Sunday, 28 July 2013

SGN visit to Dumfries

The weather just about held yesterday for our July meeting, which this month saw us on a visit to Dumfries and Galloway Archives (, based in Dumfries. On this visit we had nine attendees, including two newbies (great to see you both!).

From 2pm-4.30pm we had the privilege to be able to have a guided tour of the archive on Burns Street by archivist Graham Roberts. We started with an introduction in the main search room, where Graham gave us an overview of the archive's history from 1975. Dumfries and Galloway has a slightly odd set up in terms of access to genealogical records - the records for county based archive materials for Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire, as well as those for the burgh of Dumfries, are held at the archive, but records for all other burghs in the area are actually held by the council's museum service, well worth knowing about. The archive itself has the following collections:

  • Census Returns for all the parishes of Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire 1841 - 1891.
  • Old Parochial Registers for all the above parishes.
  • Local Newspapers from 1777, many of them fully indexed.
  • Monumental Inscriptions from graveyards throughout Dumfries and Galloway.
  • Valuation, assessment and voting rolls. Kirk Session, Presbytery and Non-Conformist Church records.
  • Poor and Parochial Board records.
  • Sasine registers, indexes and abridgements, for Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire from 1617.
  • Court Records - Burgh and Justice of the Peace, Jail Books, Bail Bond Registers, Indictment books etc from 1506.
  • Burgh and Country records - administrative, fiscal and financial from the 16th century.
  • School Log Books, Class Registers and School Board records.
  • Motor Vehicle Licensing Registers for Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire from 1904.
  • Roads and Militia records from 1667.
  • Estate and family papers from the 15th century onwards.
  • Local clubs, societies, businesses and trades records.
  • Maps and Plans from as long ago as 1654.
  • 20,000+ local photographs ranging from the mid 19th century to the 1990's.
  • 12,000+ architectural drawings.
  • Unique 80,000 strong Dumfries and Galloway Collection of published books, pamphlets, research notes and ephemera.
  • Over 280,000 microfiche records of local material from Dumfries and Galloway.

Graham described the wonderful work of the local Friends of Dumfries and Galloway Archives, which transcribes and indexes many collections, placing them online at - this site is apparently to be shortly updated with new additions. He also described some of the wonderful locals in the past who ably set about providing transcriptions and indexes for local use, including Alfie Truckle, and demonstrated some of the useful resources created, including newspaper indexes dating back to the 1770s.

We then had a guided tour of the facility. Dumfries Archives currently has a presence at both Burns Street and at the nearby Ewart Library, though in the next few weeks the Burns Street holdings are all moving to the Ewart Library. On the one hand it was very easy to see why - the Burns Street facility is very small, and there are archive holdings in every available space, of which there is little. On the other hand, it was exactly the kind of place that genies want archivists to organise lock-ins within! In due course, Graham and the council hope to be able to raise enough money for a more modern purpose built facility.

The tour was essentially a guided walk though several areas of the building, with appropriate holdings flagged up for our interest - the Motor Vehicle Licensing Registers for the area from 1904 are apparently some of the most often consulted records there, whilst the burgh records for Dumfries, and the burgh court records in particular, are gems still waiting to be fully plundered - by cataloguing, indexing and just full on exploring.

We ended the day with a coffee and some biscuits, and a good chat with Graham in a Q&A. We discussed current records management policy, the impact of the recent 2011 Public Records (Scotland) Act, the archivists' nightmare of receiving a week to rescue a major collection of business archive material about to be destroyed, plans for the future and more. Graham also discussed the use of photography in the archive (they are more than happy for folk to use cameras), changes to freedom of information practice for access to records such as asylum registers, and more.

As usual with an SGN visit, we all came away absolutely buzzing with information. We'd like to thank Graham for taking the time and effort to show us around, and also to our member Emma Maxwell for helping to facilitate the event.

Next month, we're planning to attend the Motherwell based Local and Family History Show (, and have a catch up there. If you're a professional genealogist, or work in an associated discipline - archives, libraries, ancestral tourism, etc - we'd love to see you! Drop us a note at for further details. There are no fees, just lots of shared enthusiasm and a chance to network with like minded professionals!

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