicated'. I've since disallowed his access but the damage is done. I can't make him remove my tree from his and I get really annoyed when he continually pops up on my 'Hot Matches'. I also think that he is spreading misinformation to other researchers and I really regret trusting him."
I could spend all day recounting the sorry tales I've heard, but that would obscure the key lesson, which is that most of us only learn how risky it is to publish our trees online or exchange information with contacts when it is too late!
I recently had an opportunity to speak with Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, about the destruction of medical records during the lifetime of the patient - and I'm glad to say that I got a positive reaction. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that many hospital records are destroyed after as little as 8 years, and I am hopeful that when I make a formal representation he will look at it favourably.
Sometimes I seem to be 'ploughing a lonely furrow', but it would appear that I'm not the only person who thinks that medical records should be kept longer. In 2005 the Scottish Government carried out a consultation in which respondents were asked for their opinion about how long medical records should be kept - at the time the minimum was 6 years after date of the last recorded entry (or 3 years after the death of the patient, if sooner).
Over 65% of respondents considered that the minimum should be increased to at least 13 years, and over 45% of all respondents wanted them kept for the lifetime of the patient plus 3 years. In the event the Working Group recommended that the minimum retention period be just 8 years, arguing that this would bring Scotland into line with England.
Even in 2005 records were beginning to be stored electronically, and the penultimate question in the consultation was one that's very close to my heart: "If all personal health records were stored completely on computer, is it acceptable to ask for all types of record to be kept for the lifetime of the patient plus 3 years? If not, why?"
Fully 89% of respondents answered "Yes" to this question - but the Working Group decided they knew better, and cited the Data Protection Act's requirement that data should not be kept any longer than necessary. This reinforces the point I made at the beginning of this series of articles, which is that the Data Protection Act not only fails to protect data against destruction, it positively encourages it!
I picked medical records as an example because I felt that even non-family historians would appreciate how important it is that the retention period is determined by the welfare of the patient, rather than the available storage space or the requirements of an Act that fails to live up to its name. But there are all sorts of other records that are being routinely destroyed including education records, welfare records, tax records, and pension records.
Hardly any of the data that we as family historians rely on now would have survived had the Data Protection Act been passed in the reign of Queen Victoria. It's certainly a strange type of progress that gives us less rather than more!
The Lothian Health Services Archive is an excellent example of what I would like to see across the nation - it holds patient records of many of the hospitals which have existed within Edinburgh and the Lothians over the past three centuries. They also hold training records and/or registers of nurses for many hospitals, including the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, together with many photographs of nurses (although sadly most of them are not named).
Given the confidential nature of many of the records the information is not available online, but there are online catalogues of the records held.
Facebook doesn't have a particularly good reputation for safeguarding personal information, so you would think that the NHS would be particularly wary of providing data to Facebook. Yet it recently came to light that when Facebook users visit the NHS Choices website information is passed to Facebook about any pages they've visited which have a 'Like' button, whether the button is pressed or not. For example, I just visited a page with information about Chickenpox, which has one of these buttons (although you wouldn't necessarily notice it unless you were looking carefully - I didn't see it at first). I wouldn't particularly mind if someone knew I'd visited the Chickenpox page, but as you can imagine there are many other conditions that are more 'sensitive'.
The problem was first revealed on 21st November, but as far as I can see no action has been taken to safeguard users' privacy, although I should state that according to the company, "Facebook does not share your data with third parties. It is against Facebook's terms to use this data for any purpose other than to create a more personalised experience on the web. In the same way that the NHS would not share your data, Facebook would not either."
Comment: some people will no doubt use this incident to argue against the preservation of medical records, but this would be a short-sighted approach. For me, what it exemplifies is the danger of using sites like Facebook where their primary aim is to share information between users - and in the genealogical world there are many.
When I went on holiday I took my Kindle with me so that I wouldn't get bored on the beach. However, I also took a couple of magazines - one of which had a review of the new biography of the American writer Jack London, best known these days for Call of the Wild and White Fang. I discovered to my surprise that one of his books was "an examination of poverty in the East End of London", and a little research led me to The People of the Abyss, which was not only available as a Kindle version that I could download in minutes - it was also free!
Having previously read Round About a Pound a Week, which tells of the plight of poor families in Lambeth around the time of the 1911 Census, I was prepared for a harrowing tale - but even I was shocked by what I read about how the poor, especially the homeless, were treated in East London in 1902. There was a lot the author wrote that I objected to (he was rather bigoted) but the central message came over loud and clear: hundreds of thousands of people living in London, the centre of the greatest Empire the world had ever known, were being treated like animals.
"There were seven rooms in this abomination called a house. In six of the rooms, twenty-odd people, of both sexes and all ages, cooked, ate, slept, and worked. In size the rooms averaged eight feet by eight, or possibly nine…. In the adjoining room lived a woman and six children. In another vile hole lived a widow, with an only son of sixteen who was dying of consumption."
I think I've identified the house as 10 Frying Pan Alley, Spitalfields where there were 25 people living at the time of the 1901 Census (RG13 piece 299 folio 123 page 10). According to London the 7th room was a sweatshop, where 5 men worked making boots - when there was any work to be had.
If, like me, you had ancestors who lived in the East End of London, I'd urge you to read this book. There are hard copies available at Amazon, or you can download a free electronic version from the Project Gutenberg site.
Findmypast offer MarriageMatch™
The new fully-indexed marriage indexes for England & Wales at findmypast allow you to comprehensively search the entire period from 1837-2005 with a single search, something you can't do at either Ancestry or FreeBMD. Something I also like is the way that when I searched for 'John William Calver' index entries for 'John W Calver', and even 'William J Calver' were returned.
But the best is bet to come - the MarriageMatch™ feature. If you're searching for a marriage after 1912, when the indexes first showed the surname of the spouse, you'll be presented with the entries for both spouses - even if you only enter the name of one of them. For earlier searches you'll be shown a list of the 'possible' spouses, ie the people whose names are - according to the GRO indexes - recorded on the same register page, and can view each entry with a single click.
Whilst I haven't had a chance to check the accuracy of the transcriptions systematically I haven't spotted any errors at all so far. For more details of the new feature see the information sections here and here.
Buying credits? Get 25% extra free
To coincide with the release of these vastly improved indexes findmypast are offering 25% extra credits when you click here and enter the code FMPMARR10 in the Promotional Code box (offer ends 20th December).
Of course, subscriptions invariably work out cheaper - so I'm hoping that before the next newsletter comes out I'm able to arrange a subscription offer for members.
Ancestry 'complete' 1851 Census
If you have ancestors who came from the Manchester area you'll probably be aware that many of the 1851 Census schedules were damaged by water.
Over a period of 14 years Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society managed to transcribe about 80% of the records, but some proved impossible to read; now Ancestry has used the latest technology to retrieve the remaining records. The amazing thing is that they haven't simply transcribed them, they've actually recreated the original images, so that you can see what the enumerator wrote. I understand that in all Ancestry have added over 275,000 individuals to their 1851 Census collection!
If you have French ancestry (and some knowledge of the language) you'll be interested to know that on the Ancestry France site there are links to the websites of the archives for the different departments, many of which have free online records!
This great tip came from Dorothy, who also explained how to search for information about French soldiers who died in World War 1 at the Memoire des Hommes site:
1) On the Welcome page click 'Premiere Guerre Mondiale' (First World War)
2) On the next page click 'Mort pour la France' (died for France), then scroll down the page and click 'Formulaire de recherche' (Search)
3) Fill in the search boxes, then click 'Lancer la recherche'
4) When you see the results click on the name you want to select and another window will open (this is where the military death certificate will appear).
5) On the results page there's also a link to search for Regimental War Diaries (click 'Lien vers les journaux des unites'). Next click 'formulaire de recherche' and type in the Regiment or Unit where it says 'plein-texte', and finally click 'valider' to search.
As with all searches, it’s best to enter as little information as possible on the search forms.
Tip: if you click on the Union Jack at the top right of the home page you'll be taken to an English version of the site. Alternatively, if you have Google Toolbar installed it will translate the French pages into English for you.
Findmypast and FamilySearch have agreed to digitise and transcribe the parish registers, Poor Law records, rate books, Apprenticeship indentures, and many other records held by the Plymouth & West Devon records office. There are nearly 350,000 images relating to more than 3.5 million individuals, and there will be a free index at FamilySearch which links to the findmypast site. No date for completion was given in the press release, but I would hope that these records will be available before the end of 2011.
There are over 93,000 wills from 1858-1900 that have been digitised and can be viewed free online at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland website. You can also search Will Calendars up to 1943.
Until the middle of the 20th century it was quite common to keep scrapbooks, and they weren't always large format custom books - sometimes they were simply notebooks with cuttings and other material pasted in.
Some years ago I used to go to auctions where 'household effects' were sold off, usually from deceased estates, and occasionally I would bid a few pounds for a photograph album, or a bundle of scrapbooks. One of the items I acquired was a notebook filled with newspaper cuttings, and as they had no particular interest for me there were many occasions over the years on which I went to throw it out - though I never quite succeeded.
One day I was idly flicking through the notebook when I noticed a cutting from 1928 which was headed up "County High School for Boys - Examination Results". I didn't know which County High School they related to, but as my father had attended Ilford County High, I quickly scanned through the list to see whether he was mentioned. He wasn't - but I was even more excited with what I did find.
At this point it's worth explaining that whilst there were countless relatives on my mother's side of the family, the only blood relative of my father who I met as a child was his father (and he died when I was just 4 years old). My grandmother had died before I was born, and my father's only brother had died of tuberculosis in the mid 1930s. I knew very little about my uncle Horace, apart from the fact that - according to my father - he had been poised to be the first member of the family to go to university when he contracted TB for the first time in the late 1920s (it was a later bout that killed him).
So you could have knocked me down with a feather when I read "London Intermediate Bachelor of Science Examination - G.C. Bailey, H.J. Calver". Here at last was proof that my uncle had indeed planned to go to university!
Was it just a coincidence that whenever I'd gone to throw that notebook out I had somehow held back? What had drawn me to that particular article, out of the hundreds of cuttings in the book? Because 40 years later I had become the first of the Calver family to attend university, fulfilling the dream of an uncle I never knew.
I don't normally recommend books that I haven't read, but the review of Keeping Chronicles in the latest edition of Your Family Tree had me enthralled, because it's all about preserving history through written memorabilia. As the previous article demonstrates, you can never tell what is going to provide a vital clue to the generations that follow. I'm a great one for squirreling away things that - in some small way - help to remind me of what I was doing at a particular time of my life, from ticket stubs to theatre programmes, school reports to newspaper clippings.
I remember how, when I acquired a large collection of correspondence from the 1820s to 1850s, one of the most fascinating items was the school laundry list compiled by the person who had kept the letters. Another was the lock of hair that fell out of one of the letters - it came from the head of her older brother, then serving in the army. Each of us has our own memories - let's do what we can to hold onto them!
Christmas may be almost upon us, but The Book People have pledged that orders placed up to midday on Tuesday 21st December will be delivered before Christmas (though I suspect that if you live in Scotland you would do well to order earlier). There are always some great bargains on offer, and I for one have ordered several books as Christmas presents - though for obvious reasons I'm not going to mention them here! Delivery is free when you order online and spend over £25.
At the beginning of the year I bought a Samsung N210 netbook, and I've taken it with me whenever I've been on the road. It's now been superseded by a newer and slightly faster model, the NF210 (which looks even more gorgeous), but if you want to have exactly the same as me you can pick one up for significantly less than I paid - just follow the link above.
Every newsletter I've written since February 2009 is still available online, and because each newsletter links to the one before you can get to any of them simply by clicking on those links (you'll find the link near the beginning of every newsletter, usually in the first paragraph after the table of contents).
As you probably know, all of my newsletters since February 2009 are still available online, and you can work back through all of them simply by clicking the link near the top of each newsletter. What you may possibly have forgotten, however, is that key articles from earlier newsletters have been preserved on the Help & Advice page at the main LostCousins site - why not take a look at what's available?
One of the perks of subscribing to The Oldie, the very slightly satirical magazine founded by former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams, is the opportunity to attend one of their literary lunches held at Simpson's in the Strand, an establishment which first opened in 1828 as the Grand Cigar Divan (a name that seems right out of Trollope).
Earlier this week I attended the Christmas lunch, at which the speakers were Gyles Brandreth , a former MP who is probably best known as a regular on Just a Minute, the Radio 4 panel game, and the incomparable writing team of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who were promoting their latest book, The Lost Hancock Scripts. As a child in the 1950s I was enthralled by Tony Hancock, and coincidentally (or perhaps not) Galton & Simpson also wrote Steptoe and Son, my favourite comedy of the early 1960s, so to have a long chat with Ray Galton was an unbelievable privilege.
Anyway, if you like my style of writing you'll almost certainly love The Oldie. Until the end of December you can get a trial three-issue subscription for £3 (ie £1 per copy) when you click here.
Have you ever received an email warning you of a virus (or some other scam) and asking you to forward it to everyone in your address book? Many LostCousins members have fallen for these hoaxes, usually because the email has come from someone they trust.
NEVER forward an email to everyone in your address book, especially if you haven't checked it out yourself. Spreading false information and scaring people unnecessarily is almost as bad as spreading a virus - at the very least you are sending spam, which is disrespectful and possibly illegal.
How can you recognise a hoax email? It's very simple - ANY email that asks you to forward it to everyone in your address book is a hoax of some sort or another. If you don't believe me, simply paste a phrase or sentence from the email into Google - you'll soon find a page that explains the history of the hoax. Of course, there's a grain of truth in every one, and that's what makes the story sound so plausible - some even refer to Snopes.com, which is the site where these hoaxes are debunked!
Look out for the next issue of this newsletter, due around Christmas Eve, when I'll have some great special offers for you - plus articles that I hope will inspire you to make some great discoveries in 2011!
It takes me a day or two to send out 56,000 emails, but if you want to be one of the first to know when there's a new edition available simply log-in to your LostCousins account (the members who have logged-in most recently are always at the top of the list).
Please note that the articles about Scottish BMD certificates and French records have been updated since this newsletter was first published online.
I'll be writing to you again before Christmas Day, but nevertheless I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best for the festive period. Merry Christmas!