A Year In The Family …

Cupar is lucky to be the home of Fife Family History Society – the charity that’s based in Cupar Library at the Duncan Institute on the corner of Crossgate and Kirk Wynd. As part of Cupar’s Year of Stories, we asked Chairman, Alison Murray, to provide us with an update on the society’s work …

Last January we realised that we were no closer to resuming our three days as volunteers in our archive in Cupar Library. When our Trustees met on the 27th of January, we all agreed that despite the restrictions the society was still effectively working away, albeit in the background. Membership was up by 30% and from the number of email enquiries through our website up by 50%. It was clear to see that there had been a surge in interest in family history during lockdown.

The 27th was also our eleventh online Trustees Zoom meeting since lockdown, which is quite an increase to the number of meetings we normally have in a year. This was for a few reasons. With the restrictions changing continually, it was necessary to keep everyone updated. It was also necessary for the sub-committee working on a new governing document to report on the progress made on a regular basis. Prior to the pandemic, we had been working with Fife Voluntary Action with view to applying for a change to our charity status. Then, with everything on hold while they dealt with a massive volunteer operation to help those affected by the crisis, we formed a subgroup to progress with updating our governing document and taking the application to become a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation forward to OSCR. With the help and guidance from Fife Voluntary Action, this was achieved in July last year. 

As well as our Trustee meetings, we set up a weekly volunteer Zoom every Saturday. This was a great opportunity to catch up with each other, share news, and generally support each other. When the restrictions started to ease, we now meet up once a month.

With all the doom and gloom and reports that family history societies and ancestral tourism was suffering due to the pandemic, news of all our positive activity managed to reach BBC Scotland. Nick Sheridan, a reporter for ‘The Nine’ and the BBC Scotland News got in touch with me to find out what we had been happening during lockdown. It seemed that many family history societies had just closed their doors and were not actively embracing new technology such a zoom or looking towards digitising records, something we have been doing for a number of years.

As a result of the telephone interview, Nick and his camera crew met with me, Jenny Mackie our Volunteer Coordinator/HR advisor and Ian McIntyre our Research Coordinator in Cupar to film a slot for TV. On the back of this Mike Alexander from The Courier contacted me and the society and my work as chairman then featured in a weekend magazine article.

Not to be out done, CuparNow kindly recorded a podcast with me to share with their followers on social media.

All this including a presentation I recorded for the Scottish Index conference (live on Zoom and Facebook) at the end of last year, has most definitely increased traffic to our website and social media platforms and perhaps contributed to the spike in membership.

Our Trustees have also not been hanging about. Most have undertaken some form of personal development through OSCR and Historic Environment online courses. From the Roles and Responsibilities of a Trustee to learning about the changes to PVG regulations coming into force. We have also joined in online conferences, workshops and talks to our benefit.

Our online shop – more of this later – has continued to provide a source of revenue during lockdown as has our partnership with Find My Past.  The relationship we have with FMP has grown in the last four years and as a result of sharing some of our records with their subscribers, we receive a monthly income though royalties earned when our records (copyright) are accessed online. We recently contributed to what is now the largest collection of Scottish family history records available online. As a thank you, we were invited to a private zoom event with special guests, Dundee actor Brian Cox and Colin McFarlane who is known most recently for his role as Ulysses in the very successful TV series Outlander. There are more records to be added from our own collection and this will add to what has become an extremely useful resource for those researching their Scottish and Fife family history.

Some years ago, we made the decision to start to phase out the production of CDs and also to reduce our carbon footprint by phasing out printed copies of our members journal that were sent out by post three times a year. We have now gone completely digital. Our publications, though some are still available to purchase as a hard copy are being digitised and are available as downloads from our shop. Who knew then that we were about to head into a worldwide pandemic, and so it has proved to be very fortuitous? Our last printed and posted journal went out in December 2019 to coincide with the 30th Anniversary as a society. It was an additional commemorative edition and included articles from past and present members.

In September last year, we took part in Cupar’s Celebration Weekend. Our volunteers took time to man our large stall at the Farmer’s Market in Cupar. The Lord Lyon King of Arms (Patron of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies) was in attendance for what was a very well attended and successfully run weekend organised by Cupar Development Trust supported by other local organisations.

Upcoming event …

To follow on from that and the success of events we have organised previously, the society have booked the upper hall of Cupar Corn Exchange on Saturday 19th March for a Fife Heritage and Family History event. We will be joined by other likeminded organisations including, Fife Archive, OnFife Archives, St Andrews University Library Special Collections, St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum and Garden, Cupar Museum and Heritage Centre, Fife Folk Museum and RAWs – Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland and Tay Valley History Society.

For the organisations taking part in the event there will be no charge for tables. It will also be free admission to the public.

We are also in partnership with Fife Cultural Trust who we work closely with in Cupar Library. Recently, we made a financial donation to each of the Fife Libraries who have a local studies officer, Cupar, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline – on condition that the funding be directed to provide resources for anyone researching their Fife family or local history. We are pleased to learn that this will be put to good use and in line with our request. By providing equipment and resources, the project will include a pilot young person’s introduction to family history course, which, if successful ,will be rolled out in other Fife libraries. Equipment to scan large documents/maps/glass plate negatives with view to exhibitions and sharing images previously not available to the public has been purchased. As have a number of laptops to allow volunteers assisting with the projects to collate, save and make information available to a wider audience, perhaps on an online platform.

In summary, when Fife FHS were awarded SCIO status in July last year., it gave us an opportunity to update our website and in particular to make it more accessible to those with visual impairment. This is in line with the recognised WCAG2 standard.

All of our policy documents have been updated following the change to SCIO status and we are pleased to say that all our Trustees and volunteers have renewed their agreements as volunteers.

In the coming weeks we hope to be able to work towards returning to the library, albeit a bit different to what we did pre-covid. We are looking to set up an appointment system to allow people to visit safely and within the government guidelines and those set out to keep both library staff and visitors safe. All updates to this information will be found (when the time comes) on our website www.fifefhs.org and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


Need more?

Fife Family History Society established in 1989 and is now known as Fife Family History Society (SCIO) Scottish Charity No:SC051133

You can find more on their website via this link and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can email them via this link – or call them on 07767 745129.


Got a story to share?

2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories and we are building an archive that will share stories from those with fond connections to the town and our district.

If you have a story, please submit it via this form. We will have a read through and come back to you if we have any questions. Thank you!


Thanks for reading!