The work undertaken by volunteers in the genealogy department at Arran Heritage Museum is a great example of one of the ways museums can share Scotland’s collections and culture with visitors to Scotland and people abroad.
A team of three enthusiastic volunteers (Jean Glen, Margaret Wright and Mhairi Macmillan) staff the department dedicated to genealogy research and also deal with phone, email and in-person enquiries. Most of the research is free of charge e.g. people paying admission entry to visit the museum have access to the genealogy department included in the cost of their visit. Sometimes there is a nominal fee for the museum conducting bespoke research on the basis of £10 per hour. The service is very dependent on the goodwill of the museum volunteers, their expertise, adaptability and their welcoming attitude.
Jean, Margaret and Mhairi are able to draw on the records, archives and collections the museum has access to and their collective knowledge of the island’s families and places. Jean explained: ‘we get really carried away with the research we do at times and excited on their behalf. We enjoy the friendly interaction with people who are interested in their history and heritage and come to us for help. Each piece of information we gather goes back into a pool of information so the potential of the service we offer grows year on year’.
Arran is a dynamic island with many new residents without any previous family connection. However these new residents still come to the museum to search for information regarding the houses and villages where they now live. In this way the museum can contribute to community building on the island, encouraging connections between people and places in modern Scotland.
Recently the museum has noticed more enquiries in relation to WWI and WWII, for example information sought on family members evacuated to Arran as children. Every month, the team receive emails from people who are considering visiting Scotland to see what potential there is to research their ancestry on Arran, many of whom reside in North America. Arran Heritage Museum has been able to put relations in touch with each other by consent who have been enquiring by email about common ancestors, recently an enquirer from Australia with one from England. The museum has been helping forms links between the Scottish diaspora of people now living in different corners of the world but with a common Scottish connection.
By utilising the skills, knowledge and interests of their volunteers, Arran Heritage Museum is great example of how a museum can share their collection with a global audience and make connections abroad. The genealogy department and their work are meeting Aim Six of the National Strategy whilst also providing a vital service to people across the world trying to trace their connection back to the Isle of Arran.
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