Sunday, 26 August 2012

Scottish Genealogy Network visit to Perth

The newly established Scottish Genealogy Network met yesterday in Perth for its sixth meeting and had a fantastic time with its largest attendance yet. At our previous meeting in Stirling it was decided to try to take better advantage of the locations of our future gatherings, and if possible to put in a visit to an archive or a library to perhaps help with our continuous professional development. On that basis, we contacted the team at Perth and Kinross Archives and asked if it might be at all possible for us to visit the archive, even though the facility is usually shut on a Saturday (you know the old genealogical adage, God loves a trier!). To say the team was more than accommodating would be the biggest understatement of the year!

A. K. Bell Library
Locally based archivist Christine Wood very kindly agreed to come along and open up the archive for us, whilst her colleague Steve Connolly had also informed the local studies department, which is based on the same floor, that we would pop along for a few minutes after for a look around. We arranged to meet Christine at 1pm, and were extremely grateful for the chance to perhaps spend twenty minutes at each of the facilities, to learn a bit about their offerings and some of the challenges faced by both the archive and the local studies department. In fact both Christine and Anne Carroll (in the local studies area) were absolute troopers, and we spent almost two hours in the building.

Christine had laid out a wonderful assortment of document types and registers for us to look at in the search room, ranging from some of the more common types of records used in genealogical research, such as valuation rolls, to some lesser known gems, such as 19th century prison charge books with photographs of  criminals, early cess books and more. It was a fantastic opportunity to not only see such examples but also to be able to learn how the archive operates, including its procedures for researchers when attending to how materials are actually gathered by the archive in the first place. We also learned about how the archive's contents are catalogued, and how Christine's fellow staff member Jan Merchant is continuing to fight the good fight to get the collection completed!

However, as if we had not been spoiled enough, we were then given an opportunity to see the temperature controlled archive storage facility and to explore how it works. We were kindly allowed to have a look around, and at one point I noticed a series of books on a shelf concerning the High Constables of Perth - out of curiosity I took a look and discovered an entry from 1866 concerning the execution of murderer Joseph Bell, the subject of Scotland's penultimate public execution, and a story I have recently recounted in my book about the Mount Stewart Murder. It was an account listing fines for various people who had been fined for not attending the execution - a great wee find that just added another detail to a story I already thought I knew well! There was also a bit of hilarity when we found a series of boxes marked the Eureka Files, clearly something every genealogist strives to find!

Having had such privileged access to the archive we then walked over to the local studies area and caught up with Anne Carroll, who had also arranged for us to see a selection of holdings from the facility's collections. These included such wonderful items as a fully indexed set of prints from Stobie's 1783 map of Perthshire, with every single settlement depicted indexed and given a grid reference - something that even the National Library of Scotland's maps folk have been impressed by on a recent visit. We also saw a wonderful  album of photographs showing nurses and homes that were turned into military hospitals in the First World War, local directories, parish guides, Free Church of Scotland material and more. This was then followed with a few minutes looking around the library itself to gain an understanding of the variety of materials on public display.

From our visit I think it is fair to say that we all gained an appreciation of how connected both the archive and the local studies areas are, even though they are officially separate entities, and that absolutely the name of the game when using them is to ask for help!!! There is so much behind the scenes not openly available to the public that can be produced if you just ask for assistance, bearing in mind also that not everything is catalogued or listed online. It was amazing to hear both Christine's and Anne's enthusiasm for their work and their holdings, and to both of them, as well as to Steve who helped to arrange things for us, I would like to publicly thank them on behalf of the group. We had no idea that you would be so generous with your time and enthusiasm, and we all came away absolutely singing to the heavens with praise for such a wonderful facility! Thank you so much!

For more on Perth and Kinross Archives visit, and for the Local Studies department at the A.K.Bell Library visit

Next month, the group will be meeting in Edinburgh on Saturday 29th, with further details announced in due course. If you are a professional genealogist, or work professionally within the field of genealogy, e.g. at an archive or library, we would love to see you! Drop myself a note to express an interest at christopherpaton @ and I can add you to the email list to keep you up to date with future plans!

Christine Wood, left, & SGN members visiting Perth and Kinross Archives


Check out my Scotland's Greatest Story research service
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)

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