If your great-grandmother delivered babies during the First World War, worked in a café of a famous theme park, or travelled around with a circus, wouldn’t you want to know? In recent years, family history has become increasingly popular as people across the world attempt to trace their ancestors. The popular BBC series of Who Do You Think You Are recently began its 10th series in the UK showing the fascinating stories of celebrities with British connections. It’s also shown around the world, with different versions filmed in many countries.
More than 50 million people have Scottish roots and this country offers a variety of ways to discover if you are one of them. From comprehensive archives, in visitor centres and online, to a range of ancestry events, it is extremely easy these days to follow in the footsteps of your Scottish ancestors.
In September, Scotland offers another chance to delve back into your family history with Angus Heritage Week.
This week-long event begins on Friday 13 September, with a number of talks and workshops from the UK’s best genealogy specialists at the Brechin Mechanics’ Institute.
One of the Friday highlights is a talk by historian and broadcaster, Dr Nick Barratt, who has been involved with the BBC’s popular ancestry programme.
Nick said: “I can’t wait to come back – it’s always great to talk to an enthusiastic and engaged audience. Tracing your family tree isn’t about seeing how far back in time you can go – it’s about getting to know the people who came before you.
“At my workshop, I’ll be explaining how you can write up your family history – not just researching some of the stories that relate to your ancestors but how to bring them to life and possibly find a publisher for them as well.”
Other talks will be given by: BBC broadcaster, author and genealogist, Dr Bruce Durie; Angus Archives manager, Fiona Scharlau; CEO of the company behind online genealogy sites, Genes Reunited and Find My Past, Chris Van Der Kuyl; and former jute mill worker, Ron Scrimgeour.
But it’s not just about tracing your family back. Once you’ve discovered where your relatives lived and worked, you can visit the places for yourself and actually walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. Angus Heritage Week offers the best of both worlds. After the first day full of demonstrations, expert help and advice, you can enjoy a variety of events, activities and exhibitions and get free access to unusual and interesting buildings throughout Angus. This heritage week takes place in association with Doors Open Days on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September giving you free entry to a number of properties, some of which are normally closed to the public. Visit Arbroath’s theatres, Kirriemuir’s Cortachy Castle and Forfar’s sheriff court.
Running until 20 September, Angus Heritage Week also includes a guided tour of Arbroath Abbey given by a 17th century Monk, a sea dog trail and the chance to be a Pict for the day!
Forfar played an important role in the Pictish kingdom and in the lives of the early kings of Scotland. On Saturday 14 September, local historian Norman Atkinson will conduct a free tour of Forfar’s Castlehill, where King Malcolm Canmore’s royal castle once proudly stood. On Monday 16 September, a fascinating free guided walk will take place at ancient Restenneth Priory, believed to be founded by the King of the Picts in the eighth century and burial site of Robert The Bruce’s infant son.
At the top of Glen Esk, the imposing 16th century Invermark Castle is now a ruin, shrouded in mystery and myths. On Saturday September 14, the owner of nearby House of Mark will be offering a free tour of Invermark Castle, along with a short talk on the history of the one-time home of the Lindsays, once one of the most important families in the area.
Gallery House at Logie Pert is a fine example of a 17th century laird’s house – and a highly-appropriate location for the September 17 talk about Angus’ 17th century landowners, their lands and the houses they lived in.
Montrose High Street – the widest high street in Scotland – comes under the spotlight on the morning of Wednesday 18 September, when Sandy Munro, architectural historian of the Montrose Society, will lead a free guided tour. That afternoon, a similar free tour will be taken of Monifieth, when members of the town’s History Society will share their knowledge of the local area.
The tour of Arbroath Abbey on Thursday September 19 will be guided by none other than a Benedictine Monk from the early 1600s. This was a difficult and interesting time for the Abbey and its inhabitants. Having been one of the most important sites in Scotland and the site of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, by the 17th century, the Abbey was falling into decline, with its distinctive red sandstone blocks being used to build churches and even houses.
Many of the events taking place during Angus Heritage Week provide a rare chance to visit places that are normally out of the public eye, such as the Doors Open Days event at the Guide Dog Training School and James F Stephen Architects in Glamis. In addition, as Arbroath Sheriff Court is scheduled to close next year, this may be the final opportunity for members of the public to view this building, once the Town House of Arbroath, in its present format.
Whether you’ve never been to this area before, or are Angus-born and bred like me, this is a fantastic opportunity to go behind the scenes and learn more about the history and heritage. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you visit these places.