Tuesday, July 28, 2009

National Archives of Scotland: Where lineage comes to life

The NAS has been around in some form since the 13th century, but it became a government agency in 1993. Before 1999, NAS was known as the Scottish Record Office. I think the new name is more descriptive and accurate, as the NAS is far more than just records - it is a Scottish historical goldmine. Anyone who knows something about their Scottish ancestry can come in and do further research, utilizing the 70 kilometres worth of records available--materials which date from the 12th century onward. There are three buildings, 160 staff members, and eight websites. I think it is amazing that the Scottish recognize this as important enough to be a government-funded government agency; as a result, the space, the materials, the staff, and the websites are phenomenal.
We began our tour overlooking the research room, the main area where patrons can conduct their research. Margaret McBride, Education Officer, pointed out the lovely Adam Dome to us, then led us to a conference room, where she delivered an incredibly informative presentation, and then allowed us to view some of the NAS's fascinating materials.

Some of the highlights of Margaret's presentation:
--The NAS's mission is to preserve, protect, and promote the nation's records, and to provide the best possible inclusive and accessible archive that educates, informs, and engages the people of Scotland and the world

--They do not do research for people, but guide them in finding what they are interested in. Readers should have some idea of what they want to research because otherwise it is too difficult to know where to begin.

--The types of records they have include church, taxation, family and estate, government, and business records, wills and testaments, deeds and sasines, and so many more. Essentially, they have any kind of record of Scottish history you can think of.

--They have digital data, but they need to make sure it can't be tampered with, and they don't know how long it will last due to the rapidly changing nature of technology. Margaret stressed that this is a big issue for archivists.

--Space is also always an issue - they have to have conservation boxes of archival quality.

--They have a lot of major developments in the works, including an online catalogue, 'virtual volumes' in-house, digitization of Church of Scotland records, and a Scotlands People Centre

--One of their eight websites (you should check them all out - they're unique and informative) is scottishhandwriting.com, where you can learn to read old Scottish manuscripts by improving your knowledge of old Scottish website. I love this! It's very helpful in addition to being fun. scotlandsimages.com is also wonderful.

--If interested potential readers are located outside of Edinburgh, they can call, e-mail, or write NAS, giving details of what they wish to see; it is important to plan ahead before visiting.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to view some of their records, especially when they hit close to home. My favourites included personal letters (1836-1853) from Dr. Roderick Morison, who moved to Hinds County, Mississippi (where one of my friends lives!) and wrote back to his sister in Scotland; prison records and correspondence regarding Fanny Parker, a 1914 suffragette who starved herself and was forcefed; and a crisscross letter from another Scot who had gone to America and wrote home when paper was scarce, so that his letter was on the same paper time after time, eventually becoming almost a puzzle to read when he wrote diagonally in the white spaces left on the page.

NAS was my first visit to a large archive, and even though I didn't have any of my Scottish ancestry information with me, I definitely will when I return to Edinburgh. Seeing lineage come to life is truly special.

For more information, visit the NAS website:

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