Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The National Trust for Scotland's Archive

The Scottish Genealogy Network were warmly welcomed at the Edinburgh headquarters of the National Trust for Scotland on Monday. When you think about the National Trust for Scotland you may think first about some of the beautiful and historically important properties they manage such as Haddo House and New Hailes. As well as these wonderful buildings the trust owns and manages land including islands such as St. Kilda off the far North West of Scotland. Besides these treasures the Trust has a vast archive.

On our visit to the archive on Monday the archivist, Ian Riches, explained that archive material held by the Trust falls into two categories: historic papers they have received along with a property, and more modern records that have been created by the Trust itself.

Around 45 NTS properties have some historic archive material. These records vary from estate papers to family papers and personal papers.

Amongst the material the Trust has created are records of the running of their properties, which can include information on previous employees.

Work is ongoing to deliver greater access to this material, hopefully this will include an online catalogue. For the time being a basic catalogue is available through the Scottish Archive Network Catalogue.

If you believe the NTS hold documents which could be useful to you get in touch with the archivist who will help you access the documents you need.

Huge thanks to the National Trust for Scotland for allowing us to peer into their amazing archive. If you would like to read more about the NTS archive see the archives section on their website.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Report on the Lanarkshire Family History Fair

Many Scottish Genealogy Network members were busy at the Lanarkshire Family History Society Local & Family History Show last Saturday and I’m glad to report it was a great success!

The fair was well supported by family history societies from across Scotland, local archives, genealogy companies and of course Scottish Genealogy Network members.

Scottish Genealogy Network members were working hard throughout the day in the ‘Ask the Experts’ area where the public could pop along and receive help with their family tree. We had some great entertainment from a group of local school children and the face-painting area and other exhibitions meant there was something for all the family, not just the genealogy enthusiasts!

Two of the four talks, which were given in the auditorium of the concert hall, were given by SGN members. Chris Paton spoke on using newspapers to help trace our family tree and gain an understanding of the community our ancestors lived in. The last talk of the day was given by Graham Maxwell who spoke about using Sheriff Court records to trace your illegitimate ancestors.

Tristram Clarke, the family history specialist from the National Records of Scotland, gave a talk on soldiers’ wills. These are a wonderful resource if you are tracing twentieth century ancestors in Scotland. Chris Fleet, the senior map curator at the National Library of Scotland, gave an interesting talk on the maps that the NLS hold and how to access them online.

The Lanarkshire FHS will be hosting the SAFHS fair next year and I believe it will be at New Lanark. Keep an eye on the Lanarkshire FHS website for up-to-date information.

You can see our full photo album from the day on Facebook.

Monday, 8 June 2015

CPD Event - Our First Webinar

Screenshot from our Webinar
The Scottish Genealogy Network was formed to give a framework for genealogists across Scotland to meet together and learn from each other. We learn genealogy skills from one another and it is a good environment to discuss different business strategies and pick up tips on social media.

The aim is to exchange experience and develop as genealogists who can provide a better service to our clients.

Last month we took a brave step of hosting our first webinar. This event was for SGN members only, but hopefully the experience will enable individual SGN members to host these for the public at some point in the future.

This first webinar looked at the basics of social media, encouraging members to write blogs, tweet more and create business facebook pages. This CPD event was a prelude to a social media training day which will hopefully be held by the SGN early next year.

If you are working as a professional genealogist (or in a related field) we encourage you to join our group. Email our secretary (Emma Maxwell) who will be happy to provide details for you:

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sex, rock and roll and maybe we just missed the drugs!

Stirling University Archives Premises
Actually, such a ‘red top’ title is not needed. Archives are wonderful places as this visit to the University of Stirling Archives and Stirling Council Archives on 27 March proved. For all eleven of us, it was great to have the chance to find out more about the breadth of an archive’s collection rather than to consult a specific set of records.
Stirling University is fairly new as far as Scottish universities go, founded in 1967, but recent acquisitions have put it firmly on the genealogy trail. The key interest is the records of the Stirling District Asylum, from 1869, and the Royal Scottish National Hospital (RSNH), from 1862, both formerly in Larbert. The Asylum
Stirling University Archives
Checking RSNH Registers
catered for people from central Scotland mainly but the RSNH cared for children with learning difficulties from the whole country and beyond. Admissions registers and case records make for fascinating reading with many of the Asylum records also containing photographs. The Victorian language is rather shocking in places: at one time the RSNH was ‘for the education of imbeciles’. Children’s records are closed for 100 years and those of adults for 75 years. Unlike those two NHS collections, the records of the Musicians Union, starting in the 1890s, are still being added to on a regular basis. They include branch membership records, local and national minutes and newsletters which detail new members, changes of address and members removed for not paying their dues. Karl Magee, University archivist, highlighted sets of minutes and journals detailing the impact of the new-fangled ‘talkies’ on musicians’ employment: the view was that they wouldn’t last!
Stirling Council Archives
Slum Housing Replacement Plans
Stirling Council Archives
1360 charter & Kings Seal
Stirling Council Archives were established in 1975 as Central Region Archives but the collections go back much further, almost to the establishment of Stirling as a burgh with the earliest charter dated 1360. We were shown a letter from Charles, Prince of Wales, to the town council of Stirling. Not one of those covered by the very recent Freedom of Information request, this one was dated January 1746 and basically said give me the key to the town or you will suffer for it! Council records of many sorts (town, police burgh, county, Central Region) form the core of the collection but there are also militia records, church records, mainly Church of Scotland (Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire) but also some Episcopal, Methodist and Baptist, estate records with rich collection of letters and a range of other personal deposits. Bear in mind that that coverage is generally the current Stirling Council area so places like Dunblane and Doune, in Perthshire, are included. Pam McNicol, Council Archivist, had a very wide range of very interesting documents on show for us including some beautiful hand drawn estate plans and a set of records from Whinwell Children’s Home, following a child through to emigration to Canada.
Our title? A rather explicit description of a visit by the Devil in a witchcraft trial of 1658 (Stirling Presbytery Minutes) provided the sex. And who joined the Musicians Union on 1 August 1962? Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Peter Best (Ringo was later) of course. That’s the rock and roll. Drugs? Probably listed in the very detailed stores inventories in the Asylum annual reports.
Many thanks to Karl and Pam for hosting us and for your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the collections in your care. We had a great day!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

SGN visit to Glasgow

On Friday 27th February the Scottish Genealogy Network visited two very different facilities in the west end of Glasgow, the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society ( and the Glasgow University Archives service (

We started our visit at the family history society, based in Partick, at 11.30am, and spent well over an hour talking to Sheila Duffy, Elizabeth Smith and John McCreadie about the many resources that the society has on offer for the family historian. The premises are located in the basement at 32 Mansfield Street in Partick, with usual opening hours being every Tuesday from 2 pm until 4.30 pm, every Thursday from 10 am until 8.30 pm, and then on Saturdays from 2 pm until 4.30 pm (exceptions for holidays are noted on the society's website). The society is one of the longest running in Scotland, and we started by hearing an overview from Sheila of its impressive resources and its activities - not least of which its important role in helping to save the city's poor law records (some of the best in existence in the country) which it later helped to index. After this we were allowed a chance to browse the library's many holdings, as well as the databases accessible on site.

After a quick lunch in Partick we made for the archives service, where we were greeted by archivist Claire Daniel. Claire first showed us an overview of the archive's facilities via a short introductory film - this can be viewed on the institution's website at, and is also presented here:

Claire then described the various holdings at the institution, including the Scottish Business Archive, and how they are catalogued. Most are described at collection level via the Archives Hub website at, with the main exception being the holdings of the House of Fraser collection, which has a separate cataloguing system that was developed in Australia, and which can be found on a dedicated platform at

Claire describe some of the complexities of the business collections, for example locating records at various periods when the company might have gone by a different name or before it was acquired by a larger corporate body. She also gave examples of how useful they can be, for example some excellent apprenticeship records survive for various shipbuilding forms on the Clyde, as well as for permanent staff.

Useful examples from student records were also produced including matriculation and exam papers, and some humorous descriptions of students in medical students final year dinner books, which were also illustrated with photos of each student. In terms of online holdings the university's student newspaper, the Glasgow Guardian, has been digitised from 1932-1935 and 1955-2007, and can be accessed at the main website.

If you wish to use the facility you need to make an appointment prior to your visit (see To keep up to date with the archives developments you can also follow it on Twitter at @GUArchive and via the university library's blog at

A huge thanks to all at both the family history society and the university archive, and also to SGN member Judith Russell for arranging the visits!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Report on the Scottish Genealogy Network's Paisley Meeting

The Scottish Genealogy Network’s latest get-together was a visit to Paisley on Friday 5th December.  SGN member Jack Davis had organised a morning tour of Paisley Abbey, followed by the afternoon at the Heritage Centre in Paisley Central Library.  Around eight members managed along on a cold winter’s day, but certainly got a warm welcome from the Buddies.

First off, David Rowand and Jim Smith of Renfrewshire Family History Society introduced the group to the resources that the FHS has within Paisley Abbey.  Their two small rooms (one up a spiral staircase and along an unbelievably narrow medieval corridor) contain a wealth of material for family history research – including microfilm of OPRs and censuses; reference books; old photographs; journals of their own and other FHSs; a transcription of passport applications made in Glasgow from the 19th and early 20th centuries; bombing maps of Paisley showing damage done to the town during WW2; and what’s known as the “Register of Bookings for the Burgh of Paisley”, which is similar to the Register of Sasines.  Jim Smith is researching the Paisley fallen of WW1, and hopes to have this published next year; David Rowand (known as “Mr Paisley”) is the author of a number of books about the town, and fount of many stories.

We were then joined by Dr Gilbert Shaw, who gave us a potted history of the Abbey, which was founded as a priory in 1163 by Walter Fitzalan, High Steward of Scotland.  It was one of only three Cluniac monasteries in Scotland and monks came to it from Wenlock in Shropshire.  Surprisingly, for 50 years after the Reformation in 1560, Catholic services still took place in St Mirin’s Chapel within the Abbey, while the Church of Scotland occupied the rest of the building.

The Abbey had strong connections with Robert the Bruce (who received Papal Absolution there for his murder of the Red Comyn) and with the Stewart kings of Scotland.

Over the centuries, parts of the Abbey were damaged or destroyed, and some of the rebuilding took place before and after WW1, despite its ancient appearance.

After a tasty lunch in the lovely Ta Ta Bella’s cafe (the name leads to another interesting story!), we crossed the road to the Heritage Centre, which shares a building with both the Central Library and Paisley Museum.

David Weir and his staff had brought out lots of interesting archive material for us to see, including examples of the exceptionally good Poor Law Records, which start in 1839; some of the 46 handwritten volumes of the Cairn of Lochwinnoch (a local history covering everything from family trees to wildlife, news and gossip compiled between 1827 and 1854); some of the vast collection of newspapers, including the Glasgow Journal which goes back to 1755, as well as the Paisley Advertiser, Paisley Herald, Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette and Paisley Daily Express.  There are indexes available, a number of them handwritten.

We were fascinated by a set of registers from what was known as the “half time school” – a school for children who worked in Paisley’s thread mills, but also received education.  These registers record the name of the child, birth date, address, names of both parents (including maiden name of mother), date of starting employment, the signature of a surgeon who certified they were fit to work, and – written in the margin – the name of the “shed” the child was working in.  The registers were dated 1880-99, and seemed to contain only the names of girls, average age around 11 years.
As well as its thread mills, Paisley was of course famous for its weavers, and in particular its Paisley shawls, and we were lucky in having Curator of Textiles Dan Coughlan guide us around the shawl gallery and explain the origins of these garments (and indeed works of art!).

Silk weaving had begun in the town in 1759, and the Paisley weavers soon became more successful than the famous silk weavers of Spitalfields.  They then pioneered cotton manufacturing, and moved into the shawl trade in the early years of the 19th century.  Shawls were popular garments at that time, and they started weaving what were known as “imitation Indian shawls” – the real Indian shawls being so time-consuming to make that they cost the same as a small London house.

The shawl gallery has a selection of wonderful woven and printed shawls, with displays on how they were worn with the changing fashions of the day.  Dan also showed us some of the looms and other weaving machinery that he has managed to rescue, including a machine for making the punched-hole cards that the weavers used as patterns - it’s amazing to think that one Paisley shawl could require up to 50,000 punched cards.

Paisley has a lot to offer the family historian, and a number of SGN members are keen to return to the town to start digging into these great archives.  A big thank you to all who made the day so interesting and enjoyable.


Monday, 10 November 2014

The Scottish Genealogy Network CPD day in Edinburgh

Saturday 25 October saw the fourth bi-annual continuing professional development (CPD) day of the Scottish Genealogy Network. The event was hosted by the Southern Cross Café which is conveniently situated on Cockburn Street, Edinburgh. The friendly staff kept the tea and coffee flowing and also brought us some rather delicious carrot cake!!

In the past our CPD days have covered topics which focussed on research in specific record sources. The programme this time was a little different, as the theme was running a successful business. It seems that there is an occupational hazard that all of us have fallen  victim to. We get so involved with the projects that we are working on that we spend far more time on some projects than we charge for! This may seem great if you’re an individual who is looking for a researcher, but if you are a genealogist trying to earn a living it’s not really very practical.

Most of us began our businesses because we love genealogy. so we’ll never eliminate the problem entirely. When we’re working on an interesting project it can be a pleasure to spend extra time on it; we don’t always see this as a problem.

The day focussed on how we can earn a living from genealogy. We started with three talks looking at how we can diversify from standard client research and how this can help us to have a regular income.

First up was Scottish genealogist Chris Paton, who is well known as a genealogy author, as well as his popular blogs and magazine articles. He gave us some helpful tips on how to get started in writing and explained how this can give a regular basic income, something which is very important to anyone who is self-employed.

Kirsty Wilkinson, who you may have seen on Billy Connolly's episode in the recent series of Who Do You Think You Are?, gave the next talk. Kirsty explained that by being a member of the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents (ASGRA), she has attracted a different type of research and the work has proved quite steady. ASGRA is an accrediting body and as such, some legal practices use only ASGRA members for their research. Whilst this is not true of all legal firms, being a member of ASGRA can prove to be an advantage.

Graham Maxwell gave the third talk, looking at how indexing historical records can help your business. As with writing and legal work, creating online indexes can attract clients and also provide a basic steady income. Graham began publishing genealogy indexes 13 years ago and over that time has built up a large database. If you’re just starting out even a small index can help get your website noticed.

After these initial talks we had a variety of discussion groups lead by Scottish Genealogy Network members Emma Maxwell, Jane Harris, Anne Callan and Lorraine Stewart. A variety of helpful tips were brought out as well as discussions on how to use social media effectively to promote your business.

All in all, it was a very productive day which we hope will assist SGN members to run successful businesses which provide an income to their family and a good service to their clients.

If you are already working as a genealogist in Scotland, or are considering launching a business, please get in touch with our secretary to ask about joining the group. The next meeting will be in Paisley on 5 December 2014.