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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Beyond the Internet - Some Late Thoughts

I missed  the  discussion on Beyond the Internet – the responses from Family History Across the Seas, but here are some late thoughts from my perspective in the Scottish Borders. 

My local archive centre at the Heritage Hub, Hawick  promotes itself primarily  on the value of its unique archive sources that are not available anywhere else.  These help family historians go beyond the standard resources of census returns, old parish records, monumental inscriptions etc.many of which can be accessed  online.

The key to searching these records is often a census entry giving a clue as to occupation or status.    One of the most popular sets of records consulted relate to the  Poor Law.  The Victorians  were great bureaucrats and the Heritage Hub holds a large collection of Poor Law Registers, Poor Relief Applications and Parochial Board Minute Books, many of which can give a mini-biography of an ancestor, in often tragic circumstances.

Police Records for the three Border counties of Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire go back to the 1850's, so if your ancestor was a constable or even  on the other side  of the law,  these are the source to look at  and include mug shot photos of criminals, lists of prisoners, plus constable registers with personal details including descriptions.

Being a Councillor might seem rather dull,  but the Burgh Minute Books, which go back to the mid 17th century give a full description of burgh affairs and discussions and can reveal interesting sidelines such as the councillor in the 1880's who was petitioning in support of woman's suffrage, long before it was close to becoming a reality.

If your  ancestor was a teacher, then the School Records are the place to look - with Log Books recording daily  school life, and School Board Minute Books and Education Committee Minute Books recording appointments - and dismissals!  If you are lucky you may get a glowing testimony from an Inspector's Report.

Was your Borders male ancestor aged around 20-30 in the period of the Napoleanic Wars (1790's-1815)?  Then he might well appear on the Militia Lists, whereby each parish was charged with setting up a volunteer force in the  event of a French invasion.  The lists may give little more than a name, address and occupation but, as with all archives,  there is a fascination in seeing actual handwriting relating to an ancestor, written during his or her lifetime.  They are also particularly noteworthy in pre-dating  the first published census of 1841, so may be  the only record of an ordinary man.

These are just some of the records available at the Hub  and complement the large collecting of maps from the early 19th century, old postcards of the region and 23 titles of local newspapers (many long since gone), with the oldest 1804.   Most of these records above are available to view in digitised format at the Hub, but are not available online.  

So I am pleased to promote  my local archive centre in this way to show there is genealogical life well beyond the Internet. It is records such as these which can contribute so much to us discovering the stories of our ancestors.  

The Heritage Hub, Hawick
With acknowledgement to the Heart of Hawick for permission to feature this photograph.


  1. Susan, I enjoyed your description of those very useful sources. I share your enthusiasm for all types of Police records. In Australia and New Zealand, the digitisation of Police Gazettes has resulted in many 'brick walls' being broken down.

  2. Susan what an interesting and informative post. There are so many useful tips for Scottish researchers in this story and I can only wish I was in Scotland again. Thanks for your involvement with this meme...I'll add your post to my list. Pauleen

  3. Sue, I enjoyed reading this, it gave me ideas for my Scottish research which is concentrated in the Fife area of Scotland. Thanks for sharing.


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