Chris Paton takes a look at the resources available for family historians in the former industrial powerhouse of Glasgow
Trace your Glasgow ancestors
The thriving metropolis of Glasgow is the third largest city in Britain. Some of its notable sons and daughters include stand-up comedian Billy Connolly, former football manager Sir Alex Ferguson and TV presenter Lorraine Kelly.
If you have ‘Weegie’ kin – the slang term for Glaswegians – or indeed any connection to the city, then the splendid green-domed Mitchell Library, Europe’s largest public reference library, should be your first port of call for research.
In March 2014, a new service was opened on the building’s fifth floor entitled Family History at the Mitchell ( glasgowfamily history.org.uk), which brought together the city’s registrar and archive services, the local NHS archive, and the library’s own genealogy resources and special collections. “Our new shared facility now provides a one-stop shop for researchers who wish to visit us from Mondays to Saturdays,” says Dr Irene O’Brien, senior archivist at Glasgow City Archives, “and over the past year we have certainly seen the numbers of users rise.”
The registrar’s service provides daily access for a fee of £15 to the records of ScotlandsPeople, while the adjacent archive service holds many important local and regional collections for much of the west of Scotland. These include estate papers, burgh records, sasines registers, police archives, trade incorporation records, church registers (including nonconformist church holdings not on ScotlandsPeople), trade directories, business records, and much more. A useful list is available at glasgowlife.org.uk/ libraries/the-mitchell-library/ archives/collections/pages/ default.aspx, with collections also summarised on the Scottish Archive Network catalogue at scan.org.uk.
Its move completed, the archive is as busy as ever, taking in new collections and making them accessible to the public. One of its most recent projects has been to catalogue the financial records of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH), thanks to funding secured from the Wellcome Trust. The SWH was a First World War organisation comprising 14 units of women who adopted the roles of surgeons, nurses, orderlies, chauffeurs and cooks, and were sent out to seven different countries to assist in the war effort, and care for soldiers and civilians caught up in the hostilities. The records include personnel files, photographs of members (many of them were former suffragists) and committee minutes. For more on the SWH, visit scottishwomens hospitals.co.uk.
Another current project is the digitisation of historic burial registers for Glasgow. While some of these are already available on microfilm in the library, many are
difficult to read, frustrating the desires of users to access such crucial genealogical records. “We’re bringing together all the original historic volumes from the council's Bereavement Services, and digitising them,” says Irene. “In due course, we hope to be able to make the original records accessible for consultation.
“We also hold the records for Maryhill Crematorium, Scotland’s first crematorium, which opened in 1895.”
Once known as the Second City of the British Empire, Glasgow has played a major role in the history of the nation. From its origins as a medieval bishopric, it acquired wealth and the status of a royal burgh in 1611, allowing it to become one of the foremost international ports in Scotland. Following the country’s union
with England in 1707, Glasgow prospered further through its trade in sugar, tobacco and cotton, though as with many other British cities, much of the profits from these were derived from the triangular trade in slavery. The Mitchell Library building, itself, is an example of the wealth that was accumulated in this period. It first opened in 1877, thanks to a bequest left by a wealthy tobacco lord, Stephen Mitchell, to fund a public subscription library for the city.
Glasgow is also home to Scotland’s second oldest academic institution, the University of Glasgow, which first opened its doors in 1451.
The university has its own dedicated archive service ( gla. ac.uk/services/archives), which, in addition to preserving the history of the institution itself, also hosts many other important archive collections, such as the Scottish Business Archive ( gla.ac.uk/services/archives/ collections/business).
Among the gems to be found here are the papers of the House of Fraser Archive (including the records of Glaswegian funeral directors Wylie and Lochhead) and the records of many shipping and shipbuilding firms that were based on the Clyde.
Vessels were first built on the Clyde in 1712 at Scott’s shipyard in Greenock, but by the mid-19th century the quality of work had made the river the most important shipbuilding region in the world, with the surrounding countrysidec providing the coal anda iron necessary to drive such ra apid industrialisation.
Another major industry to ta ake root in th he city duringd the In ndustrial RevolutionR wasw that of th he cotton and wool mills.
However, most labourers drawnd to Glasgow were soon forcedfo to live in squalid te enements, within a city that was e xpanding at a rate much greater th han it could safely accommodate.
As a consequence, great povertyp developed alongside the growthg in fortunes of the wealthy, anda disease became rampant, with a high infant mortality rate.
An example of an early-20th centuryc ‘single end’ tenement accommodationa has been faithfully recreated at the People’s Palace Museum in Glasgow ( glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/ peoples-palace/Pages/default. aspx).
Helpfully, an important set of records has survived to shine a light onto the plight of the most destitute in society. “Glasgow City Archives holds some of the most detailed Poor Law records in the UK,” says Irene O’Brien. “Not only can these provide a great deal of background to those claiming poor relief, including information about other members of the family from whom the authorities could try to claim back payments, they often come accompanied with letters and other supporting documents, which can really help a researcher to feel for their ancestors’ lives.”
Thanks to an earlier collaboration with Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society ( gwsfhs.org.uk), indexes for the surviving 19th-century records for Glasgow, Barony and Govan are available in a computerised database in the archive, with additional 20thcentury records up to 1948 (and for other areas in the west of Scotland) also available for consultation. A closure period exists for some of the more recent holdings, however, at 75 years for adults and 100 years for children.
For one group, in particular, the Poor Law records can be a real godsend. “Our records are a wonderful source for Irish research,” says Irene, “with a lot of applicants in the late-19th century being settlers who had moved here either for work, or in the aftermath of the Famine.
The records can identify family members, but also indicate from where in Ireland they originated. One of the oldest Irish applicants, for example, was born in Donegal in 1750. Where else would you find that information?”
Poverty developed alongside the growth of the wealthy. Disease became rampant and there was a high infant mortality rate
Who Do You Think You Are? Glasgow Science Centre on the
south bank of the River Clyde
Broomielaw Bridge over the River Clyde in Glasgow in the late-19th century