Newsletter - 3 March 2011
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 19th February 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; in due course there will be an online index to articles.
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In the last issue I wrote about some of the childhood memories that came flowing back when I discovered a box of papers in my father's loft - and it brought a lot of response from members who had made similar discoveries.
But it also reminded me how I spent much of Christmas 1993 studying a large collection of Victorian family correspondence that I had acquired a couple of weeks earlier at an auction. There were hundreds of letters, but there was just one question that I was determined to answer - who was the mysterious Miss Wright to whom so many of them were addressed?
Whoever she was, it was clear that she shared my passion for holding on to things, because amongst the letters I found all sorts of other items: a programme for a concert held at the Assembly rooms in Dover in 1842 at which Signor Rubini was making his last appearance in England; a list of jewellery that she had inherited from her Aunt Penelope in 1833; the programme for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1849.
A torn piece of paper that at first seemed to be part of letter turned out to be the note that once accompanied a rather splendid present:
"Dearest Mary, I hope you will approve this writing desk, a present from your most affectionate Aunt, Penelope Stables"
Over the weeks and months that followed I continued my study - and had many reasons to regret the frugality that led Victorians to fit twice as much onto a page by turning it through 90 degrees and writing in a different colour ink. There were letters from friends, letters from relatives, even - later on - letters from her husband, and all had been carefully kept in neat little bundles - so I found it hard to understand how they could have ended up in my possession 150 years later.
I'll be writing again about Miss Wright and her letters in future newsletters, but let me tell you one thing: whilst Miss Wright's own family may have forgotten her, I never will - because it was her letters that ultimately led me to start researching my own family tree.
PS By coincidence 1993 was also the year in which I discovered "Miss Right" - and we've been together ever since!
Pam wrote from Australia to endorse my comments about keeping memorabilia, but added a couple of suggestions of her own. The first was to always make sure that the people in photographs are identified (obvious, of course, but how many of us leave it for 'another time'?).
Tip: I find that the free Picasa program is great for identifying people in digital and scanned photos
Her second suggestion was really excellent: photograph the jewellery and other heirlooms that you inherit, and write down the story behind each item! Pam also mentioned a really exciting find:
"My cousin (not really interested in family history) recently found a box of papers belonging to our aunt in her cupboard. She thought she would pass it on to me, rather than just throw it out! There were some photos, some newspaper funeral notices, and a letter written by our great grandmother in 1857!! Easily the oldest original document I have! Frances, then 17, wrote, on the day of his passing, to tell an aunt of the death of her grandfather (my great-great-great grandfather). An exciting treasure!"
We've all got cousins who aren't interested in family history - but have we made sure that they're aware of our interest? Let's face it, if we don't have the photographs of our great-grandparents' wedding there are only two possibilities - either someone else has them, or they've been disposed of. Make sure it isn't the second!
The Victoria & Albert Museum will be holding an exhibition of wedding dresses in 2013, and in preparation for this are collecting photographs of weddings from 1840 onwards, not just from the UK but from around the world. Already there are many hundreds of photos on the site, but with your help it could become a truly wonderful resource (I only hope that it will stay online after 2013 so that the family historians of the future can benefit).
Over 3000 glass plate negatives with images from WW1 were recently discovered in a French farmhouse; you can read the story and view some of the photos here. Do you recognise any of the soldiers?
Many thanks to Kim in Australia for tipping me off about this story.
Last year I suggested that it might be a good idea if, when the 2011 Census came around, members here in Britain all kept a copy of our completed census form before sending it back, since otherwise our descendants would have to wait until 2112 to see the data.
However, if you're completing the census online it won't be quite so easy to keep a copy - I understand that unlike most other online forms (such as tax returns) we won't get the chance to download a copy for our own records. A neat solution might be to complete the paper form whether or not you're planning to submit your information online - and I'm sure that doing this will be a lot easier than trying to complete the online form from scratch.
Warning: personal information is covered by the Data Protection Act - if you plan to keep a copy of the form you should get the permission of other members of the household.
Although Census Day isn't until Sunday March 27th, the forms will start arriving soon - and you'll be able to complete the form online at any time between March 4th and May 6th, just so long as you have the Internet access code from the paper form.
Now that most of us are used to the luxury of the extra information on the 1911 England & Wales census, it might come as a bit of shock to realise that there are key pieces of information that won't be asked for in 2011. For example, instead of entering your place of birth, all that you'll be able to enter is your country of birth. Similarly, while you'll be asked for your marital status, you won't be asked how long you've been married, or how many children have been born to the marriage.
If you do decide to keep a copy of your census form, how about keeping an extra document with it that contains additional information that you think might be of interest in years to come?
Tip: you can see a list of the census questions here
Last weekend I had the privilege of meeting for the first time some of the top people from FamilySearch, who had flown over to London especially for Who Do You Think You Are? Live. I took the opportunity to mention that several LostCousins members had written to me concerned that the new FamilySearch site doesn't offer all of the features of the old site - such as searching by batch number - and worried that at some point the old site might disappear.
I'm delighted to say that I got a very positive response - FamilySearch would like to know as much as possible about your concerns, and have promised to look at them very carefully.
This is your chance to help shape the way that the FamilySearch site develops - so please send me your comments about the new FamilySearch site, both positive and negative, and providing as much specific detail as possible. I will then collate them before forwarding them on to FamilySearch.
There was a surprise announcement at Who Do You Think You Are? Live - the British Library has authorised findmypast to digitise and index UK electoral registers from 1832 onwards, and also records of baptisms, marriages, and burials from the archives of the India Office. You'll find more details here.
Although LostCousins members cover a wide age range from teenagers to nonagenarians, a survey I conducted a while back suggests that the average age of members is a little over 60. When I was a child someone of 30 was considered middle-aged, whilst anyone over 60 was ancient - but, of course, now that I'm 60 myself I reckon that people of 60 are merely middle-aged.
This year legislation is coming into force that will outlaw compulsory retirement at 65, but figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of over 65s who are still working has already doubled over the past decade. Although the biggest percentage increase is in over 65s who are working full-time, the majority of over 65s still working only do so part-time - and I'm sure there would be many others who would work part-time if there were more and better opportunities available. (Having just realised that I'll be almost 75 by the time my wife qualifies for a state pension under the new rules I certainly won't be retiring completely for many years to come!)
Over the years I've spoken to lots of LostCousins members who find it difficult to finance their family history research, and that's why in my these newsletters I feature as many money-saving tips as possible, even if they aren't directly related to family history. But another way to help is to provide opportunities to increase their income, so recently I've been looking into some ideas that could do just that (which is why last week 358 randomly selected UK readers of this newsletter received an email from me asking for feedback on one of those ideas).
Not everyone wants to take on extra responsibilities - whatever their age - but my hunch is that a sizeable minority of LostCousins members would be interested in one or other of the ideas I'm currently investigating. Potentially all members could benefit, even those who didn't take part - because if there was a sufficient surplus I'd aim to make LostCousins completely free!
What do you think about the general concept of creating new and meaningful (though not necessarily family history-related) opportunities for the LostCousins community? Are you for it, or against it? I'd welcome your feedback.
From time to time I receive emails from researchers who are seeking others who share their surname. Of course, for those who are running a One-Name Study or a DNA Study it's an essential step - but for the vast majority of researchers it's a bit of a red herring.
Why? Because with every generation there's a 50% chance of the surname changing - simply because women who marry generally adopt their husband's surname. The implications of this are quite staggering - if you were to go back 10 generations, say to 1700, then only 0.1% of the living descendants are likely to bear the surname of their 8G grandfather. Now whilst you might be one of them, by focusing on the surname you're likely to miss 999 out of every 1000 living cousins.
One of the clever things about the LostCousins system is that everyone you enter from the 1881 Census is a potential link to a living cousin, even though the surname shown on the census isn't the name of one of your ancestors (whether as a result of marriage, a slip by the enumerator, or an error by the transcriber).
Tip: whilst it's important to enter your direct ancestors and their households, in practice it's usually the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own in 1881 who prove to be the vital links to 'lost cousins'.
I've come across some unusual names in my time, but when Barbara wrote to tell me about one of her relatives - born in 1905 - I almost fell off my chair! He was registered as Admiral Togo King Edward Williams.
There can't be many Britons who are named after Japanese admirals, so I started investigating - it seems that Admiral Togo was key figure in the Russo-Japanese war, destroying the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 and in effect ending the conflict. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Merit by King Edward VII, and this might explain the conjunction of the two names.
Have you any equally exotic names in your family?
In my last newsletter I suggested you check to see whether Ancestry is available at your local library since in that case it would probably make sense to subscribe to findmypast at home, so that you have access to both sets of data.
Of course, the same would apply if your local library offers free access to findmypast - in that case it would probably make sense to subscribe to Ancestry at home. At the time I wrote the last newsletter I wasn't aware that findmypast even had a library edition, but I've now heard of three library services in England which offer findmypast, and one or two have both findmypast and Ancestry!
Wherever you live make sure you find out what online services your local library has to offer - you may be pleasantly surprised!
Note: there are lots of factors to take into consideration when choosing between different subscription sites, and ultimately only you can decide which is the best in your circumstances. Several of the key considerations were covered in my article in the last issue.
Ancestry subscribers who registered at their Members' Lounge during Who Do You Think You Are? Live in London last weekend were offered the opportunity to get a 25% discount on their subscription renewal.
But you can save even more if you follow the advice of some wily LostCousins members. If you go to Amazon you can buy Family Tree Maker 2011 Platinum for as little as £29.99 including shipping, even though the program comes with 6 months Premium membership to Ancestry.co.uk - and since a full year's Premium membership costs £107.40, that's effectively a saving of 44%, even if you throw the program away.
I hope that this tip will make up for the problem that (unlike findmypast) Ancestry won't offer discounts to LostCousins members - or loyalty discounts to their own subscribers. Please note that I am NOT recommending that you use Family Tree Maker - I have never used the program so have no opinion about it.
Always order birth, marriage, and death certificates from the General Register Office (you can do it online) or from the local register office. The price of £9.25 that the GRO now charges for England & Wales certificates might seem high, but it's nothing compared to the cost of going through an intermediary, some of whom charge £30 or more. Even Ancestry charge £22.95 for something you could buy for less than half the price - as Jan pointed out in a recent email.
The exclusive 15% discount offer that I announced in my last newsletter ends at midnight (London time) on Sunday March 6th and will not be extended - so please don't miss out.
As an additional bonus you can get a FREE LostCousins subscription worth up to £12.50 when you use the COUSINS15 offer code and click here immediately before subscribing to findmypast.
If you buy a 6 month subscription from findmypast you'll get a 6 month LostCousins subscription; if you buy a 12 month findmypast subscription you'll get a 12 month LostCousins subscription. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that 12 month subscriptions are much better value than 6 month subscriptions!
To claim your free LostCousins subscription please forward me a copy of your email receipt from findmypast so that I can verify your entitlement - the sooner you do this the sooner your LostCousins subscription will begin. If you are logged-out from findmypast at any point during the process you'll need to click on the link above a second time before logging-in again in order to secure your entitlement.
Please remember that if you are an existing findmypast subscriber you'll get a 20% loyalty discount when your subscriptions renews automatically - so the offer above doesn't apply. All current findmypast subscriptions include access to the 1911 England & Wales census, but if you have one of the old Explorer subscriptions it won't be included - my advice is to upgrade to a Full subscription at the first opportunity (which is likely to be 3 months before your current subscription ends).
Listening to the presentation on the findmypast stand at the Show last weekend I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they are planning to add some Irish parish records during 2011 - which since people researching their Irish ancestry need all the help they can get, is very good news.
The leading expert on Irish genealogy is John Grenham, whose magnificent Tracing Your Irish Ancestors sits on my bookshelves. According to Mr Grenham the National Archives of Ireland have at last gained the funding required to implement corrections suggested by users of the 1901 and 1911 Ireland census, so if you have any further corrections to submit, now would be a good time to do so.
When I was talking about my childhood memorabilia in the last issue I mentioned the book The Land Where Tales Are Told by Stella Mead. No sooner than the ink had dried than I heard from Sarah, who told me that the book was illustrated by her great aunt, Helen Jacobs - and a very fine illustrator she was too.
There are so many wonderful books by the side of my bed, or on my Kindle at the moment - but the one that has me riveted is Nella Last in the 1950s, the diaries of an apparently ordinary English housewife who contributed to the Mass Observation social research project. Some of you may have seen the 2006 television series Housewife, 49 in which Victoria Wood played Nella Last - I missed it, but have already ordered the DVD.
Several members wrote to tell me about Mapco, a wonderful site that has online maps of London from the 2nd century onwards - it's well worth a look.
On Saturday March 26th there's an opportunity for non-members to find out what's so special about the Society of Genealogists, when the Society holds an Open Day with Library Tours and Beginners Lectures. Everyone is welcome, and everything is free, but because space is limited you must book a place in advance.
When you book, and when you visit, please mention LostCousins!
You know what it's like - you buy something, then you see it on offer for much less. I bought my wife a subscription to Gardeners' World for Christmas - now they're offering subscriptions at less than half price. Typical!
Still, even though I can't benefit from the offer, you can - just follow this link.
Tracing collateral lines forwards can have some amazing results - for example, Frances wrote to tell me how she had traced so many descendants of one couple who married in 1767 that she had been able to add another 359 entries to her My Ancestors page. So far!
Of course, we don't all have Frances' enthusiasm and research skills, but nevertheless it seems that a lot of us forget how important collateral lines can be. After all, a cousin is someone who is descended from a collateral line - so if you want to find more living relatives it makes sense to find out as much as you can about their line of descent. This is usually relatively easy in the period from 1841-1911 because we have ten-yearly censuses to supplement the GRO indexes, but after 1911 it gets a little more challenging.
A good place to start is 1881, because anyone you can track down on that census has a good chance of leading to a 'lost cousin'. In most cases you'll have identified your direct ancestors on that census, but what about the siblings and cousins who had families of their own?
This is where any corrections or updates will be shown.
That's all for now - I hope you've found my newsletter interesting. Many of the articles are inspired by you, the members, so please do keep writing in with your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.