Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Preserving Heritage ~ The National Archives of Scotland

After a harrowing bus ride 9 hours north from London, and then a nice overnight in a Manor that pleasantly resembles several abandoned orphanages that one might see in a horror film, we took another (thankfully) short bus to Edinburgh for some library visits. We had two on site visits on this particular day but I'm going to start by writing about the National Archives of Scotland. The rain managed to hold off until we were nearly at the archive, so rather than an exterior picture here is a shot of the impressive yellow dome that marks the entrance to the archive.

The National Archives of Scotland: Photo by Jenny Collins

The National Archives of Scotland are just what they sound like: an archive for all those materials pertaining to the civil and government actions of Scotland. The contents of the archive are Scottish law, land deeds, and materials from the civil and criminal courts. There is an agreement between the Scottish and the English stipulating that government documents have to stay in the National Archives rather than being sent down to London for storage there. I found this fascinating and ingenious.  Most think of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and leave it at that, but Scotland is its own country, that had aspirations of independence and and still does in many ways. By keeping government documents, including genealogies of the Scottish people in Scotland, the heritage of the country was protect. In times when relationships between Scotland and England were less stable and pleasant it was a way for the Scottish to protect their heritage and their history from possible destruction.

The archive holds government records dating back to the 1140's, before it was even made part of Britain. The original head of the archive was called the Clerk of the Roles and his job was established in the 1280s. The term was still being used even after scrolls had gone to the wayside but nowadays they just use "archivist". The building in which the archives are housed was constructed in the 1880s and meant to be used as an all purpose government building but was quickly filled up with the abundant materials of the archive.

The majority of Scottish citizens enjoy free access to the archives but there are fees incurred for legal teams wishing to use the archive as well as for people wishing to access the "Scotland's People" ancestry database. The fees are reasonable but in some ways it seems wrong that people should have to pay in order to access records pertaining to their own personal history. The service, despite the fee is widely used, both digitally and physically in house. As we walked through on our tour with archivist Dr. Clarke, there were a number of people using the reading rooms and researching their own family background.

Digital Endeavors 

The archives are fully embracing a move to digitization. They have digitized half a million family documents which can be viewed from anywhere in the world for a fee. In addition to that they've digitally imaged 200 years worth of property indexes in order to make access to this information easier and faster for all kinds of users. Their digital efforts are not limited to those on site at the National Archive; they've opened multiple genealogy centers all across the UK which allow people who can't travel to the archive easy access to family related materials. They have their own digitization lab on the premises which allows them to quickly and easily go from deciding which volumes to digitize to making it happen with little input and wait from middle men.

The National Archives of Scotland: Photo by Jenny Collins

 The National Archives of Scotland is committed to protecting the heritage of the nation and bringing people closer to their past. It is a great facility and was an eye opening experience.


The National Archives of Scotland

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