> Connecting Generations
Although the records of an estate have been preserved to support the business, today they are in demand for so much more. It is increasingly important for people, especially those who have emigrated, to find their roots. If seeing the records of his ancestor reduces Jeremy Paxman to tears imagine the impact on lesser mortals!
However, it is important to be clear to searchers what estate records can –and cannot- provide. Employees in the 18th century did not need to provide the extensive information demanded today so usually there is no information on an individual’s parents, where they came from and where they went on leaving, much to a relative’s frustration. Also, researchers need to be sure that a named individual was actually their ancestor not someone with the same name, so they need to be encouraged to arrive with some basic factual information of place and date. If someone lived 20 miles away before motorised transport it is unlikely they worked at this “big hoose”.
However, when an individual is identified results can be rewarding. Rentals can give details of what a farm produced and estate maps show the layout of the fields and the very buildings that the ancestor lived in. If he (and it would often be a he, as woman are usually invisible) was a truculent individual there may even be letters demanding repairs, rent reduction or details of quarrels with a neighbour. The less troublesome, the less information! For house servants, though not usually outdoor employees, the wages book may contain a signature – these can be especially emotional as the visitor realises they are holding the very book their ancestor, maybe over 200 years before, also touched.
Estates may have their special sources of information. On Atholl, the Atholl Highlander record book lists all the men in the Duke’s private army and gives their height, a personal detail not easily available elsewhere. It also lists the reason for leaving so the visitor should to be warned it was not at all unusual for being dismissed for being drunk or “undrillable”.
On Atholl Estate the records are located in one place at Blair Castle which, since 2012, has an environmentally controlled store and dedicated research room. The estate provides a part time archivist, which, in addition to dealing with research enquiries, has benefits in locating information for estate needs. Visitors are very appreciative of being able to see the records relating to their ancestors and this can lead to them making special visits to the castle, spending longer in the area or making return visits with other family members. This can benefit the estate’s tourism, function and accommodation enterprises. It is the continuity provided by estates over centuries that has ensured the preservation of the records that are such an important part of Scotland’s heritage.