The communities of the Outer Hebrides retain a keen interest in their family histories and ancestral links. A long tradition of respect for genealogy, and an commitment to preserving it, first in stories and increasingly now in databases, means that most Comainn Eachdraidh hold reasonably comprehensive histories of the families who inhabited their townships, usually from about 1800 onward, and in some cases from much earlier.
Of course, many thousands of Hebrides emigrated, to other parts of Britain, to Canada and America, to Australia, New Zealand and Africa. Getting in touch with the local societies when researching your Hebridean family history is often a rewarding experience as local knowledge can sometimes help to identify the village the family left from, their way of life, the circumstances of their departure and any relations still extant in the islands.
A number of resources can help you with your research here.
The Comainn Eachdraidh
If you know which village your ancestors came from and have undertaken the basic research, contacting the relevant Comann Eachdraidh is the way to reach useful local knowledge about the circumstances of the family when they left and the particular croft or clachan they lived at. Sometimes the genealogical information held in a district is much more detailed than that available through the census, parish or statutory records, and may help break through the ‘brick walls’ familiar to all genealogists. A visit to the district is always worthwhile, too, and the local Comann Eachdraidh will be happy to point you in the right direction, towards villages, ruins and distant cousins. They would also be pleased to receive stories and photos of families to complement their own collections.
Hebridean Connections is an ongoing project to digitise, refine, integrate and provide online access to the vast genealogical collections held by the Comainn Eachdraidh; this remarkable database is supported by thousands of photographs, maps, documents, archaeological records, stories and songs. Currently the districts of Bernera, Kinloch, Pairc and Uig are largely complete, with Berneray and Carloway begun. All information is free at present.
The Angus Macleod Archive
Situated at Ravenspoint in Kershader, Pairc, the Angus Macleod Archive is a joint project between the Islands Book Trust and Comann Eachdraidh na Pairc, aimed at providing public access to the personal archive of the late Angus “Ease” Macleod, of Calbost and Marybank. Angus’s own notes provide extensive information about the families and the way of live in his native district, and of Lewis more generally. The catalogue is available online, as are many of the documents, and visitors to the centre are welcome.
Seallam, Northton Heritage Trust, Co Leis Thu? and the Lawsons
Bill and Chris Lawson have over several decades amassed a huge amount of information on the families of the Outer Hebrides. The Northton Heritage Trust is now the owner of these records, and Seallam is the visitor centre in Northton, South Harris, where research can be undertaken at the Co Leis Thu? research centre. Detailed croft histories and emigrants registers can also be purchased for many districts (see catalogue) and bespoke research can be commissioned.
The Registrar’s Office in Stornoway, located in the Town Hall (entrance opposite the Stag Bakery) holds the local census, parish and statutory records, as well as some burial records, and has access to all national indices through a computerised link to New Register House in Edinburgh. Access is with the assistance of the Registrar only (£20/hour). Similar information is also available directly from the GROS website, Scotland’s People (below). The Stornoway office is open Monday to Friday, 9-12.30 and 2-4.30; tel 01851 709438.
The main public library is in Stornoway, open Monday to Saturday 10-5 (Thursday/Friday to 6pm); there are also community libraries in Shawbost, Tarbert, Lionaclete, Daliburgh, Payble and Castlebay. The main library provides access to access to the census (1841-1901), local newspapers on paper or on microfilm, maps, school logs and registers, and many other resources: a summary of the local studies collection is here, and the full catalogue can be searched here.
The superb online resource from the General Registrar’s Office of Scotland, offering (for a fee) access to all the statutory records availabe at the GROS in Edinburgh: Census 1841-1901, Births Marriages and Deaths from 1855,
Family Search & LDS
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is the free LDS resource, with world-wide records available. The Mormon church in Stornoway can also provide access to local parish and census records and can order records from other areas for perusal at their research centre. Contact Eric Shaw at