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.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A History of Working-Class Marriage

When I began tracing my family tree, I was surprised to discover the high rate of children born outside marriage, particularly in the Victorian era. I was also confused by the fact that many marriages didn’t take place in a church but in the manse or the bride's parent’s home. As I researched further it became clear that my view of how my Victorian ancestors lived was nowhere near the reality.
Our Traditional View of Family Life

Having now been researching for over ten years, and having looked into so many different families, a better picture has built up in my mind of what life was really like. There are still many questions, though, that I have not yet found an answer to. This is why I was delighted to hear that a team at Glasgow University have undertaken the project ‘A History of Working-Class Marriage’. The project looks across Scotland from 1855 to 1976. The results of this project will be useful and interesting to anybody tracing their Scottish family, which is why the Scottish Genealogy Network attended their workshop in Dumfries yesterday.

Poor Mary died in childbirth only two years
into her marriage. Death remains the main reason for
the end of a marriage.

The project

In the words of their website, “we want to get beyond public discourses and official policy to understand what people are actually thinking and experiencing of marriage and cohabitation; and how that experience relates to broader social and political understandings. To do this, we are asking for your help!" As a group of professional genealogists, the Scottish Genealogy Network took this on board and headed down to Dumfries to meet the team and hear a talk on the subject.

Specifics of the project

The team are gathering information throughout Scotland, and want to hear from you wherever you are. They are looking at different family forms: regular marriages, irregular marriages, marriage by declaration and marriage by habit and repute. They are interested in different cultural backgrounds. They are examining all types of families, not just families in their traditional form. The project is broken into the following sections: Life course of a marriage Love and courtship Expectations and experience of a marriage End of a marriage: divorce, death informal separation and divorce Parenting, influence of having children
William Beattie and Christina Scott Heatlie
on their wedding day
19 Febuary 1875

Findings so far

Dr Jeff Meek, a member of the team, has been looking at five diverse geographic areas of Scotland and has sampled 1000 families in each area for the census years 1861, 1881 and 1901. Looking at the samples in all all five areas across Scotland, the team has discovered that around 50% of families were traditional or nuclear families; parents and children. There are regional variations. An example is Perthshire, where in the 1881 census 43% of families we ‘traditional families’ and 33% were single parent families. I found it really interesting to learn that the statistic of 50% of families being traditional or nuclear families is much the same as it is today. In the 1960s and 1970s however, the figure was much higher. This perhaps explains why we may have preconceived ideas about the family structures of our ancestors.

Jim Maxwell and Isobel Sommerville
on their wedding day in 1941

The team needs your help

The team are now almost half way through their four year project and they really need your help. They are looking to hear from anyone with experience of family (that’s everyone) prior to 1976. This means that the baby boomers of the post war generation are perfect, and also anybody older than that. Even if, like me, you’re a little too young to give your experiences you can help by submitting ephemera. Do you have pre-1976 wedding photos, love letters and stories? If you’re not sure that what you have would be valuable to the team, why not contact them and let them decide? This is just a brief overview of what the team are doing, visit their website and follow them on twitter to learn more and follow their progress.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The SGN at Who Do You Think You Are Live in Glasgow

Many of the members of the Scottish Genealogy Network are looking forward to the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event in Glasgow on August 29th and 30th.

Some members will be working on stalls, others will be helping out in the ‘Ask The Experts’ area or are giving talks. Wherever we are though, you’ll be able spot us because we’ll be wearing our new badges. Feel free to come up and ask a question and we’ll do our best to help, we do so love a challenge!

If you don’t have your tickets yet there are some good offers around. It’s probably worth buying them ahead of time as tickets are usually more expensive on the day.

Ask the Experts

You will find a lot of SGN members in this area, ready and waiting to help you with your genealogy research. How does it work, I hear you ask? As the WDYTYA website says, ‘Twenty minute appointments can be booked on the day by simply visiting the reception desk in the Ask the Experts area. You will be asked to fill in a pre-booking form so that you can be matched to the appropriate expert . . . Ask the Expert sessions are not bookable in advance unless you purchase a beginner ticket to the show.’ Click here to find out more.

The Keynote Workshop

Scottish Genealogy Network member Marie Dougan will be outlining different developments in technology in these extended workshops. Tickets for these workshops are just £3, click here to learn more about the event and book your tickets.

SGN members

Society of Genealogists' Workshop Programme

The Society of Genealogist have arranged a great programme of talks and workshops. Some talks are ideal for beginners some for the more experienced genealogist. Take a look at their programme and book the workshops you don’t want to miss! As the Sunday of the show has been cancelled some of the talks are already well booked so again don’t leave it until the day, visit the WDYTYA Live website and book the talks you want.


The show brings together the large companies, family history societies and other small genealogy businesses all under one roof. With a huge variety of exhibitors there will be something for everyone! Take a look at the WDYTYA website for a full list.

Here's a tip though, you may think you’ll have plenty of time but if you are only attending one day and you are listening to talks you may run out of time. Read over the list of exhibitors and mark the ones you don’t want to miss!

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Scottish Genealogy Network's Visit to the Hawick Heritage Hub

On Saturday 26 July the Hawick Heritage Hub opened up its doors to the Scottish Genealogy Network. Juline Baird, assistant archivist, began by telling us about the Heart of Hawick, the regeneration project for Hawick. The Heart of Hawick includes the Heritage Hub (which we visited), Borders Textile Towerhouse, Tower Mill Café Bar and the open air Civic Space.

The Heritage Hub is the main archive for the Scottish Borders, although it should also be noted that some local museums also hold documents for their area so it’s worth getting to know what each museum has.

Opened in 2007, the Hub is certainly a modern, bright and comfortable place to work. There are large desks ideal for research, a number of computer desks and some more comfortable chairs around the windows which look like an ideal place to sit and read one of the archive’s excellent collection of reference books.

Juline explained to us that whilst there is now an online catalogue it is still being updated so sometimes it may still be necessary to consult the paper catalogue in the archive. If you are researching from a distance you can of course email the archive and ask for assistance.

Juline then showed to us a most fascinating volume from within the archive’s collection, concerning accidents and unexplained deaths in Roxburghshire, created by the Roxburghshire County Police in the late 19th century. This is of those records that allows us to peel back the layers and look into people’s private lives at some of their darkest moments. There is no denying this is a heart touching volume.

Here is an entry which touched me, and without this volume we may never have learnt about:

August 1886
Cart Accident - Not Fatal
Charles Blyth

This boy aged 5 years son of and residing with Alice Blyth a Hawker Kirk Yetholm got his left leg broken in two places above the knee and sustained other bruises by hanging on to the hind board of a cart which was being driven though Kirk Yetholm by James Martin son of James Martin Farmer residing there and throwing up his leg trying to get into the cart, in so doing his leg was caught in the wheel & he was carried twice round before the cart stopped.

Dr Forbes Yetholm attended this boy and set his leg & states that it is impossible at present to estimate the extent of injury sustained but says that he seems to be very badly hurt. Robert Service Pig dealer and William Stenhouse Farmer both residing in Kirk Yetholm saw the accident.

After looking at this very interesting volume we were taken on a tour of the archive, including behind the scenes. We even climbed to the very top of the building to see the inside of the turret!

First we were shown the small room used as a library. This is not self service: staff will bring the books you need directly to you. They have a large collection of printed genealogies and various local reference books which are invaluable when researching. What they also have is a collection of envelopes, organised by parish which hold some basic information for that parish. If you are unfamiliar with an area I would definitely recommend these as a starting point as they give you an overview of that parish.

Upstairs Juline showed us into one of the archive’s main storage rooms: there are 1.5 miles of modern shelving. This is excellent for a local archive, as it means everything they hold is on-site, meaning that if your research takes you in a new direction on the day you can look at whatever you need on site.

Another way this archive excels is that it not only has access to the Scotland’s People Centre for just £15 a day, but also access to much of the ‘Virtual Volumes’ system generally only available at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. When you add to this the fact that this innovative archive has been gradually digitising their own records, you come to the conclusion that by sitting down at a computer in the Hawick Heritage Hub you would certainly be able to do a lot of your family tree!

All in all this is a five star archive, possibly one of the best in Scotland and well worth a visit by any genealogist, professional or amateur!

Visit to St. Andrews

It was a glorious day when a group of enthusiastic genealogists met in St. Andrews on June 27th. First we visited the Parish Church, which has an item of particular interest to a group of genealogists. You may have heard of the Kirk Session records, almost always packed with minutes of the church’s enquiries into cases of fornication and adultery. The Session would question the woman, trying to discover the name of the child’s father. Once guilt was established the offenders would be disciplined by sitting on a stool placed at the front of the church, and rebuked in the presence the congregation. The specific discipline practices varied from place to place but below you can see a photograph of the stool once used in St. Andrews.

After this we went for some lunch and a catch-up followed by a walk around the beautiful streets, stopping at the Cathedral for a group photo.

Members of the SGN in St. Andrews
We then made our way to the University Archive which is in a refurbished church. The University have created this modern facility, suitable for use as a study space and a research centre. It not only performs these functions admirably but also looks beautiful! It was a real privilege to be shown round this amazing space.

We were then taken through to a room with a great array of treasures from the Archive which had been selected by archivist Norman Reid. Norman explained some of the history of the University and outlined what type of records they hold. Because it is such a long-established university people have been depositing records and books with them for centuries, this has enabled them to build up a truly unique collection.

For the family historian some of the key records they hold are local Kirk Session and council records as well as family papers, such as those of the Playfair and Anstruther families. If you are researching a family from the St. Andrews area I would definitely recommend finding out what the University has in its collection.

You can search their catalogue here, but one thing to note is that due to space constraints, items are held off site. This means they at least a day’s notice is required so that items can be brought in for you to view, so good planning is essential. Let the archive know what you would like to see and when, so that it will be available when you arrive.