New Genealogist of the Week – Alison Smith

9 Jan, 2017

New Genealogist of the Week – Alison Smith

What started your interest in genealogy?

I was always intrigued by stories about relatives, such as the one who went to Madagascar as a missionary and another who was prosecuted for illegal distilling.  When an old family tree chart was discovered showing my husband’s ancestors, it spurred us both on to find out more.  At the time I had no idea that it was possible to find out so much about ordinary working folk.  That was over 20 years ago and I’m still unearthing new material!


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

My main area of interest is the counties of Banffshire and Aberdeenshire, where my own roots are.  There is an amazing wealth of archival material and specialist records relating to the local area which can be used to complement the data available from civil registers.  As a linguist I love paleographic challenges, especially old Scots handwriting which so colourfully illustrates aspects of everyday life in times gone by.  Some of the earliest records are in Latin and these tend to follow a standard pattern, but a knowledge of Latin grammar is certainly an asset when it comes to working out who is giving what to whom.

Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional.

There are always exciting discoveries to be made.  That’s what I find so rewarding about research work – it’s a never-ending learning process.  Most of my commissions are for clients with local connections, so it’s not surprising that once in a while it emerges that we have common ancestors.  No matter how many “cousins” you know already, finding a new one is always a thrill!

A typical day’s work.

No two days are the same and the variety certainly adds interest for me personally.  Sometimes I’m working from home, doing straightforward research to compile a basic family tree chart.  Even so, it could be destined for display somewhere prominent, such as a visitor centre for a landed estate, so attention to detail is essential.  On other days there are visits to local archives to examine specialist records.  It can be very difficult to tell from a catalogue or index just how much material there will be to work through, and how much light it will shed on the family being researched and I’ve learned from experience to spend a little while initially assessing the nature and extent of the documents to be studied before examining them in detail.  And no matter how much time is spent in gathering information, reporting on findings always seems to take much longer than anything else!

Clare O'Grady