Fife Family History Society celebrates its 30th year

At the helm...Alison Murray is proud to lead a dedicated team of volunteers who help the society's 750 members scour the archives for family history.
At the helm...Alison Murray is proud to lead a dedicated team of volunteers who help the society's 750 members scour the archives for family history.

It is 30 years since a group of like-minded Fifers got together and formed Fife Family History Society.

In the years since, the society has helped thousands of Fifers – and people from far further afield – research their family trees.

Who do you think you are? You can find out with a helping hand from the team at FFHS, based in Cupar Library.

Who do you think you are? You can find out with a helping hand from the team at FFHS, based in Cupar Library.

Now boasting some 750 paying members, the group will celebrate its milestone with a birthday bash later this year.

However, chairwoman Alison Muray (55) is argubly more excited about a couple of projects the dedicated 16-strong team of volunteers who run the group currently have in the pipeline.

They include digitising the Fife Death Index CD – which contains more than 250,000 pre-1855 Fife deaths.

This will be published on the society’s newly designed website, for members to access, and will also be available on DC Thomson’s Findmypast app.

Digging into the past...is all in a day's work for the dedicated volunteers who man the society's archive in Cupar.

Digging into the past...is all in a day's work for the dedicated volunteers who man the society's archive in Cupar.

Alison, from Cupar, said: “We’re delighted that our new website, currently being built, will contain the index in its members’ section.

“And anyone who is a Findmypast subscriber will also have access to it.

“The death index was a best seller when it was originally released on CD but as they are now becoming obsolete, we felt it was time to digitise the records.

“The index was produced by our volunteers who spent many months researching it.

“Before 1855, there was no statutory requirement to register a birth, marriage or death.

“Thanks to monumental inscriptions, obituaries and Fife Council burial records, we were able to record many thousands of deaths in Fife prior to 1855.

“We are also in the process of digitising other records we have – we need to move with the times as a lot of records are now online so we want to make it as easy as possible for people to research.”

Initially, the society met in Methil Library but it outgrew those premises and, for the last three years, thanks to Fife Cultural Trust, has been homed in Cupar Library.

Alison said: “Most of the volunteers live in and around that area but we also felt it was more central for people visiting from abroad.

“It has good bus and train links and also has plenty of cafes so people can visit and make a day of it.

“We’re based upstairs in the reference room where we have an archive room and access to three laptops.”

Manned by volunteers, the archive is open to visitors three days a week – Tuesday, Friday and Saturday – from 10am to 3pm.

And it is here that people from all over the globe descend to source more information about long-lost relatives.

Wonderful and amazing tales often unfold in front of volunteers’ eyes.

Alison said: “We never know who we’re going to meet on a daily basis, which is why the volunteers love giving up their time – they are all passionate about family history and many don’t even want to leave after their shifts!

“One day, we had two ladies in from Australia – visiting separately – who were from the same town, a similar age and one had been in the other lady’s brother’s class at school!

“They couldn’t believe it and neither could we. What were the chances of that ever happening? It was amazing.”

But visitors from far flung countries are nothing new for the society, which regularly deals with people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America, as well as people closer to home.

On a quest to trace their ancestors, what leads them through the Cupar Library door is information they cannot find anywhere else.

“Andrew Campell, our newsletter editor, made it his life work to research all the monumental inscriptions in churchyards across Fife,” said Alison.

“It was rather fortuitous as a lot of the old sandstone headstones, dating back more than 200 years, are now completely illegible.

“Thanks to Andrew, people can easily access this information to add to their family tree.”

Andrew also worked tirelessly on Fife Deaths Abroad, trawling old newspapers and obituaries to find out what happened to Fifers who emigrated.

And his shopkeepers and traders directory for each parish in Fife charts the businessmen and women who made their living here.

“It’s wee gems like that people can’t always find on the internet,” said Alison.

“But they can find it here, in our wee local archive.”

While the society has undergone many changes over the years, with numbers waxing and waning, the current committee members are “a happy bunch” who are dedicated to making the society the best it can be.

Last year, after several members had to leave due to personal circumstances, a recruitment drive was held and new blood injected a shot of fresh enthusiasm.

That led to the society hosting the Scottish Association of Family History Societies conference and fair in Rothes Hall, Glenrothes, in 2018 and the publication of Andrew Campbell’s latest work, a Kalendar (sic) of Convicts.

Alison said: “It recorded all the crimes reporterd in local, sheriff and Justice of the Peace courts from 1790 to 1880. My great, great, great grandfather Horatio Walker, a weaver who lived in Dunfermline, even appears on that list.”

While Alison also has a lunatic in her family history, she had hoped a more famous relative would be able to attend last year’s fair.

She said: “The actor Brian Cox is my second cousin and it would have been great to have him there.

“Sadly, he was filming in America at the time.”

But Alison has also enjoyed her own brush with fame, appearing on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring English actress Anne Reid.

“People still recognise me from that,” she laughed.

Alison moved to Fife from Edinburgh when her four children were wee. She joined the society after her mum died in 1996 and was delighted to discover her ancestors were from Fife.

“It felt like I’d gone full circle – I was blown away and it got me hooked,” she added.

Now, the proud gran of two also oversees the society’s 2800 global Facebook followers, Twitter site and 750 members.

Membership costs £10 annually or £30 for three years. To find out more visit fifefhs.org where upcoming events are also listed.

To volunteer with the society, please email coordinator@fifefhs.org.