Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Scottish business archives for family historians

Chances are that your ancestor had a job - it was certainly not unheard of in antiquity! But have you actually tried to source business records relevant to the professions that your forebears were engaged with? You haven't?! Read on...!

Last night I attended a session at the Mitchell Library run by David Powell and Kiara King from the Business Archives Council of Scotland. From what I could gather, their job is to run around the attics of businesses, trying to save records before the binman comes, and avoiding things with more legs than themselves in the process! The session described the basic types of records that can be found for some trades in archives across the country.

It can often be hit and miss in trying to find such records, but where they do exist they can be invaluable. The first confirmation of my great grandfather's death in Belgium, where he was said to have died in hiding whilst trapped during the German occupation in World War 1, was found through the surviving corporate records for the Glasgow based shoemaking firm R & J Dicks, held at the Mitchell. Upon first glance, I was not at all optimistic when a box of papers arrived, containing no personnel files, just the rather dull minutes of annual AGMs, until this line appeared in the AGM minutes for 1916:

In addition to material, we have given many men to the war. Our Roll of Honour consists of 135 names. Of these, all were volunteers. Out of the eligible men of military age, 94 per cent offered themselves voluntarily. Out of these ten have been killed, ten wounded, one "gassed", and one is reported as missing. Besides these we have lost the manager of our shops in Brussels; after the German occupation he remained for many months in concealment, doing his best for the Company's interests. I regret that the strain and anxiety cost him his life...

Whilst much has been lost, a great deal of corporate material has survived, some of it in private hands, and David and Kiera have produced a handout listing some of the key research sources and types of information which may be found. The list can be read at Business Archives Resources for Family History, whilst Business Archives Scotland itself has a blog at One to bookmark!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research

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