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.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Third Scottish Genealogy Network CPD Day

On Saturday 10 May 2014 around 25 genealogists met at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness for the Scottish Genealogy Network’s Continual Professional Development (CPD) day. The Archive Centre was a perfect venue and the hospitality shown by the Highland Archive Centre was the icing (literally!) on the cake.

Built just a few years ago, this state of the art archive is a mere dream for most archivists. We were invited to tour the building on Friday and had a behind the scenes look at the extensive storage facilities and the excellent conservation room.

The CPD day began with an interesting talk by Michael Tobias of JewishGen, who explained to us how we can optimise genealogy searches and collate and organise our data. If we can learn to do this more efficiently we can more quickly and clearly identify individuals we are looking for, especially in larger projects such as one-name studies. Michael demonstrated how we can minimise loss of search results due to indexing errors, reminding us the useful ‘fuzzy search’ feature on the Scotland’s People website. It is a shame that for some reason that the ‘fuzzy search’ feature is not currently available in the Scotland’s People centre.

The next talk, ‘Making the Best Use of Sheriff Court Records’, was given by Graham Maxwell of Maxwell Ancestry, who spoke about one particular type of case useful to genealogists: ‘affiliation and aliment’ actions in cases of illegitimacy. He explained how to locate both extracted decrees and court processes which could hold vital genealogical information as well as give an insight into the lives of ancestors. Initial research has shown that around 10% of illegitimate births in the 1850s may have resulted in an extracted decree, and an additional 5% of such births resulted in other cases which can be found among the processes of the Sheriff Courts.

After a short break (which involved some more cupcakes), we enjoyed listening to Kirsty Wilkinson of My Ain Folk’s talk ‘Edinburgh Army Attestation Registers’. This exciting resource, held by Edinburgh City Archives, does not just contain records of men from Edinburgh. Kirsty’s detailed research has revealed that men from all over Scotland are recorded as attesting, and even more surprisingly, men from across Ireland, England and Wales also appear. The regiments they joined were also unexpectedly diverse. Not only did the talk help us to understand this valuable resource, it also reminded us of the importance of not neglecting local records when we’re researching. The details held within these registers could provide the vital piece of information we need to get over our ‘brick wall’ and continue with our research. 

The last talk before lunch was given by Lorna Kinnaird, of DunEdin Links Genealogy. Lorna has been working hard as a volunteer in her local school over the last few months, teaching Primary 7 pupils about the First World War in a manner that they could easily engage with. She has  arranged for historians to come into the school with WWI artefacts (which the children really enjoyed) and also arranged a trip to the National Records of Scotland (NRS). Lorna is really passionate about history, especially genealogy, and wanted the children to have the opportunity to visit the NRS themselves and be able to do some of their own research. Many of the children were able to research someone connected to their family and some were able to trace their tree back a number of generations in that one visit. Hopefully this taster will encourage the children to continue learning about history. 

After lunch we eagerly took our seats to listen to Ali Macdonald, of Family Tree DNA, talk about some current Scottish DNA projects and help us better understand the rapidly developing subject of DNA testing for genealogy purposes. The talk was fascinating as DNA research has become such an important tool for genealogists. Ali reminded us how important it is to understand how to interpret the results correctly, making the most of the possibilities of DNA testing in conjunction with evidence from written sources. Exciting discoveries are being made frequently as the Clans, Families and Surnames of Scotland are being unraveled. Despite having the same modern-day surname, DNA analysis has shown that we can separate those with the same surname into different families with different migration patterns. Ali gave us a handout which included some very useful Scottish DNA websites:

Next up was Jean Dickson, who spoke about social bookmarking and Excel tips. It’s all too easy to read a blog or visit a website, finding a great resource but promptly forgetting about it when we continue browsing! Jean uses Delicious to store and tag websites she wants to come back to later. One of the great advantages of this is that she can access these from any computer and share them with fellow researchers. A helpful tip Jean gave us was to be consistent in tagging. For example, if you were to tag one website ‘prison’, but another similar site ‘prisoner’, when you search your links a year later using the term ‘prison’, the site with ‘prisoner’ tag will not appear. This talk reminded us of the importance of being an organised genealogist.

After a short break, we had the final talk of the day, which was given by Judith Russell, a genealogist based in Glasgow. The title was entitled ‘Glasgow Families in WWI: Lord Provosts and Red Clydesiders’. Judith has carefully researched some of the key characters in this important and dramatic period of Glasgow’s history, using a wide variety of sources, and brought the subject to life in an informative and well-illustrated talk. I believe Judith will be giving a similar talk to this in August at Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Glasgow: tickets should be on sale for that event in a day or two!

All in all, it was a great day where everybody benefited from the talks and conversations throughout the programme. If you are a professional genealogist working in Scotland and would like to be at our next CPD day, or come to one of our monthly meetings, please contact the group's secretary, Emma Maxwell, for further details at scotsgenenet @

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Visit to the John Gray Centre in Haddington

Today the Scottish Genealogy Network visited the John Gray Centre ( in Haddington, a library, museum and archive for East Lothian located at the very heart of the town, and which was opened just a couple of years ago.

Eleven fearless souls were welcomed by the staff and given a tour of the facilities. We were split into two groups, led by Hanita Ritchie and Ruth Fyfe, with both of them alternately showing us the facilities of the main family history library, and the archive in an adjoining room. In the main genealogy library we were shown how the facilities within the room were organised, with various resources such as an index for the Haddington Courier, the monumental inscriptions shelves, the maps cabinet, and the computer terminals providing access to one of the best archive platforms available online, which hosts a detailed catalogue for many of the centre's facilities.

Amongst some of the treasures we were shown in the archive were a copy of a Charter of Confirmation from 1318 reconfirming Haddington's royal burgh status (with its original wax seal), criminal registers, a letter written and signed by Mary Queen of Scots, poor law records, and much more. We were also extremely privileged to be given behind the scenes access to the archive's storage facility on an upper floor, where it was explained to us that most of the archive's collections were kept, bar some of the more recent council records which are stored offsite at another facility.

Ruth also explained the role of the recently established Friends of the John Gray Centre (, whose members (including one of our party!) are currently indexing poor law records as part of a major digitisation project by the centre.

The centre has an active online presence in addition to its main website, you can find it on Facebook at, on Twitter at, on Flickr at and there is even a YouTube channel at - the following is a video for its current exhibition, The King, the Queen, and the Vicious Strumpet (we had a lot of fun trying to establish who the vicious strumpet was!), which continues at the centre until April 22nd:

A huge thanks to all who facilitated our visit, which was much appreciated by our members, and to Lorna Kinnaird and Emma Maxwell for arranging things from the SGN end.

The next meeting of the SGN will tie in with the SAFHS conference in Dunfermline on April 26th, and then we're heading north on May 9th and 10th to Highland Archives in Inverness for both a visit of the facility and for our third CPD event. If you work as a professional genealogist in Scotland, or professionally within an industry associated with genealogical research (universities, archives, libraries, etc) and wish to join our group, please e-mail our secretary, Emma Maxwell, for more information at scotsgenenet @ In the meantime, a few more pics from today!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A visit to the Scottish Genealogy Society

On Friday, 31 January 2014, the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) visited the Scottish Genealogy Society (SGS) in Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh. Their premises are centrally located, not far from the railway station, the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Central Library. We were all made very welcome in their warm, newly refurbished building.

The visit began with us seated around their study tables where we were given a short history of the Society and told a little about their library. The Society was founded in 1953, which was before other local Family History Societies got going in Scotland. The SGS has therefore always had the goal of helping people trace their family tree all over Scotland, not just in the Edinburgh area.

The SGS has 3 public computers where you can access subscription websites such as and for free. These computers are also where you can access other internet sites of genealogical interest and digital resources such as some monument transcriptions (MIs).

Today we may automatically turn to Scotland’s People to look for an OPR birth, but as it is a pay-per-view website most of us are on the lookout for ways to reduce our costs. The SGS has two ways to help. Firstly you can buy reduced cost credits for them which you can either use on the premises or take home. Secondly, you can view the records for free in their building, by looking at the OPRs on microfilm. They have a  complete set covering every parish in Scotland! This could be particularly useful if you are working on a common name within one parish.

The SGS also has a vast collection of MIs, covering not just Scotland but also some for Cumbria which I thought was very useful. They have handy reference folders, known as the “Black Book”, so you can easily see what they have for the area you are interested in. The SGS has also made the “Black Book” available online. The Black Book contains details of all the Scottish Genealogy Society's holdings relating to Scottish deaths and burials.

After our initial introduction we split into two groups and took a tour of the library, eager eyes looking at the labels on filing cabinets to see what we could use in our own research. Every now and again a member of the group would say, “oh, that’s useful!”.

We were taken up a few steps and round into an aladdin's cave of history books and genealogical resources. In rolls stacked up to the ceiling they have a collection of family histories donated by current and past members, who having carefully researched their family history have now donated a copy to help others of the family who follow. Again an index to these is available in the library and online.

I could go on and on about the amount of resources they have but perhaps the best thing is to stop now and let you look at their website or visit in person if you are able to.

Take a look at their membership page to see member benefits and join online, membership starts from just £20!

The next meeting of the SGN will be in London as many of us will be attending the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event. In March we are looking forward to visiting the John Gray Centre, Haddington. If you work as a professional genealogist in Scotland and wish to join our group, e-mail our secretary, Emma Maxwell, for more information: scotsgenenet

Monday, 2 December 2013

SGN visit to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre

On Sunday, 1st December, the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) enjoyed a fascinating visit to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (SJAC), based in Garnethill Synagogue in Central Glasgow.

After struggling up Garnet Street, 15 members, including several who were new to the group, were met outside the synagogue by Scottish Jewish Archives Centre Director, Harvey Kaplan.  Harvey gave us a brief introduction to the building and to the history of the Jewish community in Glasgow before taking us into the archives which are held in the basement of the synagogue.

The SJAC was founded in 1987 and houses a small museum display, including a visual timeline of Jewish Scottish history, as well as a research facility.  The archives are open on Thursday and Friday mornings or by appointment, with Sunday afternoon open days once a month.

The group was first given a tour of the building and a chance to look around the main room of the synagogue. The building was designed by architect John McLeod and opened in 1879 as the first purpose-built synagogue in Scotland.  As the sun was shining brightly we were really able to appreciate the ornate Victorian interior and beautiful stained-glass windows.  Harvey explained that the founders of the synagogue employed the same skilled craftsmen as worked on other Glasgow buildings of the period and that the building reflects the wealthy status of the Jewish community at that time.

We were then taken back down into the research room where Harvey gave a detailed description of the records held by the SJAC with a particular focus on those of most interest to family historians.

The SJAC aims to document and illustrate the life of Jews throughout Scotland since the eighteenth century and collects a wide range of material.  These include synagogue minute books and registers of births, marriages, deaths, burials and circumcisions, some dating from the early 1800s.  Some of these records have been transcribed into a database which can be accessed at the centre and a catalogue is available (some collections are also included in the Scottish Archive Network catalogue).

The SJAC has a collection of Jewish newspapers and directories as well as records of various clubs and societies, a large photographic collection and oral history recordings.  Many documents, including some original birth certificates, marriage agreements, papers relating to naturalisation and declarations of nationality made during the two world wars, have been donated by family members.  Harvey explained that these are particularly valuable as official copies do not always appear to survive and they may help to pinpoint a family’s place of origin when other records, such as censuses, are unhelpfully non-specific!

Harvey showed us some samples of the different types of material held by the archives, including some relating to his own family.  He described some of the centre’s recent acquisitions, in particular a collection of private family papers and memorabilia which document several generations of a German Jewish family and which may be of interest to family historians beyond Scotland.

We heard about the plans to open a Holocaust Study Centre as part of the SJAC, and some details of SGN member Michael Tobias’s ongoing project to document all the Jews in Scotland since the 18th century (a project with which several other members have also been involved).  This led to a discussion of some of the difficulties in identifying Jewish families in census returns and civil records, especially when name changes are involved.

After thanking Harvey for generously giving up his time to open the archives and for sharing his vast knowledge of the Scottish Jewish community, we finished off the day with a good lunch at a nearby restaurant, accompanied by plenty of chatter as we caught up with the latest news from the world of genealogy.

There will be no SGN meeting in late December due to the Christmas and New Year holidays.  The next meeting will be in Edinburgh on Saturday 26th January, details to be confirmed.  If you work in the genealogy industry in Scotland, you are very welcome to join us!  Please email scotsgenenet for further details or to be added to the mailing list.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Second Scottish Genealogy Network CPD Day

Yesterday saw the second Continuous Professional Development day for members of the Scottish Genealogy Network, once again hosted at the University of Stirling Management Centre at Bridge of Allan. On our first CPD day in April we had a fantastic event that saw eighteen fearless souls gather together in essence to learn from each other about various topics, both in terms of genealogical learning and professional development (see Those who attended went home buzzing with excitement. How could that be beaten?

Well yesterday, news of our first CPD day, along with a continued growth in membership over the last few months, saw some twenty seven Scottish based genies attend the follow up event. The room was BUZZING! As with our first day, there were a variety of speakers and group discussions.

First up was a talk from Chris Halliday (of the Family History Centre at Highland Archives) on researching railway ancestors, which included a background to the growth of the railway industry in Scotland, and a description of the various records and resources available that can help with research of those who worked in stations, on the trains themselves, and in other capacities. Chris described a range of sources held both online and at archives in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as the structure of the five big railway companies of Scotland, and flagged up useful literature on their development and on how to research them.

Next up was Tahitia McCabe, recently appointed as Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Strathclyde's Genealogical Studies department, who gave an informative and thorough description on copyright legislation in the United Kingdom, as it applies to those carrying out genealogical research on a professional basis. In particular she noted the differences between copyright and terms and conditions, and copyright and 'copywrong'! An interesting point was raised by one of our members about the use of ScotlandsPeople material with client reports, and various other online resource providers were also discussed. At times copyright can be a grey area, but this talk thankfully shone a lot of light on a subject that many members had specifically wished to have clarified.

After a short coffee break Lorna Kinnaird of the Guild of One Name Studies provided a useful overview of her work in the south of the Scotland on behalf of the Guild, and on the Guild in general. The organisation's members manage worldwide studies on individual surname and their variants, to establish as many occurrences of the name as possible from a variety of records, with a view of trying to build up a history of the migration and origins of those with a common name. Some names are more rare than others - indeed, Lorna mentioned that her own surname of study, Muat, is extremely rare today. Membership benefits of the guild were also explained for those potentially interested to sign up.

There then followed an interesting half hour workshop where members split into groups to discuss ancestral tourism, in what was certainly one of the more animated sessions of the day, reflecting the various backgrounds that we all come from in the group. For those who specifically work in ancestral tourism, the area was defined by one as 'bespoke', with many interesting opportunities ahead for Homecoming 2014 and the theme years after, whilst the feelings of some genies was that the Government was more interested in discussing tourism, than ancestral tourism, and a feeling that preparations for Homecoming seemed to be rather late in the day. The Irish experience from this year's Gathering event, using reverse genealogy initiatives to establish community connections to the diaspora, was cited as one possible example of how to connect more with overseas residents on an 'ancestral' theme than what seems to be happening in Scotland, which seems to be more catered towards bed and breakfast owners, golf courses, castles and whisky. Some ancestral initiatives were praised in Scotland, notably in Angus and in the north east, as well as the forthcoming SAFHS conference and the next Lanarkshire FHS event in Motherwell, whilst the perspectives of individual professional genealogists reflected a mix of opinion - some felt there was an opportunity to still engage with Homecoming, some felt the onus was on genealogists to target the diaspora if they wished to tap into the ancestral tourism area, whilst others questioned whether Homecoming would really make any difference at all, citing experience from the last event in 2009. A lively session to end on before lunch!

After a half hour soup and a sandwich stop, genealogist Chris Paton gave a talk on the rapidly changing world of Irish family history research, both in terms of online records availability (particularly with many major initiatives happening soon before Christmas) and an overview of the recently opened Public Record Office of Northern Ireland building. He mentioned that although PRONI is based in Northern Ireland, it is actually cheaper for him at present to get to Belfast from Ayrshire to do research than it is to get to Edinburgh by train, thanks to the convenience of access by ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast at only £5 per day return trip. In later discussions on future SGN meetings, members decided that PRONI should be added to the list of future archive visits, something we hope now to try to organise for the middle of next year.

The final talk given was by genealogist Judith Russell, and concerned Scottish Poor Law resources for genealogists. Judith provided a brief overview of the old poor law prior to 1845 and the new poor law after, and the various records available both in terms of those who applied for relief, and those who managed the system prior to 1948 and the advent of the NHS. The records available for research not only include the applications for poor relief (indoor and outdoor), but also published journals, parish council records and more. Also discussed were poor law returns of folk to Ireland and England who did not have the legal right of settlement, and whose applications were refused.

After another break members discussed recent experiences, including the Exodus conference in England recently organised by the Halsted Trust, which several members attended, and then planned a prospective programme for future meetings (this blog will be updated soon with details).

One of the key developments from the day was the appointment of a secretary for the SGN for the first time. For the last 18 months the group has been informally steered both online via Twitter and LinkedIn and by email, but it was felt that now that we are growing bigger that a rotating post of secretary was perhaps now needed. We are therefore delighted to announce that Borders based genealogist Emma Maxwell has kindly agreed to take up the position for the next few months, and she will now be the main point of contact for anyone wishing to come along to future meetings or to raise any SGN queries (see the About tab for contact details for SGN enquiries). Once again a few drinkies ended yet another successful day at a local hostelry in Bridge of Allan.

The Scottish Genealogy Network is about Scotland's professional genealogy community (including genealogists, FHSs, higher education etc) sharing best practice, pushing themselves to be better at what we do, to not be complacent about what we already know, and creating a community of like-minded folk who believe that the best way to achieve such goals is to just go for it. If you work professionally within the industry and would like to come along, drop us a note - we'll hopefully see you soon!