Newsletter - 4 October 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 9 September 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.
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.
When I was in my teens I started keeping bus tickets and other ephemera such as theatre programmes and ticket stubs (hoarding is my one weakness). As a result I can tell you what films I watched while I was at university 40 years ago (and the exact date of each screening), though if you were to ask me what films I watched last year I'd struggle to remember any of them! I've even kept credit card statements back to the 1970s, so I can see how much (or how little) it used to cost for a meal at my favourite restaurant. Perhaps one day, when my memory is failing, these scraps of paper will be the only way to hold on to the past (though whether my wife will allow me to hang on to this 'junk' until then is another matter!).
What clues can we find to the minutiae of our ancestors' daily lives? Parish records are usually the best place to start, but there are all sorts of other records we can search for hints to the sort of lives our ancestors might have led. As an example, the arrival of the railway would undoubtedly have had an impact on most towns and villages - and it could have been positive or negative (as anyone who watched the third series of Lark Rise to Candleford will know). For some it would have meant new business and new opportunity - for others it brought competition and unemployment. If you can discover when the railway arrived in the area where your ancestors were living you may well find clues to their changes of occupation, or their migration.
As long ago as 1839 George Bradshaw began publishing railway timetables, which grew from just 8 pages in 1841 to over 900 pages by the end of the century. A few have been reprinted in facsimile editions and are available at Amazon (but no doubt many more are available in libraries across the country), and by combining this information with other clues, perhaps in postcards or letters, you might in some cases be able to identify the precise train that your ancestors boarded!
Similarly, historical weather reports may provide clues as to the deprivations that our ancestors faced, whether as a result of crop failures or extreme weather conditions. The Met Office has historical information that goes back as far as 1730, though the oldest data I could find online was for 1853. (I was inspired to look for historical weather information by a letter in the latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine in which the writer theorised that the death of a mother and her three children in an Oxfordshire lake in February 1801 might have been the result of breaking ice, rather than suicide and murder as decided by the inquest.)
School and hospital records have often survived from the 19th century (see for example, the Historic Hospitals Admission Records Project), though sadly the Data Protection Act has resulted in more modern records being shamelessly destroyed. When I was at school in the 1960s they produced a little blue book each year listing every pupil with their date of birth, form, and date of entry - there's no way that could be done today. I still have my copies from 1962-68 which I find invaluable when I'm trying to remember names, or figure out whether so-and-so I've read about in the newspaper is the chap I went to school with.
I wrote a while back about searching at Amazon for books written by, or about, relatives - and discovered how I unexpectedly came across a biography of a cousin on my mother's side. But it was only recently that I stumbled across a biography written by my own father, a book that I'd totally forgotten about! Perhaps it's thanks to Dad that I received such a generous compliment from June recently, who ended her email thanking me for these newsletters with these touching words:
"you have a lovely way of writing which makes reading them even more enjoyable, it's as though you are writing to me personally"
Family history can be so much more than simply tracing one's ancestral lineage: genes are important, of course, but nurture is just as significant as nature in determining who we really are.
LostCousins member David has referred me to a 3 month old press release from the Welsh Assembly announcing that the 1911 Census for Wales is available free at all of the local authority archive centres in Wales. I haven't been able to check this out myself - although I was in Caernarvon Record Office less than 3 months ago, it wasn't obvious that this service was available - so please let me know what you are able to find.
With the addition of 340,000 records covering the period from 1901-13, findmypast have now completed their digitisation of the "Chelsea Pensioner" records from 1760-1913 (held in WO97 at the National Archives). Since there are over 1 million records (with over 6 million images) there's an excellent that some of your relatives will be found there - click here to see the press release at the findmypast site.
British prisons may be full to overflowing in the 21st century, but the situation wasn't much better in the early 19th century when ships that were no longer seaworthy were used to hold convicts, some of whom were awaiting transportation to Australia. Prison hulks first came into being after an Act of 1776 authorised their use: Ancestry have now indexed records of prisoners from 1802-1849. It's free to search the records and see the transcriptions, but if you discover one of you relatives and want to see the original images (which are held in HO9 at the National Archives) you'll need a Premium subscription.
Another new set of records at Ancestry relates to female convicts who were granted parole. It's a very small record set with only 4400 records, but worth searching if you suspect that some of your female ancestors were on the wrong side of the law.
Gloucestershire BMDs free online
A joint project between the Gloucestershire Registration Service and Gloucestershire Family history Society is making available indexes for births, marriages, and deaths that have been abstracted from the local registers, which means they provide a lot more detail than you'll find in the GRO indexes. It's completely free to search, and if you want to order a certificate the cost if £9, which is 25 pence cheaper than using the GRO. (Other local BMD projects can be found at the UKBMD site, but not all of them provide as much free information.)
In the course of trying out the site I found several entries relating to my wife's Gloucestershire ancestors, entries I hadn't been able to identify in the more limited GRO indexes - so you too could make some useful discoveries!
In my last newsletter I mentioned that findmypast had added 363,000 Devon baptisms for the period 1813-39; they have now also added 271,00 Devon marriage records from 1754-1837, and 223,000 burial records from 1813-37. In all findmypast now has over 26 million baptism, marriage, and burial records for England & Wales, most of which have been transcribed by dedicated volunteers from local family history societies and so the transcriptions should be as accurate as you or I could manage.
Another source of Devon records that was new to me has been recommended by LostCousins member Ken. Devon Heritage has a diverse collection of records, articles, and photographs - and it's all free!
Land records in the Domesday Book
Because my father was a proof-reader it's not often that I have trouble spelling words, but a website called The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England proved quite a challenge (thank goodness for cut-and-paste). The site provides information about the inhabitants of England from the late 6th to the late 11th century, and the bit that caught my eye was the mention of the Domesday Book, and the searchable records of land ownership. I recommend that you take a look at this PDF guide before trying to carry out a search - I'm still getting to grips with the site.
I recently invoked the Freedom of Information Act to ask the National Archives for more information about their Online User Advisory Panel, including the names of the members - I had noticed that the last minutes posted online were for the July 2008 meeting, even though there was mention of a meeting in December 2009. I also asked whether members of the public were able to attend meetings as observers, as recommended by the Nolan committee over a decade ago.
It transpired that because the format of the meetings has changed, minutes are no longer taken, which makes it difficult for outsiders to know whether the committee is doing a good job - or indeed any job at all. What surprised me more, though, was the refusal of the National Archives to provide the names of the committee members "for data protection reasons" - considering that the names of members had been published in the Minutes up to 2008, I do wonder whether this is yet another case of the Data Protection Act being misapplied?
Nevertheless I was able to elicit a list of the organisations that have representatives on the panel - and a pretty diverse crowd they are! It's good to know that the Guild of One Name Studies and the Federation of Family History Societies are both represented, but I do wonder why eBay, the London School of Economics, and the Department for Work & Pensions are on the list?
The New Zealand Society of Genealogists has recently released a CD ROM with a complete listing of nearly 600,000 people who were eligible to vote in 1911.
The Trove website set up by the National Library of Australia has a wealth of information for those with Australian connections, and includes the historical newspaper database that I wrote about a year or two back (thanks to Luke for alerting me to this new site).
Gentlemen vs Players
Until 1962 when the distinction between amateur and professionals was abolished, there was an annual match at Lord's Cricket Ground between Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals). Even after 1962 some players continued to be unpaid, notably Edward Ralph ("Ted") Dexter, who captained England from 1962-65 but never asked for a penny even though the rest of his team were paid.
I was reminded of this when I read Alan Crosby's article in the November edition of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, in which he argues that in the family history world volunteers can never take the place of professionals. Criticising the government's plans to make greater use of volunteers he wrote: "Professional archivists, for example, are qualified by a master's level university degree - and it is simply wrong to say that doesn't matter and anybody can do the job… I've heard it said that volunteers might work as unpaid assistants in record offices and library searchrooms - in my experience the searchroom assistants are founts of knowledge. We need volunteers, and plenty of them, but we also need the professionals… one is not a substitute for the other."
My experience has been more mixed - some records office staff are incredibly knowledgeable and very helpful, but others less so. I'd rather speak to somebody who has used the records I'm interested in to research their own family, than someone who knows all the theory, but has never done it in practice. Indeed, on another page of the same magazine there was an announcement that the project to scan and digitise birth, marriage, and death records for England & Wales has once again been put on hold. Isn't it amazing that the volunteers of FreeBMD have achieved so much, yet the professionals of the GRO have managed to squander countless millions of our money getting it all so wrong?
Users of the Scotlandspeople site are used to being able to access images they have previously viewed, but it appears that the recent update of the site has resulted in some of those previously purchased records becoming unavailable. If you find that you're affected, and haven't got a copy of an image on your own computer, then I recommend you request a refund of the credits you expended by contacting the Scotlandspeople support team. (Thanks to members John and Nancy for this tip.)
90% of LostCousins members have asked to be logged-in automatically when they visit the LostCousins website, but did you realise that if you log-out of LostCousins when you've finished at the site you won't be logged-in automatically on your next visit?
The trick is never to log-out - just so long as you're using your own computer. Of course, if you're using someone else's computer you should always log-out, whether from LostCousins or any other site.
Tip: make sure you choose a password that's easy to remember - the temporary password issued when you joined wasn't designed to be memorable. Even though you may be logged-in automatically, you won't be able to access the My Details page without your password. Why might you need to visit the My Details page? Why, to change your password, of course! (Or any other personal details, such as your email address or research interests.)
Feeling thirsty? I have a big mug of freshly-brewed coffee at around 11 o'clock each morning - a luxury, perhaps, but one that's far cheaper at home (and these days there aren't many luxuries that cost just 20 or 30p!). Whilst you probably know that keeping ground coffee in the freezer keeps it fresh, did you also realise that by slightly reducing the temperature of the water it helps to preserve the delicious aroma of the coffee? Though making tea requires water that's as close to boiling point as possible (which is why we English "warm the pot"), it turns out that the ideal temperature for brewing coffee is about 92 degrees.
I mentioned a little while ago that my wife was buying me an Amazon Kindle electronic book reader for my 60th birthday, and whilst there was quite a waiting list I'm glad to say that it did arrive in time for the big day. The first thing I did was download a copy of A A Milne's wonderful Now We Are Six - because I had been given the book by my parents on my 6th birthday, and it therefore seemed appropriate that I should download the e-book on my 60th! It was a pleasant surprise to discover that E H Shepard's classic illustrations were faithfully reproduced. But there were more pleasant surprises to come…
Amazon are experimenting with a web browser for the Kindle, and whilst it's a little clunky compared to using Firefox or Internet Explorer on a PC, to have FREE access to the Internet from such a compact device is a real bonus - I was even able to log-in at LostCousins, and send emails using my Gmail account. And whilst I haven't had a chance to try it yet, I understand that I'll be able to get free Internet access in over 100 countries around the world!
Considering that there's no monthly subscription to pay, it's hard to understand how Amazon can afford to offer all this in a device that only costs £149 - though of course, they do plan to make money from selling not only e-books, but also subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and even blogs (in fact, I noticed that in the US they've just started selling games for the Kindle, such as Scrabble - so who knows what else is in the pipeline). However, as LostCousins member Kevin reminded me, they are also giving away thousands of out-of-copyright classics such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Treasure Island (you can see the top 100 free titles if you click here). I've just downloaded A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which tells of his experiences in London in 1665.
If you're trying to find a present for someone special, it's definitely worth taking a look at the Kindle. So often presents go unread, unused, or unworn - but there's no way that a versatile device like this is going to end up in the bottom of a drawer, and it's not heavy enough to be used as a door stop! Who knows, perhaps one day my newsletter will be available for the Kindle?
My birthday present from my father was The Little Book of Essex, a fascinating tome crammed with snippets of historical information about my home county that encompass a wide range of topics - it's well worth considering if you have connections to the county. Incidentally this 'little' book is larger, three times as thick, and half as heavy again as my Kindle (which can hold 3500 average books).
Now that I've reached this 'landmark' I'm going to find out what privileges there are in being 60 - not many so far, sad to say, but I live in hope. As half of LostCousins members are my age or older I'll pass on any tips in a future article.
Knowing how price-conscious I am you might be surprised to learn that I get my broadband through BT, who often seem to be pilloried by the press. However I've always been very happy with their service and I was even happier when I discovered that they now offer unlimited WiFi access - because it means that I can access the Internet free at over 1.5 million 'hot spots' around the world. Many other broadband suppliers offer faster connections and bigger usage allowances, but since I can spend all day on the Internet and send out over 100,000 emails each month without exceeding the allowance for BT's cheapest package, I wonder whether some people believe they are getting a bargain when in fact they're paying for more than they really need?
Finally, I know that I claimed at the start of this newsletter to have only one weakness - but (like Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford) I have to admit to a second. Last year I took out a trial subscription to the Chocolate Tasting Club run by Hotel Chocolat, fully intending to cancel my subscription after gorging the first, heavily discounted, selection - but they were so delicious, I couldn't bring myself to do so. It's true that they are expensive, and I don't suppose they are much good for my waistline either, but the best I could do was cut back from one box a month to one every two months.
So let that be a warning to you - don't order the Introductory Selection even though at £6.95 you'd be paying £3 less than I did (and saving £11 in total)!
FreeBMD is a great site but I find it annoying that they don't use some of their vast treasure chest to make it more user-friendly. I mentioned a while back that when searching for deaths you can specify when the person was born, for example if you enter '@1813-1819' in the box labelled 'Death Age/DoB' it will restrict the search results to those individuals who - according to the age on their death certificate - were born between 1813 and 1819 (of course, this only works for deaths after 1865 when the age at death was first shown in the indexes).
Even less obvious is the facility to add a 'postem' to an entry. Let's suppose that you carry out a search, and find the entry that you were looking for. Alongside the search result there is a little red graphic which reads 'Info', and if you click on that you'll be taken to a page (in a new browser window or tab) which allows you to submit corrections or add notes, which are referred to as postems.
Click 'add a postem' and you can add extra information, such as details from the certificate (if you already have it). It's a great way to make use of a certificate that you've acquired by mistake, or to share information about your own relatives. Sadly postems have been very under-used in the past, but perhaps now that the 58,000 LostCousins members who subscribe to this newsletter are aware of the feature that may change?
This is where any updates or corrections will appear.
That's it for now - I hope you've enjoyed reading this newsletter as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it!
Copyright 2010 by Peter Calver & Lost Cousins Ltd except as otherwise stated