Written by Mark Rowe
Croft houses have stood for over a hundred years, housing many generations © Luca Quadrio, Dreamstime
Hebridean diaspora has spread far and wide and in recent years which has led to an up-take in individuals searching for their roots. The Outer Hebrides have 19 genealogical centres – archives and places of research usually housed in museums or community centres. (Alongside these centres genealogy can be tracked on the Hebridean Connections website – which should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to root around their family history.) All the centres are helpful, though some are more adept at using 21st-century technology than others.
The genealogy archive of Angus Macleod can be found at the Ravenspoint Centre. Volunteers at the Centre have recently digitised the whole archive. An Australian woman who traced her ancestors back to the village of Crowder recently married in the ruins of her forefathers’ croft after tracking his roots down!
Seallam! Visitor Centre unlocks the fates of many of Harris’s sizeable diaspora. It offers an eye-opening lesson on the history of Harris and why it looks the way it does today. This is the place to learn about the culture of Scottish clans or to find help exploring your own Scottish roots. A map on the wall testifies to just how far the Harris population has dispersed over the past couple of centuries, and there are moving tales of the people who relocated out to the far-flung reaches of the earth. The stories make it abundantly clear that many of those who left Harris – and their descendants – would have moved back in a twinkling had economic conditions permitted.
There is a further heritage site in Barra named Dualchas, the Gaelic word for heritage or tradition. Dualchas offers a genealogy service and can trace ancestral records back to 1805. You may find that this rather spartan centre has an engaging quality that makes you linger over its black-and-white photographs of Barra, a schoolmaster’s desk from Mingulay and other memorabilia. The centre’s account of the clearances and their impact on Barra is one of the angriest and most scathing you will encounter.
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