I spent yesterday working in the ScotlandsPeople centre, doing some genealogy research for a client.
I love working there – climbing the steps into such a fabulous building and walking through the dome on the way to the search rooms. The system’s really easy to use, and it’s much better value than working remotely if you have a lot to do. Everything’s digitised, it’s simple to search, and you can whizz from generation to generation in minutes.
When I first started doing genealogy research, the original records were brought right to your desk. (It’s not that I’m that old, just that I started doing this when I was a teenager – yes, really!) After hunting through enormous index volumes to find the right entry, you filled out a slip and waited for the book to be physically located and produced – at which point you hoped you really had identified the right person, as otherwise you’d wasted half an hour or more. Any information had to copied out by hand, in pencil of course.
Now you log in, press a few buttons, and view the record instantly on screen.
It makes perfect sense, both for convenience and for preservation of the records … but I found myself thinking yesterday how glad I am that I started doing this in the days when you got to handle the real thing.
For me, that seemed particularly significant when looking at the first statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths in Rogart. My great-great-great grandfather, William Forrest, was schoolmaster, session clerk and registrar, and wrote many of the entries in these volumes. People came to his home, Rogart Schoolhouse, with their fee, and he brought out these books and recorded the information in them.
On one page of deaths from 1855 the first two entries are in his untidy handwriting – but an assistant registrar was called on for the third one. That’s because it records the death of William’s own little two-year-old daughter Hellen from meningitis, and his signature appears this time not as registrar but as bereaved father.
Now that the original records are no longer routinely handed out, I feel privileged to have held the very books which were handled by William as he recorded the births and deaths of the local community and of his own family.
Somehow, it beats looking at a screen.
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Hi Flora, I know what you mean. It’s like when I attended a communion service in Whitekirk Church and put the same cups to my lips as my ancestors there had done. That was a really special moment too. Catriona.
That is definitely a privilege, there is something more magical about seeing the real thing. In saying that the convenience of the system now has opened the information to a wider audience. I suppose therefore there is a trade-off for modernity, like there is with everything perhaps.
I’d like to see an even bigger push to digitise and make available online as many records as possible, poor law records etc.