Newsletter - May 3, 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 April 17, 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 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.
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.
May 1st was the 6th anniversary of the day I launched LostCousins, handing out leaflets to people waiting in the queue for the Society of Genealogists Annual Fair, now part of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Despite passing out hundreds of leaflets, at the end of that first day there were just 10 members - so I don't suppose anyone in that queue could have predicted that 6 years later LostCousins would be one of the largest independent genealogy websites, with 80,000 members (that's six times as many as the SoG, which has been going for 100 years!).
Before the days of the Internet it would have been inconceivable for one person to run any organisation with that many members, let alone one which has brought together thousands of living relatives - many on opposite sides of the globe. Isn't technology wonderful!
After 8 weeks - twice the statutory limit - the Circumlocution Office, sorry, General Register Office eventually responded to my Freedom of Information request and provided a summary of the costs relating to their certificate service.
If the figures supplied to me are the only ones upon which the pricing decision was taken, then I am shocked - they don't appear to have considered the possibility that a lower price for certificates might produce a greater income. Buying the special paper and printing the certificates costs just 16p per certificate; posting a certificate costs just 23p on average. The rest is accounted for by staff costs, IT, property costs, depreciation, bank charges, and 'support services'.
Can you imagine a commercial organisation remaining in business for very long if all they did to set their prices was add up their costs then divide the total by the number of units they expected to sell? You don't need to have worked as an accountant (as I have) to know that many costs are fixed, and that as more units are sold the average cost of each comes down. And you certainly don't need to have studied economics (as I have) to know that when you cut the price the demand generally goes up - which means that reducing the price of certificates to £5 might well have produced a greater surplus for the taxpayer than raising it to £9.25.
Whoever wins the forthcoming General Election I sincerely hope they'll get the GRO working on a more commercial footing - if companies like findmypast and Ancestry were as inefficient they'd be charging us £1000 a year for their services!
The University of the West of England is creating a database which will contain the meanings and origins of up to 150,000 UK surnames - and it will be made available to family historians and other members of the public.
What isn't clear is whether they'll include surnames that are no longer used: as anyone who has browsed 18th century parish registers will know, there are many surnames that no longer exist - and whilst some lines may simply have died out, I suspect that in many cases the bearers chose to adopt a more common (or less embarrassing) name.
Nevertheless 150,000 surnames is an enormous number - the Guild of One-Name Studies only has 7,850 surname studies registered, and even at LostCousins we have only 50,000 different names in the database. The UWE has a grant of over £800,000 from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, which is only just over £5 per name - let's hope they don't run out of money before they get to the names that interest each of us!
The project is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Inspired by the General Election that takes place on May 6th, findmypast have researched the backgrounds of the leaders of the three main parties. The biggest surprise for me was to discover that apart from having a Spanish wife, Nick Clegg has a Dutch mother, and on his father's side, a Russian Baroness for a grandmother!
For more information see this article on the findmypast website.
LostCousins member and professional genealogist Chris Paton is a prolific writer of magazine articles so I'm not sure how he managed to find the time to write Researching Scottish Family History, his latest book. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy, as Amazon had sold out, but it was recently described by Your Family Tree as "a friendly and informative guide for beginners... at under £8 this is excellent value, and offers plenty of †suggestions for further reading if you'd like to explore specific issues in greater depth".
Currently the Scotland 1881 has the second-best coverage of all the censuses that LostCousins supports, though as a percentage of the population it's less than half of the figure for England. If you have Scottish connections I'd encourage you to check that you've entered all of your relatives from 1881 - remembering that it's the brothers, sisters, and cousins who had families of their own in 1881 that are most likely to be the links to your 'lost cousins'.
Does anyone still use credits? Over at findmypast they've just increased the number of credits required to view the 1841-1901 Censuses - the first increase for 4 years, apparently. Personally I couldn't afford to go back to credits, as my annual subscription pays for itself 10 times over - but if you want to know all the details click here.
Talking of credits and findmypast, they now have a fair usage limit of 5000 records per month - which in my experience is more than adequate. The last time I wrote about this topic the limit given in the Terms and Conditions was 5000 credits, rather than 5000 records.
Since 5000 records could equate to 150000 credits, worth about £12000, findmypast are being jolly generous - as even their most expensive subscription is only £150 a year (or £120 for renewals).
Because the 1911 England & Wales Census was scanned directly, rather than being microfilmed first, the piece number isn't shown as part of the image (as it is for earlier censuses) - in fact, the only census reference you're likely to see is the Schedule Number - and even that is isn't always given.
When I save images from the 1911 Census I include all the census references in the file name (by copying and pasting them, so it's quick and error-free). But so long as you record the piece number (prefixed RG14PN) and the Schedule Number (prefixed SN) you should be able to find out the other references using a free search.
Quite a few members have written to me about the finds they made following my "Have you tried.." tip for Google Books a couple of months ago (click here to see the original article). Recently Geraldine told me about an amazing discovery she'd made - the handwritten journal of her great-great aunt, a missionary, describing her 5-month voyage to India. I wonder what you'll find?
In the last issue my "Have you tried.." tip was about Google Street View. Bettina told me how she'd been trying to persuade her mother, who had emigrated to Australia half a century ago, that she ought to visit England to see her relatives. But it was all to no avail - until she walked her mother around her home town using Google Street View. Now she's planning to go back later this year!
What will Google think of next, I wonder? And all of it free!
If any of your relatives served in the Royal Marines during the Great War you will be interested to know that findmypast have recently added the Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-20, a record of all marines who received campaign medals in respect of their service in World War 1.
FamilySearch is by far the most popular free genealogy site, and probably the most useful - but it's also one of the least well understood sites. For the past couple of years there has been a pilot site, signposting the FamilySearch of the future - and incorporating many new databases. Now there's another new site, a beta site, with records that include 300 million names.
According to Dick Eastman's genealogy newsletter the beta site will soon become part of the main FamilySearch site. At a glance the databases seem to be the same as at the pilot site, though I haven't attempted to carry out a detailed comparison.
Over the past year I've mentioned on many occasions that I prefer the old-style searches at Ancestry - but I've suddenly realised that newer Ancestry users might be wondering what I'm talking about, or why it matters.
The old system allowed one to carry out precise searches, or to use wildcards to allow for errors or other discrepancies. Once I'd mastered the system I could do all sorts of wonderful things, such as search for a family using forenames alone - a great way to overcome badly-mistranscribed surnames. Of course, to achieve all this I had to tick the 'Exact matches only' box, otherwise I was showered with so many matches that I didn't want that I couldn't find the ones I was looking for!
The new system probably isn't intended for experienced users like me. It seems to have been designed for people who don't know what they are doing, in order that they can get some results - even if they are the wrong ones - rather than none at all. I hate it! Don't get me wrong, I'm all for encouraging beginners - I just wish Ancestry could have achieved this without messing things up for the people who do know what they're doing.
Fortunately it is possible to switch back to the old-style searches - if you know how. First go to Ancestry, then choose Search All Records from the Search tab. On the next page look at the far right end of the navigation bar - you should see the words Old Search or New Search just below the bar. Click to switch to the other type of search - and see how you get on.
(In the unlikely event that there are some experienced Ancestry users out there who think the new-style searches are better, by all means tell me why you've come to that conclusion - preferably with some real examples.)
Ever since they changed their website address from findmypast.com to findmypast.co.uk I'd been wondering what they were planning - and now we know. Findmypast.com.au will be launching shortly, and will incorporate the Australian operation of WorldVitalRecords - though knowing findmypast, I bet they've got all sorts of plans to expand.
I tried to visit the site just now, but got an error message, so clearly they haven't launched yet. But when they do, I'd be interested to know what our Australian members think of the new site.
Have you ever realised that your credit card statement hasn't arrived in the post? This happened to me last June, and so of course I phoned up to find out how much I needed to pay, paid the bill, and then forgot about all about the missing statement. Until 3 weeks ago....
Opening the post I was surprised to discover an invoice for a computer program that I hadn't ordered, with a delivery address that I didn't recognise. My first call was to the supplier, and I eventually discovered which of my credit cards had been used to place the order. I then phoned the bank, who agreed to cancel the card and send me a new one.
A few days later the statement arrived showing several more fraudulent transactions - and what was particularly interesting was that the date of the first transaction was just after the date of the previous statement. This suggested that the fraudster - whoever he or she was - not only knew the credit card details and my name & address, but also when my statement was normally sent out (so that they had a full month to reap their ill-gotten gains before anyone realised what was happening). And that's when I suddenly remembered the missing statement.....
Now that the 1911 Census is available and there are searchable indexes of England & Wales births, marriages, and deaths that extend into the 21st century, it's often possible to add names to the lower branches of your family tree without buying a single certificate (and given the extortionate new price that surely makes sound financial sense).
But how can you be certain that the entries you've found are the right ones? Here's a trick that I use myself, and which you may find useful....
Let's suppose that you've identified the marriage of one of your relatives, and you want to find out what children they had. Because the mother's maiden name is shown in the birth indexes after 1911 it's easy to identify births where both the father's surname and the mother's surname batch - but how can you be sure that there isn't another family with the same surnames?
Simple - just search for marriages between people with those surnames. If only one comes up in the right time-frame, then you can be fairly certain that the births you've found relate to your couple. But even if there's more than one, you can often allocate the births between the couples based upon geographical location or timing.
It's not a foolproof solution, but it's a pretty reliable one! I'll have some related tips for you in future newsletters.
This is where any late updates will appear.
That's all for now - I hope you've found some of the articles relevant to you and your family tree.
If you want to show your appreciation then the best way of doing this would be to add an extra couple of households to your My Ancestors page (it only takes 1 or 2 minutes per household). Much as I enjoy receiving complimentary emails, the true measure of my success is the number of 'lost cousins' who make contact, and of course it's the data you provide that allows me to match you with your living relatives.
Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated