Alison Mitchell – Genealogist of the Week

9 Oct, 2017

Alison Mitchell – Genealogist of the Week

What started your interest in genealogy?

My grandparents.  They used to talk about their own parents and grandparents and various distant relations who had got up to all sorts of shenanigans in far flung places.  My maternal grandmother was rather a hoarder and as a small child I was fascinated by a box made out of porcupine quills which had been brought back to Scotland from South Africa on a rare visit home by a cousin of my great-grandmother.  In it were kept photographs and souvenirs of relatives and imagining their lives in distant places and times got me hooked on family history at a young age.  I often wonder what became of that box…


What are your specialist areas of interest and why have you chosen them?

I have two main areas of interest.  Firstly, poor law records which I investigated as part of academic studies and which have ignited somewhat of a passion in me for social history in general.  Secondly, I am interested in records related to travel and migration because so many of my own ancestors embarked upon what must have been long and arduous journeys in the search for a better life with no certainty of success.


Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional

Having come into possession, via my mother, of a large medal bearing the inscription “first award”, I discovered that my great-great-grandfather’s company (Grant and Watt Granite Merchants of Aberdeen) was awarded the medal at the International Exhibition in Sydney in 1879.  It’s fantastic to have something tangible which has been passed through so many generations of my family and I now have more work to do to uncover what drew him to participate in the show and exactly what the award was for.


A typical day’s work

Unfortunately for someone whose interests demand sitting in front of a computer or in an archive for extended periods of time, I’m really bad at sitting still so I generally start my day with a run to get any twitchiness out of my system!  Unless I am spending a day in an archive somewhere, my mornings are usually spent sorting out and writing up research from the day before (when it’s had time to filter through my brain).  Afternoons are mostly devoted to any internet research I need to carry out or report writing.  Being a list devotee, I finish the day by ticking off things achieved and adding emerging tasks and ideas for research to my list for future.

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Clare O'Grady