We visited Fife Family History Society this summer to discover more on their work. You’ll find them in Cupar Library on Crossgate. As with many groups and organisations in town, we found out that a small army of dedicated volunteers is behind their work – helping folk both near and far to unearth often long-lost histories on their ancestors. You can read our earlier blog via this link … but we returned to find out more on the people behind the Society – those who make it tick …
Jenny Mackie – Volunteer Coordinator
Jenny lives in St Andrews. Asked what she enjoys most about her work for the Society, Jenny says: “Everything has been rewarding, especially in getting to know so many wonderful people in the Fife Genealogy field, a wonderful group of passionate family historians who are eager to share their experiences and knowledge.” One of the biggest benefits of working with the Society is the access given to volunteers. Jenny explains: “As a volunteer I have access to certain local records and archives that are otherwise unavailable or hard to find. The Society has educational talks, seminars, and publications that can assist in increasing your knowledge base. And of course, it’s highly rewarding to assist other family historians in researching their ancestors.”
Jenny has been involved since last November (2018) and tells us why she signed up to help: “Despite my growing enthusiasm for family history research and my willingness to talk to friends and family about what I have learned, I wanted to meet other enthusiasts and discuss the ups and downs of genealogy with others who genuinely understand my excitement and frustration.”
Jenny took a career break as a bid manager, to raise her family, and decided she would like to follow her passion for family history, perhaps with a view to finding a career within the field. She says: “Whist searching the internet for some information on my husband’s family tree, I came across FFHS website and an advert recruiting for volunteers. I knew immediately I wanted to help!” Primarily, Jenny volunteered to extend her knowledge base and learn as much from the professionals but she soon became involved with updating policies and procedures within the society and stepped into the role of volunteer co-ordinator and committee member.
Jenny adds: “As an active and involved member I have ultimately been given opportunities to participate in the strategic development of the Society and by serving on the committee, I have developed skills that I may not have had access to, within other roles.”
Jenny explains there are a variety of opportunities within the Society and that the hours are very flexible: “I would encourage anyone who is considering volunteering to give it a go! One day, all of our records will be online. Family History Volunteers will help make that happen, which I love being a part of!”
Elizabeth McMann – Volunteer
Liz McMann was born and brought up in Methilhill and then moved to live in Edinburgh for more than 20 years. Two and a half years ago she was made redundant and is now “back “home … or close to it in Buckhaven!”
Liz says she is “enjoying my retirement” and especially “the camaraderie with the volunteers” saying: “Everyone that I have met so far have been most helpful with both my own research and also that of our visitors.” She adds: “Being able to help those that come in is so rewarding. It is a great buzz for both them and us when we find the missing bit they have been looking for, or indeed, find something they did not know off at all.”
How did Liz get involved at the Society? She explains: “I have been researching my own family history for many years – using Register House as it was when I started – and then Scotland’s People in Edinburgh. I did enjoy going into Register House and actually searching for that fiche or film to find the desired information. It made it seem real and “historic”.”
Almost all the research is now online which Liz says is obviously much more convenient – although she does miss the nostalgic effect of trawling through published archives.
She joined FFHS in October last year (2018), started going into Cupar Library in January ’19 – and became a Volunteer soon after. Liz says: “The reason I joined was to continue with my research. As I have a bit more spare time now I can devote more hours to it. Also, with my Mum passing it has been a great “social” help to me as well.”
Many folk who love family history have the hook that they might just discover something amazing in their ancestors’ past. Liz says: “I haven’t found any skeletons, Lords, Ladies, mad loons or quines … but it is still amazing what can be found!”
Roddy Greig – Treasurer
Roddy has been a member of the Society for many years, but it is for his “past sins as a banker” that he was persuaded to become treasurer, a role he has now served for three years.
He joined in the the mid 1990s – when living in Edinburgh – when he discovered that his wife’s family came from Dalgety and Aberdour. Roddy explains: “When I moved to the Cupar area in 2013, it seemed a natural progression to become involved with the Society and to associate with like-minded people.”
He particularly enjoys passing on his knowledge and helping members and the general public who call in to the Society’s facility in Cupar Library, saying: “It is very gratifying to the see the joy when you provide someone with information or a record source that helps them “get through the brick wall” they have struggled with … sometimes for months.”
Roddy cautions those who want to take genealogy investigations into their own hands! “Family history investigation can be a dangerous pursuit as I found to my cost in North Queensferry.” Some years ago, Roddy was looking for a plaque that commemorates the penultimate pistol duel in Scotland. “I was stopped by two uniformed and armed police officers.” Unbeknown to Roddy, he had checked along the outside garden wall of a house owned by none other than Gordon Brown. To make matters worse, Roddy had a camera in his hand and had parked his car right outside Gordon’s front door! All ended peacefully. “After asking for my name and address, which, thankfully, agreed with the details of the owner of the strange car parked on the road I was “free to go”. No doubt they decided I was another harmless person who for some unknown reason researched dead people!”
Ian MacIntyre – Enquiries Coordinator
Ian, who lives in Kirkcaldy, joined the Society in January of this year (2019). As with other volunteers, it is the unpredictability that makes the work so enjoyable. Ian says: “You never know what each day will bring – but what you do know is that you are helping visitors with their family history and that is very satisfying.”
Currently, Ian is Chairman of the 115th Fife Scout Group in Kirkcaldy, so he knows the effort that can go into keeping a charity running with sufficient resources. He says: “I’m interested in Family History and I genuinely enjoy helping people. I find that each week there are new problems to be solved – visitors really rely on Fife Family History Society to help.”
He explains one recent occurrence, saying: “A lady said her father was a bit of a “rogue” and smiled at the memory of him. We had a look through some sites and then found a newspaper clipping.” That clipping told the story of the lady’s father who, at the tender age of four, had run away from home. Ian adds: “Thankfully, he didn’t get very far! The lady genuinely laughed and said ‘oh my goodness, I never knew that, but that so what I imagine he would have done!’ It is moments like these that add the ‘flesh to the bones’ of genealogy and really bring it to life! That was a great moment for me, and hopefully for the family as well.”
Ian concludes: “I’ve found that Fife Family History Society is a great place to volunteer and all the volunteers, without exception, have a ‘can do’ attitude and are only too willing to help out and to share their experience.”
Alison Murray – Chairman
Alison lives just outside Cupar and has been married to her husband for almost 35 years. A mum of four grown up children, she explains her very real interest in family trees, saying: “This year I had great pleasure in adding two new names – in the shape of a granddaughter and a grandson!”
Born and bred in Edinburgh, Alison moved to Cupar 25 years ago. She says: “It was whilst researching my family history that I discovered that both my parents, also born in Edinburgh, had ancestors from Fife. My youngest son was born in Kirkcaldy 21 years ago … so I now feel that I have brought our family full circle.”
A “good friend” introduced Alison to the society around 12 years ago – and it was facing tough times. Alison says: “It was almost about to fold and I was persuaded to attend the AGM. The rest is history!”
She has been actively involved with the society as Minute Secretary, Secretary, Press/Media and Social Media as well as Vice Chairman and now – for the last year – as Chair.
Being a volunteer has its challenges. Alison explains: “Technology and the huge growth of digitised records available online has put pressure on us to keep up with the times. Although we are a registered charity in Scotland, we have to run the society like a business. We are now working towards scanning and digitising as much as we can from our archive in order to make this available to the rest of the World.”
It is the team of Volunteers that Alison sees as their greatest asset. “We have a great team – mainly recently recruited – who have already embarked on various projects that will benefit our members and those who can’t manage to visit our archive in Cupar Library. The enthusiasm and the dedication of our volunteers is fantastic. There is a great buzz about the place.”
Alison says that most of the volunteers “share the same madness” that is all things family history: “It is an addiction shared with people from all over the World who want to engage with other like-minded people.” Alison is aware that some folk just want to “dip a toe into the archives” whereas others are long-standing members who have supported the society for the last 30 years. As a result, to benefit all users, the Society keeps membership at a very affordable rate.
Jean was born and brought up in Eyemouth, Berwickshire. At 17, she left to go to Art College in Dundee and later to the University: “I loved the city … and still do!”
After University, Jean taught History for over 20 years at Dundee’s Morgan Academy – watching the school burn down and then seeing it restored to its former glory. Now retired, she lives where she has done for more than 40 years – in Kilmany by Cupar. Her daughter and son grew up in the Cupar area, left for university and college, both did stints in London before returning to the local area as “proud Fifers“. She says: “I always knew Kilmany was a historic place but have learnt so much more after volunteering at FFHS.”
Jean explains how her passion for family history began, saying: “When my husband’s parents died, we became custodian of a trunk full of artefacts, certificates, photos and letters. I started sorting it in the ’80s and have continued in fits and starts … but there is still a long way to go.”
How did she first get involved with the Society? “My daughter saw an ad for volunteers and suggested I should do it. I started earlier this year (February 2019) – and it has been a joy!” She adds: “After each session, I leave the Library – my head buzzing with stories, some weird and wonderful, others mundane, but all fascinating!”
Jean loves to browse the extensive resources and to interact with the other volunteers and the visitors. “You realise that you have so much to learn and people have so much to give.” But it is the local area that really makes it all gel. Jean explains: “You feel more rooted in the area as you learn more about its past, the people who lived there, the jobs they did, the countries they emigrated to and the contributions that were made by Fifers worldwide.”
And as with her fellow volunteers, it is the feedback they receive that makes it all worthwhile. Jean adds: “It is especially rewarding when their descendants come into the Library with a small clue and – with the help of the team – they leave ‘knowing’ their ancestors.”
Like to join the team?
Pop in to see the Society at their facility at Cupar Library – 33-35 Crossgate, Cupar, KY15 5AS.
Tuesday, Friday, Saturday: 10:00–15:00
You can also email them via firstname.lastname@example.org
Just click on the Society’s logo (below) to visit their Membership page where you can find more on their work and sign up as a member.
Dig a little – find a lot!
The archive also has a wealth of records for anyone interested in local history. We spent a little time delving into old copies of The Courier from the 1970s – and discovered all kinds of gems … from houses for sale in the area from under £6,000 to news reports on the Guardbridge Paper Mill … from old C&A ads to TV schedules …
Thanks for reading!