What started your interest in genealogy?
I have had a great interest in history, particularly Scottish history, since my High School days. My interest in family history started in the late 1990s and I suppose it was really a desire to know where my family came from as beyond grand-parents I knew very little. I know, like most people, when you start in family history it just takes something to grab your interest to get you hooked and for me it was learning that my Lawrie side were granite stonemasons in Aberdeenshire.
Aberdeenshire provided granite that helped to build so many iconic buildings across the world as well as structures such as the London Embankment. My research has found that both sides of my family played their own little part in shaping Scotland’s today – many were farm labourers and ploughmen, some weavers and stonemasons and my maternal side were miners and iron workers in industrial Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire. Like most I have those ancestors who took part and died in World War One and a direct ancestor who fought in the Peninsular Wars. *
I am fascinated at getting the chance to piece together their lives and try to imagine what life must have been like for them. A lot harder than our own lives are of course!! **Remembering all their lives and how they shaped our lives and society for me is an important part of genealogy.
What are your specialist areas of interest and why have you chosen them?
I am just trying to get my business up and running at the moment and what is emerging is a specialism on ancestral tourism and providing support to people who are visiting Scotland but whose ancestors left these shores to seek a better life in USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia. I live in Stirling which lies between Edinburgh and Glasgow and close to the stunning Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. With its Castle and Wallace Monument, Stirling is of the jewels in Scotland’s tourist crown so ancestral tourism is a real issue here.
I hope to develop a particular specialism around police records. I was a police officers for 30 years and my dad was also in the Police so it has been a large part of my life. However my project for the Post Gradate Diploma at Strathclyde was a study of the World War One War Memorial to Stirlingshire Constabulary, located in the local police station. This gave me a real insight into the police records and it is apparent that they are a vastly under used resource. Police records are not just Personnel Records – if you examine the minutes of the Police Committee’s you get an insight in to the lives of police officers and they and their families are often discussed in some detail. I hope to develop this, with a focus on scoping the police records in Scotland and promoting their use by genealogists.
Your most exciting discovery, either personal or professional
Last summer I marked one of my best personal finds when I enjoyed a family re-union with and an entire branch of Lawrie’s who emigrated to the USA in the 1890s and 1900s. Neither side was aware the other side existed until I found a distant cousin on a messageboard over 10 years ago. The last contact between the families was in the 1920s so it was great to enjoy a nice afternoon with about 20 members of the Lawrie family near Boston, Massachusetts. Facebook should ensure we don’t lose touch in the future!
A real find was identifying a distant ancestor with the unusual surname of Thomas Moonlight. His story is incredible from running away from home to the USA as a young boy, fighting in the American Civil War to enjoying a political career which included serving as the Governor of Wyoming Territory before it became a State and the US Ambassador to Bolivia. His story even touches characters such as Crazy Horse, Wyatt Earp and as governor pardoning the Sundance Kid – not a great judge of character. There is still a lot to find out and definitely a book in the story of Thomas Moonlight.
A typical day’s work.
After 30 years in the Police the flexibility of working from home is a real bonus. Much of my time is spent in my converted office at home carrying out research and keeping on top of emails. Before I start working I have a 30 minute walk, which I call my commute! It helps divide my work time from my home time.
Being located at Stirling is great as I can be in Edinburgh at Scotlandspeople Centre in an hour or at other archive centres such as The Mitchell Library, Glasgow and others in the same time. I do enjoy getting out and doing research but I plan my time to maximise any visits to archives and critically meet the targets I have set to meet customers deadlines. I do use technology to help my work and use Evernote a lot to capture my research and tasks.
I operate a very flexible approach to my working hours and with a daughter just into High School I need to! If that means having some free time during the day and working in the evening then so be it. As I type this I will be heading out to Central Scotland Family History Society meeting tonight. Developing my network with local History groups as well as other members of the professional genealogy community is a priority for me.