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!

Sunday 25 August 2013

Local and Family History Show at Motherwell

Yesterday the Scottish Genealogy Network met in Motherwell to tie in with the Local and Family History Show there, organised superbly by Lanarkshire Family History Society ( Several of our members had stalls at the event, others attended in a personal capacity to attend talks and to browse the various offerings available, whilst one member, Ali MacDonald, gave an informative talk on the use of DNA in genealogical research.

After the event we met at the Brandon Works on Merry Street for our monthly gathering, with a great attendance of some 15 or 16 hardy souls. The family history fair itself had provided such a buzz, it being one of the best in Scotland in years, that there was a lot to discuss!

A huge thanks to Lanarkshire Family History Society and the team that ran the event, including SGN member Elizabeth Irving - it was a truly inspiring event!

Some coverage of the day can be found at and

Ali MacDonald giving a talk on DNA

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!

Sunday 23 June 2013

SGN visit to Aberdeen

The Scottish Genealogy Network visited Aberdeen on Saturday 22nd June - let's go further north we said, so further north we went! Eight fearless souls made the journey from Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness, Stonehaven, Largs and Edinburgh to visit two research institutions in the city of great genealogical value and importance.

We started our visit at 158-164 King Street, the premises of Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society (, one of the oldest family history societies in Scotland, established in the early 1970s. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Margie Mellis and taken on a tour of the library facilities on the ground floor. After about twenty minutes of standing there with our mouths wide open and drooling, we soon recovered - what a superb facility! The library is packed with resources, some available online, but most not - these include copies of journals from every family history society in Scotland (and beyond), unique and extremely rare history and family history publications for the society's area of geographical coverage, but also for Scotland, and by the looks of it, much of the known universe.

We were then shown the 'behind-the-scenes' part of the society's operation, where orders are processed (they sell a seriously substantial range of useful books and materials), followed by an overview of the ground floor offerings in the premises, with Anne Park demonstrating a useful World War One database she has been busy working on for some time. After making some purchases from the bookshop, it was time to move on, but a seriously huge thank you to the society for accommodating our request for a visit, and for showing us such a superb example of what a family history society can achieve, as well as a deeply impressive research centre.

After a bite to eat it was onto the next phase of our visit, this time to Aberdeenshire Archives (, and a tour of the facility at Old Aberdeen House (which deals with Aberdeenshire, as opposed to the Town House, which covers Aberdeen City). We were greeted by none other than archivist Ruaraidh Wishart, who some may know from his recent appearance in the Annie Lennox edition of Who Do You Think You Are. We started our visit with a behind the scenes look at the archive's storage facility, where Ruaraidh discussed the way in which the records for city and county were separated between the two buildings (and why), some of the more unusual records, and the importance of keeping the archive assistant happy in daily work! Some materials from the archive have recently been digitised at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, such as the poor law records - at present these can only be accessed at the facility, but it is hoped they will go online in due course. We also visited an upstairs storage room where we were shown some episcopal records (Aberdeenshire was strongly episcopal, so lots of BMDs are missing for the area on ScotlandsPeople), as well as some unusual record types we were not so familiar with - such as a series of education censuses from the area taken between 1874-1913 to work out which children were not being educated. Again, a big thank you to the archive team for giving up some of their time to share their treasures with us, but also to give us a better understanding of how it works as an archive, and many of the issues it has to deal with on a daily basis.

We had a quick drink after in a pub in the city centre, and then made our respective journeys home, a little wiser than we were at the start of the day, and buzzing with enthusiasm! Final thanks goes to our member Lorraine Stewart for facilitating the visits with the two bodies on our behalf.

The next visit of the SGN will be to Dumfriesshire Archives on Saturday 27th July 2013. If you work as a professional genealogist and want to come along, you will be more than welcome - contact us at scotsgenenet for details, and we'll hopefully see you there!

Sunday 28 April 2013

Scottish Genealogy Network's first CPD day - review

The Scottish Genealogy Network held its first ever Continuous Professional Development day yesterday (Saturday) at the University of Stirling campus at the Bridge of Allan. Eighteen attendees, mainly working genealogists (ranging from those just starting to the more experienced), though also from other associated disciplines were there, in what turned out to be a fascinating day long programme that not only educated, but also highlighted gaps in our knowledge which can be further addressed at subsequent events.

Marie Dougan had kindly arranged the proceedings, and after her brief intro, Chris Paton gave the first talk, looking at the law and practice behind the formal inheritance of land in the old Scottish feudal system. We often hear that land was confirmed to an heir through the Services of Heirs process or precepts of clare constat, but there was quite a bit more to it - how did the process happen, what might complicate an inheritance (e.g. debts or burdens on the deceased's estate), the differences between heritage and conquest, and some lesser known ways by which land could be inherited - some involving legal trickery!

This was followed by Buzzy Garden's fascinating discussion on how to retrieve genealogical clues from sewn Scottish samplers created by young schoolgirls in classes from the 18th century onwards. Buzzy showed us how such samplers had a structure, what certain attributes represented, e.g. black letters meaning the initials of the deceased, or the order of precedence for family members on a sampler, clues that indicate a sampler is indeed Scottish, and more.

Kirsty Wilkinson then gave an overview of what is often termed "heir hunting", as well as tips on how to trace living descendants. The differences between the law in Scotland and England were explained, and recent changes in some of the tools relied on by those chasing probate or confirmation cases were outlined. Kirsty also explained the practices of engaging in probate research, such as the various ways by which a professional genie might be employed, the differences between heir hunting and 'conventional' genealogy, and more.

After a coffee break, Michael Tobias gave us an overview of Jewish genealogy research - some of the different documentary materials generated by the Jewish communities (such as ketubot), additional problems such as the fact that most Jewish families adopted surnames in the last two centuries only and the impact of the Holocaust on the community. He further expored various projects in existence to help people with research, including DNA research - but also unique problems such as the inadequacy of conventional Soundex for use within Jewish based databases, and more.

Chris Halliday then provided a case study describing a connection to Traquair House, which underwent some unexpected and fascinating developments after some lateral thought was applied to a particular brick wall problem, one that ended up with a high profile media splash in the Scottish press and a very happy and delighted client and archive. Chris also informed us that he has been appointed to a new post as a family history officer at Highland Archives - a huge congratulations to Chris (and we'll all be up for a party soon!)! Chris also confirmed that Highland is hoping to be able to offer access to the ScotlandsPeople Centre computer system in due course (Ayrshire Archives is also shortly about to locate four terminals in Ayr offering the same facility).

After lunch it was time to start talking to each other. In three rotating groups by way of make-up, we discussed three key subject areas to examine our current practices, to offer experiences from our individual perspectives, and to explore new options in practice. The areas discussed were marketing, becoming a professional genealogist (and best practice), and the use of social media.

Marie Dougan gave a talk on her recent experience at Rootstech, and discussed FamilySearch's plans to develop the conference further next year. She also highlighted the differences in approach between Rootstech and Who Do You Think You Are Live event in London, and the various messages - all different - being conveyed in Utah at the event by the key genealogical online vendors and players in data supply and management.

The last 15 minutes led to some forward planning by the group on activities we would like to pursue for the rest of the year in terms of visits and activities, followed by a quick update from Chris Paton on the archives access conference he attended the two days previously in Dundee, and some changes coming soon, including a proposed new catalogue facility facility for Scottish archives currently at the Heritage Lottery Fund proposal stage, with the proposal from The Scottish Council on Archives. Everybody who attended left the event with the desire to see more of the same in due course, with another event now being posited for October. Drinkies at a suitable hostelry in Bridge of Allan completed the day - a situation one member found particularly odd, having previously attended the same building many years ago as a child at school!

The Scottish Genealogy Network is about Scotland's professional genealogists pushing themselves to be better at what we do, to not be complacent about what we already know, to share best practice, and to create a community of like-minded folk who believe that the best way to achieve such goals is to just go for it. After our first CPD day, we can definitely say we have arrived and are fulfilling the need our members have identified - and we've only just begun!

Roll on October...!