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Could you be related to Robert Burns?

Scotsman article published on Thursday 19th January 2017

Robert BurnsWith anything between 12 and 18 children mothered by at least four women, there is no doubt that the family tree of poet Robert Burns runs deep and wide.

Much genealogical research has been done to establish the descendants of the Bard with more than 900 relatives already established. Those wanting to trace any blood or marriage link to the poet will be faced with a hugely complex task given the sheer numbers of offspring – with at least eight of his children known to be illegitimate. The common occurrence of Burns as a surname and the various spellings used by the poet and his family will also increase the challenge of the search.

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US links to exiled 17th Century Scots soldiers revealed

Scotsman article published on Monday 16th January 2017

Battle of DunbarThe US descendants of dozens of 17th Century Scottish soldiers who were exiled following one of Scotland’s most brutal battles have been informed about their long lost family members. Investigations into those who fought at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 are progressing after two mass graves of Scottish soldiers were discovered several years ago in Durham.

Around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned there after Oliver Cromwell’s victory in the battle which cost up to 5,000 lives. Following the discovery of the remains, plans are being developed to give the Scots soldiers a proper burial close to where they were found with a ceremony and commemoration due later this year.

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Latest birth, death and marriage records released

Scotsman article published on Thursday 5th January 2017

Wartime WeddingEntries from important statutory records have been released today onto ScotlandsPeople – the family history website operated by the National Records of Scotland.

Digital images of 110,000 birth entries from 1916, more than 47,000 marriage entries from 1941 and 64,000 death entries from 1966 are now available for members of the public to search, view and save, no matter where they are in the world.

Click here to read the full article.

Census find sheds new light on St Kilda’s history

BBC article published on Thursday 29th December 2016

St Kilda CensusResearchers have discovered the oldest known record of the population of St Kilda. A 250-year-old census came to light during cataloguing by the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS).

The census lists 90 people living on the remote archipelago on 15 June 1764 – 38 males and 52 females, including 19 families and nine individuals. Until now, the earliest record dated from 1822.

The islands, which lie about 40 miles west of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, were home to generations of people until the last were evacuated in 1930. The last surviving former resident of St Kilda, Rachel Johnson, died earlier this year at the age of 93.

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Who are Scotland’s present day clan chiefs?

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 27th December 2016

Clan ChiefsScotland’s clans may have lost their power and influence but much work is still done to promote the lineage, culture and shared history of some of the country’s oldest families.

Here we look at eight clans and their chiefs – who include a banker, an estate agent, a gardener and a restauranteur – who continue to promote the bonds forged hundreds of years ago through battle, birth and blood
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Click here to read the full article.

Life in an Edinburgh poorhouse

Scotsman article published on Monday 5th December 2016

Craiglockhart Poorhouse NurseryFor many poverty-stricken families in Victorian Scotland the poorhouse was often the only option to survive. There was no such thing as “dole money” to prop you up – the Unemployment Insurance Act wouldn’t be passed until 1920.

Poor families were encouraged to look to friends and relatives for assistance. An application for poor relief was the last resort. This came in two forms: outdoor and indoor relief.

Outdoor relief was a meagre welfare handout providing you with money; food; clothes or goods, but the latter option was enough to make Auld Reekie’s hoi polloi shudder with fear.

Indoor relief was ministerial speak for the poorhouse. In late 19th century Edinburgh there were two such institutions: The City Poorhouse at Craiglockhart and St Cuthbert’s at Craigleith.

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Canadian woman, 96, becomes a great-great-great grandmother

BBC article published on Monday 5th December 2016

Six GenerationsWith the holiday season around the corner, many of us will be catching up with loved ones over a festive tipple or two.

For Vera Sommerfeld of Lethbridge, Canada, this year brings a special reason to pop the champagne corks. At the age of 96, Ms Sommerfeld has just become a great-great-great-grandmother. Baby Callie, born in October, is the newest addition to a family with six living generations of women.

The delighted matriarch told Canada’s CBC News: “It’s pretty wonderful, really.”

“I just couldn’t wait for this baby to be born, because it was going to be my sixth generation, and I waited for it for a long time.”

Click here to read the full article.

The clan chief who hid in a cave for nine years

Scotsman article published on Monday 21st November 2016

Ben Alder - Cluny's CageHe spent nine years hiding in a cave in the Highlands, a bounty of £1,000 placed on his head following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden. Ewen Macpherson of Cluny, also known as Cluny Macpherson, was one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s most loyal supporters with Castle Cluny, at Laggan near Newtonmore, burned down by government troops following the 1746 battle.

Macpherson, who missed the battle after marking the passes at Badenoch with 600 men, became an outlaw. He had several places of retreat on his estate, living for nine years chiefly in a cave close to his former home. Such was his care of secrecy, not even his wife knew which hideaway he was in as he shifted from place to place.

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The five Aberdeen sons who died due to World War One

BBC article published on Friday 11th November 2016

Tocher BrothersWhen World War One broke out in 1914, Peter and Elspeth Tocher from Aberdeen had five sons. Peter, George, James, John and Robert all served in the Gordon Highlanders regiment. All of them died.

The father of the five men, who was in his 50s, also enlisted as he was so distraught to be losing his sons one by one. Relatives have been telling the story to BBC Scotland ahead of Remembrance Day.
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Cpl George Tocher was the first to perish. He was injured while fighting near Ypres in May 1915. He died of his wounds and was buried in a military cemetery in Belgium. The Battle of the Somme then claimed the lives of three Tocher men.

Click here to read the full article.

Genetics show many Scots are descended from Russian nomads

Scotsman article published on Sunday 30th October 2016

The Scots of today are descended from a pastoral, nomadic people living in the Russian Steppes, who were among the first humans to make use of the wheel. New research conducted at Harvard University has discovered that genetic material which derives from an ancient population from the scrublands of what is now eastern Russia has been passed down to the modern-day inhabitants of Scotland.

A paper to be published in next month’s American Journal of Human Genetics has observed for the first time that people in northern Britain have a higher levels of genes of Steppe ancestry than their counterparts in the south of England. Geneticists and archaeologists are now carrying out more work to discover more about Scotland’s Russian inheritance.

The Harvard geneticists made their discovery when analysing 113,851 samples held by the UK Biobank.

Click here to read the full article.

Scottish witchcraft book published online

BBC article published on Friday 28th October 2016

Witchcraft BookThe pages of a 350-year-old book used to record the names of those accused of witchcraft in Scotland have been published online.

The Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658 collection, was drawn up during a time when the persecution of supposed witches was rife.

The book also lists the towns where the accused lived and notes of confession. It is believed many were healers, practicing traditional folk medicine.

Some of the notes give small insights into the lives of those accused. It is recorded that the spouse of Agnes Watsone, from Dumbarton, is “umquhile” (deceased).

A majority of those accused of witchcraft were women although the records reveal that some men were also persecuted.

Click here to read the full article.

Map: The 18th century territories of Scotland’s clans

Scotsman article published on Friday 10th June 2016

Clan Map of the Highlands 1746-1747A centuries old map of Scotland shines a light on the distribution of Highland clan territories after the crushing Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1745.

The map, which features in the National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) extensive archive, depicts a country still very much divided by the Highland fault line that served as a boundary between two peoples: the Gaelic clans and Lowland Scots.

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A history of names from the Scottish Highlands and Islands

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 31st May 2016

The majestic Scottish Highlands and Islands have a history both fascinating – and at times brutal. The area has produced some of the most well known Scots in the country’s history.

Here we take a look at the history of surnames that come from the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

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Businessman’s DNA link to medieval king revealed

BBC article published on Friday 27th May 2016

Archie Roberts - DNA ProjectA Stirlingshire businessman’s DNA sample has confirmed him as a direct descendant of a medieval Scottish king. Archie Shaw Stewart is in the family line of King Robert III, who ruled from 1390 until his death in 1406.

His own research had already shown he was related to the king’s son, Sir John Stewart of Blackhall and Ardgowan. His family line includes Sir John’s great-grandfather, Walter Stewart, one of Robert the Bruce’s commanders at the Battle of Bannockburn.

The DNA study was carried out by the genealogical studies postgraduate programme based at the University of Strathclyde, and the Bannockburn Family History Project.

Click here to read the full article.

Map: Where in Scotland does your surname come from?

Scotsman article published on Monday 21st March 2016

Clan Map of ScotlandOver the centuries millions of Scots have left their homeland and spread Scottish names across the globe, but where do these names originate?

Scotland has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. Yet, the history of Scottish surnames, is by comparison, a much more recent affair.

Until the 12th century most Scots did not have surnames. It was not until King David I’s decision to give large amounts of Scottish land to Norman nobles in return for their support of the Crown that the Norman tradition of surnames came into fashion. Choosing a surname was a haphazard affair. You could be the son of somebody (Robertson, Davidson, Johnston) or adopt the Gaelic variation of ‘Mac’ rather than ‘son’ (MacDonald, MacLeod, MacKenzie).

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Marvel at Scotland’s baby names

BBC article published on Tuesday 15th March 2016

Marvel at Scotland's baby namesThe full list of names given to babies last year has been published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). The most popular were Emily and Jack, as reported last year when NRS released its list of top names.

The new list gives the complete details of forenames given to boys and girls in 2015. And while the inspiration for them is not provided, popular culture such as film, TV and music appears to have played a part in the choices.

Click here to read the full article.

Names of last St Kilda residents added to genealogy site

Scotsman article published on Thursday 3rd March 2016

St. KildaThe last residents of St Kilda are among more than 2.5 million Scots’ names uploaded to the Scottish government’s family history website.

The 36 people were evacuated from the archipelago in August 1930, ending thousands of years of continuous habitation of the islands. The names appear among the latest release of Valuation Rolls on genealogy site ScotlandsPeople.

Click here to read the full article.

Future of iconic Edinburgh building in doubt

Scotsman article published on Saturday 7th February 2015

New Register HouseThe future of one of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings has been thrown into doubt after a government review said it should close. General Register House at the east end of Princes Street, designed by Robert Adam and dating back to 1788, is one of the oldest purpose-built archives in the world. But an estates review by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) has concluded the landmark building, together with its neighbour New Register House, should not be part of its long-term future. Instead, the NRS has said it wants to move staff and records to its storage facility in Sighthill.

The move comes as major redevelopments are planned in the immediate area, including the creation of the new St James Quarter and a revamp of the former Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in St Andrew Square. Conservationists warned any plans for the future of General Register House must respect its historical and architectural importance.

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Review recommends closure of General Register House

Edinburgh Evening News article published on Saturday 7th February 2015

It is one of the oldest purpose-built archives in the world and a mecca for genealogists.  But now its future has been thrown into doubt after a government review said it should close.

General Register House at the East End of Princes Street was designed by Robert Adam and dates back to 1788. An estates review by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) has concluded the landmark building, together with next-door New Register House, should not be part of its long-term future. Instead, the NRS has said it wants to move staff and records to its storage facility in Sighthill.

Click here to read the full article.

Joseph Byers: The first Scot shot for desertion in World War One

BBC article published on Thursday 5th February 2015

A hundred years ago tomorrow a young Scottish solder was shot and killed on the battlefields of France. Unlike fallen comrades who were hailed as heroes, Pte Joseph Byers of the Royal Scots Fusiliers died in disgrace; the first Scot court-martialled and executed for desertion during World War One. He was 19. Pte Byers’ service record survives but the space where his medal honours should be is blank, save for the words “forfeited” and “shot”.

Pte Byers had been sent to collect coal for the fires but didn’t come back. He was arrested by a French policeman and handed over to the British authorities as a deserter. His trial was swift. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be shot to death. At dawn on 6 February 1915, he was taken out, blindfolded and tied to a post with a white marker pinned to his chest for the 10-man firing squad to aim at. In this ignominious way, Pte Byers became part of the history of the Great War.

Passport photosHow have passport photos changed in 100 years?

BBC article published on Thursday 5th February 2015
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It’s 100 years since British passports first included photographs. How have they changed?

It can be a pain getting passport photos right. Smiling, frowning, hats (unless worn for religious reasons), leaning sideways, dark backgrounds, hair over eyes, red eye, glasses, sunglasses – there is a long list of no-nos. Anything wrong and Her Majesty’s Passport Office may return the application.

But it hasn’t always been like this. When the British government introduced passport photographs in February 1915, the rules were more lax. Whole families, rather than just one person, could be shown. As long as faces were visible, the pose and location of those involved did not matter.

Rather than sit in a booth as one would today, Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1915, stood with his wife as his two sons sat in a dog cart.

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Alice MacLachlan DiaryDiaries of St Kilda couple to be put online

Scotsman article published on Friday 16th January 2015

The diaries of a teacher and minister’s wife who lived on the remotest island in the British Isles before they were evacuated are to be put online. Alice MacLachlan lived on the Atlantic Ocean outpost of St Kilda – 66km west of the Outer Hebrides – while her husband, Peter, was the minister.

The largest island in the archipelago, Hirta, was occupied until 1930 when the last remaining islanders left after they asked to be evacuated because their way of life was no longer sustainable.
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The diary extracts coincide with the 85th anniversary of the evacuation and reveal an extraordinary insight into day-to-day St Kildan life, mentioning a number of the then residents of the island.

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Alice MacLachlanSt Kilda diary from 1900s to be made available online

BBC article published on Friday 16th January 2015
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Extracts from a schoolteacher’s diary of her time on the remote St Kilda archipelago in the early 1900s are to be made available online. Haddington born Alice MacLachlan taught at the small school on the main island of Hirta from August 1906 and May 1909. Her husband Peter, who was from Tobermory, was a Church of Scotland minister on the island.

People had lived on St Kilda for centuries but was evacuated of its last 36 residents in 1930. Life on the island had become too difficult.

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Glasgow School of Art recalls its World War One heroes

BBC article published on Tuesday 13th January 2015

A war memorial commemorating staff and students from Glasgow School of Art who served in World War One has been reinstated following conservation work. The memorial had been commissioned in 1925 and survived the fire at the school in May 2014. It is hoped a new research project will uncover the stories behind the names of those on the roll.

Click here to see the news report video.

Scots rail disaster at heart of WW1 commemorations

BBC article published on Saturday 10th January 2015

A wartime Scottish rail disaster which claimed the lives of more than 200 soldiers on their way to  Gallipoli is to be at the heart of the country’s Great War centenary commemorations this year.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop today confirmed the The Quintinshill Disaster will be among the events staged  nationwide to commemorate World War I, unveiled today.

Scots World War One commemoration schedule revealed

BBC article published on Friday 9th January 2015

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has revealed the schedule of World War One centenary commemorations to be held in Scotland this year. Activities are planned in Gretna, Leith, Stirling and Dundee.

Ms Hyslop said the focus of the second year of events would extend from the capital out to other parts of the country. She said World War One had had a “significant and broad impact on our nation”.

Tartan genes: Colour schemes based on artist’s DNA

Scotsman article published on Sunday 4th January 2015

A Scottish artist has created his own tartan using information he found about his ancestry – from DNA results he obtained using a controversial £125 testing kit.

Jim Pattison, an honorary research fellow at the University of Dundee, colour-coded the results of the DNA tests he got back from the kit, which is sold by a firm based in the US. Pattison, 59, used complex data from American company 23andMe after noticing the similarity between the colour strips method of recording tartans and the strip notation used to describe genetic markers that can identify individuals or animal species.

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Scots at the start of two world wars

ScotlandsPeople article published on Thursday 1st January 2015

The latest additions to ScotlandsPeople online are the Scottish records of births in 1914, marriages in 1939 and deaths in 1964.

The 1914 births reveal how patriotism gripped parents of babies after Britain declared war on 4 August. The final few months of 1914 witnessed a new fashion for naming boys Kitchener after Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener’s face adorned the famous recruiting posters after the outbreak of war. He was responsible for increasing the British Army from six regular and fourteen divisions to seventy divisions by the creation of the ‘New Armies’ named after him.

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McQueen of Scots: Designer’s Scots heritage explored

BBC article published on Wednesday 24th December 2014

Fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s Scottish heritage is explored in a new documentary. London-born McQueen, who often used tartan in his garments, was found dead at his home in the city in 2010. The 40 year old’s ashes were scattered at Kilmuir on Skye. His father’s ancestors were from the island.

BBC Alba’s McQueen of Scots looks at how his mother Joyce traced the family’s roots back to the time of the last Jacobite rising. The programme also examines Scottish influences on the designer’s work.

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Dumfries Victoria Cross recipient James Mackenzie honoured

BBC article published on Friday 19th December 2014

A special ceremony has taken place in Dumfries for the first soldier from the region to receive the Victoria Cross during World War One. A commemorative paving stone was unveiled and wreaths laid in memory of Pte James Mackenzie.

Relatives and representatives of the British Legion and Scots Guards Association were at the event. Pte Mackenzie was the first of five servicemen from Dumfries and Galloway awarded the VC during World War One.

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Jane Haining: The Scot who died in Auschwitz

BBC article published on Sunday 30th November 2014

An Edinburgh square has been named in honour of footballers and supporters who served in the first of the so-called Sporting Battalions of WW1. The area outside the Usher Hall is where Sir George McCrae, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, inspired hundreds of men from the east coast to join his battalion 100 years ago. The naming ceremony is one of a number of events in the capital to commemorate those who served in the 16th Royal Scots.

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Square named after McCrae’s Battalion

BBC article published on Friday 28th November 2014

An Edinburgh square has been named in honour of footballers and supporters who served in the first of the so-called Sporting Battalions of WW1. The area outside the Usher Hall is where Sir George McCrae, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, inspired hundreds of men from the east coast to join his battalion 100 years ago. The naming ceremony is one of a number of events in the capital to commemorate those who served in the 16th Royal Scots.

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Scotland’s heroes: The 74 Victoria Cross winners from WW1

BBC article published on Sunday 9th November 2014

During World War One, 627 people were awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest award for gallantry for any Commonwealth soldier. Amongst them were 74 Scots. As we pause this week to remember all of those who fought in the Great War and every conflict since, the stories of those VC winners and their heroics are as incredible as ever.

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Mystery of World War One medal found down a well

BBC article published on Friday 31st October 2014

A World War One medal discovered down a well has been handed over to the family of the soldier who received it, decades after it was found. An Inverness police officer spent years trying to find relatives of the veteran, eventually tracking down his grandson who travelled from the other end of Britain to collect it.

This story is full of coincidence. It begins at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 30 years ago, when a group of community police officers, including Pete Carson, removed rubbish from a well outside Inverness Castle.

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WW1 British soldiers’ remains reinterred 100 years after death

BBC article published on Wednesday 22nd October 2014

The remains of 15 British soldiers who died in World War One have been reinterred in northern France, 100 years after they were killed in battle. Their remains were found during drainage work in 2009, close to the village of Beaucamps-Ligny near Lille. DNA samples were used to identify 11 of the soldiers from the 2nd Batallion of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

The regiment drew mainly from northern England but also included men born in Surrey, Dorset and Nottingham. The soldiers were reburied with full military honours at a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Bois-Grenier near Lille. They died in battle on 18 October 1914.

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‘Hail of bullets’ VC hero Pte Henry May honoured

BBC article published on Wednesday 22nd October 2014

A soldier who braved a hail of bullets to rescue wounded comrades during a World War One battle in France is being honoured in his home city of Glasgow. Pte Henry May received the Victoria Cross (VC) – the highest award for gallantry – for actions at La Boutillerie on 22 October 1914.

A paving stone in his memory will be unveiled outside the People’s Palace. Stones are being laid in the home town of every UK soldier awarded the VC as part of World War One centenary events. The paving stone in memory of Bridgeton soldier Pte May will be unveiled on Wednesday by the city’s Depute Lord Provost Gerry Leonard.

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Dumfries archive centre options outlined

BBC article published on Wednesday 15th October 2014

Three potential funding options – costing up to £6.2m – have been outlined for a new archive and local studies centre located in Dumfries. A site at the Ewart Library was selected as the preferred option for the facility earlier this year. It will be used to house a vast collection of historic documents currently held by Dumfries and Galloway Council in various locations.

Councillors will decide their preferred funding proposal next week. The project is designed to safeguard the documents – some of which date back as far as 1452 – while also improving public access to the archives.

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St Kilda pictures discovered in college archives

The Scotsman article published on Monday 6th October 2014

Rare photographs of life on the isolated Hebridean islands of St Kilda have been discovered in the archives of a Scottish university. St Kilda is the remotest outpost of the British Isles, lying some 41 miles west of the Isle of Benbecula.

After thousands of years of human occupation, its remaining population was famously relocated to the mainland at their own request in 1930. The previously unseen “holiday snaps” are from a tourist trip to the islands, believed to have taken place in the late 1920s.

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Number of Centenarians in Scotland Continues to Increase

National Records of Scotland article published on Thursday 25th September 2014

The number of people in Scotland living for more than a century continues to grow.

Figures published today by the National Records of Scotland, based on the 2011 Census, estimate that in 2013 there were 850 centenarians living in Scotland.

Click here to read the full article.

Celebrities inspiring families to root out their past

The Herald article published on Tuesday 2nd September 2014

‘Everybody’s just nosy, I think,” says the woman from the Central Scotland Family History Society.

“You want to know what your grandfathers did. And once you’ve done the people, you get into the social history side, like what was happening in Scotland at that particular time, or in your own area.”

Indeed, all around her, dozens of people are rooting around in the past – doing online checks into their ancestry, consulting experts, and buying DNA kits, or old maps, or CDs containing parish registry extracts.

A leaflet from the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society offers assistance in tracing one’s ancestors. “They could be princes or they could be paupers!” it says. “They could be heroes or they could be criminals!” It seems like an appealing prospect.

Such was the scene last Friday at the SECC, the occasion of the first Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland two-day event.

“It is such a massive hobby now,” is how Carolyn Wray, the live show’s public relations manager, had earlier described the passion for family history.

Click here to read the full article.

Belgian refugees build British family after WW1 escape

BBC article published on Sunday 31st August 2014

An estimated 250,000 refugees arrived in Britain from Belgium at the start of World War One. Among them were widower Louis Bareau and his two children, aged 12 and 13. So what became of the Bareau family and their fellow Belgian exiles?

Louis Bareau’s grandson, retired banker Peter Bareau, set out to discover his family’s story as a way of commemorating their arrival, 100 years ago, by boat in Folkestone. His three-year project mapped the Bareau family journey from artisan roots in Belgium to middle-class prosperity in England.

“I thought it was something I could do for the family, and I thought that the celebration of their arrival in Folkestone would give it life,” he said. Louis’ father, Emile, turned out to have been a village policeman in Horion, not far from Liege, who was descended from soldiers and knife repairmen.

Click here to read the full article.

WW1 medal found in well reunited with owner’s family

Scotsman article published on Thursday 21st August 2014

A World War I medal is being returned to its owner’s family after it was found at the bottom of a well. It’s the end of a 30-year quest for Pete Carson, who found it while serving as a police officer in Inverness, and finally tracked down the soldier’s grandson on Facebook.

The British War Medal was awarded to a Private William Smellie Hogg, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

“It’s an amazing story, and one with a wonderful, happy ending,” said Pete, of Station Road, Carrbridge, Badenoch and Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands.

“At least – it’s sort of ending, as we’ll probably never know the whole story.”

In 1984 Pete was a community police officer and was involved in cleaning out an old well at Inverness Castle when he came across the well-preserved British War Medal.

Click here to read the full article.

Nephew finds WW2 PoW’s grave in Poland after 29 years

BBC article published on Thursday 21st August 2014

Seventy years after he was shot by a German guard, prisoner of war Tommy Saunders now has a headstone. It marks the end of his nephew’s long search for his final resting place. The people of Popielow had always known the two graves in their cemetery belonged to foreigners.

Unbeknown to the families of the two British soldiers, the mounds had lain unmarked at the back of the graveyard in the picturesque Polish village for 70 years – until now. Visitors today will find two gleaming white headstones, the result of a 29-year search by Tom Hutchinson, the nephew of L/Cpl Saunders, whose investigation has involved raking through records, taken him from Kew to Geneva and culminated in the 1,180-mile trip to western Poland.

His uncle was just 25 when he was killed by a German guard while working in a forest in 1944. But what happened to his body had always been a mystery to his family.

Click here to read the full article.

Dumfries library site picked as preferred location for archive centre

BBC article published on Tuesday 19th August 2014

The Ewart Library in Dumfries has been selected as the preferred site to house a new £3m archive centre development in the town. Four potential locations had been shortlisted following a public consultation and feasibility study.

The proposed project aims to increase public access to historical documents held by Dumfries and Galloway Council. The records – some of which date back as far as 1452 – are currently stored at various buildings across the region. The project will see the archives brought together in a new purpose-built centre. The local authority says that as well as safeguarding the documents, the development of the centre will contribute to local regeneration and cultural tourism.

Click here to read the full article.

Ancestral tour firm’s Homecoming boost

Southern Reporter article published on Saturday 16th August 2014

A Borders business has been cashing in on the opportunities presented by this unique year for Scottish tourism.

Borders Journeys, a company which brings numerous visitors to the region, has capitalised on Homecoming Scotland 2014, a year-long co-ordinated programme of events.

The company has seen a 120 per cent increase in demand for ancestral tours, with most of the visitors this year homecomers from Australia, Canada and the USA researching their ancestral roots.

Borders Journeys provide exclusive private and small group guided tours of Scotland. Their ancestral research services and tailor-made ancestral tours take visitors on a journey of discovery to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

Tour operator Ian Walker said: “This year has seen a massive increase in the amount of ancestral tours that we’ve organised as well as researching Scottish ancestral roots.”

Click here to read the full article.

International visitors ‘home in’ on the Borders

Peeblesshire News article published on Wednesday 13th August 2014

A Borders business has been cashing in on the opportunities presented by this unique year for Scottish tourism.

Borders Journeys, a company which brings numerous visitors to the region, has capitalised on Homecoming Scotland 2014, a year-long co-ordinated programme of events.

The company has seen a 120 per cent increase in demand for ancestral tours, with most of the visitors this year homecomers from Australia, Canada and the USA researching their ancestral roots.

Borders Journeys provide exclusive private and small group guided tours of Scotland. Their ancestral research services and tailor-made ancestral tours take visitors on a journey of discovery to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

Tour operator Ian Walker said: “This year has seen a massive increase in the amount of ancestral tours that we’ve organised as well as researching Scottish ancestral roots.”

Click here to read the full article.

Great Scott! The clan gathers from all over the world

Southern Reporter article published on Sunday 10th August 2014

Scotts from all over the world descended on the Borders to attend a clan gathering hosted by the 10th Duke of Buccleuch alongside Abbotsford House. Guests travelled back to their ancestral home from France, Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia to enjoy a packed programme of events celebrating their heritage.

Three days of activities took place in and around Bowhill House and Country Estate, located just outside Selkirk, and Abbotsford House. Events were rounded off with a farewell banquet, attended by the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, who is Chief of Clan Scott – and 50 guests, all linked to Clan Scott.

The heart of the original clan area was at Bellendaine, a meeting place for the Scotts, so local band Scocha wrote and performed a new song especially for the Scott gathering, entitled A Bellendaine, meaning “to Bellendaine” – the rallying or war cry of the Scotts of Buccleuch.

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Visitors are ‘homing’ in on Scottish Borders

The Berwickshire Times article published on Saturday 9th August 2014

A Scottish Borders business has been cashing in on the opportunities presented by this unique year for Scottish tourism. Borders Journeys, a company which brings numerous visitors to the region, has capitalised on Homecoming Scotland 2014 which is a year long coordinated programme of inspirational events.

The company has seen a significant increase of 120% in demand for ancestral tours as well as an increase of 100% in researching the ancestral heritage of clients. Most of the visitors this year are ‘homecomers’ researching their ancestral roots and have come from Australia, Canada and the USA.

Borders Journeys provide exclusive private and small group guided tours of Scotland. Their ancestral research services and tailor-made ancestral tours take visitors on a journey of discovery to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. The company’s website welcomes visitors to Scotland with the line “there is no better year to visit and explore Scotland than in the year that we celebrate Homecoming Scotland 2014, a year-long celebration of all things Scottish.”

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Let’s commemorate the WW1 objectors

Herald article published on Monday 28th July 2014

Next week marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. All kinds of commemorations will take place but our starting point should be this: the First World War was an unnecessary catastrophe.

Unnecessary and senseless. A catastrophe which paved the way for the even worse calamity of the Second World War.

The Great War wasn’t a defence of democracy. Women didn’t have the vote. Neither did 40% of adult men in Britain. In Germany, all men had the vote. If we were fighting for democracy, we had strange allies: Tsarist Russia and the militaristic Japanese imperialists.

Nor was it a crusade to protect some wonderful British way of life. Many of our soldiers were better fed and housed in the trenches than they were in their slums back home.

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Call to join special WW1 service at Edinburgh Castle

BBC article published on Tuesday 22nd July 2014

People from across Scotland are being invited to join a special service next month to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. A thousand free places are available to members of the public who do not have tickets for the Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle on 10 August.

The multi-faith commemoration will be held before a congregation of almost 9,000 people. The event will replicate services held on the front line 100 years ago.

It will be followed by a parade of military bands and guards down the Royal Mile to a replica Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Holyrood Park. The service will mark the start of a five-year programme of commemorations in Scotland.

Eight events from World War One will be remembered, including the start and end of the conflict; major battles including Gallipoli, Loos, Jutland and Arras; and domestic incidents such as the Quintinshill rail disaster and the loss of HMY Iolaire.

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Scottish clan profile: Armstrong

Scotsman article published on Thursday 17th July 2014

The Armstrongs are a Border clan whose origins lie in Cumberland.

The Armstrong name has a mythological origin, in which their heroic progenitor, Fairbairn, saves the King of Scotland in battle by lifting the king onto his own horse with one arm after the king’s horse was killed in battle. The family crest records this act of heroism that was to be rewarded with a grant of lands in the Borders and the famous Armstrong name.

The first specific reference locating them in Liddesdale, which would become their family seat, is in 1376. Liddesdale was also the seat of their unquestioned power in the region that allowed them to expand into Annandale and Eskdale to accommodate their growing population. It is reputed that by 1528 they were able to put 3000 horsemen in the field.

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Scottish clan profile: Turnbull

Scotsman article published on Friday 11th July 2014

The origin of the Turnbull name was told by Hector Boece, in his History of Scotland. Boece tells the legend that during the Wars of Scottish Independence William of Rule saved King Robert Bruce by wrestling to the ground a bull that had charged at the King.

The King rewarded William with the lands of Philiphaugh, now part of Selkirk, and dubbed Rule “Turnebull” (the “e” was later dropped from the name). The Lands that the Turnbulls came from was settled by Vikings in the 10th and 11th Centuries, giving the Turnbulls a very Norse look and being reported to be with great size, with many having blonde and red hair and blue eyes. Because of their open defiance to the English Crown, many Turnbulls turned into Trumbull, Tremble, Trimble and Trembley (as many went to France to continue fighting the English).

It has also been suggested that Turnbull is derived from the Old English “Trumbald” or French “Tumbald”, meaning “strong and bold”, or that Robertus de Turnbulyes, who swore fealty to King Edward I of England in 1296, could be the family father.

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Alex Salmond: Who do you think you are?

Scotsman article published on Saturday 28th June 2014

Alex Salmond has met American relatives he did not know existed until a chance discovery during family tree research. The First Minister learned last year he had blood relations in the US who were descended from Salmonds who emigrated in the 1870s seeking a fresh start in the New World. It turned out the transatlantic adventurers were pioneers of the Wild West, two of them even becoming famous for their stagecoach driving skills.

Now, more than a century on, Mr Salmond has brought the two sides of his family together for the first time by meeting their modern-day descendants, mirroring the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? in which well-known figures trace their family trees. The First Minister, whose late mother, Mary, had a keen interest in her ancestry, held a private gathering with eight of his long-lost cousins at Holyrood on Wednesday night.

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Billy Connolly set for Who Do You Think You Are?

Scotsman article published on Friday 27th June 2014

Comic Billy Connolly and Great British Bake Off star Mary Berry are among the familiar faces who will be delving back into their family history for a new series of BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? Also looking at their roots will be Mrs Brown’s Boys creator Brendan O’Carroll and the actresses Julie Walters and Sheridan Smith when the programme returns in the summer.

The programme, which launched in 2004, will reach its 100th edition during the series. The line-up of ten stars is completed by actors Brian Blessed and Martin Shaw, DJ and presenter Reggie Yates, actress Tamzin Outhwaite and model Twiggy. There will also be an hour-long edition of the programme looking back over the past decade, involving figures who have previously been featured including JK Rowling and Jeremy Paxman, who memorably let down his tough exterior to shed a tear.

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Who Do You Think You Are? celebrates 10 years and 100th episode!

Who Do You Think You Are? article published on-line

Britain’s best-loved family-history series, Who Do You Think You Are?, returns to BBC One this summer to celebrate its 10th birthday and 100th episode. Over the past decade, the hugely popular genealogy show has told the moving and heartfelt stories behind 90 famous faces, tracing their ancestry, discovering family secrets and surprises with tales of poverty and prosperity, love and loss, war, immigration and struggle.

This year, the glittering line-up features 10 more well-loved stars: award-winning actress Julie Walters; comedian and actor Billy Connolly; star of British Bake Off Mary Berry; acting legend Brian Blessed; actress Sheridan Smith; comedian/actor and the man behind the hugely successful Mrs Brown’s Boys, Brendan O’Carroll; actress Tamzin Outhwaite; presenter and DJ Reggie Yates; actor Martin Shaw; and model and actress Twiggy. From murder to bankruptcy, ice-cream selling to corset making, revolutionary land wars to syphilis, the new series reveals more extraordinary stories from our celebrities’ families.

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Mother’s letter to soldier son in WWI exhibit

Scotsman article published on Friday 27th June 2014

A small batch of letters written by a mother in Aberdeen to her son serving on the front line in the First World War is among the items to be displayed at Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland as part of its centenary exhibition marking the First World War. The letters have remained unopened since the day they were posted because George Buchanan Smith never lived to be able to read them. The Gordon Highlander was among the 60,000 British soldiers who died in the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and his letters were subsequently returned to the family marked “killed in action.”

This is just one of many remarkable, but largely forgotten, stories told in a major exhibition at NLS that marks the centenary of the outbreak of the war by looking at what happened through the eyes of the people who experienced it.

Behind the Lines: Personal Stories from the First World War runs from 27 June to Armistice Day, 11 November 2014 at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.

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Museum unveils new Commonwealth war exhibition

Scotsman article published on Monday 16th June 2014

A new exhibition this summer at the National Museum of Scotland tells the stories of the Scottish diaspora and the war experiences of Commonwealth nations during the First World War.

Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War coincides with the Commonwealth Games and the Year of Homecoming as well as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The exhibition will show how objects can reflect plural identities and profound war experiences, from the Victoria Cross presented to an Ulster Scot who fought for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to the springbok ‘Nancy’, mascot of the 4th South African infantry (also known as the South African Scottish).

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Fragmented WW1 East Lothian family reunited

BBC article published on Sunday 1st June 2014

The story of an East Lothian family devastated by World War One is being remembered in Haddington this weekend. A book about the family’s story has been published and a plaque is being unveiled in the town.

The story of the Cranstons is a heart-breaking one. Of 11 children in the family, seven of the boys went off to World War One. Four died, two were horribly wounded and only one returned unscathed. Feeling there was no future for them in Scotland, many of the survivors left for Australia. But this was not a story that was talked about in the wider family.

Stuart Pearson has travelled from Sydney in Australia to remember his family members who went to war. Looking at a family group picture from 1908, Mr Pearson says: “Within 12 years from that photograph, where you have mother and father and 11 children staring out at the camera, only one person is left in Scotland. Everyone else is dead or departed.”

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World War One: Thomas Highgate first to be shot for cowardice

BBC article published on Sunday 31st May 2014

He was caught, tried and shot “as publicly as possible” within 48 hours, in the first few weeks of World War One. The 19-year-old soldier’s grave is lost and his name is not on the war memorial in his birthplace. Thomas James Highgate was the first British soldier to be executed for desertion in WW1. His fate still provokes fierce emotions and difficult questions.

Terence Highgate, great-nephew of Thomas, has been campaigning for years to clear his name. He feels the village memorial, and its reference to a nearby chalk cross, make his case.

“It says; ‘Shoreham, Kent, remember as you look at the cross on the hill, those who gave their lives for their country 1914 – 1918′,” said Mr Highgate. “He was one of them and his name should be on there.”

After initial clashes at the Belgian town of Mons in August 1914, the British army was forced into a two-week, exhausting, retreat.

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Wills of Scots soldiers who died in wars published

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 27th May 2014

The last wishes of more than 30,000 Scottish soldiers who died in conflict are being published online as part of the centenary of the First World War. The National Records of Scotland database includes the wills of soldiers from the First and Second World Wars, the Boer War, Korean War and other battles between 1857 and 1964.

The First World War makes up the majority of the records with 26,000 wills from Scottish soldiers, including some with famous relatives. One of the wills is of Private John Feeley who served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and died during the Battle of Arras in April 1917.

Researchers discovered that he is the great-great-grandfather of musician Paolo Nutini. He left all of his property and effects to his wife, Annie, who lived until 1964. His will reads: “In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to my wife Mrs Annie Feeley, 12 Barr St, Paisley.”

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Wills of Scots soldiers go online

BBC article published on Tuesday 27th May 2014

The wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers are being made available online as part of commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The poignant documents include the last wishes of 26,000 ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in the Great War.

Among the records are the wills for ancestors of some famous Scots. These included the great-great-grandfather of pop star Paolo Nutini and the uncle of actor Brian Cox.

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The Duchess, the Highland Clearances, the housekeeper … and a story to make you weep

Sunday Herald article published on Sunday 25th May 2014

Essay of the week by Tessa Boase

I had come to the Staffordshire Record Office to try to piece together the ghost of a story – a story in which a vulnerable servant fell foul of an immensely powerful regime.

I’d been tipped off about a bundle of letters buried within the vast archive of the Sutherland estate concerning one Mrs Doar, housekeeper to the first Duke and Duchess of Sutherland – and her brutal ejection in 1832 from Trentham Hall, the family seat at Stoke-on-Trent.

This sounded perfect material for my book The Housekeeper’s Tale. One working woman – loyal, obedient, faceless – enabling the sumptuous lifestyle of Britain’s wealthiest, most influential and most detested family of the day. I was particularly keen to get to the bottom of Mrs Doar’s disgrace, as this story had contemporary resonance: mention the Sutherlands and there is still a visceral reaction. For all their tentacles of influence throughout the British Isles – from canal building to art collecting, state diplomacy to herring fisheries – they are remembered in Scotland for one thing only: the Highland Clearances.

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Sir Richard Branson’s Edinburgh roots uncovered

Edinburgh Evening News article published on Wednesday 21st May 2014

Sir Richard Branson has spoken of his delight after research revealed his great-great grandfather was a hard-working Edinburgh Church Minister with a strong work ethic, as Kaye Nicholson finds out.

Famed for his voracious appetite for work and remarkable achievements from a young age, he traversed the globe and inspired those he met. The remarkable life story of Reverend Charles Jenkins may be largely forgotten in his native Edinburgh, but it deserves to be celebrated in its own right – and offers an intriguing insight into where Sir Richard Branson may have got his enterprising character and work ethos.

For the kirk minister was the great-grandfather of the Virgin tycoon who today is worth £3 billion, owns his own Caribbean island and plans to venture into space. Sir Richard’s humble family links to the Capital – and a manse in Goldenacre – were unknown even to the billionaire businessman himself. Until now. The 63-year-old businessman is proud of his Scottish roots and spoke of his Edinburgh-born maternal grandmother, Dorothy Huntley-Flindt, nee Jenkins, during a recent visit to the city.

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VE Day: Who were the thousands of Scots laid to rest far from home?

BBC article published on Thursday 8th May 2014

To mark the 69th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day BBC Scotland has created an ONLINE DATABASE of 21,740 of the 57,000 Scots who died during World War Two.

Etched into sun-seared stone, the names of hundreds of Scots can be read on the seemingly endless rows of headstones criss-crossing the small cemetery in northern Egypt. Names like Bruce, Cameron, McCallum, and Stewart appear alien in a landscape so different to that of their homeland.

El Alamein is now the final resting place for 7,240 soldiers – approximately 498 of them Scottish – who lost their lives fighting the Axis forces in North Africa during World War Two. The names of another 423 Scots, who have no known grave, can be found on the panels marking the entrance to the cemetery.

But headstones and memorials like these which commemorate Scotland’s war dead are not unique to Egypt – they can be found worldwide from Albania to Greece, from Hungary to Zimbabwe.

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Flanders Black Watch memorial statue unveiled in Ypres

BBC article published on Saturday 3rd May 2014

A statue of a Black Watch soldier has been unveiled in Belgium to mark the centenary of World War One. The bronze statue, designed by Edinburgh sculptor Alan Herriot, was installed in front of 300 regimental veterans at Black Watch Corner. It honours the 8,960 Black Watch officers and soldiers killed and more than 20,000 who were wounded in the course of World War One.

The ceremony, near Ypres, is the first Scottish event of the commemorations. The statue, which was made in Scotland and shipped to Belgium last month, depicts a Black Watch sergeant in a World War One fighting uniform of kilt, jacket and bonnet. He carries a Lee Enfield rifle with an 18-inch bayonet.

A lone piper played as guests, including Dundee Lord Provost Bob Duncan, Angus Provost Helen Oswald, and a large group of Black Watch veterans led by Major Ronnie Proctor, attended the event.

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Longest-separated twins find each other

BBC article published on Friday 2nd May 2014

Imagine delving into your family history and discovering you have a twin. That’s what happened to Ann Hunt, a 78-year-old, who had no idea she had a sibling at all until last year. Now she and twin Elizabeth Hamel have met for the first time since they were babies – setting a new world record.

“Lizzie, Lizzie, how lovely,” said Ann when she finally got to hug her sister.

“How lovely to see you in the flesh,” said Elizabeth.

Last April, Elizabeth, a 78-year-old from Albany, in the US state of Oregon, was shuffling through her mail when she saw a letter from Aldershot, UK – the town where she was born. “I saw Aldershot, ooh, I did a double-take on that,” says Elizabeth. “I opened it up and looked at it, and my eyes popped out my head.”

“I am writing to you as I am searching for a family connection,” the letter began. Elizabeth knew exactly who this was about, and minutes later she was on the phone to the UK.

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Dumfries woman finds message in bottle from 1960s

Scotsman article published on Friday 18th April 2014

For more than five decades, its journey has been a mystery known only to the tides and currents of the Solway Firth. But now, a message in a bottle penned by a schoolboy in the 1960s has been discovered – just yards from where he dropped it into the waters of the Kirkcudbright coastline.

Residents in the Dumfries and Galloway community are being asked to rack their brains to track down the sender of the message. Only those with a long memory are likely to be of assistance, however – the sender penned the note in 1961, when John F Kennedy took up residence in the White House and Yuri Gagarin ­became the first man in space.

The author, one George ­Grierson, was five when he threw the bottle into the firth, in the hope it would one day reach a far-flung island on the other side of the world.

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Next of Kin: Exhibition reveals families’ mementoes from World War One

BBC article published on Thursday 17th April 2014

A new exhibition explores the impact of World War One on thousands of Scots, both in service and back home.

The National War Museum’s “Next of Kin” exhibition shows how the war affected them by displaying treasured objects kept by those who served and their families. The items on display include letters, medals and photographs as well as other, more unusual items.

The exhibition opens at Edinburgh’s National War Museum on 18 April. It will stay there until March 2015 when it will go on tour across a number of venues in Scotland until 2017.

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BBC genealogy show heading to Scotland for Homecoming

Herald article published on Saturday 12th April 2014

The world’s largest genealogy showcase is coming to Scotland for the first time for the country’s year of culture, sport and heritage. Organisers have managed to revive a plan to stage the BBC spin-off Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in Glasgow for Homecoming 2014, with up to 18,000 people expected to take part.

Last year the show was shelved, but a deal has been reached after talks between the Scottish Government and organisers and producers Immediate Media.

Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing said it would help firms “tap into the ancestral tourism market gold mine this year”.

The event is scheduled for an August slot in the year-round celebrations, which include ancestral events such as Bannockburn Live in Stirling in June, the Highland Homecoming in Inverness in September and October and clan gatherings throughout the year, as well as the Ryder Cup Golf Championships in September.

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Pensioner meets brother and sister after 70 years

Scotsman article published on Wednesday 9th April 2014

A Scottish pensioner has been reunited with his long-lost brother and sister for the first time in 70 years. Grandfather William Rae, of Clochan in Moray, grew up with a foster family and spent decades trying to trace his roots. Now Mr Rae, 72, has met younger brother Ian, 69, who lives in Bristol, and sister Jean, 67, from Falkirk, for the first time in their adult lives.

The former marine, who has eight nieces and nephews he never knew about, said yesterday: “It’s wonderful. It has taken many years, but we’ve finally made it.” William’s luck changed after his stepdaughter, Christine, researched the ancestry of the family. She achieved impressive results with the help of an Aberdeen-based amateur genealogist, who used his birth certificate to start a web search for his long-lost family.

William said: “My stepdaughter was the real genius here. I can’t even switch on a computer.

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Sutherland’s Rosal clearances township ‘to be protected’

BBC article published on Monday 7th April 2014

Land with strong associations to the Highland Clearances will continue to be managed by public body Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). FCS had sought to sell Rosal Forest in Strathnaver, Sutherland, after first offering it to the local community.

But in October, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse requested the land be withdrawn from sale because of the its historical significance.

A township at Rosal was cleared of its inhabitants in the 19th Century. They were forced to leave to make way for large-scale sheep production.

Some land near Rosal will be sold off and some of the money raised invested in the creation of new woodland at Sibster in Caithness. Funds will also go towards a starter-farm for new farmers at Achnamoine near Halkirk, also in Caithness.

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Victorian strangeness: Grave tale of daughterly love

BBC article published on Saturday 29th March 2014

On the weekend of Mothering Sunday, author Jeremy Clay tells the singular story of a dying wish, a dutiful daughter and a mum with two graves – 4,000 miles apart.

Claire Taylor was as good as her word. She’d made her promise, and she was going to stick to it. And so, on a spring day in 1891, she set out from her home in Midwestern America to honour her mum’s dying wish. It wasn’t a simple undertaking. For a start, there was the matter of an 8,000-mile round journey to Europe and back. And then… well, then there was the contents of her luggage. Dr Taylor was travelling with three ebony cases, each numbered and bearing a single-word inscription in silver-headed nails: Mother. In one, was her mum’s heart, in the second, her feet, in the last, her hands. All had been pickled for three years in alcohol.

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New project to release the 1939 Register for the first time online

Findmypast article published on Thursday 28th March 2014

Findmypast is thrilled to announce a new project to release the 1939 Register, which will see 40 million wartime British records published online within the next two years.

In the most anticipated family history development since the 1911 census, findmypast are working in association with The National Archives to provide the only complete overview of the population between 1922 and 1950.

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World War One: Skye’s Band of Brothers

BBC article published on Monday 24th March 2014

In World War One, friends signed up and served together, shoulder to shoulder. One burst of machine gun fire could hit scores of men from the same village and destroy a community. Portree on Skye lost 10 men in a single night near the French town of Festubert in 1915. There is a war memorial in Portree harbour with 104 names on it, the final reckoning from four years of industrial warfare.

Most of the men had grown up in a remote, Gaelic-speaking community of just 1,000 people. Skye historian Murdo Beaton says the poverty on the island was one of the reasons so many men ended up in army.

A territorial army force was set up on Skye in the years before the war and Mr Beaton says: “The fact they got paid for this was a great inducement to sign up and they got a fortnight’s camp in the summer time which was, for them, like a holiday away from home.”

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Did Craiglockhart Hospital revolutionise mental healthcare?

BBC website

Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh was used throughout World War One for the treatment of soldiers suffering from shell shock. The famous war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were treated at Craiglockhart. Sassoon survived the war however Owen was killed on 4th November 1918, one week before armistice was declared.

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War Poets Collection and Exhibition.

Soldiers killed during WW1 named via DNA from relatives

BBC article published on Saturday 22nd March 2014

Ten soldiers who died in World War One and whose bodies were found in France five years ago have been named after DNA analysis of samples from relatives. Since the discovery of the bodies in 2009 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been tracking down potential relatives in the hope of identifying them.

The remains were spotted during construction work near the French village of Beaucamps-Ligny. They were found alongside five other bodies which are yet to be named.

All the soldiers were with 2nd Battalion The York and Lancaster Regiment, and are believed to have died in battle on 18 October 1914. The men are due to be given a funeral with full military honours in October, while investigations continue to try and track down relatives for the remaining bodies.

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Irish woman’s search finds her birth mother close to home

BBC article published on Wednesday 19th March 2014

When Aoife Curran was 18 she asked her adoptive father, Micheal, if he would help her track down her birth mother. After years of searching, they found her living near their Dublin home in the Republic of Ireland. It turned out the two women had been crossing paths for years – completely unaware they were mother and daughter.

Now 31, Aoife has written a book about the search. Aoife and Micheal spoke to BBC News about their startling voyage of discovery.

Click here to watch Aoife’s interview.

Military farewell to WWI casualties

The Courier article published on Friday 14th March 2014

Twenty British soldiers killed in action during the First World War have finally been laid to rest with full military honours, almost 100 years after they died. The soldiers who perished in the Battle of Loos in 1915 were found in 2010 during clearance work for a new prison near Vendin-le-Vieil, north of Arras, in France.

Only one of the troops discovered has been identified – Private William McAleer, of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, part of the 45th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division. Born in Leven, Fife, 22-year-old Pte McAleer died shortly after the battle began and he was identified due to his body being found with his small home-made metal ID tag. Little is known about Pte McAleer but it is known that his father was a miner who died in a pit accident, and his mother later remarried.

Among the other soldiers who died and were found at the same time were a Northumberland Fusilier, another six Royal Scottish Fusiliers and a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

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WW1 dead are reburied 100 years on

BBC article published on Friday 14th March 2014

Twenty British soldiers have been reinterred in northern France, almost a century after they were killed in action during the 1915 Battle of Loos. Their remains were uncovered in 2010, during construction work near Vendin-le-Vieil, north of Arras.

It has been possible to identify just one of the men – the only one found with an identity disc. He was Pte William McAleer, from the 7th Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who came from Leven in Fife.

All 20 soldiers were buried with full military honours at the Loos British Cemetery. The 19 interred as soldiers “Known unto God” included a Northumberland Fusilier, a further six Royal Scots Fusiliers, a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment, and two Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. No military unit has been identified for nine of the men.

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Scale of Viking ancestry uncovered

BBC article published on Monday 10th March 2014

Around one million Britons can claim direct descent from Vikings, according to a new DNA study.Men from the far north of Scotland were most likely to provide a direct match with almost a third (29.2%) of the men from the Shetland Islands testing positive for Viking blood.

Researchers compared Y chromosome markers, which are inherited from father to son, from more than 3,500 men to six DNA patterns rarely found outside the Norse warrior’s native Norway and Sweden. Other areas that scored highly included the Orkney Islands (25.2%), Caithness (17.5%) and the Isle of Man (12.3%). The researchers found around one in 33 men across the UK, or 930,000, were a direct match.

The study, commissioned to coincide with the launch of the new series of the US TV show Vikings on the Amazon Prime Instant Video streaming service, only tested men whose grandfathers had lived in the same areas.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014 Speakers’ Handouts

Speakers’ handouts or slides presented at WDYTYA? Live 2014 have been published on the Society of Genealogists website.

WW1 soldiers’ wills go online to mark centenary

BBC article published on Monday 24th February 2014

The last wishes of 26,000 fallen Scottish soldiers will be made available online by the National Records of Scotland. The project is part of commemorations to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. It aims to help increase public knowledge of the conflict and the lives of the soldiers who fought in it.

Wills from soldiers across all of Scotland regiments who fought in the conflict will be made available. Among the 26,000 individual wills are 2,584 from the Gordon Highlanders, including those of privates Alexander Craig and John Wood from Portlethen, Aberdeenshire. Privates Craig and Wood were both born into fishing families, but when war broke out in August 1914 they joined the army, along with many other men from their coastal community. Wood served in the 1/5th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders while Craig was in the 1/7th battalion.

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Project honours Scotland’s First World War dead

Scotsman article published on Monday 24th February 2014

Prince Charles has chosen a 20-year-old former royal servant from Deeside who never returned from the Western Front to be a focal point for a major project honouring Scotland’s First World War dead. The prince selected Private Robert Duguid, who had been a labourer at Birkhall on the Royals’ Balmoral Estate, as someone who was “typical” of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the conflict.

Pte Duguid’s name is read each Remembrance Sunday along with those of 27 other First World War dead on the Crathie War Memorial between Balmoral Castle and Crathie Kirk, where the Royal Family worship. He enlisted in the 7th (Dee-side) Battalion The Gordon Highlanders at Banchory in March 1915. The Highlanders saw some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict including at the Somme, Ypres and Ancre. Still a teenager, Pte Duguid arrived in France eight months after enlisting and was killed in action at Arras on 29 May, 1917. How he died is unclear.

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Tunes of glory: heroism of Scots pipers reprised

Scotsman article published on Sunday 23rd February 2014

Wherever Scottish soldiers have fought in battle, the strains of the pipes have been heard urging them to victory and striking fear into enemy hearts. Now the story of the pipers of the First World War is being retold, to celebrate the brave men who so often led the fight.

More than 2,500 pipers served, of whom 500 were killed and more than 600 wounded in places such as Ypres, the Somme, the Battle of Loos and Gallipoli. Many were in their 50s and also acted as stretcher bearers carrying the wounded from the fray. Some were awarded honours including the Victoria Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

The Germans, realising the vital role the pipers played spurring on attacks, even allocated snipers to kill them.

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‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Scotland bound

VisitScotland Press Release published on Tuesday 18th February 2014

Live show comes to Glasgow as part of Homecoming Celebrations

Ever wondered how you came to have the poetry skills of Robert Burns or the artistic flair of Charles Rennie Mackintosh? Or do your roots lie further afield in Australia, Canada or Europe?

2014 is the year to find out – tracing your ancestors and discovering your family history just got easier now that the world’s leading family history event, Who Do You Think You Are? Live is coming to Scotland for the first time as part of the Year of Homecoming celebrations.

From beginner to experienced researcher, locals and visitors to Scotland will have the perfect opportunity to discover their family ancestry at major show, Who Do You Think You Are? Live, which will take place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 August, 2014.

Click here to read the full press release.

Graveyards set for new life as visitor centres

Scotsman article published on Sunday 16th February 2014

They are treasure troves of Scottish history which have lain weather-beaten, neglected and largely unloved for centuries. 
But now the nation’s historic graveyards are set for a revival under plans to hand them over to communities to help run and promote them as visitor attractions. Little-known memorials, forgotten local heroes and mysterious carvings will be recorded and championed for the first time across the country.

It is hoped a network of campaign groups and an army of volunteers will also make significant new discoveries, secure the future of under-threat sites and help showcase significant final resting places. Rescue plans being developed for historic cemeteries will also tackle dangerous gravestones, crumbling and neglected memorials, and long-running antisocial behaviour problems. It is anticipated they will also be transformed through the development of new tourist trails, wildlife projects, cultural performances and events, and visits from school parties.

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Mystery of unsent Orkney WW1 letter solved

Scotsman article published on Wednesday 12th February 2014

A mystery letter penned by a WWI sailor stationed in Orkney – known as “Your Bluejacket Boy” – has finally found its rightful home almost a century after being first written. Amateur detectives at Orkney Library and Archives tracked down the family of the letter’s author who had only signed it by his nickname.

The letter was written in 1916 by a young sailor to his family in Llanelli, Wales. It was sealed and bearing a stamp when it was found 64 years later behind a fireplace in Bridge Street, Kirkwall. It was addressed to a John Phillips in Carmathenshire, South Wales, but he never received it.

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Oldest Inverness war memorial restored

BBC article published on Tuesday 28th January 2014

Specialists are cleaning up the oldest war memorial in Inverness after complaints that some soldiers’ names on it are unreadable. Moss and algae on the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders’ Memorial in the city’s Station Square had severely discoloured the stonework. Workers began cleaning the statue this morning using high-powered jet sprays.

Campaigners are delighted the action is being taken, particularly during the Year of Homecoming when the Highlands expect a large influx of tourists, many from overseas who may be researching their family history. The monument was put up in 1893 to mark the centenary of the Cameron Highlanders and later became a war memorial for campaigns in Egypt and Sudan. It bears the names of 142 soldiers from Inverness and surrounding areas who lost their lives in these conflicts.

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Birth, marriage and death records to go online

BBC article published on Tuesday 14th January 2014

Diaries from British soldiers describing life on the frontline during World War One are being published online by the National Archives.

Events from the outbreak of war in 1914 to the departure of troops from Flanders and France were recorded in official diaries of each military unit. About 1.5 million diary pages are held by the National Archives and a fifth have been digitised so far. The project is part of the government’s World War One centenary programme.

Each unit in World War One was required to keep a diary of its day-to-day activities. The first batch of 1,944 digitised diaries detail the experiences of three cavalry and seven infantry divisions in the initial wave of British army troops deployed in 1914.

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Birth, marriage and death records to go online

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 31st December 2013

Historical Scottish birth, marriage and death records will give a glimpse of the past when they go online for the first time tomorrow. Almost 222,000 images of birth records from 1913, marriages from 1938 and deaths from 1963 will be available to researchers from January 1.

They highlight the way Scotland’s population has changed over the past century, growing from 4.73 million in 1913 to 5.31 million in 2012.

In 1913 there were 120,516 births compared to 58,027 births last year.

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Diaspora tapestry booked for nationwide tour

Scotsman article published on Monday 30th December 2013

A nationwide tour has been announced for a vast new work of art which is being created by descendants of Scots in 25 countries around the world. East Lothian-based artist Andrew Crummy, who was behind previous tapestries charting the story of the Battle of Prestonpans, and the evolution of Scotland, has designed the 150 separate panels which will make up the new piece.

Groups of stitchers in 25 different countries – including China, India, Canada, the United States, Australia, Sweden, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and France – are creating the different embroidered sections by hand, some of which have been completed already.

The project, instigated as part of the 2014 Year of Homecoming, has been some two years in development. The finished work, which will feature a series of 50x50cm panels, is expected to be 90 metres long.

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Tay Bridge disaster memorials unveiled

Scotsman article published on Saturday 28th December 2013

Two memorials to commemorate the people who died in the Tay Bridge disaster have been unveiled to mark the 134th anniversary of the tragedy. The identical 8ft-tall granite memorials were erected on either side of the River Tay yesterday. They name the 59 people known to have died when the bridge collapsed during a violent storm on the evening of 28 December, 1879.

The train in which they were travelling plunged in to the Tay, killing everyone on board. The Tay Bridge Disaster Memorial Trust unveiled the first of the £35,000 memorials at Wormit Bay, in Fife. Historian David Swinfen, former vice-principal of Dundee University and chair of the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster Memorial Trust, paid tribute to the people killed in the tragedy.

The memorial was unveiled by David Leighton, the great-grandson of train driver David Mitchell, and Jim Marshall, the grand-nephew of the train’s fireman, John Marshal. They were among 30 descendants of the victims who attended the event.

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What Scots towns looked like before photography

Scotsman article published on Saturday 28th December 2013

Examining old photographs of our villages, towns and cities can unlock vital clues to the histories of our urban landscapes. Recognisable buildings and landmarks connect us to the past, while unfamiliar details – shop signs which have long since been painted over, old vehicles, blurred figures in period clothing – give us an insight into the lives of the people who walked our streets before us.

But what of the days before photography, the years before the camera’s lens captured buildings since demolished and streetscapes since altered? A new book, Painting the Town: Scottish Urban History in Art gathers together, for the first time, a visual record of contemporary images of Scotland’s towns and townspeople before photography, offering key insights into our urban heritage.

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Expert argues Vikings carried redhead gene to Scotland

Scotsman article published on Sunday 24th November 2013

The Viking warriors who invaded Scotland in the eighth century may have harboured a fiery secret beneath their horned helmets. According to a leading academic the Norse invaders depicted in film and history books as rugged blonds were in fact ginger. The contentious theory could explain the auburn enigma that has long baffled scientists – why do so many Scots have red hair?

Professor Donna Heddle, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Nordic Studies, believes the answer lies in a genetic gift from our Viking ancestors. She argues that the Norse were much more likely to have been red-headed than blond and that they were responsible for transforming Scotland into the world’s ginger capital.

“The perception that the Norse were blond is nothing more than a prevalent myth,” she said. “Genetically speaking, the chances of them having blond hair weren’t that likely. The chances are that they would have had red hair. Interestingly, if you look at where red hair occurs in the world you can almost map it to Viking trading routes.”

While only about 0.6 per cent of the world’s population has red hair, around 13 per cent of Scots have rust-coloured locks, with an estimated further 40 per cent carrying the recessive redhead gene.

Famous flame-haired Scots include actors Ewan McGregor and Karen Gillan, singer Shirley Manson, Mary Queen of Scots, Scottish national football coach Gordon Strachan, and of course Willie, the cantankerous school janitor from The Simpsons.

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Lost Edinburgh: Register House

Scotsman article published on Monday 28th October 2013

Prior to the construction of Register House, Scotland’s public records were stored in a rather haphazard fashion within the unsuitable confines of Parliament House in the heart of the Old Town. Exposed regularly to both damp and vermin, the national archives were said to be in a ‘perishing condition’ and it was abundantly clear that alternative accommodation was required. The idea of finding a permanent home for the country’s public records had been around since the Treaty of Union in 1707 when Scotland was guaranteed that it would be allowed to keep hold of them. Sadly, lack of significant finance meant that many years would pass before the register office could become a reality.

Plans put in place

After decades of waiting, a government grant of £12,000, earned from the sale of forfeited Jacobite estates, was made available in 1765 to commence with the building of ‘a proper repository’. Within four years a location directly opposite the northern end of the soon-to-be-completed North Bridge was agreed upon. The site was gifted to the Register House Trustees by the city as it was thought that a grand new public building would encourage development in Edinburgh’s New Town.

In 1772 the distinguished Robert Adam was assigned the role as architect for the ambitious project. Having been appointed Architect of the King’s Works with responsibility for Scotland in 1761, Robert Adam was a master of his profession and highly revered across the nation. Adam, assisted by his younger Edinburgh-based brother, managed to maintain a tight control over the beautifully proportioned neoclassical design of Register House – despite working from his office in London. Adam’s impressive 50 ft wide central domed rotunda inspired by the Pantheon in Rome is regarded as the finest feature of the building’s interior.

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Launch of the Property Valuation Rolls for 1920 – 28 October 2013

ScotlandsPeople Newsletter published on Monday 28th October 2013

Scottish Valuation Rolls for 1920

We’re delighted to announce that the Valuation Rolls (VRs) for 1920 have just been added to the ScotlandsPeople website.

The new records, comprising 2,607,329 indexed names and 76,721 digital images (taken from 169 volumes), cover every kind of property that was assessed in 1920 as having a rateable value, and provide a fascinating snapshot of Scottish society in the wake of the First World War.

Click here to read the full newsletter.

Peep into the past can build bridges

Scotsman article published on Wednesday 9th October 2013

Dovetailing business with pleasure could prove an important way to maximise ancestral tourism’s potential says George MacKenzie.

In today’s changing world, more and more people are seeking an answer from their ancestors. Online access to millions of demographic records is fuelling a surge of interest in ancestral research. But for many, this is only the start of the journey. They want to find the names and dates of their families, then they want to follow in their footsteps. That gives us a great opportunity to bring more visitors to Scotland. With Homecoming 2014 just around the corner and over 50 ancestral and clan-related events already in the programme, the timing couldn’t be better.

Ancestry is the sleeping giant of Scottish tourism. Recent research for VisitScotland shows ancestral tourists already pump over £100 million a year into the economy, and there is potential to grow this market substantially, up to £2.5 billion. Ancestral visitors are especially important because they come over a longer season, stay longer and spend more. To realise the full potential of ancestral tourism, we need to engage accommodation providers, tour companies, heritage properties, tartan suppliers.

We must train staff to understand the needs of ancestral visitors and ensure the welcome visitors get is consistent, coherent and high quality. That is the refreshed remit of the Ancestral Tourism Steering Group (ATSG) which I have recently begun chairing, supported by VisitScotland.

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Value in preserving our recorded history

Scotsman article published on Wednesday 9th October 2013

Our business archives span four centuries, with over 6,000 sets of records. Our family history related records are worth £100 million a year in ancestral tourism income. Institutions from the National Records of Scotland to local archives services hold millions of pieces of information that tell the story of Scotland and its people, from warrior kings to school dinner ladies.

The digital revolution of the last two decades presents Scotland with a unique opportunity. As archives are dusted down from shelves and captured online, we have the chance to build a digital legacy that will enrich generations to come. As William Kilbride, executive director of the Digital Preservation Coalition, said recently: “Data is the new oil. It is the emerging infrastructure for industry, science, government, law, health, the creative industries and our personal life. But it is fragile”.

Everyone with an interest in protecting Scotland’s growing digital archives, and crucially, having them accessible over time, needs to work together to get the technology right and secure sufficient investment to nurture these important national assets.

This week, the Scottish Council on Archives is holding an exhibition and reception in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead.

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Call to help transcribe historic Scottish records

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 3rd September 2013

A call has been issued to enlist thousands of volunteers to help transcribe more than one million historic Scottish records.

The Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces is the biggest crowd-sourcing project of its kind in Scotland and will focus on more than one million records of people and places dating from 1645 to 1880.

This includes more than 150,000 pages of old handwriting in Scots, English and Gaelic detailing information about land taxation; taxes on clocks, windows and farm horses as well as Ordnance Survey “name books” which were part of the first official record of Scottish places and place names.

It is hoped the information processed as part of this project, one of the first of its kind in the UK, will boost knowledge and understanding of Scotland and its people.

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It’s all in the genes for Melrose firm

Borders Telegraph article published on Tuesday 3rd September 2013

Specialist DNA ancestry testing company The Moffat Partnership has launched two new products for anyone who is interested in finding out more about their family history, identity and heritage – thanks to a helping hand from RBS.

The innovative Melrose-based company was started at the end of 2011 by Alistair Moffat and Jim Wilson to offer a unique mix of history with science after the pair collaborated on a book called The Scots: A Genetic Journey. They realised that there was a real demand for a company that combined science with history and set up ScotlandsDNA.com offering DNA analysis from a simple saliva sample to give a “genetic signature” that goes back beyond written records and family trees.

The company hit the headlines at the end of last year when their services were used by the BBC to produce a programme starring comedian Eddie Izzard, called Meet the Izzards. Additionally, their work recently provided evidence that Prince William has some Indian ancestry.

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Cleared to return: Kildonan clearances marked

BBC article published on Monday 12th August 2013

Descendents of people evicted in the notorious Kildonan clearances in Sutherland are attending a ceremony to mark the 200th anniversary of the event.

On 12 August 1813, 96 people left Helmsdale on a ship bound for Canada after being forced from their homes in the Strath of Kildonan.

Two hundred years later, Monday night’s commemoration is part of a two-week programme which has attracted visitors from all over the world.

Clearances of agricultural tenants to make way for sheep happened throughout the Highlands and Islands and even in the Borders during the early 19th century but the violent evictions in the Strath of Kildonan were among the worst.

More than 1,000 people were cleared from the area and forced to take up fishing on the coast, move to towns and cities or emigrate to the colonies.

The tactic of estate managers working for the Duke and Countess of Sutherland was simply to burn their tenants’ cottages, barns and pasture to prevent those being evicted from returning.

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Scots firms urged to benefit from ancestral tourism

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 30th July 2013

Scottish businesses are being urged to tap into the opportunities posed by ancestral tourism – which it is claimed has the potential to boost the economy by £2.4billion.

Tourism Intelligence Scotland has published a new guide aimed at helping firms take advantage of the growing sector, particularly in the run up to 2014 when Scotland welcomes the World for Homecoming, the Ryder Cup and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The guide, which is based on ancestral tourism research commissioned by VisitScotland, shows that some 10 million people worldwide with Scottish roots are interested in finding out more about their ancestry, with around two-fifths of these planning to visit the country in the next two years.

The study shows the sector has the potential to grow significantly in the next five years, from the current 800,000 visitors per year to 4.3 million visitors.

Based on these figures, the opportunity for businesses to capitalise on these visitors is estimated at £2.4billion in additional revenue.

The guide has been launched today at the National Archives of Scotland by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney.

Click here to read the full article.

Businesses to benefit from ‘ancestral tourism’ from independence debate

STV article published on Monday 30th July 2013

Businesses can benefit from the rise in “ancestral tourism” that is expected to flow from Scotland’s increased international profile in the independence campaign, according to Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Tourists researching their roots stay twice as long in Scotland and spend “significantly more per day” than other tourists, according to research by VisitScotland.

Mr Swinney made the comments as he launched a guide for businesses on ancestral tourism at National Archives of Scotland.

The US is Scotland’s biggest potential market with an estimated 9.4m Scottish descendants, followed by the rest of the UK at 7.6m and Canada at 4.7m, according to the guide.

But Scotland only attracted 11,000 ancestry hunters from the US last year, who spent £13m, compared with 36,000 Canadians who spent £34m and 133,000 Britons who spent £36m.

Mr Swinney said: “Scotland is very much in the news right now, and it’s going to be even more in the news as we approach the referendum. So I think this will trigger a lot of people to want to find out more about their connections within Scotland.

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Scotland urged to refocus on genealogy tourism

Scotsman article published on Sunday 25th November 2012

Whoever they think they are they deserve the red carpet treatment for a new study estimates people searching for their roots will be worth ­­­£2.4 billion to Scotland over the next five years.

The potential of so-called ancestral tourism has been outlined in a report by consultants TNS, which estimates a potential market of 50 million people of Scottish ancestry.

But services need to be improved if Scotland is to cash in, including promoting existing research facilities, specialist tour operators and the creation of budget “genealogy packages”.

VisitScotland asked TNS to assess the market and plan for an expected influx ahead of the 2014 Year of Homecoming, when Scotland will also host the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and golf’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

Click here to read the full article.

Census: 1911 v 2011

BBC article published on 1st February 2011

Next month, the UK will do its most thorough census yet. A century ago, a new expanded form was evidence of a government’s thirst for knowledge in their efforts to help a population stricken by poverty, bad nutrition and high infant mortality.

There are many differences between the 1911 and 2011 census.

That of a hundred years ago was able to fit on a single sheet. Today’s is likely to be about 30 pages long.

That of 1911 might be regarded as sexist, implying that if there was a husband in the household he would be head of it. And its language on infirmity, asking householders if they were “lunatic, imbecile or feeble-minded”, would be unlikely to pass muster with today’s disability campaigners.

Click here to read the full article.

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