World War 1: a grand-daughter’s research

Posted October 1, 2014 10:32 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Alison - blogGuest post by Alison Leslie.

The catalyst to finding out my grandfather’s World War One history was a postcard handed to my uncle five years ago.  All that we knew was that grandad was hoarse as a result of being gassed. A colleague at the National Library of Scotland was able to identify my grandad’s regiment and point me in the right direction.  The first stage in a fascinating and humbling journey was using the library’s resources to get some background to the 9th Seaforth Highlanders and the 9th (Scottish) Division. 

The 9th Seaforths were the first Pioneer Battalion in the British Army, shown by a crossed rifle and pick-axe collar badge.  This meant that as well as being infantrymen, the soldiers also built and maintained the infrastructure of war: for example,  trenches, train and tram lines, and water supplies. In the ‘Pioneer Battalions in the Great War’ by K.W. Mitchison (2014), the 9th (Scottish) Division historian called these Pioneers “a shining example of pluck and endurance” and stated that “they are as notable for their fighting as for the value and quality of their work.”

A visit to London last year meant I was able to visit the National Archives at Kew to access the War Diary of the 9th Seaforths.  As the writing changed in the diary, I couldn’t help but wonder if the officers had been transferred, injured or killed.  A return visit this year provided the probable date for my grandad’s gassing, and the reason he is not on any casualty list.  Through consulting W.G. Macpherson’s ‘Medical Services General History’ (1921-4) at NLS I had learned about the different types of gas, their effects and treatment.  This led me to believe that my grandad had inhaled mustard gas.  The type of gas is not mentioned in the war diary, but the entry correlates with the treatment listed in the general history:  “Not included as casualties: 41 other ranks admitted to field ambulance after gas attack 21 July (1917).”

On returning from London I have widened my research to the 9th (Scottish) Division history in order to gain a broader picture, and possibly more information on the 9th Seaforths.  In the meantime my uncle had found grandad’s mobilisation and demob papers, as well as a service record from the Home Guard in World War Two.  This is as much personal history as we will ever get as grandad’s full service record is part of the Burnt Records collection held at Kew.  These were damaged during the Blitz of World War Two.

During the first stage of my research I was honoured to attend the ‘Passing of a Generation’ service at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 2009 with my dad. This national service marked the death of the last World War One veteran earlier in the year.

We will remember them.

Alison - blog2



Donaldson’s Hospital

Posted September 9, 2014 9:52 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

2014-08-19_152954Donaldson’s Hospital was founded in 1851 in Edinburgh from money bequeathed by the printer Sir James Donaldson (1751-1830). The deed of constitution and an excerpt from his will was published in ‘Documents relating to Donaldson’s Hospital, 1851′, Edinburgh, 1851 which is held by this library. This volume also contains job descriptions for the staff, regulations of the school and how children could apply for a place in the Hospital.

Many of the applications came from poor families, especially those with deaf children. By 1938 all pupils at the school were deaf. The library holds some early lists of applications for the admission of children to the Hospital, providing personal information on the listed individuals. The printed lists survive for the years 1863 and 1865. Extracts from the 1830-1927 Minute Books of the school can be found in Robert T. Skinner’s ‘A notable family of Scots printers’, Edinburgh, 1927.

Various histories of the institution can also be found in the library. These include ‘Donaldson’s Hospital’ by Eben H. Macleod, Edinburgh, 1993, ‘Donaldson’s College’ by Kathleen B. Clegg, Edinburgh, 1998 and George Montgomery’s ‘Silent Destiny: a brief history of Donaldson’s College and the origins of education of deaf children in Edinburgh, Scotland and the world’, Edinburgh, 1997.

Finally, the National Library of Scotland holds the manuscript archive of Donaldson’s School for the Deaf as it is now called. The archive comprises four collections, referenced Acc.12753, Acc.11896, Acc.12657 and Acc.12849. The first two have online inventories available. Further enquiries regarding access to this collection should be made to the Manuscripts department at the library.


Posted September 3, 2014 2:04 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Guest post by Sara Windram.

2014-09-03_115105Many people researching family history will be familiar with using newspapers as an aid to finding birth, death and marriage announcements. These details are often the first steps of family history research. However, newspapers can also be a tool to finding out a lot more than dates and names.

Newspapers can provide an insight into a geographical area at a certain time through local news. This can often reveal extra information not found in official records. Details such as businesses of the time and what they were selling give us an idea of what our ancestors surroundings were like, along with what they purchased and consumed.  Some examples include grocers’ showcasing the latest exotic produce that they have for sale, such as Chicago corn food, sea kale and Epps’ Homoeopathic Cocoa in the ‘Scotsman’ of  1861. What our ancestors wore can also be seen in advertisements for fashionable costume, such as the one displayed here from the ‘Scotsman’ of 25 March 1868. In the advert J. S. Green of Princes Street in Edinburgh is advising their customers that they have the latest French silk repps and spring dresses for sale. Repps described a specific type of cloth woven in fine cords or ribs across the width of the piece. If you had an ancestor who emigrated, adverts for sailing companies can help you identify which ship an ancestor may have sailed on. Extra details like these can often help break down walls in research.

The National Library of Scotland has online access to a number of electronic newspaper databases. These include the British Newspaper Archive, a full-text digital archive of over 200 newspaper titles from the British Library’s collections, and the Scotsman Digital Archive, which covers every issue of the ‘Scotsman’ newspaper from 1817 to 1950. We also hold a considerable range of newspapers, either in original format or on microfilm. Titles can be found via our online catalogue or by searching the ‘NEWSPLAN Scotland’ volume in the library, which lists all local newspaper titles and the years they were published. A further guide to available Scottish Newspaper Indexes can be found on our website.

Oral history

Posted August 25, 2014 8:38 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

One of the first things you need to do when starting your family research is to speak to your relatives, especially the older generation, to find out what they can tell you. This is also true for those doing research into local history who might need to interview members of the community. Knowing how to get the best from these interviews can make a difference to the quality of information that you obtain. Before starting your research there are a number of publications that you might benefit from reading first. These include:

  • ‘Doing oral history: a practical guide’ by Donald A. Ritchie, Oxford, 2003
  • ‘Oral evidence and the family historian: a short guide’ by Lawrence Taylor, Plymouth, 1984
  • ‘Sounding boards: oral testimony and the local historian’ by David Marcombe, Nottingham, 1995
  • ‘Oral history and the local historian’ by Stephen Caunce, London, 1994
  • ‘The handbook of oral history: recording life stories’ by Stephen Humphries, London, 1984
  • ‘Oral history: a handbook’ by Ken Howarth, Stroud, 1998

These books discuss different types of oral history project as well as giving advice on how to organise the research, what questions to ask and how to record the information provided by the interviewee.

Further information on the subject can also be found on the website of the Oral History Society, while details of UK and worldwide based oral history projects can be found on the East Midlands Oral History Archive website.

NLS at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, Glasgow 2014

Posted July 30, 2014 8:45 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Staff from the National Library of Scotland will be in attendance at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, which is on at the S.E.C.C. in Glasgow from 29-31 August 2014. We will be at stall E18 in Hall 5 and will have staff from the Reference Services, General Collections, Maps, Manuscripts and Scottish Screen Archive departments on hand to answer your questions about the library collections. If you are visiting the show why not come along and say hello?

New World War I digital resources available

Posted July 7, 2014 11:54 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

The library has just made available two new World War I online resources in our Digital Gallery. The first of these is the British First World War Trench Maps 1915-1918. These 307 maps show the British and German trenches on the Western Front and record the names that soldiers gave the trenches, as well as the names of nearby farms, villages, woods, and other landmarks.

The second resource is Rolls of Honour from Scotland, containing listings of casualties and those who died while on active service. It  includes rolls for organisations, such as schools, universities, clans, businesses and churches, as well as for places all over Scotland.

Women and the First World War

Posted July 1, 2014 2:52 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

2014-07-01_143351Women played a significant role in World War I, both at home and abroad, and there are a number of publications that provide further details on their contribution. Neil R. Storey and Molly Housego have co-authored ‘Women in the First World War’, Oxford, 2011, which includes chapters on their jobs in the military, in the medical services and on the land, with plenty of photographs and war posters. Susan R. Grayzel has also published the similarly titled ‘Women and the First World War’, London, 2002, but this book has a more academic bias and also discusses anti-war activity, sexuality and morality and the post-war effects on women.

‘Women Workers in the First World War’ by Gail Braybon, London, 1989, is another academic study that analyses the role women had in the workforce before, during and after the war. A more colourful volume is Diana Condell and Jean Liddiard’s ‘Working for Victory? Images of Women in the First World War 1914-18′, London, 1987, which consists mainly of black and white photographs of women working in different jobs during wartime.

For those interested in women in the medical services, Anne Powell’s ‘Women in the War Zone: Hospital Service in the First World War’, Stroud, 2009 focusses on personal recollections of female doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who served overseas. A more secretive job for women is discussed in Tammy M. Proctor’s ‘Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War’, London, 2003, which uses personal accounts and diaries, official publications and newspaper reports to throw some light on this most unusual job.

Finally, the library holds the manuscript archive, including the photograph albums, of the Scottish nurse, Mairi Chisholm, who served in Belgium during 1914-18. You can find more information on her on the library’s Experiences of the Great War website.

Scottish historical clubs & societies

Posted June 25, 2014 1:28 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

In the nineteenth century many different historical clubs and societies were set up in different locations in Scotland. One of their aims was to publish manuscript collections of material pertaining to Scotland which was held in private and public collections. The library has recently digitised a large volume of titles which were published by various clubs and they can be viewed for free on our Digital Gallery on the Scottish clubs publications page.

NLS at the Dunbar Coastword Festival

Posted June 2, 2014 8:45 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Dunbar in East Lothian is hosting the Coastword festival of words on 20-22 June 2014. The National Library of Scotland is participating by giving a talk on family and local history resources that are available in the library and remotely via our website. The talk takes place at Dunbar Library on Saturday 21 June, 2-3pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked online through the Coastword website.

Quakers in Scotland

Posted May 14, 2014 10:09 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

The Society of Friends or Quakers came to Scotland in the mid seventeenth century, and while never numerous, did form some small communities in the central lowlands and north-eastern counties of the country. Paul F  Burton has written a comprehensive study of the social history and development of Quakerism in Scotland in ‘A Social History of Quakers in Scotland, 1800-2000 (2007). The Reverend John Torrance has also written two smaller pamphlets on the history of Quakerism: ‘The Early Quakers in North-East Scotland’ (1937) and ‘The Quaker Movement in Scotland’ (1927).

Due to persecution in the late seventeenth century, many Quakers left Scotland from the ports at Leith, Montrose and Aberdeen for the East New Jersey area in America. David Dobson has compiled a list of known Quaker emigrants in his book ‘Scottish Quakers and Early America 1650-1700′ (1998).

There are also a number of publications in the library that provide records of birth, marriage, death and burial. These include ‘Scottish Quaker Records (Society of Friends): Births, Marriages and Deaths, also Proposals of Marriages 17th-19th Centuries’ by A Strath Maxwell (1960) and ‘Edinburgh Monumental Inscriptions (Pre 1855): Volume 3…Quaker Burial Ground’ compiled by John F Mitchell (2003).

Finally, chapter 42 in volume 2 of David M Butler’s ‘The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain’ (1999) discusses the various Scottish meeting houses, including their dates, history, locations and some architectural drawings. There is also a brief summary of their burial grounds in Scotland.