Scotland’s public records keepers celebrate a 150 year history

The Association of Registrars of Scotland pictured in 1932
The Association of Registrars of Scotland pictured in 1932
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A new exhibition telling the 150 year old story of the men and women responsible for Scotland’s public records opened at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

‘Recording Angels: Scottish Registrars since 1855’ uses previously unseen documents to tell the human story behind the millions of documents that record the lives of every person in Scotland.

In 1865, ten years after civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in Scotland, local registrars banded together to form the Association of Registrars of Scotland. The Association is believed to be the oldest society of registrars in Europe, if not the world.

For the past 150 years the Association has worked with the Registrar General for Scotland to help shape modern registration practice, and supported registrars in their work of accurately recording life events of people in Scotland.

The Scottish Government, local authorities and the NHS use the detailed information in order to plan and provide public services. The Registrar General for Scotland oversees the work of local registrars, and the rich archive of registers they create is searchable through the official family history website ScotlandsPeople.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, said:

“Thanks to the hard work of forward-thinking registrars, Scotland’s rich social history has been preserved and recorded for the ages. Their work underpins the delivery of vital services by the NHS in Scotland, by the Scottish Government and by local authorities, and has created a rich genealogical resource for everyone to use and enjoy.”

I’m delighted that the National Records of Scotland is marking over 150 years of co-operation between the Registrar General for Scotland and local registrars in delivering a service that directly benefits people in Scotland every day.”

Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

“This year National Records of Scotland celebrates the milestone of 160 years since civil registration began in Scotland, and we congratulate the Association of Registrars of Scotland on their 150th anniversary.”

The free display ,‘Recording Angels: Scottish registrars since 1855’, can be seen at the National Records of Scotland, General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, 19 May – 26 June, Monday to Friday, 9.00 – 4.30.

And, here in West Lothian we have some of the best kept public archives available locally, including the hugely important Linlithgow Local History library.

West Lothian Council’s Assistant Registrar, Angela Milligan, said: “It’s incredible to think that the Association is 150 years old.

“What is special is that much of our work hasn’t changed over the years. We are still registering all the landmarks that each and every one of us experiences in some way, shape or form.

What has changed is the way in which we record and store information which is obviously now done electronically.

“It makes me proud to be part of such an important legacy and to know that in another 150 years people will be studying and looking into the records we work on today.”

And, in Linlithgow, the Library is the first port of call for all queries relating to West Lothian’s local history or family history.

It’s a treasure trove of books, maps, photographs, newspapers and family history sources – in fact, all you ever wanted to know about West Lothian.

The library’s Facebook page highlights some of the interesting things the staff come upon in the course of their work. ‘Serendipity’ says Local History librarian Sybil Cavanagh, “is one of the great things about local history.

“You set out to look for one thing and you find some other fascinating fact that you’d never have thought of looking for!

“I came on a lovely report from the Sheriff Court in 1917 when a well-known Linlithgow poacher put the Sheriff in his place – and then found out that the poacher was part of a friend’s family tree. So you never know what you’re going to find when you start doing your family history.”

The staff recently assisted an enquirer looking to identify the mansion that’s under a bing (i.e. Westwood House near West Calder); and just a few days ago, they were finally able to identify the WW1 soldier whose photo they display as a life-size cut-out at special events.

‘By chance one of the library users came upon the same photograph in the local newspapers and recognised him.

Now they know that the libraries unknown soldier was John Corstorphine, a Broxburn man who won both the Military Cross and bar in France in 1916-17.

During a search of the registrars’ records staff found his death certificate and discovered that he dropped dead while working at Broxburn Oil Works in 1950.

Visitors are encouraged to drop in any time to see the hidden treasures of West Lothian – no appointment necessary.

The library is closed on Mondays, but open weekdays 10-5pm and first Saturdays of the month from 9am-1pm. Tel: 01506 282491, or email: localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk.