Newsletter - 3rd April 2015
Ancestry is FREE for Easter ENDS MONDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published fortnightly. To access the previous newsletter (dated 5th March) click here, for an index to articles from 2009-10 click here, for a list of articles from 2011 click here and for a list of articles from 2012-14 click here. Or use the customised Google search below (that's what I do):
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At 5.17pm on Thursday 26th March the Deregulation Act received Royal Assent, finally freeing family historians from the tyranny of the General Register Office.
But precisely how will it help? As Tom Brake, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, stated on 10th March when summarising the amendments that had been proposed by the House of Lords:
"amendments 47 and 48 will allow records to be available other than in the form of a certificate. Many family historians and genealogists do not need a certificate, but merely the information contained within it. Providing alternative formats will make it cheaper and quicker to obtain that information. The amendments would provide the power to lay regulations to define how a person may access birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records, the type of product that can be issued, and the fee payable. The regulations could also introduce a legal distinction regarding the age of birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records. That will follow the precedent set in Scotland and Northern Ireland where records are considered historical at 100, 75 and 50 years for births, marriages and deaths respectively."
In other words, the GRO can no longer argue that it would be illegal for them to provide information from the registers of births, marriages and deaths for England & Wales in digital format, or as an uncertified photocopy. As yet we don't know precisely what will happen, although it does seem likely that the cheaper and swifter access might only apply to historical records, which in Scotland and Northern Ireland means births over 100 years old, marriages that took place more than 75 years ago, and deaths from more than half a century ago.
These time limits reflect the sensitivity of more recent data - they go a long way towards protecting the privacy of those who are still living. It will still be possible to purchase certificates, both for historic and more recent events, but it's likely that they will cost just as much as they do today - and quite possibly more.
Gaining access to cheaper copies of birth, marriage, and death entries is only part of the problem - we need better ways of searching for the records. For example, identifying pre-1911 births can be very difficult unless the surname is a rare one because the mother's maiden name isn't shown in the indexes. Finding death entries is even more difficult for the period 1837-1864, before the age at death began to be shown.
However, if we want to mine the records for every scrap of useable data we need to be able to search on every field.† For example, I'd like to be able to search marriage records by the ages of the bride and groom, the names of their fathers, the groom's occupation, or even the names of the witnesses. I'd like to be able to search death records by occupation, or to look only at births where the father's name is missing.
Of course, there's a limit to what we can hope to gain from a free search - and indeed, there may not be any free searches at all. But whatever the charging structure, so long as the GRO's target is to break even, rather than make a profit, we should get much more for our money with the introduction of a far more efficient system.
Inevitably they'll need to involve outside contractors - let's hope they'll have the good sense to involve a company like Ancestry or Findmypast that knows about family history and understands what we need!
Ancestry is FREE for Easter ENDS MONDAY
Until midnight (London time) on Monday 6th April you can access all of Ancestry's UK records free at Ancestry.co.uk - just follow this link to see a list of all the records which are included. Make sure you save records on your own computer, otherwise you won't be able to access the images when the offer ends.
It's a great opportunity to add extra entries to your My Ancestors page - although 5 of the 8 censuses we use at LostCousins are always available free online, the 1881 Scotland and 1841 England & Wales, and 1911 England & Wales censuses usually aren't.
Also, whilst the 1881 England & Wales census is always free, finding your ancestors' extended families on that census often depends on having access to earlier census years - I usually start in 1841 and trace collateral lines using a combination of the censuses and the GRO indexes. Why are collateral lines important? Because ALL of your living cousins are descended from collateral lines - that's what makes them a cousin!
Tip: if you've never entered anyone on your My Ancestors page before, take a look at this Getting Started guide on the Help & Advice page.
Six months ago 2.5 million records from school admission registers and logbooks went online at Findmypast; today another 2 million records have been added, and I was able to find the admission record for my wife's grandfather, William Lloyd, who started at Ynys-y-bwl British School in January 1900 at the tender age of 3 years and 18 days.
Copyright Glamorganshire Archives
Further down the page I found another toddler who started school on his 3rd birthday! It's amazing what we can learn simply by looking at the records that have survived, even when we don't find our own ancestors listed. You can search all 4.5 million records currently online here; a third and final tranche will be added towards the end of the year.
When is a will not a will? That sounds like a joke from a Christmas cracker, but for readers who wrote in recently to two family history magazines it was far from funny.
In each case they'd been to the official website where they'd ordered what they thought were wills, only to discover that their £10 had been wasted - because there was no will. The Probate Calendars list not only wills that have gone to probate but also administrations, where no will was found.
I'm sure that no reader of this newsletter would have made the same mistake, but in any case the site has recently been updated, as you can see from this screenshot:
Although there are a lot of genealogy-related books available free online, I've always found that searching them can be difficult. A new (and currently free) website called GenGophers makes the process quicker and easier. Currently there are 40,000 books in the collection - another 60,000 should be added in the coming months.
There are a number of projects which are looking at the genetic ancestry of the British peoples, but People of the British Isles is the one that really impresses me - and their latest results are extremely interesting.
DNA samples from more than 2000 inhabitants of the UK whose 4 grandparents were born within† 80km of each other have been compared with each other and with samples from continental Europe to produce a map which shows distinct genetic clusters (and therefore common origins) in different parts of the British Isles.
The press release explains now to interpret this map and includes other maps which are similarly revealing - I'd urge you to take a look (it's a PDF document).
For a long time the Family Finder test from FTDNA was the only option for researchers in the UK who wanted to use autosomal DNA testing to explore their ancestry. Recently 23andMe started offering their test in the UK, and now AncestryDNA are offering their own test - which uses Ancestry trees to help explore the genetic matches that are found. Since finding the connection is one of the biggest challenges when we get matches, this is a very interesting feature.
There are a few drawbacks - one is that Ancestry are charging significantly more in the UK than in the US (£99 plus £20 shipping); another is that most of the results in their database are currently from people who live in the US. Perhaps more worrying is that if you allow your Ancestry subscription to expire you won't be able to access some of the features.
Having previously taken the FTDNA test I'm seriously considering taking the Ancestry test to find additional matches. If you haven't yet tested this page on the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) website compares the different autosomal tests that are available.
Tip: if you take the Ancestry test you can upload your results to FTDNA in order to make matches there, but only the first 20 matches are free - after that you have to pay $39 to unlock the remaining matches.
First let's get the bad news out of way... we were very unfortunate with the weather. Not only did it rain on several days, it was also unusually cool (although though not nearly as cold as in England).
Ironically, on the one day when we were expecting the sun to be hidden - the day of the eclipse - the clouds cleared, and two of the attendees who had brought proper cameras and the right filters got some remarkably good photos. The photos in this article were all taken by David - I believe the first one was taken from the apartment in which he was staying.
The course began even before we arrived in Portugal, in a special area on the LostCousins Forum where we could share 'brick walls' - then, for those who arrived early, I negotiated a 10% discount for a Friday evening meal at the Rocha Mar restaurant opposite the entrance to the resort. That meal couldn't have happened without using the forum to gather food orders in advance because there were 35 of us, almost taking over the restaurant!
Saturday was the day when most of the other attendees were arriving, so I didn't attempt to organise anything for that day, but on Sunday we met up for an introductory session at which badges were distributed - coloured bands identified us as speakers, delegates, or non-participating companions. This was followed by an ice-breaking session where around 90 of us were able to mingle over a glass or three of bubbly (or fruit juice, though since we got through about 30 bottles of wine but only one carton of fruit juice, I don't think many went for that option). Two hours later, by the time the sun went down, most of us had made some new friends!
The main course sessions took place on weekday afternoons, but the course kicked off with a Monday morning discussion on the Genealogical Proof Standard, led by Else Churchill (Genealogist at the Society of Genealogists, and one of the leading speakers in the UK).
I'm not going to go through the talks one by one - we had so many excellent speakers - but you can see the timetable for the week here; speaking for the first time at Genealogy in the Sunshine were Professor Rebecca Probert from Warwick University, John D Reid from Canada, and also from Canada we had Donna Fraser, whose joint presentation with her 'lost cousin' Dr Donald Davis really got into the hearts and minds of the audience.
There was something going on most evenings, so even those who travelled on their own could socialise with other delegates, and the social events were also open to non-participating companions, so nobody was left out. 36 of us took part in the Safari Suppers, which proved a great way of getting to know people - whether they were speakers, delegates, or companions.
But all good things must come to an end, and our last day was marked by an astronomical event - the partial solar eclipse. When we woke up on Friday morning the clouds had parted, so there was a good view for those who had the right equipment, like Ged and David:
The course finished with two special sessions: the first was a real-death murder mystery - Chris Paton told us about Scotland's longest unsolved murder case, in which his ancestor was the victim! We then heard from Rebecca Probert about the early 19th century travels and travails of the wife of a soldier in the British Army who fought in Spain and Portugal.
Not everyone could make the end-of-course dinner, but 82 of us crowded into the O Farol restaurant at the resort on the last night - and the question on everyone's lips was "Will you do it again next year?".
We'll have to see.......
How successful have you been in your search for living cousins? The Match Potential figure shown on your My Summary page tells you how many new living relatives you ought to have found by now, assuming average luck, based on the number of relatives you've entered (from different censuses) on your My Ancestors †page.
Every time you make an additional entry your Match Potential goes up - but it also goes up when other members enter their relatives. For example, my Match Potential went up from 6.7879 in December to 7.0025 at the end of March.
Your Match Potential goes up fastest when you enter relatives from the 1881 England & Wales census - the 1881 Scotland census is next, followed by the 1841†††††††††† England & Wales census and the 1881 Canada census. Remember that it's the members of your direct ancestors' extended families - their brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and cousins - who are most likely to provide the vital links to your 'lost cousins'.
Genealogy Printers will print family trees of almost any size and ship them almost anywhere in the world! You'll get a 10% discount when you give your LostCousins membership number when you ask for a quote (it's shown on your My Summary page and begins with the letters 'LC').
Review: File Under Family
Let me say right away that even I was shocked by some of the language in this book. But it was used sparingly and appropriately, not gratuitously - and there was no point at which I had any reservations about recommending this wonderful book. I simply didnít want it to end!
The heroine of the story is a trainee probate researcher - or heir hunter. Having been contacted in the past by an heir hunter who wanted to take a 40% share of the estate of my relative, I have a fairly low view of them, so I should have disliked her - and yet the more I learnt about Anna and her complicated life, the more I liked her. She wasn't perfect, but she worked hard - and still found time to look after her family.
Assigned to a fairly straightforward case - to trace the heirs of a middle-aged lady living on her own - Anna finds herself getting more and more absorbed in the case. But that's not all that's going on in her life - though to tell you any more would spoil the voyage of discovery that I enjoyed so much. It's a wonderfully human tale, and whilst it's one which is more about families than family history that didn't spoil my enjoyment in the slightest.
Highly recommended, File Under Family is currently only available as a Kindle book (but remember you can read Kindle books on almost any device - I read this one on my smartphone). You can help to support LostCousins if you use one of the links below (they'll take you straight to the relevant page at the site):
I'm glad to say that there are going to be three books in the series (this is the first) and the second one is out already. I'll let you know what I think when I've read it!
A month ago Liz wrote "to recommend a book called The Daddy of All Mysteries, which is the true story of a woman's search for her father - she was illegitimate and really only wanted to know if he had loved her mother. I couldn't put it down as the story had many twists and turns."
Currently only available as a paperback the book has 13 reviews on Amazon.co.uk, ALL of them awarding 5 stars - and on top of that, the author turned out to be a LostCousins member. I had to read it!
It falls neatly into two halves: the first half talks about Jess Welsby's early life in Liverpool, her eventual realisation that she was illegitimate, and the family that she knew - all from her mother's side (they were Irish Catholics). Then she describes how, after her mother's death, she came across a letter which pointed towards the identity of her father - and that's when it really gets interesting. A little clue here, a little clue there - suddenly the pieces start to fall into place, though there are plenty of blind alleys and wrong turnings, and inevitably some of the information she discovers turns out to be misleading.
It's a tale that will inspire many to have another bash at their own 'brick walls' - and Jess's joy when she eventually meets people who knew her father reminds us all how family history is about so much more than names and dates.
Whilst it isn't the sort of book I'd normally read (because I get so many interesting stories sent to me by LostCousins members, and have such limited time) - I'm not in the least surprised that it has proved so popular with reviewers. Let's hope that it becomes available as an ebook before too long!
This is where I'll post any last minute additions.
© Copyright 2015 Peter Calver
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