In our latest blog, find out the places to visit in Angus that will help trace your family tree including museums, archives, local registrars and libraries.
We also share some top tips on researching your ancestors.
Throughout 2022, we will be sharing a series of blogs celebrating the Year of Stories.
Angus is a fascinating and historically significant part of Scotland. With its ancient castles, abbeys, monuments, buildings and traditions, it’s full of rich stories about the people who called this area home in the past, many of which remain untold.
Tracing a family tree is about much more than just adding names and dates to a flow chart showing the generations that went before you. There are resources available to help you build a rich and accurate picture of the lives of your ancestors and the world in which they lived.
Technology today makes it easier than ever to perform detailed research into your family’s history. Information about people and places is within easy reach, even from a distance, thanks to a multitude of different online services, websites, and apps.
Of course, visiting Angus is the best way to paint an accurate and vivid picture of the people in your family who lived here long ago. The teams in ANGUSalive’s museums, libraries and archives have a wealth of local knowledge. They will be happy to help you navigate the many research resources available when you visit.
In this blog, we will show you how and where to perform thorough research into your own family’s background, many generations into the past. Our step-by-step guide to tracing your family history will give you the best chance of finding any Angus ancestors you may have.
Before we start to explore how you can trace your family history, here are just a few examples of people born in Angus whose names you may not immediately recognise but whose stories you may find inspiring.
A Scottish Botanist (Forfar)
George Don was a Scottish botanist, born at Doo Hillock, Forfar, in 1797. His father, also named George Don, was Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, in 1802, and his mother was Caroline Clementina Stuart. George was the elder brother of David Don, also a botanist. Don’s main work was his four-volume A General System of Gardening and Botany, published between 1832 and 1838. He died at Kensington, London, in 1856.
Fellow of the Royal Academy (Brechin)
Catherine Hollingsworth was born in Brechin in 1904. Her father was the leader of a Brechin band and a well-known musician. Catherine joined her father in the Brechin Opera, taking the role of Pittising in the Mikado. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London between 1922 and 1925.
Catherine moved to Aberdeen in 1941 where she began the first municipal children’s theatre, the first Festival of the Spoken Word, and the Aberdeen Long Acre players. She retired to Dundee and published her biography in 1991. Catherine was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy in 1954. She died in July 1999.
Burgh and County Librarian (Montrose)
James Christison was born and educated in Montrose. In 1904, he was appointed as librarian to the new Public Library. He was the first and only librarian to occupy the librarian’s flat incorporated into the library. Christison had a great love of books and believed that librarians should not be mere distributors of books but guides.
He was a great friend to writers, such as Violet Jacob, who sought his opinion on their work. He delivered many lectures all over Angus on a number of literary topics. The poetry of Robert Burns was one of his favourite topics.
As a librarian, Christison took a proactive role in preserving Montrose’s local history, seeking out material, printed, photographic and archival, for the Local Corner. This material has formed the basis of the present day Local History collection and Montrose collections in Angus Archives. He served as both burgh and county librarian until he retired in 1941 at the age of 74. He died on 20 July 1945.
Image: Angus Archives
Archives and libraries
Angus Archives and the libraries in Angus offer a vast range of research material for anyone looking for information about their Angus ancestors. Knowledgeable and friendly staff are on hand to advise and assist in your efforts to learn more about ancestors who may have lived or worked in the region.
Located in a beautiful rural setting near Forfar, Angus Archives is where you can discover a written and photographic heritage of Angus that goes back over 800 years. The archive includes family histories, extensive photograph collections, history books, and much more.
You can visit and search this treasure trove of Angus history for free. The collections cover Arbroath, Brechin, Carnoustie, Forfar, Kirriemuir, Montrose, Monifieth and many rural areas of Angus.
The towns and villages of Angus are home to a rich variety of fascinating museums and galleries where you can enjoy researching local people and places through art and artefacts.
One of the most historically significant towns in Angus (and Scotland, in fact), Arbroath has several museums and art galleries worth exploring. For example, the Arbroath Abbey Visitor Centre lets you explore the origins of the most famous document in Scottish history – the Declaration of Arbroath – as well as providing detailed information about what life was like in the town.
The Signal Tower Museum can provide some insight into the rich fishing heritage in the area. The art collections in Hospitalfield House and Arbroath Art Gallery provide many impressive visualisations of 19th and 20th century life.
Brechin’s Town House Museum contains local history exhibitions, works by local artist David Waterson and a model of Brechin as it was in the 1820s. The museum gives you an opportunity to explore the history of the town and its people, thanks to its rich collection of objects, photographs, and archival material.
Davidson Cottage, the restored home of William C Davidson, father of the founding sons of Harley Davidson, has been restored to how it would have been in 1857. Visit for a small slice of what life would have been like at that time.
The Inglis Memorial Hall and Library is a fantastic resource to develop a greater understanding of Victorian life. The library’s collection offers a fascinating glimpse into Victorian life, reflecting what was considered of interest and importance in both fiction and non-fiction at the time.
The loan records for the first half of the twentieth century show you what the public liked to borrow at that time. A digitised catalogue is available to assist with your research as well.
Forfar‘s Meffan Museum and Art Gallery lets you take a literal step back in time as you stroll The Vennel, the Meffan Museum’s recreation of an old, narrow cobbled street. Peer inside several traditional shops, including Peter Reid’s sweet shop, a knockmaker’s workshop where you can witness linen being woven, and a baker’s shop with bread and bridies on display. A unique and memorable way to experience life in Angus as it used to be.
The Cateran Ecomuseum aims to reveal the hidden heritage of this little known part of Scotland by the community who live there. It tells the story of its people, places and landscapes. All of the museum’s sites are outside, set in beautiful and dramatic landscapes.
Kirriemuir’s Gateway to the Glens Museum tells the story of Kirriemuir and the Angus Glens through a programme of temporary exhibitions, a model of the town as it was in 1604, and a natural history display.
Uncover the history and personalities of the town that sparked AC/DC singer Bon Scott’s musical career and inspired Peter Pan author J M Barrie. Visit JM Barrie’s Birthplace for the complete story of his life and work. Experience what life was like at the time in the small whitewashed cottage where he grew up with his seven brothers and sisters in two upstairs rooms.
The Montrose Museum and Art Gallery was one of the first purpose-built museums in Scotland. Visit to hear the full story of Montrose and its people, from the earliest archaeological finds and the Jacobite uprisings to the harbour and maritime trade.
The Air Station in Montrose played a significant part of life in the town for many years. It was Britain’s first operational military airfield, established by the Royal Flying Corps in February 1913. The Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre has a unique collection of contemporary photographs, artefacts, memorabilia and planes that can take you on a journey back in time.
The centre ensures future generations will remember the service of the men and women who served at Montrose Air Station. Even if your relative didn’t have any connection to the airbase, it’s still worth visiting to learn more about this significant time in history and hear some dramatic and emotional stories.
Image: Montrose Museum
Cemetery research is a crucial family history research skill. Tombstones are monuments to our ancestors’ lives and may hold key genealogical clues to help your search. One of the greatest benefits of researching in a cemetery is discovering other ancestors in nearby plots. And, of course, there’s something undeniably special and moving about visiting our ancestors’ final resting places.
You can use an online service like Find a Grave to try and establish where your ancestor may be buried before visiting. The main burial grounds across Angus are located in Arbroath, Carnoustie, Monifieth, Forfar, Brechin, Montrose, and Kirriemuir.
Be sure to check the cemetery records first before you visit a graveyard. Many records are now held online and can provide valuable information like this:
- the deceased’s name
- date and place of birth and death
- age of the deceased at death
- place of origin
- names of other persons related to the deceased
- maiden surname
- sometimes marriage information
- clues about military service, religion, occupation
- place of residence at time of death
The Angus Council website features an interactive map of all burial grounds in the region.
The Angus Kirkyard Trail may also be of interest when performing your cemetery research. The trail groups together the historic kirkyards of Angus into seven trails that you can explore among delightful rural scenery. You’ll see gravestones from the Victorian and Georgian eras, including some surviving 17th century flatstones and table stones.
Angus has registrars in Arbroath, Forfar, and Montrose. The experienced and friendly staff can help you look into your family history. They have access to full digital records for the whole of Scotland from 1855-2017, census records from 1841 to 1911, and Old Parish records pre-1855.
There is a charge of £15 per hour for family history research at registrars. You can submit a family history enquiry using the Angus council enquiry form.
Image: Grave of Sir JM Barrie, Kirriemuir
Steps to trace your family history
Here are our suggested steps to help you successfully find your Angus ancestors:
Look out any family records to find your parents and grandparents dates and places of birth. Local registrars should be able to help with this information if you cannot find it.
Have a chat with older members of your family and make notes of their recollections.
Fill in the gaps
Go through all available documents very carefully. Official documents, school reports and photographs can all be vital information.
Family history websites can provide records as far back as 1855.
Sketch your family tree
Outline what you know on a family tree. Templates are available to download online.
Cross-reference what you find with official records and archive material.
Decide whether you are going to concentrate on your mothers or fathers line to avoid any confusion.
Keep a folder with all of your notes and records.
Ask for help
If your research hits a dead end, get specialist help from registrars, archives and family history societies.
If you discover that you do have roots here, we recommend you visit Angus in person to see for yourself where your ancestor lived. It will help you paint a vivid picture of who they were and what they did.
Visiting the area really is the best way to learn how your ancestor’s experiences and decisions shaped their own family and the generations who followed. You can form a great understanding of what your ancestors did during their lifetime, the conditions they lived in, the struggles they faced, how they contributed to or were affected by the historic events at that time.
There’s something special about exploring the places your ancestors lived, so why not arrange to visit Angus today.
Good luck and hope to see you soon. We hope this information has been usual and inspires you to come to Angus and find your ancestors. We wish you the best of luck with your search.