Friday 10 April 2020

Visit to the Archives of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire

Aberdeen Town House
Genealogists often find themselves in unusual places but our visit to Aberdeen on 10th March 2020 (before social distancing) found us in the clock tower of one of the most iconic buildings in Scotland – Aberdeen Town House on Union Street! The tower houses the compact but fascinating Charter Room, built in the 1870s as one of the first archival repositories in the country.

The entrance to the Charter Room
The room is square, built over two floors and houses a number of archives related to Aberdeen City. 
 We discovered that ‘Old Aberdeen’ was a completely different city and therefore administrative body from ‘Aberdeen’ until 1891 which is useful to know as the records are kept separately. Since 1996 Aberdeen City Archives has also kept the historic documents of Aberdeenshire which include the former counties of Aberdeen, Kincardine and Banff as well as Grampian Region. A list of records held can be searched here.

Our thanks to Archivist Martin Hall for presenting a range of fascinating records including the oldest document in the Aberdeen archives – a confession from the 1597 Witch Trials made by Andrew Mann admitting to a 30 year affair with the Queen of the Elves and stating he was able to summon a sex demon called ‘Christ Sunday’. The confession includes the words used to summon the said demon and the question is – if the court truly believed this confession then these words would never have been written down for fear they would work! Despite this poor Andrew Mann would have been strangled and burned.

An unusual collection was the 1855 ‘Return on Prostitution’ which recorded the names of both women and men who plied the trade in Aberdeen. Over 400 names with ages were included and the census was repeated regularly as a safeguarding mechanism. The book also contained the names of Licensed Houses used and the names of known brothels - interestingly many of these properties were owned by the University! For privacy purposes all these census records have been destroyed and only the 1855 one remains.

A 1798 Militia Muster Book was very useful for recording the names, occupations, farms and parishes of men enlisting – you could however pay £10 not be enlisted, another person could volunteer to serve in your place or you could send a servant! There are 3 books in this series covering mainly rural areas.

If your ancestor was a policeman then the Long Roll Books of the Aberdeen Constabulary were a mine of genealogical information recording the entire career of an officer on one page including punishments for not towing the line!

Poor Relief Record
The Municipal Electoral Registers for Aberdeen City run from 1870 to the early 1900s and contain names, addresses, qualifications and occupations which are of interest to genealogists.

Poor relief records for the Chapel of Garioch parish revealed that a woman had had her allowance reduced as a result of giving birth to an illegitimate child – unfortunately a common occurrence! (Jane’s picture)

We also saw the very detailed Ashley Road School Admissions records which listed the name, year of admission, exact date of birth and the name and address of the parent or guardian - always a bonus for genealogists! The ‘gold dust’ column revealed the leaving date and where each pupil had gone – examples included South Africa, Canada, the Americas, London and Yorkshire as well as other schools or types of institution. On a more amusing note some children are recorded as having left the school to go to ‘Mars’ - which
was actually the name of a ship used as an industrial school at that time and not ‘another planet’!

The archives website has an interactive map – when you click on any Aberdeenshire parish it will show you what educational records are held. Pictures of records published with kind permission from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives

SGN Members outside Trinity Hall

The Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen

Trinity Hall’s Stained glass windows

After a long lunch with lots of ‘congenial’ banter we were ready for our afternoon visit. The Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen is housed in a 20th Century building which reveals a more historic interior comprising several meeting rooms with collections of antique chairs from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the oldest mahogany chair in Europe made in 1661! There is a grand hall with imposing stained glass windows each representing one of the seven trades of Aberdeen which are Hammermen, Bakers, Wrights, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers and Fleshers.

Looking at the Burgess of Trade Records 
Craft Guilds are recorded as far back as the 12th Century but it wasn’t until 1527 that these seven trades decided to come together to protect their interests under an elected Deacon Convener. David Parkinson, one of the former Deacon Conveners and a ‘Tailor’, gave us a tour of the building and a fascinating history of the Trades.

The Tailors for instance are represented by a stained glass window depicting St Paul who was a tent maker. Tailors used to set up tents outside their client’s residences and sew the required garments there.

Essay -  Intricate wood carving
In order to be accepted as a member, each craftsman was, and still is, required to produce an ‘essay piece’ as decided by the organisation – this could for instance be a wood carving or a piece of silverware and if a baker, a variety of different breads and cakes. If your essay piece is considered to be ‘sufficient’ you will be granted membership!

Named photographs of previous members of the organisation through the decades are displayed in the corridors so if any of your ancestors plied one of these seven trades then it is very likely that you would find them here. Of most interest to genealogists however is a room full of secure safes which hold the records – books of names, trades, addresses and other information going back to the 16th century. Until 1881 there was also a Trades School with educational records available. The organisation also ran a Master of Trades hospital for old and infirm craftsmen and the Trinity Cemetery belonged to the Bakers who made money by selling the plots!

Essays -  Shoe Art & Miniature Weaving Loom
A catalogue of records held by the Seven Incorporated Trades is being developed and will eventually be held by the National Archives.

More about the organisation can be found on their website: which is a mine of information on the organisation past and present. There is also an excellent official history, published in 1887, available at comprising 26 chapters in three parts, and seven appendices, of which Appendix V is a list of those who made donations and bequests (1633–1823). The chapters include various lists of names which may be of use to genealogists. [With thanks to Ivor Normand and the Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society (ANESFHS)]. Click here for report on SGN visit to ANESFHS in 2013.

Pictures published with kind permission of The Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen
Many thanks to our fellow genealogist Lorraine Stewart for organising this visit to these two wonderful facilities on behalf of the SGN!

By Valerie Stewart