Monday, 7 March 2016

“You know what I am going to say. I love you.”

“You know what I am going to say. I love you.” This, I believe was, the feeling of our entire group for the Special Collections Centre of the Sir Duncan Rice Library when we finished our visit last Friday.

Architecturally stunning, the Sir Duncan Rice Library stands out amongst the university buildings. Once inside the scale of the library can be truly appreciated. Standing in the atrium you can look up and see 7 floors above you. On the ground floor is a Welcome Desk, gallery, café and other amenities. The upper floors contain the university library and offer generous study space.

We were met by Andrew Macgregor, the Deputy Archivist, who combined a tour of the Special Collections Centre and a tour of the collections. Andrew began by showing us the Gallery which will soon be proudly displaying their set of first edition Dickens novels. You may recognise my opening quote as being that of Bradley Headstone in ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Once downstairs in one of the archive’s seven store rooms we were shown all the volumes which were ready and waiting to go on display. Rather than being sourced from a single collection, they have come from a variety of collections found in castles and private homes which have been acquired over the years: only recently has it become apparent that there is a complete set of first editions (perhaps if I look in my library I will find that I happen to have a complete set of first editions!). This is a small insight into the way that the material has been collected over the last 531 years; they now have well over a million items!

As a group of genealogists, we were keen to hear what they hold that was of special interest to family historians and how we can access it. Andrew covered the major collections that the Special Collections Centre at the Sir Duncan Rice Library. In this blog I will focus on those of particular interest to genealogists. To get a complete overview of their holdings I would suggest spending some time going through the catalogue and reading their fact sheets.

Highlights of their holdings are estate records, union records, business records, local solicitor’s records, the Scottish Catholic Archive, NHS Grampian archive, oral histories, the George Washington Wilson photographic collection and the Aberdeen Harbour Board photographic collection.

After being given an introduction to the archive by Andrew, he took us past the reading room along a corridor to the store rooms. For genealogists this is usually our favourite part of a tour, going behind the scenes and being surrounded by all the wonderful records and books. It has to be said that this archive did not disappoint and on every shelf there was something to interest us.

‘Register of Operations’
We were joined at this point by Fiona Musk, who is the archivist of the NHS Grampian Archive. Fiona took us to their section in one of the store rooms and showed us some of the amazing records that they hold. The archive includes the records of the hospitals of the north east that were taken over by the NHS in 1948; including the records such as those of the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the Royal Cornhill Hospital as well as many other hospitals and institutions in the wider area. Some of the information that they hold, particularly the 20th century material, is very sensitive and laws on Data Protection need to be followed carefully. Fiona is keen, though, to help users access records wherever appropriate. My eye was drawn to a set of volumes entitled ‘Register of Operations’. Fiona allowed us to look at an old volume. As you can see in the image (names have been obscured) the volume tells us the ‘disease’ of each individual and the nature of the operation, fascinating information which could not be found in any other record. There are patient registers for many hospitals. Whilst some work has been done to index these records, as the records are so extensive if your ancestor (or client’s ancestor) died in a hospital in the Grampian region, it would be well worth checking the catalogue to see if any records survive.


As we moved through the store rooms Andrew pulled out treasure after treasure, some of which you can see in the photos. The next stop on our tour was the conservation department, a beautiful large space where repairs are made on ancient books and documents, enabling most of the collection to continue to be available for consultation by readers.

Treasures from the Archive
The archive was now closing for the day and all the readers had left the reading room, so we now headed into that large airy space. The archive has a large collection of books on the open shelves, which is very useful as it speeds up access for research. As you can see from the photographs, it has been designed to be a light, pleasant environment. As always I had to ask the question, “Do you allow users to photograph your records?” As we have come to expect from all modern archives, yes they do. You do need to check with staff to ensure each item is suitable and obtain permission before publication, but these are standard requirements.

Even if you were not present for our visit of the Special Collections Centre of the Sir Duncan Rice Library, I’m sure you can now understand why I began this report in the way I did. We can only wish that more archives across Scotland could have such excellent facilities!

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Special Collections Centre

Friday, 29 January 2016


Our first visit for 2016 was to the Search Room of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), now part of Historic Environment Scotland which incorporates both the old RCAHMS and Historic Scotland.

On our arrival we were greeted by Philip Graham who showed us to the Search Room and introduced us to the wealth of material held there. RCAHMS holdings include:

  • The National Collection of Aerial Photography – buildings, city scapes, archaeological sites - not just of UK sites but worldwide, dating back to the 1920s (needs an appointment to view)
  • Photographs - around 2.5 million – from early glass slides in the 1850s to present day, town centres to historic houses and monuments, including images taken for Country Life some of which were not actually featured in the magazine
  • Drawings – over 2 million, dating from the 17th century to the present day, including architects plans for houses
  • Digital Collections – 3D digitisation is currently being used to record Scottish world heritage sites, and scan buildings
  • Books – about 25,000 – providing information on archaeology, architecture, places, memorials etc.
  • Original Manuscripts
  • Old Maps

In his talk Philip focused especially on information that might be useful to us as genealogists, and demonstrated how, although it is not possible to search their database for a family name (apart from specific collections), some very interesting information can be found about the places that those families would have lived – old maps, photographs of buildings, changes in areas over time, family photograph albums some dating back to the 1700s (of which they have over 500, some with family names included), and drawings of monuments and gravestones some dating from the 1600s.

We were shown historic and recent photographs of the same place eg: a series of 6 photographs of the east end of Princes Street showing the changes over time in the use of the roof of the Waverley Market – gardens, car park, shops etc., and photographs of old buildings before, during and after renovation, along with architects floor plans. We could all imagine how thrilled descendants would be to see that sort of information about the places their ancestors had lived and worked, and some of the places mentioned were currently being researched by members of the group.

We were then taken to the Print Room where we gazed in awe at the old books on the shelves – eager to get our hands on them. These were not available for public browsing but could be produced if requested. There we were shown a number of fascinating items including albums of gravestones photographed by Betty Willsher in the late 1900s; a family history scrapbook belonging to Thomas Davidson (a palaeontologist in 1817) with scraps, watercolours, notes and plans; a box of photographs and drawings of  Archaeological sites – part of the Collection of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland; copies of property sale documents; and postcard collections.

Before we left we had a short time to browse the collections ourselves and left vowing to return very soon. Our thanks go to Philip for a really interesting and helpful afternoon.  

The Search Room is open Tuesday to Friday (9.30am -5pm) and there is always a member of staff available to assist. Browse 700,000 boxed photographic prints, 24,000 library books, 60 series of journals and periodicals and 3,700 maps, search the catalogue on a computer terminal, or request items which will be delivered at 12 noon on the day (or order in advance from the online catalogue). A copier is available, high resolution prints can be purchased, and licences can be obtained for their use if required (price list online).

The RCAHMS website (will be changing in April 2016) allows access to eight different databases the main one being Canmore, but also SCRAN, the Buildings at Risk Register, Pastmap, HLAmap, Scotlands Places, Britain Above and The National Collection of Aerial Photography. From within Canmore a number of photographic collections and family albums can be viewed online.

Report by Scottish Genealogist Lorraine Stewart of Kincardineshire Ancestors

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Visit to the NLS Map Department

It has been wet and wild in Scotland this week but a hardy group of Scottish genealogists received a warm welcome in the reading room of the National Library of Scotland maps department.

Located at Causewayside in Edinburgh the building holds over two million items. They have gazetteers and a massive collection of Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland but also have maps created by the British Army as they trekked the globe as well as a variety of other unique maps. Together with their Ordnance Survey maps of England, Wales and Ireland their collections are worth a look whichever part of the world you are researching in.

As well as holding a vast collection of topographic masterpieces they have catalogued their collection and have digitised a huge part of it. These digitised maps are available to view online and are a wonderful asset to anyone researching the history of their family or a specific place.

Amongst the collections are some real gems. One that was shown to us today was a street plan of central Glasgow made for insurance companies. It shows the materials the buildings were made from, which had skylights and which businesses where in which building. If your ancestors worked, lived or ran businesses in Glasgow these maps could give you a real insight into the city at the time.

Before the first series of Ordnance Survey maps were made in Scotland between 1840 and 1880 there is no national coverage at large scales, but there are some wonderful maps covering certain towns and areas. For some country towns in particular there are maps showing who owned certain portions of land and what type of land it is; a wonderful resource for the family historian.

The National Library of Scotland is a very forward-looking organization. As has been mentioned, they are digitising their collection and making it available online. On their website we find a huge variety of tools such as side-by-side mapping and overlays so that we can compare modern and historical maps in their collection. If you are planning a trip to visit your ancestors home you will find this an invaluable resource.

There is of course some ongoing work. One specific record set that is waiting to be catalogued are the estate plans. They hold around 2000 such plans so if you are researching a house or village which was part of the estate it may be worth contacting them to ask if they hold any that would be relevant. They do not hold all Scottish estate plans, just a small portion (some are still in private collections and many are held by the National Records of Scotland),but it’s interesting to know that the NLS do have some and that they are not all listed on their electronic catalogue.

All in all the SGN had a fascinating visit to the map department of the NLS and would recommend all to make full use of this resource. To keep up-to-date with the NLS Map department here are some useful link:

NLS Maps Department on Twitter: 

Access high-resolution zoomable images of over 130,000 maps of Scotland, England, Wales and beyond on the NLS website:

Keep up-to-date with their recent additions' page where you can also sign up to the Cairt newsletter.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The SGN's Continuing Professional Development Day - Part Two

After a lovely finger buffet lunch of quiche, pork pies and mini wraps followed by bite sized  cakes and fruit we gathered again to discuss plans for our next CPD Day where we hope to have some training in the use of social media. The discussion then moved to the development of an SGN website, and what we would want on it. No final conclusions were reached and these discussions are likely to continue on the Linked forum.

Carol McKinven then introduced us to an Estonian couple that she had been researching and guided us through the process of discovering that in some cases such research may be easier than we would think. We learnt that many Estonian records are freely available online and the indexes are in English! One very useful resource being the website of the National Archives of Estonia

Andrew Armstrong then gave a talk on Ag. Labs. found in the Victorian Census Returns for south east Scotland giving examples of some of the more unusual occupations such as the “Woman Steward” (the man who looked after the women working in the fields), and the “Hind” and “Bondager” – an arrangement whereby a man would only be hired as a “Hind” (ploughman) if he had a “Bondager” (someone who could do extra farm work when required). The Hind had responsibility for providing bed and board for the Bondager, which worked well if it was a member of his family but was rather inconvenient when his family had to share their single room with a stranger. This system was widely practiced in the 17th centuary but was being phased out by the 1860s.

After a break for coffee our final talk on “The Weavers of Perth” was given by Chris Paton who shared from his research into the history of the handloom weaving industry in Perth. The Records of the Weavers Incorporation of Perth (now held by Perth and Kinross Archives) contain many records which would be of interest to family historians and give an insight into the lives the weaving community there, such as Chris’s own ancestors who were weavers in the Perthshire Parish of Dunbarney two hundred years ago.

Report by Lorraine Stewart, genealogist at Kincardineshire Ancestors.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The SGN's Continuing Professional Development Day - Part One

Around 30 members of the Scottish Genealogy Network gathered at Heriot Watt University on 24 October 2015 for our CPD day. The SGN was set up a few years ago by just a few genealogists who wanted to get to know their fellow genealogists better and have a forum to network.

We now have over 40 members, all of whom are based in Scotland and work in the genealogy field. Some research for individual clients, some are involved in publishing genealogy records, some teach others to research their own family history and others write for genealogy publications; some do a mixture of everything!

On Saturday we began the day with a talk and discussion by Anne Slater of the National Records of Scotland. Anne was able to answer some questions that members had about records and give some insight into the future of the NRS. The group was left with confidence that the NRS are moving in a direction which will lead to greater and easier access to the records.

Next on the agenda was genealogist Judith Russell who led an interesting workshop on  ‘Home Children’. Looking at one family's case to begin with, Judith showed how two boys from Scotland were sent to Canada in the early part of the twentieth century as it was deemed that their family could not care for them. She demonstrated how these stories could be researched using traditional sources and the records of the charities who arranged for their passage. The personal files of the children can only be accessed by family members but we as genealogists can help families access them.

After a restorative coffee our secretary Emma Maxwell led the workshop on Business Questions. This section was designed to assist members who run a business. Some of the topics covered focussed on the challenges of advertising and getting repeat business. Most of the group agreed that advertising in printed publications often has very little return. We discussed ways to help each other as a group.

After the business questions it was a pleasure to invite a new member to the floor, George MacKenzie, former Keeper of the Records of Scotland. George is the chairman of the Scottish Ancestral Tourism Group. Recent research has shown that Ancestral Tourism could be a huge boost to the Scottish economy. George highlighted the need to build local networks so that accommodation providers, tour operators, archives and genealogists can work together to give a wonderful welcome to ancestral tourists.

After this exciting programme of morning events it was time to break for lunch and talk to our fellow genealogists. SGN member Lorraine Stewart will blog on the afternoon’s programme.

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.