Thursday 13 December 2018

Dundee archives - everything from Robert the Bruce to a scone!

The new V&A drew many people to Dundee from 14th September; Scottish Genealogy Network members ploughed their own furrow and headed there on the 20th to visit Dundee City Archives and Dundee University Archives. The thirteen of us had a great day and it was good to meet some new faces too. Many thanks to staff in both archives for their time and enthusiasm in hosting our visit. Commiserations to SGN members who had to miss the event at the last minute for various reasons.

Dundee City Archives

This archive is, like a few others, in a basement. It’s the basement of Dundee’s Caird Hall, on City Square in the centre of Dundee. Full marks for a very easy to reach location. The City has had an archivist since 1969.

Ship plans in the strong rooms (photo Ali Murray)
Inquisitiveness is a characteristic of genealogists so we were delighted to start our visit with a tour of the archive stores or strong rooms and a good nose around. The same number did emerge as went in, though there were many temptations to linger. A run of Council minutes from 1533 onwards may not sound the most interesting but just think what could be waiting there.

1327 charter ( photo Merle Palmer)

Archives handle a huge variety of documents and Dundee is no exception: from council house sales through teachers’ mark books to a 1327 charter from Robert the Bruce, the oldest document in its care. 

As a port city, it’s no surprise that there are several series of records relating broadly to the sea. They include shipyard records, such as the Caledon Yard, with plans of ships at different stages of construction.  Once complete, the Shipping Registers, 

part of the Customs and Excise records, provide details of a boat’s specification (length, type of rigging etc) and ownership, with updates as the 64 shares changed hands or, unfortunately, if the boat was lost at sea. To access these registers you need a fairly accurate idea of the year of completion but there is an A-Z index in each volume.
Details of boat share owners (photo Merle Palmer)

Though most of the records of jute companies are at the University, the City has those of the Victoria Spinning Works including wages information the late 1800s to the 1970s (job title, name and wages). 

As is usual on these visits, the staff had a set of more unusual documents out for us to view. Among them were:

  • A 1776 map of Dundee naming individual buildings;
  • Working copies of valuation rolls for Dundee (just think how useful the changes could be for family history);
  • A Register of Inebriates (following the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1903) complete with photographs, physical and character description. This was bought at auction.

Access the archives: 

There is no online catalogue, yet; information on some classes of documents is on the City Archives website (click on Related links). It is best to phone before a visit as space is limited.  
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 9.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 4.30pm.

Dundee University Archives

Matriculation records, with student signatures (photo Merle Palmer)
How handy to be able to visit two archives with complementary collections in one day, especially with only a short walk between them. As you would expect, these archives are at the University. In a basement once more. Established in 1976. 

Public engagement and promotion are key aspect of the University Archives work and I was particularly struck by the range of University programmes engaging with their resources. On the other hand, housing student projects throws up some particular challenges like conserving a scone baked in the 1980s, part of an art project. 

Key collections, apart from the University’s own records, include: 

  • Jute and other textile companies, relating to both Dundee and India. The University has one of the largest collections in Europe.
  • NHS Tayside (custodial rather than ownership) including Strathmartine and Sunnyside (Montrose) asylums. It was interesting to see an example of an asylum record which included a good family tree and to be reminded of how humane these institutions could be, bringing in fiddlers to entertain patients, for example. 
  • Brechin Diocese of the Scottish Episcopal Church. There is a database of names for Arbroath and Stonehaven church registers.
  • The Glasite church, Scotland and Connecticut.
  • The photographs of Michael Peto.
  • Records and library of the Grampian Club (hillwalking, ski-ing and mountaineering). 

It was good to be reminded of the sheer diversity of records that are potentially of use for family history. For example:

  • Railway companies who had to pass through people’s land – possible information on those people, any opposition raised and so on;
  • Solicitors’ firms archives – some contain private family papers;
  • Factories – though full staff records are fairly rare, don’t forget accident books and “half-time” school registers;
  • Hospital papers – who recommended a patient? Often charitable trusts.
Maternity hospital records - quite a spike in 1919! (photo Valerie Stewart)

And the oldest record in the Archives? A papyrus from AD99 relating to the sale of a slave. 

Access the archives

There is an online catalogue. There is also a very long-term project to index the hospital registers in their care, including parish of origin.  
Opening hours vary between semester and vacations; closed Thursdays.


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