04 December 2011


It's a mouthful just to say the initials. It's the Society of West Highland & Island Historical Research. Herewith an example of how we try to expand our genealogical minds.

Serious family historians look for detailed context about their ancestors' lives---geographic, cultural, social, political, economic, religious, legal, and so on. What did the family breadwinner's occupation mean to them in terms of location, income level, housing? What influences would they have felt from cultural pressures?

Searching for such information takes us well beyond surname targeting and building a family “tree.” And so we seek out resources not restricted to online searching or genealogical societies, although they can assist. Somehow I doubt that academic and/or scholarly sources are frequently consulted. It takes more time and trouble to find them.

That brings me to my example ... one of the “extras” that enrich my understanding, and thus my family history. The non-profit SWHIHR is fairly locale-specific with a journal three times per year: West Highland Notes & Queries. Contributors delve into all historical time periods of Scotland's western Highlands and islands (Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and more). Scholarly discussion, dialogue, and nuance go back and forth among contributors who are mainly historians (with an occasional genealogist), many of them with a lifetime of expertise in esoteric, private manuscript collections that you and I could scarcely hope to access. 

There is a point at which, in every Highland family history, the ancestral line blurs into the localized clan mass. And clan history is instructive through its leading figures---and the lesser-known---because their activities include the shades of our forebears. Besides, it feels good to engage one's intellect in a slightly alternative perspective.

West Highland Notes & Queries is not a high-tech production. It is only available in paper form, and the small print requires a large magnifier. Enquiries about current rates can be directed to the secretary at nmbcoll@aol.com. I can't let it go without saying the editor is Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, based on the Isle of Coll, author of the brilliant From Clan to Regiment: Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, 1400-2000 ... and numerous smaller but important works.

May you all find your own gems to add depth to your family research!

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