Newsletter - 1 April, 2010
To visit the main LostCousins site please go to www.LostCousins.com or click here if you need a password reminder. It's free to join LostCousins, so if you've been sent this newsletter (or a link to this newsletter) by someone else, I hope you'll register in your own right - and take part in the great LostCousins project.
If you missed the previous LostCousins newsletter (dated 20/3/10), or would like to see it again, click here. All newsletters since February 2009 are still available online, and because each links to the one before you can easily step back through all of them. An index to the back issues is in preparation.
At the beginning of March LostCousins members were among the first researchers to learn about the swingeing 32% increase in the cost of copy birth, marriage and death certificates - and I hope that like me you've been getting your orders in ahead of the April 6th deadline.
However I also pledged to do what I could to get the price rise reversed, since it appears not to be justified by the facts. Clearly a government which had already approved the cuts at the National Archives was unlikely to be sympathetic to family historians, so instead I wrote to the Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling MP.
Last week I received a personal response from Mr Grayling in which he expressed his hope that he would be able to take a close look at certificate prices after the election (ie when he will be able to see the relevant figures). You can rely on me to make sure that he has ALL the facts at his disposal - after all, surely family history is a pursuit that should be encouraged, not taxed? I can't promise that our campaign will be successful, but they surely can't ignore the power of LostCousins members - just read the next story!
Another exclusive in my March 6th newsletter was the revelation that the 'wish lists' of millions of Amazon users were publicly viewable, even though the users concerned had never given their permission.
I'm delighted to report that within 3 weeks of my article appearing Amazon changed their system, so that it is now obvious whether a wish list is public or private - and they also changed the default setting for new wish lists from public to private.
(However, they don't seem to have changed the settings for the customers who had set up wish lists previously, so if you have an Amazon account you may want to click here and check your settings.)
I think it's amazing that Amazon, a $60 billion company, changed their website as a result of pressure from LostCousins members. Now - what shall we do next?
I'm sure they would have done it anyway, but - as it happens - I did suggest to findmypast last year that their Loyalty Scheme was too rigid, and penalised users who wanted to upgrade. Lo and behold, they've just come up with the best scheme imaginable - so good that I'm surprised they aren't shouting about it from the rooftops!
As before there's a 20% discount when you take out exactly the same subscription, but now you also get a 20% discount if you decide to upgrade or downgrade. Furthermore, if you're within the last 90 days of your existing subscription the new subscription starts right away and the balance of your old subscription is credited against the cost.
It's hard to appreciate how this works without seeing an example, so here's what I was quoted today (31st March) on the basis that my existing (Full) subscription expires on 12th June (that's 73 days time, or exactly one-fifth of a year):
In practice I'll want to stay with a Full subscription, but to have such flexibility is just incredible - full marks to findmypast! For full details of the new Loyalty Scheme click here .
Note: if you're not currently a findmypast subscriber you can save 10% on ANY new subscription by clicking here and entering the discount code mypast0410 (valid until 14th April)
To obtain information from the register that was set up under the 1939 National Registration Act normally costs £42 - but anyone who is still living can get their own information free under the Data Protection Act, as you can see from this extract from their reply to my enquiry:
Were you recorded on the register in 1939? Wouldn't it be interesting to know what the entry says? I wasn't born until after the war, but I have plenty of living relatives who were around in 1939.
A third of the matches we make are between LostCousins members in different countries - and usually different continents. I was reminded of this recently when I received an email from Edward, which read:
"A rainy day whilst travelling through Hue, Vietnam finds me reading your news letter article, 'Have you tried', so I did. I found the children of Edward Rushen of Wiltshire who was now Eduardo Rushen in the 1895 census for Argentine."
Whilst the main focus of LostCousins is on ancestors who lived in Britain, Ireland, Canada, or the US we have members all over the world. How many different flags are there on your My Cousins page, I wonder?
When I was growing up in the 1950s my parent's bookshelves were studded with heroic tales of the Second World War, all of which I read avidly (little knowing that in the next century I would discover that I had German ancestry!). The titles I can remember include Reach for the Sky, The Great Escape, Cockleshell Heroes, The Dam Busters, and The White Rabbit - which was the story of Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, who parachuted into occupied France to work with the Resistance. He survived 2 months of torture by the Gestapo and was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, but avoided execution by impersonating an inmate who had died of typhoid.
I was reminded of this story today when I read an article about a commemorative plaque that had been placed outside Yeo-Thomas's former home in London. Unfortunately the BBC didn't quite get their facts right, because they said he died in February 1964 at the age of 62 - perhaps they took his date of birth from Wikipedia? Or maybe from the Internet article which states with spurious authority "as stated on his Birth Certificate, Forest Frederick Edward Yeo Thomas was born on 17 June 1901".
In fact he was born in 1902, as you can see from the birth indexes at FreeBMD. This is confirmed by the 1911 Census, where his age is given as 8 - though it took me a while to find him, since he has been transcribed as Forest George Thomas, and was not with his parents, but staying in Newhaven with someone who may have been a family friend. (I suspect his parents were in Dieppe - even then there was a ferry service between the two ports.)
Yeo-Thomas lived in France for much of his life, and undoubtedly his fluent French was a great asset in his work for the Special Operations Executive. He died in Paris, so you won't find his death in the England & Wales indexes - but I did find it in the GRO Consular Death indexes for 1849-1965 at findmypast (where his age is shown correctly as 61).
Why am I writing about Yeo-Thomas? Primarily because it's a good example of how once an incorrect fact is published, others republish the information and very soon it becomes an accepted 'fact'. It's not only Wikipedia and the BBC that got it wrong - the Independent has made the same mistake, and compounded it by suggesting that he was 62 when he was awarded the George Cross (he was actually 43). The Guardian also got it wrong.
Family historians are both victims and perpetrators. This week I found a few spare hours to research my own family tree, and was horrified to discover how many Ancestry users had erroneously linked my relatives into their trees. In each case there were several 'researchers' who had made the same mistake, so I suspect that one person made the original error and the others simply copied it.
Ancestry have created a great system for sharing information, but unfortunately it works just as efficiently when the information is wrong as it does when it is right. I just hope that when the Genes Reunited site is revamped by the new owners they don't make the same mistake!
I've written before about how to Search the 1911 Census more successfully, so hopefully by now you've mastered that aspect. In this article I'm going to cover some other important aspects - ending with how to save money!
(1) CENSUS REFERENCES
When I first started researching my family tree I didn't know what census references were, or why they were important - it seems like a lifetime ago! Nowadays most people know that it's important to record the precise source so that when they share data with relatives the recipients can easily verify it.
However I was quite horrified to discover the long list of references for each 1911 Census entry. For example, the full reference given for the 8 year-old Yeo-Thomas is:
RG14PN5076 RG78PN225 RD78 SD1 ED5 SN313
Phew! Fortunately most of that information isn't required in order to locate the census schedule: in most cases the first and last references alone will do the trick. When I find my relatives on the 1911 Census I do two things - the first is to save the schedule with the full census references as part of the file name; the second is to print out the schedule and write on it the first and the last references, eg 5076/313 in this case.
At findmypast it's really easy to display a census page, whether from the 1911 Census or any other. Here I've entered the two key references:
When I click the Search button I get a list of all the people on that schedule - and bear in mind that up to this point everything is free:
In the case of a small institution there may be more than one page for each schedule; the references will display all of the individuals (and this would be true even if you entered all of the references).
The largest institutions - workhouses, army barracks etc - always seem to have a schedule number of 1 or 9999. They are split into multiple enumeration districts, and so in these cases it IS worth noting the ED reference.
(2) SAVING IMAGES
Findmypast uses an enhanced viewer called DjVu which loads images quicker - but stores them in the djvu format, which many graphics programs don't recognise. You may recall from earlier articles that I use the free Irfanview program to manage my census images, and this does accept djvu files.
Once you've installed Irfanview, tell Windows that you want Irfanview to be the default program for files with a djvu extension - you can either do this through the Control Panel, or in Irfanview (by clicking Options, then Set file associations).
When you want to save a census image click the big green button to the right of the screen:
Don't click the floppy disk icon on the left - not because it won't work, but because it will slow you down. When you do this you'll see this message:
Click OK and Irfanview will open with the census page already displayed.
All you need to do now is save the image to your hard drive by choosing Save As from Irfanview's File menu. I don't use the default name - I add the name of my relative at the front and paste the census references at the end (having copied them from the findmypast image viewer). So in this case it would be:
Over the course of the last century the paper has become discoloured, so before printing out the image I modify the colours using by selecting Colour Corrections from Irfanview's Image menu - the settings that work for me are:
Changing the colours saves ink and produces a more legible printout.
Note: according to the Help information at findmypast DjVu doesn't work with Windows 7 - but I haven't noticed any problems.
(3) SAVING CREDITS
At findmypast you have to pay separately for transcriptions and images. Personally I think it's a bit unfair that having already paid 30 credits for the image, you should have to pay another 10 credits to view the transcription simply because you suspect there's a transcription error and want to report it.
The good news is that you don't have to. That's because when you click Report transcript error at the top right of the image page the form that's displayed gives you access to the transcribed data - person by person, field by field.
Occasionally you might wish to use this facility even if you don't have an error to report, for example if you're having trouble reading your relative's handwriting, and would like to know what the transcriber made of it. (Of course, if it's only the names you are interested in, a free census reference search - as described above - will give you the names of every member of the household.)
(4) SAVING MONEY
I never use credits if there's a subscription option - I know from experience that it works out far more expensive in the long-run. For example, a 6 month subscription to the 1911 Census (costing just £39.95) would allow you to look up over 100 entries every month; using credits to do this would cost in excess of £250 per month (that's more than £1500 over a 6 month period).
I've already found 50 households from my tree on the 1911 Census, which would have cost me at least £130 if I'd used credits (and that's assuming I didn't make any mistakes - in practice it would have been much more).
Note: if you're not currently a findmypast subscriber you can save 10% on ANY new subscription by clicking here and entering the discount code mypast0410 (valid until 14th April)
I recently wrote about the wonderful low-cost facility offered by FamilySearch, but in my original article I didn't make clear that it is available to all researchers, and not just to members of the LDS church or users of their Family History Centres. "We are glad to assist everyone" is what they told me!
Another question from members related to the final column on the form, which asks for the 'Serial sheet number' - if there is no sheet number shown I suggest you enter '00'.
It always amazes me how many people find IGI entries for their ancestors, but don't follow up by getting a copy of the original register entry - even though for baptisms after 1813 and marriages after 1753 there's always additional information. You may never have the opportunity to visit the records office that holds the register, but when it is so cheap and so easy to get a copy, why wouldn't you?
From time to time I get emails from members who are envious of the 'lost cousins' that others have found - and I'm always glad when they write in. Why? Because 9 times out of 10 I can pin-point the reason why they haven't been as successful as they hoped.
The most common problem is a misunderstanding. Some members assume that because they are looking for cousins (ie people who share their ancestors), all they need to do is enter the households of their direct ancestors.
Of course, you only have to think about it for a moment to realise that most of your living cousins aren't descended from ancestors who were around in 1881 - the connection with most of them is through earlier generations. But whilst the LostCousins matching system is clever enough to make these other matches, it does depend on YOU entering the relevant relatives.
Who are the relevant relatives? Invariably they are the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own in 1881 - which in my case means my great-great uncles and aunts, and my great-great-great uncles and aunts.
It's very frustrating when you can't find an ancestor's birth certificate - but often the 'brick wall' only exists in our imagination. Let's look at some of the key reasons why a certificate can't be found….
How can you overcome these problems? First and foremost keep an open mind - be prepared to accept that the information you already have may be wrong. Obtain all the other information that you can from censuses, certificates, and other sources (such as Army records): the less information you can find, the more likely it is that the little you already have is wrong or misleading in some way. For example, if you can't find your ancestor on any censuses prior to his marriage, you can be pretty certain that the information on the marriage certificate and later censuses is wrong in some material way.
Consider how and why the information you have might be wrong by working your way through the list above - then come up with a strategy to deal with each possibility. Sometimes it's as easy as ordering the birth certificate for a sibling to find out the mother's maiden name; often finding when the parents married is a vital clue.
If you can't find your ancestor on the census with his or her parents then you should be particularly suspicious of the information you have - it's very likely that some element is wrong, and it is quite conceivable that it is ALL wrong.
Middle names that could also be surnames often indicate illegitimacy - it was usually the only way to get the father's name on the birth certificate. Unusual middle names can provide clues - I remember helping one member find an ancestor who birth was under a completely different surname by taking advantage of the fact that his middle name was Ptolemy!
Make use of local BMD indexes (start at UKBMD), and also look for your ancestor's baptism - sometimes we forget that parents continued to have their children baptised after Civil Registration began. Consider the possibility that one of the parents died when your ancestor was young - perhaps there will evidence in workhouse records. Could the witnesses to your ancestor's marriage be relatives? Have you looked for wills?
Don't forget that whilst FreeBMD has virtually complete indexes for the period up to 1935, it's possible that your ancestor's entry has been omitted or mistranscribed - so check the original index pages as well. It takes longer, but it's something you only have to do once.
Finally, remember that you're probably not the only one researching this particular ancestor - and one of your cousins may already have the answers you're seeking. So make sure that you have entered ALL your relatives from 1881 on your My Ancestors page!
This article will be posted on the Help & Advice page in due course
Professional genealogist and LostCousins member Celia Heritage runs courses and evening classes and if - like me - you heard her at Who Do You Think You Are? Live you'll know that she really knows her subject. The highlight of her 2010 programme is My Victorian Ancestor on April 24th, which features Ruth Goodman, star of the BBC's Victorian Farm series - but see the Heritage Family History website for details of all the upcoming events.
Have you visited the National Archives website recently? It has been extensively revised to make it easier to use, with online animated guides to take you through the main features.
Have you listened to any of the podcasts? I've just been listening to Audrey Collins talking about censuses in Counting the People - absolutely fascinating - and I'm looking forward to I'm All Right Jack! Britain in 1959 (rather topical in view of the industrial unrest we're currently experiencing!).
But for me, the real value of the site is in the in-depth Research Guides - there are hundreds of them, on topics ranging from Apprentice Records to Wills, and just about everything else in between. Not only do they tell you what's in the National Archives, they'll also tell you about other repositories and sources of information.
On the Your Archives section of the National Archives site you'll find the Historical Streets Project, which can help you to find a particular street on the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 censuses. Whilst it's not as comprehensive or as easy to use as an Address Search at findmypast, it is a handy resource if you're not a findmypast subscriber. I believe that it's based on the street indexes that used to be available at the Family Records Centre.
From now until Monday 12th April the LostCousins site will be completely free - all members will be able to contact other members they have been matched with (normally only subscribers can initiate contact with someone new).
What better time to tell your friends and relatives about LostCousins? It's so easy to do using your My Referrals page, and when you invite a relative to join you can do them a big favour by indicating which of the people on your My Ancestors page they share.
Wouldn't it be great if we could increase the LostCousins membership to 80,000 in time for our 6th birthday on 1st May? If you and everybody else reading this invited even one person we'd reach the target easily.
The more members we have, the more cousins there are - for everyone!
* The General Register Office promised to respond to my Freedom of Information request by 31st March - but nothing has arrived. Hopefully I'll get the answers before the next newsletter!
That's all for now - I hope you've found some of it relevant to you and your family tree. Please do keep sending in your comments and suggestions for future issues.
Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated