17 June 2010

Hands On Scotland: Dead Ancestors in Edinburgh

This post isn’t so much about the ancestors per se as it’s about frenzied preparations for two days of research at General Register House in Edinburgh. That’s the one at the east end of Princes Street. As opposed to the one at the west end of Princes Street, imaginatively called West Register House. NAS. National Archives of Scotland. My hotel is thankfully nearby, as memorized from a colourful and distracting street map, so I calculate a maximum 10? minute walk after breakfast heading east. No dallying at shop windows along the way.
Historical Search Room, General Register House, Edinburgh; http://www.nas.gov.uk

Anticipation of an adventure, they say, is half the fun. Who said that, anyway? It may be the only fun. Time constraints allow for two days at NAS, within the specified hours of 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Every minute is precious. Who knows how much time is eaten up with registering (passport type photos required), orientation, filling out forms, and waiting for retrievals and printouts. Never mind the important in-between part of computer and microfilm searching.

My primary research goals are at the one facility. I pursue Donald McFadyen relentlessly in the perhaps mistaken hypothesis that he served in a militia unit during the 1790s. A previous search of the Breadalbane Muniments was negative, so I apply myself to the collections of the Earls of Airlie and Maclaine of Lochbuie. There are muster and pay rolls for the Breadalbane Fencibles and the Argyllshire Volunteers among them. Somewhere among the meters-long shelving of estate papers. White gloves time, I believe.

My Frasers will receive some attention at GRH since my little expedition has been ordered to make an ancestor detour to Killin in Perthshire. Cousin Lizzie paved the way for me—metaphorically speaking—into a village that may have looked like this when our mutual Duncan Fraser (1783-1867) was the village blacksmith.  
Monemore Cottages, Killin, Perthshire; postcard.

I go to GRH armed with specific catalogue references. One collection alone took two days of trawling the online finding aid through hundreds of items. This is the fun part? Not that I’m complaining ... thank you, gods of the NAS for the finding aids! The kinks in my neck and shoulder muscles should recover just in time to assist my pilot in keeping the transatlantic Airbus aloft for seven hours (Monty Python helps ... “Always look on the briiight side ...”).  

My confidence is still a little shaky that I will understand the accents and vernacular of the native Scots. More archival time eaten up if I embarrass myself by asking them to repeat what they said several times. Or I could pretend to get it the first time, and proceed as if transmission went well. That usually lands me in some hopeless or hilarious (in hindsight) contre-temps but then again it could be a good diversion from intensive, eye-crossing research.

Edinburgh is really the only place on the itinerary that demands absolute research discipline. But only until 4:45 p.m.! What then? The map is mesmerizing. It promises historical sites of sin, depravity, and ancient murder mysteries. Whisky tasting and tartan weaving. Greyfriars Bobby. Campbell’s Close. Grassmarket. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern?  Malt Shovel Inn? Ahhh ... the Hebridean Bar; surely a place for Celtic music.

Dominic Beddow and Claire Littlejohn, The Illustrated Edinburgh Map (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2007).

Now that I’ve put myself on the published record, we know there must be follow-up. The netbook may or may not decide to obey me but I have Luddite backup. The adventure will unfold, as my granny never said but someone’s did, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Being translated means Icelandic volcano, hold your temper, eh? I mean aye.


Heather said...

Mark me jealous. Douglas and I spent a few days with his parents in North Berwick 4 or 5 years ago. No wait. It must be closer to 10 years ago. Never mind that.

We zipped in and out of Edinburgh by commuter train at odd hours and tramped around the center of the city. (North Berwick is about 30 minutes away by train and, for me, it's main draw is the ocean.)

One the the best places we visited was a cheesemongers -- on Victoria Road I think, just below Lawnmarket. It's tempting to go back just to get some Dunsyre Blue cheese (a local, fairly mild and creamy blue cheese.)

Happy hunting in the archives for the elusive and peskily named Donald.

shemvic said...

Colour me envious. I'm looking forward to the same thing in about 2 years time. Hope you find time to get to Coll.

BDM said...

Lori ... four days on Coll!

Sheri Fenley said...

Sin & Depravity? Now that's my idea of a great vacation! Some "Get out of Hell Free" cards are on the way to you Brenda Baby!

Oh, and I want some photos of Sin and Depravity.

BDM said...

Sin and Depravity coming up in August. But I'm really gonna need those cards!

Anonymous said...

Hi Brenda good luck
Since you have references order before you go they will have them there for you. Also ask them for a for a computor based table not all are. We Scots will happily repeat answers to those across the water so long as the original enquiry is polite. After you have finished at 4.45 if you are still up to it then Edinburgh City libraries on George the IV bridge is still open. . Although you will not have the time have you investgated the catalogue of the National Library of Scotland .
Good luck

BDM said...

Thanks for the tips, Anonymous! I do have one NLS reference I might get to, and then I'd like to drop by the SGS too ... so little time, and so much historical distraction.