Monday, 4 July 2011

Major Hebridean project announced

A major new three year Highlands and Islands Enterprise funded genealogy project will see the work of Harris based genealogist Bill Lawson placed online at a new website called Hebrides People ( The site will be bilingual, in English and Gàidhlig.

For many years Bill Lawson has been compiling records and oral history accounts concerning the stories of some 225,000 folk from the Western Isles, including emigrants, and has been operating from the Seallam! Visitor Centre on Harris ( A grant of £54,000 awarded to Northton Heritage Trust will now see his work updated and made accessible on the site, a real boon for those with connections to the Outer Hebrides. The site will also offer books for sale from the Islands Books Trust and Bill Lawson Publications.

For more on the story see the Stornoway Gazette article at

In the meantime, don't forget other Western Isles resources such as the Hebridean Connections website at and the various comainn eachdraidh groups, with a list available at

COMMENT: I'm really delighted to see this happening. A few years ago I had a conversation with an academic who told me he did not believe in the value of oral history as a source in the Gaelic world, which I thought completely misunderstood the nature of Gaelic culture. The argument went along the lines of if it was in print it could be proved, but if not, it could not. But not everything in print is necessarily true either! Oral history is as valid as any source when taken at face value for what it is - the folk memory of the community - and in many ways can offer more than any text book ever could. The fact that this is going online could well be one of the most significant Scottish developments this year for family history. Very much looking forward to it!

I have just come off the phone from Bill's wife Chris, and although the site is yet to go live, developments will be happening very quickly, so do check the site regularly over the next few weeks.

Bill Lawson

(Thanks to @ScottishHistory and @HebConnections on Twitter, and Chris Lawson)



Amanda E. Epperson said...

Chris, I think you were just talking to the "wrong type" of academic. Most of the ones I know do believe in the value of oral history. Amanda

Chris Paton said...

I completely agree Amanda, this particular individual just wasn't for convincing! I remember a few years ago filming a gent from edinburgh University called Domnhnall Uilleam MacLeoid, who was working on an oral history project of Ness in Lewis, and the value of his project was immeasurable.

Simon Fowler of TNA contacted me recently to tell me that the Oral History Society and the British Library are running a new training course - 'An Introduction to Oral History for Family Historians'. The first course will be held on on 3rd August 2011 in the Foyle Suite at The British Library. originally wasn't going to mention it on the blog as it wasn't in Scotland, but here's he blurb anyway!

The training day is open to anyone with an interest in using oral history as a tool for family history research and covers:
* What can oral history offer the family historian?
* Using oral history to explore the lives of those who have died or are no longer able to speak for themselves
* Finding existing oral histories and how to use them
* Recording and using oral history in your research, including formulating questions; Basic interview technique; Ethics; Documenting and storing your recordings
* Presenting the results of your oral history family research

Full rate: £108.00
OHS members rate: £84.00
Concessions (students, unwaged, retired): £57.00

Further information and a booking form are available from