Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Conservation at the National Library of Scotland



When we reach for a book our primary thoughts are likely on the contents. Whether we're reading for pleasure or study, it's probably the title of a book that made us pick it up.


There are groups of people, though, who pick up books with a different perspective. One such group can be found on the fourth floor of the National Library of Scotland (NLS). The conservation department have a mission to preserve and protect the holdings of the NLS and they do so with great diligence.


Their aim is to ensure that items are able to be viewed by the public, and in some cases digitised so that we can all view them online. This brings in a great variety of skills, and their remit is wider than we may at first imagine.


The conservation team are not only responsible for fixing damaged items (and preventing damage) but also caring for items when vital maintenance is taking place on the buildings in which they are stored. We all enjoy the NLS exhibitions, but have you ever considered how long it takes to prepare the items? The items need to be able to be viewed in a display case, but without careful preparation, such a display could cause damage.


Talking to the team yesterday, they told me that one item could take a day to prepare. They may need to wash the paper, conserve damaged areas then design a method of keeping the item stable while on display. It could be a matter of attaching a piece of paper to a board, or designing a made to measure book stand so you can read it easily in a display.


The team are constantly working to improve conservation methods too. For example, a recent project to preserve a vellum book gave the conservation team the opportunity to develop a new method of flattening pages. The traditional method wouldn't work due to the severity of the damage to the book. In the end, they used a wet solution then laid the book on a suction table, gradually increasing the suction to flatten the pages, how ingenious!


This visit will certainly make me think differently the next time I see a library or museum display. I suppose though the question for us is, what can we do to help them, and help preserve books and documents that we consult while tracing our family tree?


There are obvious things, handle with care. Use a cushion or other support for books and don’t open them too far. If you open a book and hear the spine crack that’s the glue and thread ripping apart and YOU are shorting the life of the book.


 © Copyright Kim Traynor
I asked, if there is one thing to remember, what would it be? The answer, use clean hands. How simple, we can all do that, can’t we? When a celebrity goes to an archive on a TV programme they are invariably given white cotton gloves. In reality however we don’t often wear them. While they may stop oils from our skin transferring to the books, they actually increase the possibility of tearing the book or documents, especially if the paper is fragile. If we wash our hands, though, this will also limit the transfer if oils from our hands to the documents.


My tour was part of the conservation workshop. Keep an eye on the National Library of Scotland’s website for future tours: they are free but do need to be booked in advance. If you are part of a group that would like a tour, contact the NLS and they would be happy to arrange one for groups of up to 15 people.




Monday, 13 October 2014

A Hawick Man's Brush with History

Winnie and Bob at home in Hawick
All of our ancestors played a part in history. No matter what they did, where they lived or who else remembers them we want to find out more about them, and the mark they made on their community or the wider world. Sometimes, though, there are certain discoveries that make you stop dead in your tracks.

This happened to me a few days ago. I was researching the Grieve family of Branxholm Braes, near Hawick. If you follow us on Flickr or Facebook you will have seen a lot of photos, postcards and even letters which belonged to this family. I have been going through the family archive and in the process I have come across three identical postcards (see front below) sent by Robert Grieve to his young wife Winnie in 1908. We’ll have to presume that the hotel only had one postcard on offer, either that or our Bob wasn’t very imaginative!
Celerina

These precious postcards are dated January and February 1908 and posted from Celerina (Schlarigna) in Switzerland. Bob writes about curling matches in which he had taken part. On a postcard dated 15 February 1908, he writes ‘We have had a great victory to-day’. This made me curious, what competition was going on?

I headed to the British Newspaper Archive to search their large collection of newspapers. It didn’t take long to locate a reference to the championship. I found in an article in the Dundee Courier of 6 February 1908 (page 3) that our very own R. Grieve was playing in the International Bonspiel. 

There were several other results so I continued my search. Again an article in the Dundee Courier caught my eye, this time it was dated 4 February 1908 (page 6). Entitled ‘Scottish Curlers in Switzerland, Bonspiel at Celerina, Opening Day’s Play’, it begins:

“The great International bonspiel commenced this morning at ten o’clock. His Imperial Highness the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir-apparent to the Austrian throne, threw the first stone amidst the enthusiastic cheering of the curlers. The ice was in excellent condition.”

Another search revealed an article from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer dated 4 February 1908 (page 8):

“The fourth annual international curling bonspiel commenced on the Cresta rink here to-day. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, who is staying the the same hotel with the curlers, consented to throw the first stone, which he did with great accuracy and speed amid cheers from Scotchmen and Engandiners (sic).”

Today of course we are all too familiar with who the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was and the influence his death would have on the world.  Did ‘our’ Bob see him, did he meet him? We may never know, but this simple research shows that by reading family letters and postcards carefully and comparing these to other sources, such as the newspaper, you can build up a far more exciting picture of your family tree. 

He didn’t win by the way!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Researching Historic Mental Health Records in Scotland

Elmhill House, Royal Cornhill Hospital Aberdeen
Our health is perhaps one of the most precious things we have. Sadly, there are still too many people who suffer without treatment, without understanding and without hope. How did our ancestors, and their families, cope with life-changing health problems?

If an ancestor had a farming accident, for example, you may find a newspaper report. In such cases you may very quickly be able to gain some understanding of what the individual and their loved ones may have experienced.

Mental health, though, is very different. Sometimes, all we know comes from that final column in the census: ‘Lunatic’! Alternatively, we may have searched the census for a missing family member, only for them to turn up in a ‘Lunatic Asylum’. It can be a shocking discovery, and cause us to ask many questions.

This doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though, as you can find out a lot more about mental health problems and their treatment in the past. Some of the stories you may have heard may even be myths. Researching the original records may actually give you answers, and therefore peace.

For example, I had always had the idea that in the Victorian era thousands of people were locked up, and then they threw away the key! From our research here in Scotland we have found this was not always the case. Yes, there were some long term patients, but there also seems to have been many thousands who were in an institution for a short time only, and do not seem to have been re-admitted.

How can you dig deeper? One place to start is at the National Records of Scotland (NRS). There is a particularly useful set of records held there concerning those admitted to mental health institutions throughout Scotland from 1858 onwards.

The first of these is a national register detailing the patient’s name, the institution they were committed to, the date of their admission and the date of their release or transfer. This register even records those already in institutions in Scotland on 1 January 1858. The NRS references this register as MC7. They have kindly granted permission for me to share some example images with you taken from the ‘National Register’: click on the image to enlarge it and you should be able to read the entries on the page clearly. This page is taken from the volume MC7/1.


Secondly, there are individual patient admission forms, giving much more detail on the individual patient and their situation. In almost all cases you should be able to find a patient admission form corresponding to each entry in the ‘National Register’ just described. These admission forms are bound into volumes, one volume for each month from January 1858 onwards. The NRS references this series of volumes as MC2. The best way to understand these records is probably to read an example case for yourself, again click on the image to see a larger version. This example case is taken from volume MC2/47.






This set of records is excellent because it should contain everyone in a mental health institution in Scotland from 1858 onwards. It is possible, though, to dig even deeper and look at locally held records. Highland Archives in Inverness, for example, hold records relating to their area and you can consult these in their search room. Once you know which institution your ancestor was sent to, and the date of admission (information which is always given in the national record sets I referred to above), then you can start with the local archive and ask if they have the records of that particular institution, or know where they are held.

The Scottish Archive Network catalogue can also be used to search a number of archives throughout Scotland. Unfortunately, though, not all archives yet have a comprehensive catalogue available online, and in many cases there is no substitute for contacting the archivist directly.

I would urge you not to hide your ancestor’s mental health issues, as some families may have done in times past. Dig deeper into the records and you can come to a deeper understanding of your family’s history.



Search our existing Scottish records for free at www.scottishindexes.com


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

No Books Were Harmed in the Making of this Index

Day after day people visit archives around the world and look at historic paper records. Sadly each time these items are handled they deteriorate. There is no point, though, in keeping records if nobody can ever access them!

Letter found in Sheriff Court records.
NRS reference number SC62/10/390 Heatlie V Bell 
Back in 1911, when access was requested to the Old Parish Registers of Scotland (OPRs), the then Registrar-General (James Patten McDougall) said “...I am afraid it would open a very wide door and might lead to abuses, e.g. the public would come here without having recourse to the ordinary registers, and their object in coming might be prompted by mere inquisitiveness. Further I am afraid that these old books would not last long if handled by all and sundry.”

I wonder what poor James would make of Scotland’s People? Perhaps he would be delighted as it means that we do not have to handle the original volumes any more. While we might find his words amusing, we also must acknowledge the point: the more often books are handled the more quickly they will wear out!

Whilst the OPRs, census returns, valuation rolls, birth, marriage and death records have now been digitised this is a drop in the ocean of what exists in the National Records of Scotland.

Mental Health Records.
NRS reference number MC7/1

The documents Graham and I are indexing for scottishindexes.com have not been digitised, meaning that we are making use of the original records. As such, we have a responsibility to look after the records we access and avoid damaging them for future generations.

On occasion, we find that cannot read a record in entirety, often because a volume has been bound tightly and some of what is written is obscured by the binding.

When this happens, it may mean that a record, or index entry cannot be completed. I such cases, we insert in square brackets what we believe will complete the record, or indicate that something is missing.

When searching scottishindexes.com and you see square brackets you’ll now know what they mean, and you can rst assured that no books were harmed in the making of the index!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A visit to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright

The Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright is perhaps one of my favourite museums. It is a quirky place that can really help you understand the history of the area and the lives of everyday people.

On our most recent visit I was drawn to a number of items in the cabinets. The first was the ‘knapping stone’. This particular stone was found in a garden in Bourtree Park, Kirkcudbright in the 1960s.

DSC_4866

Other local items include the hat worn by the Provost of Kirkcudbright from the 19th century to 1934, a policeman’s lamp and a night watchman's rattle.

DSC_4870

Together with each item is a brief description of  who donated the artefact. This could be especially interesting if your family is from the area. Could you find the wooden butter pats your great-grandmother used?

DSC_4869

As well as their regular displays they have exhibitions that change. At the moment there is an excellent display of Jessie M. King items.

From the 22nd of November 2014 to 31 January 2015 there will be an exhibition intriguingly entitled ‘Unusual, Eccentric and Wacky Everyday Inventions, Contraptions and Thingamajigs’: I wouldn’t miss it for the world!!



Monday, 8 September 2014

Using www.scottishindexes.com to the full

As well as searching www.scottishindexes.com by name you can also search by keyword alone. This means it’s good for one place studies, but also for searching for different types of people. Let’s take an example: bondagers and hinds.



There was a practice amongst agricultural communities, mainly in the south-east of Scotland and north east of England where a man employed on a farm as hind would supply a young woman to work on the fields; she was known as a bondager.

When a man was newly married, his wife might work as a bondager. Once they had children and the married woman could no longer work in the fields, another relative, perhaps her sister would fulfil this role, until eventually a daughter was old enough to provide the labour. If there was no female relative to take the job, it was common for a woman from outside the family to become the bondager.

The hind would generally be a ploughman, having the important responsibility of looking after the horses, an integral part of any farm. The bondager would work in the fields, particularly during the harvest season.

Ploughing

The hind would often be ‘paid in kind’, often grain and a little land to cultivate. Any surplus could be sold at the market. The bondager could be paid in cash, or her wages might be the house in which they would all live.

You  can see an example of this situation in our 1841 census record.

As the 19th century progressed, the custom gradually began to die out. If we follow the same family we saw in the 1841 census to 1851 we see John now described as an ‘Ag. Lab’. Another young woman is with the family, this time being described as a Farm Servant.

Exactly what arrangement was made is difficult to know, it could be a that Margaret was a bondager but not recorded that way in the census. We know however that the practice was dying out so perhaps the arrangements had changed.

To learn more about hinds and bondagers I would recommend www.hebondagers.com and www.foodheritage-berwick.org.uk.




Thursday, 4 September 2014

50 Years of the Forth Road Bridge

#ThrowBackThursday


Today marks 50 years since the Queen opened the Forth Road Bridge. I’m pleased to say that I’m far too young to remember that day. What I do remember, though, is being taken over the bridge as as a young child, not because we needed to get to the other side but just as a fun thing to do! We drove over and then headed back into Edinburgh again. Of course there was a toll to pay in those days too. Don’t tell anybody this, but as a child I thought it was called the ‘fourth’ road bridge!


© Copyright Anthony Foster



© Copyright Andrew Smith 
In practical terms though it was, and still is, a major advantage. The journey from South Queensferry to North Queensferry now takes just a few minutes. Before the bridge was built you would need to take a ferry or face a time-consuming drive to cross farther up the estuary at the Kincardine Bridge.


The Scottish Screen Archive has some fascinating films featuring the Forth Road Bridge. Here is a film showing cars queuing for the ferry not long after the bridge was opened (you can see the new bridge in the background).


The bridge was built high above the Firth to allow great industrial ships to pass underneath. The bridge is 2,512 metres in length, around 1.5 miles. At the time it was built it had the longest span for a suspension bridge outside the USA; it is easy to understand why it was such an attraction!


This film from 1968 looks at the ‘development of sources of power, the industries, and new towns along the borders of the River Forth’.