Newsletter - 24 September 2011

 

 

Last chance to take advantage of exclusive offers

Ancestry charge for access to free Irish records!

Manchester records now at findmypast

Scottish censuses coming soon?

Be careful what you bookmark

Genes Reunited offering 10% discount

Your cousins need YOU!

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Your chance to tell the GRO what you really think

Who do they think they are?

Closed railway stations

Ripping yarns

Calculating relationships

Is baldness inherited?

Are we still benefiting from post-war rationing?

Finding cousins using Google

Where there's a will...

Upcoming events at the Society of Genealogists

Organising your research

Peter's Tips

Stop Press

 

Click here to go to the main LostCousins site to log-in or register (it's free to join). All members receive email notification when a new edition of this newsletter is published (you can, of course, opt-out).

 

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 9 September 2011) please click here. Each newsletter links to the one before, and you can go back to February 2009 when the newsletter first went online; there will shortly be an online index to articles thanks to the sterling efforts of members Elizabeth and, especially, Gill.

 

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 - if you are still using Internet Explorer you may need to enable pop-ups (if a link seems not to work, look for a warning message at the top of your browser window).

 

Last chance to take advantage of exclusive offers

The exclusive offers that I arranged with findmypast and Deceased Online will be ending soon (note: you don't need to be a paying member of LostCousins - everyone who received an email about this newsletter is a registered member and entitled to use the discount codes). The findmypast offer ends at midnight (London time) on Monday 26th September, so don't delay - it's the lowest price ever for a Full subscription. In the circumstances it's probably not surprising that I couldn't talk them into an extension!

 

You'll find the offer code and full details in my last newsletter.

 

 

I'm glad to say that the Deceased Online offer has been extended by one week, and now ends at midnight on Monday 3rd October. Since I last wrote to you more than 60,000 Eltham records have been added, and I understand that there are 150,000 more East London records coming very soon (remember, the credits are valid for 6 months so the exact timing isn't important).

 

You'll find the offer codes and full details in my last newsletter.

 

Ancestry charge for access to free Irish records!

There was a fanfare this week as Ancestry added 25 million Irish records - but what they didn't make clear is that almost all of the records they've added are already available free at the FamilySearch site!

 

I'm not against the concept of charging for records that are available free elsewhere when the other repository is one that the average family historian might be unaware of, or is hard to search - but no serious researcher can be unaware of FamilySearch, nor could any regular reader of my newsletter be unaware that they have Irish BMD indexes on their site. The indexes cover the whole of Ireland until 1921, but from 1922 onwards only entries for the Republic of Ireland are included.

 

Irish BMD records

 

Manchester records now at findmypast

Findmypast have added nearly one and a half million records from the Manchester area. There's a strong emphasis on workhouse and prison records, so you're more likely to find ancestors who were at the lower-end of the social scale, but there are also school registers, cemetery records, and parish register transcripts (mainly for Oldham St Mary).

 

Scottish censuses coming soon?

I wrote a while ago that findmypast are planning to add transcriptions of the 1841-1901 Scotland censuses, and I've just heard that these will be brand-new transcriptions. Obviously it's too early to say whether they will be better than the transcriptions at Ancestry (which have come in for a fair amount of criticism), but simply having an alternative will be an enormous help.

 

LostCousins members with Scottish ancestry have, on average, entered only half as many relatives from 1881 as those with English ancestry - which means that they typically find only half as many 'lost cousins'. The increased availability of the Scottish censuses should reverse the trend - but what a shame that the General Register Office for Scotland has never allowed FamilySearch to publish their version of the 1881 Scotland Census online!

 

Note: the short-sightedness of GROS has also prevented Ancestry publishing images from the Scotland census; I'd like to think that they might see sense and allow findmypast to use these public records, but I fear that won't be the case.

 

Be careful what you bookmark

Over the years I've been contacted many times by members who have been unable to access a particular genealogy site (often, but not always, FamilySearch). In some cases they've been unable to access the site for days, or even weeks.

 

Of course, the first thing I do is check out the site myself - and invariably I have no problem whatsoever. Very mystifying - until I discovered that the members concerned were using bookmarks that they'd saved in their browser. In some cases they had bookmarked Search Results pages, or even individual records.

 

The problem with bookmarks is that even if you're staring at the home page at the time you create the bookmark, the address that's saved may not be as simple as (say) www.lostcousins.com, and indeed if you go to the home page at LostCousins there will be a different address in the browser command line when you're logged-in to your account. The same is true at findmypast and many other sites.

 

The real problem arises when the website is altered in some way, because the page you've bookmarked may no longer exist, or may be at a different address. And sometimes the site is written in such a way that the URL displayed includes information that is specific to that session.

 

Should you ever have trouble accessing a website using a bookmark, my advice is simply to type in the domain name., eg lostcousins.com or familysearch.org (sometimes you'll need to precede it with www). A Google search will often work just as well.

 

Genes Reunited offering 10% discount

This isn't an exclusive offer, but I thought it was worth passing on all the same. Genes Reunited are offering a 10% discount on NEW Platinum subscriptions, but only until 3rd October. To take advantage of this offer click here and enter the discount code GENESRSEPT

 

I should mention that Genes Reunited have replaced their census data since I last reviewed the site - they now have the same transcriptions as at findmypast (previously the censuses were provided to Genes Reunited by S&N, owners of The Genealogist). I intended to review the site again in the coming weeks, and will publish my findings in a future edition of this newsletter.

 

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Your cousins need YOU!

Just as I was finalising this newsletter I realised that LostCousins membership had reached the 87,000 mark! Mind you, I've always dreamt that one day we'd have 100,000 members, so there's still some way to go before my dreams are fulfilled...

 

Between them those 87,000 members have entered nearly 2 million relatives, which is another impressive figure. However, when you consider that 90% of those relatives have been entered by just 10% of the members it's clear that most of the cousins who are members have yet to be linked.

 

If you're one of the 10% who have done their very best, you already know how much your cousins appreciate it. But if you're one of the 90% who "could try harder" I'd love to know what it would take to motivate you! For me just knowing that I'd be letting down my own cousins is reason enough to do my bit, but how about you?

 

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I was looking at the BBC News website two days ago when I noticed a story about a man whose daughter and grandson were born in the same hospital on exactly the same day, less than 14 hours apart. According to the article the bookmakers Ladbrokes said that the odds of this happening were a million to one against; my advice is to rush down to Ladbrokes because there is clearly something wrong with their calculator!

 

I often use probabilities in my family history research, but I suspect that most people don't - even though it isn't that difficult. For example, when someone writes to me about a new genealogy website that claims to have 'lots' of entries but doesn't give any figures, I search for the surname Smith. Why? Because I know that about 2% of the people in Britain are called Smith, so if I multiply the number of Smiths by 50, I'll get a very rough idea of how many records there are in the database.

 

In a future article I'm going to explain how probabilities help me avoid making mistakes when I'm researching my tree, and I hope you'll learn how you can do the same - after all there's nothing worse than researching the wrong line!

 

Your chance to tell the GRO what you really think

The General Register Office came in for a lot of criticism when the prices of certificates went up, and the cancellation of the digitisation projects (DOVE and MAGPIE), which cost taxpayers many millions, hasn't endeared them to family historians, either.

 

Now's your chance to tell them what you really think about their service - there's an online survey form that you can complete. I understand that they also conducted a focus group recently - let's hope that they aren't just going through the motions but will actually listen to what they are told!

 

Who do they think they are?

I don't know if you saw the Who Do You Think You Are? programme about JK Rowling, but it seems that the expert researchers didn't get it quite right - as LostCousins member Chris reveals:

 

" I came close to throwing my Radio Times at the box during the JK Rowling episode... the WDYTYA researchers misled JK Rowling (and viewers) on a small but important point [when] looking at the life ofher great-grandfather Louis Volant.

 

"In 1911, Louis Volant was a senior waiter in a prestigious London restaurant and on the night of 2 April was sleeping alone, describing himself as Head and Married, at what was clearly a pied-a-terre in a single room at Upper JamesStreet, Westminster, presumably just a short walk from the restaurant where he would have been regularly working very late nights. His wife Eliza and their three children were living in a three-roomed apartment at Seymour Place, Marylebone (piece number 542, schedule number 265).

 

"Like many wives filling in acensus form when their husband was away from home for work or militaryservice, Eliza described herself on the first line of the schedule as theWife of the household. Like all good enumerators, the enumerator later crossed through the word Wife in red and wrote Head. The researcher implied, and JK believed, that this meant that Eliza and Louis were separated (in the marital sense).

 

"It is clear from the rest of the story that they did indeed later go their separate ways, but we should not accept the researcher's implication that all wives whose husbands were away from home on census nighthad been irrevocably separated from them. Indeed, Eliza's entry is (i) perfectly normal for the situation and (ii) shows exactly the opposite - the fact that she had written Wife, not Head, means that she still believedherself securely and happily married to Louis, who had a one-roomed pad close tohis late-night work in Westminster. The enumerator's amendment would have had nothing to do with marital relationships, but merely followed the instruction that the senior person in the household is always described as Head and everyone else's relationship is supposed to be defined in relation to that person. It is disappointing that the WDYTYA editorial team decided to draw the wrong conclusions from this census entry and thus mislead beginners to family history research."

 

Closed railway stations

In my last newsletter I mentioned that Ancestry had recently added two million railway employment records from the National Archives. I've always found railways fascinating - I used to stand on a footbridge near my home to watch the steam trains go by (this was long before they boarded up the sides of the footbridges). And I still remember the thrill of travelling on the picturesque West Somerset Railway between Taunton and Minehead in the 1960s (it was closed in 1971, though part reopened as a heritage line a few years later).

 

Earlier this week I was looking at old census returns and noticed how the town Hemel Hempstead is often spelled incorrectly, sometimes as Hemel Hampstead, more often as Hemel Hempsted. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon I discovered that for many years the railway station at Hemel Hempstead was erroneously called Hemel Hempsted, first by the Midland Railway, and later by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

 

This was not the mainline station that we now know as Hemel Hempstead - it was on a branchline which closed in 1979, although the station closed to passengers in 1947. So it's important to remember that when you come across the name of a railway station in an old letter, diary, or other document it may not be referring to the station that the name is associated with today.

 

All this information and more can be found on the Disused Stations website, part of a bigger venture known as Subterranea Britannica - I could spend hours on there if I didn't have a newsletter to write!

 

Ripping yarns

Barbara wrote from New Zealand to tell me about her husband's connection to one of the victims of Jack the Ripper. Imagine her surprise when I told her that my 1st cousin 3 times removed was married to a Chief Inspector who was a key figure in the investigations!

 

Tip: it's when there are connections like this that the Historical Research feature of LostCousins comes into play. This allows you to enter people who are not related to you in any way, but who you are researching for some other reason - perhaps a book, a history project, or plain curiosity!

 

Calculating relationships

But just what is a 1st cousin 3 times removed? I remember puzzling over terms like this when I was younger, and it was only when I began to research my family tree that I found a definitive answer. Mind you, even experts can get confused - I once read an incorrect explanation on the website of a famous professional genealogist.

 

Here's a very simple way to work out how you're related to any cousin, living or not:

 

(a) Identify on your family tree the point at which your lines diverge - there will be an ancestor or a pair of ancestor who you both share.

 

(b) Count the number of generations from the common ancestor to yourself, and do the same for your cousin. The answer may or may not be the same.

 

(c) If you get the same answer for both cousins simply subtract one. For example, if there are 4 generations then you are 3rd cousins.

 

(d) If you get different answers subtract one from the smaller answer. Thus if the answers are 4 and 2 you are 1st cousins.

 

(e) The difference between the two answers tells you how many times removed you are, ie if the answers are 4 and 2 you are 1st cousins twice removed.

 

(f) If one of the answers was 1, then this is a special case. You're not cousins but aunt or uncle and nephew or niece. In this case take the difference between the answers and subtract 1 - this tells you how many "greats" you need to add. For example, if the answers are 4 and 1 then the relationships are great-great aunt (or uncle) and great-great nephew (or niece).

 

Tip: you can work out who your common ancestor is by doing this in reverse. For example, suppose that you and your relative are 5th cousins 3 times removed - in this case the common ancestor is the great-great-great-great (ie 4G) grandparent of one of you and the 7G grandparent of the other. How did I work that out so quickly? Simple - the first figure is 5 minus 1, and the second is (5 plus 3) minus 1.

 

Is baldness inherited?

There's a photograph of my father on his 21st birthday which is rather special - it's the last one that shows him with a full head of hair. As you can imagine, as a young man I was concerned that my hair would go the same way - until someone told me that baldness is usually inherited from the mother's side, and my maternal grandfather had a full head of hair well into his 60s.

 

Whether or not that's true, it turned out to be right in my case. But what does your family tree tell you about the way that baldness is inherited? Does it seem to come from one side of the family or the other - or is there no obvious pattern?

 

Are we still benefiting from post-war rationing?

Research carried out at the University of Tokyo on tiny creatures known as rotifers found that the offspring of mothers who were on a calorie-controlled diet lived longer, by as much as 50%.

 

After World War 2 rationing in the UK continued for many years, so my mother would almost certainly have eaten less as a result (even though expectant mothers would have received extra coupons). I wonder, therefore, whether the longer life expectancy of our generation might in part be attributable to rationing - and if the modern yearning for junk food might reverse the trend?

 

Note: if you read the research paper you'll see that it refers to mothers and daughters - this is because rotifers are all female. You'll find a more accessible summary in this Economist article.

 

Finding cousins using Google

A few months ago I wrote about the web page created by Randy Majors which makes it easier to use Google to search for information about our ancestors - and mentioned that the first time I tried it, I discovered a new cousin.

 

A couple of weeks ago Randy wrote to tell me that he'd made some improvements, so I went back to his web page to try it out again and - would you believe it - found a lead to another new cousin!

 

What will you find, I wonder?

 

Where there's a will...

I may have mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again. If you want to order wills by post there's a new address (in Leeds, not York), and the price has gone up from £5 to £6. See the Ministry of Justice site for full details.

 

I've also heard that it's taking much longer than usual to provide copy wills and deal with other probate issues, so don't delay.

 

Note: it's no longer possible to get a same-day copy of a will from the Principal Probate Registry in High Holborn.

 

Upcoming events at the Society of Genealogists

There are some interesting events taking place at the Society of Genealogists during October, as you'll see if you look at their events calendar.

 

Tip: you don't have to be a member, although there's a 20% discount if you are.

 

Organising your research

Lorna wrote for some advice on how to organise her family history research, and I thought it might be helpful to reproduce my answer here:

 

"I don't know of any guide, but in any case I think it's something that's likely to vary enormously from one person to another. But I'll tell you what I do....

 

"I assume that you have a family tree program? That's the primary way that I bring together the information that I have, but I also have files on my computer and paper files in a drawer. Both sets of files are organised in much the same way - there's a file for each family line, and within that file there are subfolders for the various branches.

 

"Each time I go back another generation there's a new line and a new file.

 

"Within the paper files I keep certificates, printouts of census pages, and all sorts of other records such as wills and military records. On the computer I keep scans of certificates, census pages, photographs etc.Ideally I would have both digital and paper copies of everything, but I haven't yet got to that point (and possibly never will), but I do always scan irreplaceable items such as original certificates and old photos. The family tree programs I use allow me to add photos and other images but I haven't done that because I don't feel it would be helpful."

 

I'm not the best-organised of people, but this system works for me - so it may work for you too.

 

Peter's Tips

A couple of months ago I warned members about a company called Tucan Claims, who cold-called me even though I've subscribed to the Telephone Preference Service for many years, then used every trick in the book to try to get my credit card details. On September 15th they were one of the PPI claims companies lambasted on the BBC Watchdog programme hosted by Anne Robinson, so hopefully the authorities will at last do something about these scurrilous companies. When they do, remember - you read it here first!

 

Tip: if you were sold PPI (payment protection insurance) the chances are you have a claim for compensation, but the process is so simple that you don't needs to employ someone to do it for you. You'll find helpful information on the Watchdog website and also on the Which? site.

 

Has your water pressure reduced in recent years? There are inevitably fluctuations during the day, but I'm sure my wife and I are not the only ones to have suffered an overall drop in pressure. In our case this means that when the pressure fluctuates there can be times when there is virtually no pressure at all, which not only makes it difficult to shower but also creates air locks in the system (because we have a traditional vented system with header tanks in the loft).

 

There are, of course, solutions. They aren't cheap, but they will solve the problem. But I don't see why we should have to upgrade our system when we've been living here since 1997, and have only experienced problems in the last year.

 

I'd be interested to know whether other members have experienced similar issues, particularly if you are in the region covered by Veolia Central. Water suppliers have local monopolies - our only alternative would be to sink a well - so there isn't much incentive for them to deliver a better service. I'd also be interested to hear from anyone in the UK who has installed an accumulator tank to resolve pressure problems - which one did you get, and does it work as you had hoped?

 

I've made two batches of Wild Plum jam in the past fortnight, so I'm hoping that before long I'll be receiving entries for the jam-making competition. The category winners will each get a jar of my own Wild Plum jam, and all entrants will get a LostCousins subscription of between 3 and 12 months duration - depending how much my wife and I enjoy your jam!

 

See my July newsletter for full details - the competition closes on 31st October, but early entrants will have an advantage.

 

Finally, don't forget that if you're quick you can get a free LostCousins subscription when you take advantage of the EXCLUSIVE findmypast discount offer. Click here to see all the details in my last newsletter (it's important that you follow the instructions precisely).

 

Stop Press

According to the Financial Times Cunard, the cruise line, is considering moving its shipsí registration from the UK for the first time in its 171-year history to allow people to marry on board across the Atlantic. British law forbids weddings at sea except by a notary or religious minister and Cunard said it was passing up valuable business by keeping its liners, which include the Queen Mary II flagship, in the UK. While it said no decision had been taken, the company said it was exploring options including moving its three vessels offshore. Bermuda and Malta are among flag states permitting captains to perform weddings.

 

I hope you've found my newsletter interesting, and that you'll keep writing in with tips of your own - many of the best tips in my newsletters come from members like you.

 

peter_signature

 

Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins