Ancestral Research and the Archivist’s Garden, Edinburgh

When asked to provide “Tip from the Locals” for an accommodation website writing about things to do in Edinburgh in January, I thought long and hard about what to recommend.  Ideas sprang to mind, like the Turner Watercolours Exhibition, galleries, cafés to visit, museums and more.  Lots of indoor ideas as January can be a chilly month in the city.  But then my thoughts turned to the types of visitors we’ve had over the years at Craigwell Cottage, and I thought about the Australians and New Zealanders who come to visit Scotland at that time of year to escape the hot summers in their country, or to come “home” to discover the land of their parent’s or more distant relatives birth.

We’ll be welcoming lots of visitors to Scotland in 2014 who are coming to Scotland for many different reasons, but our January visitors tend to already have a link to the country and want to make connections to places where their ancestors have lived, or to find out more about vital links in their more distant past.  For this reason, my insider tip relates to Scotland’s People Centre – the combination of Register House and New Register House, which stand at the east end of Princes Street.  Outside there is a statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse.

Register House Edinburgh


Inside, you can attend one of the familiarisation sessions to get you started on researching your family history, or if you have already started to build your family tree, you can access original documents which your ancestors have been required to submit when recording births, deaths and marriages.  You can do all sorts of research on-line with Scotland’s People records, but for me there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing an original signature in the records and realising that the person in question actually touched and wrote on that paper.

My “insider tip” is that to the rear of Register House, accessed via path from the front of New Register House, there is a very special secret garden.  The garden is planted with more than 50 varieties of plants which have a story to tell and a relationship with Scotland.  The Archivist’s Garden is free to enter while the offices are open, and it’s well worth a visit as it’s a tranquil place amongst the hustle and bustle of the city centre.  Even on a December day when I visited there were sculptural forms of plants to enjoy.

Archivists Garden Edinburgh

We’d love to welcome you to Edinburgh in January – find out more about our family-friendly holiday home: Craigwell Cottage.  If you visit the Archivist’s Garden on your trip, let us know in the comments below.

For the benefit of Mr Kite

Prepare to be surprised by the discoveries you make during Previously…Scotland’s History Festival.
Family tree research in Edinburgh

Genealogical research can lead one in so many different directions, and is a hobby which has been growing over the years with programmes such as “Who do you Think You Are” demonstrating the incredible stories which make a family history.  I’ve dabbled with collecting stories from my own family history over the years: having conversations with relatives and snatching time every so often to work on a particularly stubborn bit of the story where I get stuck and can’t get further. There’s one particular ancestor who had 12 children and who lived from 1870 – 1945 whose story pulls me back every time I pick up the threads to continue my research.

It was a tale about this member of my family which led me to book  for one of the events at Warriston Cemetery during the 2013 Scotland’s History Festival led by Caroline Gerard, one of the Friends of Warriston Cemetery.  There’s a Facebook Group you can join too.

On arrival at the event, we were offered the opportunity to contribute an additional £2 over our ticket price (of £4) for the tour to become a Friend of Warriston.  As I’d already seen some of the work the group are doing, I was happy to make this small donation.  The tour on the 16th November 2013 was the first of two being offered.  The next is on 30th November 2013.

One of the surprises about the tour of a graveyard was that it wasn’t at all gloomy! Caroline has such enthusiasm for her subject, and told stories of astronomers and Celtic crosses, solicitors and architects, flora and fauna, musicians and anesthetists – as well as giving some quick sketches of the great and the good of Edinburgh’s bygone days.

The connection to the Beatles song from which I’ve taken the title for this post is the stuff of urban legend.  One of the graves which has been recently uncovered by the work undertaken by the Friends of Warriston Cemetery in cutting back ivy from memorials which had disappeared has the following inscription:

“Sacred to the Memory of
William Batty Patrick Darby
son of
William and Elizabeth Darby
Professionally known as Pablo Fanque
who died 1st February 1852, Aged 13 Months
Also of 
Elizabeth, their Daughter
who died at Tuam Ireland 30th Oct. 1852,
Aged 3 years and 4 months”

It’s the PABLO FANQUE name which takes this headstone from a memorial of family tragedy to the connection to John Lennon and the Beatles… for Mr Fanque was a Circus Proprietor for 30 years in the golden age of the circus, and is quoted in the song from Sgt Pepper, “For the benefit of Mr Kite” for which John Lennon took inspiration from  a poster advertising one of Pablo Fanque’s Circus Performances. The lyrics include the lines:

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair, what a scene

An inspiring tour from Caroline Gerard whose stories brought the walk to life.  Her enthusiasm for the subjects shone through, for the human and social history; the biodiversity of the area; and the craft of the sculptors on display in the graveyard.  Thanks Caroline!  I’ll be returning to other aspects of this tour in future blogs.

If you’re inspired to come to Edinburgh to find out more about your own family history, consider coming during November when Previously…Scotland’s History Festival takes place – experts like Caroline are a joy to meet and learn from and could help you take further steps in your own research.

We do hope that you’ll get in touch in your search for accommodation – Craigwell Cottage is very conveniently situated for researching at Scotland’s People Centre (under 15 minutes walk) as well as being next door to New Calton burial ground – a subject for another day.


Searching for your Scottish Ancestors – a personal journey

Searching for ancestors at Warriston Cemetery

Researching your Scottish Ancestors

Edinburgh in November – a great time for visitors who are looking to research their Scottish Ancestry.  The city is a little quieter before we gear up for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, making it an ideal time for visitors who are looking to do some research into their Family Tree.

On Twitter recently, we were having a chat (#EdinHour) about spooky things to do in October, and a thread of conversation popped up about The Red Lady of Warriston Cemetery.  This triggered a memory of an aunt of mine talking about going to visit her granny’s grave, and having to pass the grave of the Red Lady.  A quick search on Google, and I was able to see some images of the grave which had been a magnificent memorial in its day, but had now sadly been vandalised beyond recognition.

Of course, it’s not the Red Lady who is my relative, but just that the Red Lady is a grave which my aunt passed by – but, given that I thought that the relative in question was buried in a different cemetery, it’s another clue in my journey to discover more about one particular person who fascinates me in my own family.

I was delighted to find out that the Friends of Warriston Cemetery are running two events during Scotland’s History Festival in November – see the programme for details. The events run on the 16th and 30th November and are led by local genealogist Caroline Gerard.

I’m hoping go on one of the tours to gather some more clues about how to find out more about my own family tree.  If you’re hoping to travel to Edinburgh to do some research into your own family tree, then we’d be very happy to welcome you to Craigwell Cottage – your home-from-home in Edinburgh’s city centre.

Read more:

Download: Previously…Scotland’s History Festival programme