Friday, 23 May 2014

The National Records of Scotland - How Many Images are in the Virtual Volumes?

When you think of the National Records of Scotland (NRS), you may conjure up an image of ancient and dusty documents tied up with ribbon. Of course, that is not entirely incorrect, as there is indeed plenty of that to be found! Increasingly though, modern technology is coming to the rescue of these precious documents and the landscape now looks quite different!

When you now enter the Historical Search room you will see on your left a bank of computers, ten in total. These are the computers you use to access the NRS’ Virtual Volumes system.

The Historical Search Room
By kind permission of the National Records of Scotland

For a considerable time now, the NRS have been digitally imaging a wide variety of documents from their holdings. This means that rather than producing the original documents, which can be so easily damaged, you can view full-colour images of them on a computer terminal in the search room. I have noticed that on a number of occasions recently almost every computer desk has been occupied. On glancing towards the busy searchers at the computer desks the other day a question popped into my mind: just how many images are now available on the Virtual Volumes system? Being a curious soul (I think it comes with the job description) I had to ask. Thanks to one of the NRS archivists, Dr Stefanie Metze, I can tell you there are currently the staggering total of 59,324,163 images accessible on Virtual Volumes!

What documents and books are included in these 59,324,163 images, and why have the NRS gone to all this bother?

Stairs to the Historical Search Room
By kind permission of the National Records of Scotland
This figure includes some of the images of some of the documents which are available on, such as the Valuation Rolls, Wills and Testaments. It also includes some of the images available on, including historical tax records such as the Hearth Tax and Farm Horse Tax. It does not, though, include the images of birth, marriages, deaths, OPRs or census records; to view these on site you will need go downstairs to the Scotland’s People Centre and pay an entrance fee to view those images on the Scotland’s People system. The Historical Search room of the NRS is free to use for historical and genealogical searches.

Some of the most popular records which are available on the Virtual Volumes system are the Kirk Session records. The Register of Sasines is also a frequently viewed source (sasines generally record the transfer of heritable property between people) and are therefore a fundamental tool for genealogists. They often name relationships and give other useful information which might be difficult to find anywhere else, especially in early periods where fewer sources may be available. House historians and others with an interest in local history will also utilise these records to find out more about particular pieces of land. Fortunately, there is an index to most sasines which exists from 1780 onwards. Prior to 1780 most of the sasines are available as digital images on the Virtual Volumes system, but the existing indexes are still available in paper form. The archivists will show you where these indexes are and how to use them.

Entrance to the National Records of Scotland
By kind permission of the National Records of Scotland
Other records which have been digitally imaged include some of the Register of Deeds, which is again a fundamental research tool, and also the records of non-Church of Scotland Kirk Sessions, which contain substantial numbers registers of births, marriages and deaths.

By imaging records which are regularly consulted the originals can be better preserved. Another advantage is that you can view documents very quickly, as there is no need to order them and wait for them to be brought to your desk.

It can be useful to know before you go to the Historic Search Room which of the documents you wish to consult are available on Virtual Volumes, and which are not. Check the NRS catalogue: a yellow dot is usually present if the document has been digitally imaged. Click into the item details and look under  ‘Access conditions’, if it has been digitally imaged it will tell you there.

One final thing, once you find what you are looking for, hit the print button and for just 50 pence you will be given an A3 full colour copy of the document!

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Three-day event coming to Scotland for the first time this summer!
Genealogy enthusiasts can now get their hands on tickets for the first ever Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland event taking place at the SECC in Glasgow from 29-31 August.
Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland, which is supported by Homecoming Scotland, will help family historians of all levels to unravel their roots and build a picture of their ancestors’ lives. The three-day show will be home to leading experts, informative workshops, archives and museums, major online subscription sites and one of largest gatherings of family history organisations.
Scheduled to tie in with the Scottish ‘Year of Homecoming’, which celebrates the ancestry theme, Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland will complement the hundred-plus ancestral, clan and family events that feature in a year-long programme of celebrations of Scotland’s unique culture and identity.
Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland will follow the format of the established event that has been held in London’s Olympia since 2006, bringing some of the most popular features to Glasgow’s SECC. Highlights will include:

  • Ask the Experts – Bought to you by the Society of Genealogists, the Ask the Experts area will provide an opportunity to get free one-to-one guidance on your family history research. Whether you are stuck finding an elusive ancestor or just need help to get started, this will be the perfect chance to pose specific questions to an expert who can provide invaluable advice. 
  • Society of Genealogists’ Workshops – An extensive programme of free workshops by leading genealogists will run over the course of the three-day show. Full details and a timetable will be released shortly.
  • Photography Gallery – A free, unticketed service dedicated to the photos of our past, with experts on hand to investigate visitors’ valuable family photos and artefacts.
Andy Healy, Show Director, commented: “Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland will be a must-attend event for anyone with an interest in family history. Whether you’re a seasoned researcher or just starting out, don’t miss this exciting opportunity to take your genealogy journey further.”
Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing said: “I am delighted that Who Do You Think You Are? Live is coming to Glasgow and is one of over 800 events included in the Homecoming Scotland 2014 programme. With Scotland’s rich and enviable culture and heritage, ancestral tourism is hugely important to Scotland’s economy and events like this help to raise the profile and reach an even wider audience.” 

The event is based on the popular television programme, produced by Wall to Wall (a Shed Media Group company), which will celebrate its 100th episode later this year. To date, the series has seen the likes of Alan Cumming, Annie Lennox, David Tennant, Fiona Bruce, David Mitchell and Alistair McGowan trace their family trees to reveal the surprising, extraordinary and often moving stories of their ancestors.
Tickets for Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland are available now online at or by calling 0844 873 7330. Advanced single tickets are priced £14 for adults, £24 for a two-day ticket and £30 for a three-day ticket, while children under 16 go free.

With thanks to Carolyn Wray, Immediate Media

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Love in the Archives

Regular readers of my blog may remember that I wrote about the ‘Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of the Mental Institutions’ a while ago. They are very interesting documents held by the National Records of Scotland under the reference MC2.

These records can help with genealogy and add to your personal family story. More than that though, they are of national importance as they document a period when doctors and others were trying to get to grips with mental health problems. Each record includes the reports of two doctors, both on what they have observed and on what has been reported.

Yesterday I came across a record that described a poor young chap this way:

‘Falling in Love with many Ladies at the same time...’

It seems from these records that the poor lad also thought he was going to be poisoned and seems to have turned to drink. I’ll try and find out what happened to him, I hope it all turned out well!

It just shows the value of searching records beyond the obvious Birth, Marriage, Death and Census records. To properly research your family tree you need to get to know what is available both in the National Records of Scotland and local archives.

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