Sunday, June 27, 2010

ScotlandsPeople Centre

I'm still not sure how I got sucked so deeply into tracking my family tree. All I can say is, it's addictive. Curiosity led me to poke around a little and it just took off from there.

Ancestry is a wonderful site, but does not hold the birth, marriage and death records for Scotland. Those are held at the ScotlandsPeople website. The records are accessible online, but instead of a monthly subscription that allows you to search as much as you want, on scotlandspeople you have to buy credits. 30 credits cost £6, and to view a search results list of up to 25 entries is 1 credit, and to view an actual record is 5 credits. Personally, I find this a frustrating system.

There is, however, the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh. They have a large number of computer terminals where, for £10 a day, you can sit and access as many records as you want. There are dedicated printers and there is also the option of saving your records to a memory stick. (Note, however, that there is a fairly minimal charge both for printing and for saving.)

So, when I knew I was going to travel to the UK, I made sure to allot time while I was in Edinburgh to spend the day there.

The Centre offers a free two-hour taster session within specific time windows (10am-12am and 2pm-4pm). I arrived in Edinburgh in the afternoon, dumped my gear at the B&B and practically ran up the very big hill to get to the Centre before it closed. I ended up with just over an hour of my taster session, but that was fine. It let me figure out how to search, how to print, how to save - all things that would help me get the most out of my full day of research.

On the way out, I reserved a seat for the next day. It wasn't really necessary in December, but if you're going during the high season - particularly during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - I highly recommend reserving a seat so you don't end up being disappointed if it's full.

The next day, I arrived at the centre when it opened at 9am and stayed until it closed at 4:30pm (opening hours: 9am-4:30pm Monday to Friday). There is a cafe there, but I didn't stop to eat, or even go to the bathroom, I was so deeply into what I was doing.

The best part about that unlimited access was the chance to just dig through record after record. For example, I know my grandfather had three brothers who died as infants, but I didn't know their names or dates of birth. At the Centre, I was able to do a search of every child born in a specific region within, say, a 25-year span and just keep clicking through the records until I found them. Dozens of records that would have cost hundreds of credits otherwise. And I used that method to find a number of different relatives.

Now, obviously, it's more cost-effective to just buy the hundreds of credits versus buying a flight and accommodation in Edinburgh just to go to the Centre. However. If you're going to be in the UK anyway, it's a wonderful resource for family history research.

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