Monday, 20 November 2017

Scottish Genealogy Network November 2017 Meeting

New Register House - Edinburgh
On Friday 17 November we held our CPD day in Edinburgh. The background and experience of our members varies greatly: some work in archives, while others lecture at university. Some members have been helping clients research their family tree for many years and others are planning to start their business soon. This diversity made for a great day and wonderful networking opportunities.

Our meeting on Friday was held in the Dome Room of New Register House. This impressive space was created to house the birth, marriage and death records of the Scottish people. You can see the volumes in the photographs; red for births, green for marriages and black for deaths.

For many years now, users have accessed digital images of the records. That is certainly a lot more convenient and preserves the books, but as a group of genealogists, there was something special about sitting in a room surrounded by such a wealth of history.

Our secretary, Emma Maxwell, introduced our first speaker, Jack Davis. Jack spoke to us on the intriguing theme, “Hidden Hospitals”. He was not referring to camouflaged buildings but rather the policy of substituting the name of institutions on certificates with a simple street address. Jack gave us a list of Glasgow hospital addresses, such as 2154 Gartloch Road and 253 Duke Street. When researching it’s a good tip to research the address given on a birth or death certificate.
The Dome - New Register House

Michelle Leonard continued the morning session by answering questions related to using DNA in family history research. This fascinating quick-fire session covered a lot of topics. An interesting point that stood out was the need to think through ‘cousin matching’. This useful tool can aid family history research but as DNA does reveal the truth, you could discover something unexpected. Most genealogists may be excited about that prospect, but it’s always best to think it through before you take the plunge.

Jane Barton rounded off the first part of the day with a report from the Cumbrian Family History Society conference which she had attended recently. Cumbria has a border with the counties of Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire in Scotland and there has always been a lot of movement of people across the Border. Jane gave a helpful overview of the administrative history of what is now called Cumbria, where to find records and why people may have moved to places like Carlisle.

A large part of the day was now given over to a treasure hunt. Rather than simply sitting and listening to talks it was time to get the grey matter working. We split into teams and tried to solve genealogy puzzles based on real client enquires. The most successful teams drew on the knowledge of the group and researched well using the catalogue of the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Getting Ready for ‘Two Minute Mayhem' 
After lunch genealogists Graham and Emma Maxwell, from Scottish Indexes, presented the answers, demonstrating the importance of using the excellent NRS catalogue well and not giving up when something is not in an index. For example, not all surviving Scottish wills are to be found on the ScotlandsPeople indexes. If you think the person would have had a will, remember to use other sources such as the Register of Deeds and local Sheriff Court Registers of Deeds.

Next Emma Maxwell revealed the results of the SGN survey. Only 11% of those surveyed want a genealogist to present the results in the format of a report or a chart. Over 30% want help to access specific records.

When asked, “If you were to hire a genealogist, what would you look for?”, only 11% said “Someone who has studied genealogy at university”, while over 50% said “I would want to discuss my needs with them and judge for myself if they are the person I need.”

After looking at the results of the survey in detail we split into workshops to discuss how we can best provide the services clients want. To finish the day we had a ‘Two Minute Mayhem' session where members spoke on a subject of their choice for two minutes!

If you feel like you have missed out, and want to join the SGN and take part future meetings get in touch with our secretary for details of joining.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots

Murray Asylum Perth group of  male Patients 1860
John Burt is a Scottish Genealogy Network member and we are very pleased to see the release of his new book: Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland.

The book provides details of the development and expansion of 19C asylums, with analysis of how they were established, run, and what they were like to live and work in.

This handy guide explores what asylum records are available and how to use them so that you can truly understand the lives your ancestors led. John's medical background gives this book a unique perspective.

Staff outing from the Montrose  Royal Asylum 
Many people who were admitted to a lunatic asylum were paupers, that is the treatment was paid for by their Parochial Board of Settlement. To get a really rounded out picture of your ancestor's life you can also trace their poor law application which would likely have been made around the same time.

Records like these help us learn more than dry facts, they help us get to know our ancestors and find out how they lived.

The book is available from in hardcover and digital formats.

Curling at Royal Edinburgh  Asylum

Friday, 17 February 2017

Under the Knife

A Visit to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

Scattered through the archives of Scotland are documents and memories that our ancestors left behind. When we start tracing our family tree we begin with birth, marriage, death and census records but then we need more! We need to look at a variety of records to really find out what our ancestors were like, what they did and how they lived.

The Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) encourages its members to keep learning, keep advancing as genealogists so that they can provide a higher standard of service to their clients. Today around 20 SGN members met at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) to tour the building and delve into their collections.

It may be an historic building but
in front of their ancient portraits
they are teaching the physicians
of tomorrow!
The RCPSG has existed as an institution for over 400 years! It is little wonder then that the records they hold are extensive and unique. As a forward-looking organisation they are also working to make some of their valuable material available online (for free) and their library is open to the public. If you are planning to visit, it is wise to contact them beforehand so that they can ensure everything you would like to consult is available.

Our visit began with a tour of the prestigious building. The first room we were shown was the David Livingstone Room. In that room there is a cast of one of the Doctor’s bones! As we moved through the college, hanging on the walls are portraits of presidents past as well as other notable physicians and surgeons. You may wonder then, with all these illustrious individuals so obviously connected to the college, is there any reason for me to visit? Yes, there is!

The Crush Hall
There are three main reasons a genealogist (amateur or professional) should visit the college. Firstly, you may want to research one of the past members. The records they hold on past members will help with your research. The photographs show some examples of what the college holds. The second reason is that not only does the college hold records of those treating the ill but also they hold some records of those being treated! Amongst the records, for example, is a “Register of Inoculations, Glasgow 1832-1854”, if your family was living in Glasgow they may well appear in the records. The third reason is this, even if there is no direct reference to your ancestor it is good to build up your knowledge of social history. Understanding our ancestors means imagining the circumstances in which they lived so that we can research their lives and walk in their footsteps.

The Lock Room - Named after the Lock Hospital 

Visit our Facebook page to see more photos

If you cannot visit in person, take advantage of their online collections which are free to access. If you find an entry which relates to your family come and tell us about it on our Facebook page.

By Emma Maxwell

Genealogist at Scottish Indexes

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!

To keep up-to-date with the SGN and see more photos from our archive visits follow us on Facebook
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.