Archive Visits in Northern Ireland and Scotland

September 2013;

I made my way home from Ireland to New Zealand following the long and winding road. The reason for the length of the journey was to enable me to visit the UK archives I need to so I can  gather the information for my remaining genealogy assignments. It is difficult to pop down the road to them from New Zealand.

My first stop was Belfast. There I spent a day at the General Register Office trying to find elusive people for my family tree. I had some success but the office needs a good update. I had to register (fair enough) in one room then go out into the foyer again to wait, with others, until someone came down in the lift to escort us up to the search room. The people working there are nice and are helpful but their computer system is woefully inadequate. I've been a long-time computer user but, even so, I was rather baffled. It is as if some techie geek has decided that there is a certain way to do things and never shall it be changed. I think it hasn't been changed for years. It would have been useful if there had been written instructions to help with searching, including the use of a wildcard unlike any I have come across before. I wasted lots of time not knowing about the different wildcard although I have used a range of wildcards before in searches.

I keep a copy of my family tree on my Reunion program on my iPad. Sadly there is a prohibition on iPads and such at GRO, which seems odd to me. You can take your iPad into the search room with you, but woe-betide should you wish to use it beside you at your computer station. You must place it on a table behind a room-divider and get up from your computer station, navigate around the divider to where you've left it, then back to your station to continue. Goodness knows why. Who is to know that somebody isn't interfering with your iPad when you aren't looking? You certainly can't see past the room-divider—it's floor to ceiling. The GRO costs £14 per day to visit. For that you can get two print-outs of information. Extra copies are £4 each. Exorbitant.

 The following day was spent at Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). What a difference. As with the last time I visited the staff were friendly and helpful, even though I had mislaid my ID card (actually, it is on a container ship somewhere between Cork and Wellington). It was simply a matter of giving them my details and I was off and seeking. For free. I asked where I could find what I needed, was guided to it and given clear instructions. I found heaps of information and, best of all, I was allowed my iPad beside me, so that I was able to work methodically through my tree, finding gaps that needed to be filled from searching. I could have paid for print copies but was able to transcribe myself for no cost. Brilliant.

A couple of days later it was off to Glasgow where my grandfather had been born, of Ulster parentage. I had envisioned having to go to Edinburgh to do my seeking but then I discovered the Mitchell Library. What a wee gold-mine of information for family historians and it has a lovely café. The archives staff were super-helpful and were really kind  and friendly. I had three beaut days searching there. On Level 3 I looked at BMDs via ScotlandsPeople for £15 for a day of unlimited searching, plus a very reasonable printing fee for each copy I wanted. In the Archives on Level 2 I discovered Poor Law Registers and other information, all for free. What a resource the Poor Law Registers are—I've never used them before. I found loads of information about my grandfather's siblings, all very interesting and some very sad. My tree expanded markedly. I gained a really good insight into my grandfather's upbringing and think I have learnt why he was so irascible. 

I needed to find information for one of my genealogy assignments which needed my obtaining photocopies of a Register of Sasines and Services of Heirs. Normally this takes three days, but when I explained that I was leaving Glasgow on the following day, the staff had the copies done within half an hour for a really reasonable price. Such excellent service.

So my research travels continue. I love digging around in archives and the inevitable "Eureka!" moments. Now is the time to process all my findings. That will take days but will be just as enjoyable, I'm sure.

© Jan Powell