Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Visit Scotland and take a walk in your ancestors' footsteps

To most people tracing their family history means more than just finding out dates and names and putting them on a chart. It means understanding your ancestors’ lives, having the ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ experience.

Jedburgh Castle Jail
2014 is a great year to visit Scotland and discover the place ancestors called home. You may find that the area they lived is not what you had in mind. When you think of Scotland do you think of clans and tartan? Well there is much more to Scotland than that. In fact if your ancestors were from the south of Scotland they probably never wore a kilt in their life! That doesn’t mean however that the south has any less of a rich heritage, rather your history is just different.

So what was life really like, how can you find out?

A good place to start is finding out where they actually lived. Can you pinpoint the house? Agricultural labourers moved around a lot, so you may not be able to find every house. Of course, some may no longer be standing. By using the National Library of Scotland’s excellent collection of online maps, though, you can often find the house they lived in. We have linked a lot of the census entries we have transcribed to maps, so use our census collection to help you. If you can’t work it out e-mail us and we can help.

What else?

You may be able to find their final resting place. The Borders Family History Society has an online Gravestone index (surnames only) from which you can purchase a book with more information. These help you find the grave so that you can visit it when you come over.

Local museums

There are lots of small local museums, often run by volunteers who can tell you the ‘true’ history of the place. Most towns have their own museum, run by the local council and admission is free. Here are some excellent ones we have visited:

Jedburgh Castle Jail

Walk through the old cells
If you have found your ancestor in our prison database you may be able to visit the jail they were locked up in! Jedburgh Castle Jail gives you a real taste of life behind bars. You can even walk round and round the exercise yard!

Historical customs - Loupin' Stanes

Named the Loupin' Stanes because of the somewhat dangerous custom of young men leaping from one to another to prove their love to their girl and gain her hand in marriage! A custom long since stopped as too many legs were broken! This site is on the Eskdale Prehistoric Trail.

Old Towers

Today people visit Scotland for its peace and tranquility, but it was not always thus! Peppered across the south of Scotland are the remains of towers, places where you could run to for protection.

Perhaps you ancestor was out ploughing their land, their family inside a wee thatched house, long since gone. Over the hill in the distance they see the glint of sun reflecting against armour. There is no way they could be safe in their home, they would run to a tower for protection.

You can still visit these today, sit at the window and imagine how it would have felt to be cooped up with animals, open drains, no running water and the rain driving against the wall!

Some of these are preserved now by Historic Scotland, others are on private land. Most landowners, though, are more than happy to give access, ask somebody who lives nearby and they can often point you to who owns the land so that you can arrange to get a key (if necessary) or show you around.

These are just some of the lesser known sites I know of, every local area has their own hidden treasures. Come home in 2014, get off the tourist route and visit the land of your ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. The water seems peaceful. Wow. You must have a great time seeing those marvelous wildlife and outdoor. Corryvreckan cruises would be perfect for the summer season.