Friday, August 12, 2011

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

After a day off, we boarded a coach and  headed to Edinburgh, Scotland for five days. We stayed in Dalkeith Estate, home of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls' "Wisconsin in Scotland" study abroad program. Dalkeith is the former seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, and has had royal visitors in the past. The town of Dalkeith was about ten miles from Edinburgh, but there were bus services into the city--Dalkeith was a nice small town with some good restaurants, pubs, and was a very nice area to stay.

On our first full day in Edinburgh, we visited the National Records of Scotland, which was founded in April 2011 when the National Archives of Scotland and the General Register Office for Scotland merged.We were given a very nice presentation and tour by Margaret MacBryde, who is the Education Officer for the records center. The National Records of Scotland has six buildings that they use in Edinburgh and employ around 450 people. The original National Archives building was opened in 1789 and was built for that purpose.  They also have six public search rooms and operate 9 websites; their goals are freedom of information (providing access to historical materials to the public), data protection (preserving the materials that they do have) and providing advice to other archives and records centers. Ms. MacBryde discussed with us the difficulties striking a balance between preserving the originals and providing access for researchers--the National Archives has begun digitizing a lot of the their oldest records.

The main building for the National Records of Scotland:
They have over 72 kilometers (about 45 miles) of historical records dating from the 12th century, the vital records (birth, marriage and death records) for Scotland, and the Scottish census from 1841. The National Records also holds state and parliamentary papers, registers of deeds and sasines, church records, wills and testaments, taxation records, valuation records, family and estate papers, and old parish registers. They also maintain a register of family tartans. The National Records of Scotland is also home to Scotland's People, which is the family history center, that helps individual researchers trace their geneaology. Most of this occurs in the archives' six public search rooms, and in some of these rooms, seats can be booked in advance--this may be necessary for researchers to do, as doing family history has become more popular, which MacBryde attributed in part to the television program, Who Do You Think You Are?  Also, the National Records of Scotland puts on workshops for the public as well as professionals, students, and those wanting to become professional genealogists, including classes in paleography, which teaches students how to interpret ancient writing.

In order to use the archives, rather than the family history center, one must obtain a Reader's Ticket,  and must bring a photo ID and two passport photos; this makes for fairly easy access to the archives.  Most of the people that use the archives are undergraduates, postgraduates, and academics. Ms. MacBryde also brought out some materials from their archives that dealt with Scottish history and materials dealing with the history of Mississippi, Louisiana, California, and even a letter written in the late 1700s from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin for us to look at.  I thought that this was a very interesting exercise, and it made the materials that we saw more relevant to us and our history. I also thought that it was good that they do educational programming, for genealogists and other researchers, and they also have an online system in which people from the National Archives are able to broadcast to primary schools information sessions about what the records center does and the materials that they have--this provides outreach and information for teachers that they can then use in their curricula, which I thought was very innovative and cool for elementary school kids to experience.

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