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Scotland and its People

A day-long workshop on the social, economic and cultural history of Scotland and the lives of our Scottish ancestors

Old postcard of Scottish lassieSaturday 12 April 2014
North York Central Library Auditorium

A full day of fascinating lectures on Scotland and the lives of Scots at home and in Canada. Choose from 11 sessions on Scottish history, patterns of migration, records and repositories, planning your research both here and in Scotland, and adding “flesh to the bones” of your Scottish ancestors.

Fees for OGS members: $48 ($58 after March 15)
Fees for non-members: $55 ($65 after March 15)


See below for detailed program and speaker information.

North York Central Library is wheelchair accessible. For more information on workshop accessibility, cancellation and refunds, late and at-the-door registrations, and copyright, visit our Policies page.


By public transit: North York Central Library is connected directly to the North York Centre subway station, on the Yonge line. Inter-city trains and buses link with the subway at Union, Dundas, or York Mills stations. Allow at least 35 minutes from Union or Dundas, or 15 minutes from York Mills, to get to North York Centre.

By car: North York Central Library is at 5120 Yonge Street, Toronto  M2N 5N9, on the west side at Park Home Avenue (about halfway between Sheppard and Finch). From Highway 401, exit northbound at Yonge Street; proceed north to Park Home Avenue (6th or 7th traffic light) and turn left. The most convenient parking ($5 per day on Saturdays) is under the building—enter from Novotel on Park Home Avenue, or from Beecroft Road (parallel and west of Yonge Street).


(subject to change without notice)

8:00-9:00 AM — Registration and Coffee
9:00-10:15 AM — Welcome and Opening Plenary Session

Session A — Scotland’s History: A Wee Introduction for Researchers
Speaker: Kevin James
The opening presentation will provide a brief history of the significant events in Scottish history from the historian’s point of view, covering the time period from just before the Act of Union in 1707 to the Second World War, and proposing a wider social and economic context within which we can understand our ancestor’s motivations to emigrate from Scotland. But it will also stress how Scots participated in a wider process of industrialization and imperial development, with important implications for one of the great centres of the ‘Workshop of the World’ in the nineteenth century – a place that experienced comparative decline in the twentieth century.

Old postcard of Princes Street, Edinburgh10:15-10:30 AM — Coffee break
10:30-11:30 AM — Concurrent Sessions

Session B — A Gallop Through Scottish History Using Genealogical Records
Speaker: Sheena Tait
This presentation will provide an overview of the significant events in Scottish history from the genealogist’s point of view. The presentation will start from the earliest references to a Scottish Parliament, through the pre-Reformation churches, the Reformation (development of the earliest parish records and Poor Law records), the 1707 Act of Union (records of the Parliaments of Scotland, the Jacobite rebellions (forfeited estate papers and lists of prisoners), agrarian revolution (Old Statistical Accounts) and the growth of industry, the Highland Clearances, the start of census returns, the disruption in the Established Church of Scotland in 1843, the introduction of civil registration, and so on.

Session C — Preparing for a Genealogy Trip to Scotland
Speaker: Christine Woodcock
Travelling to Scotland to do family history research can be a daunting task if you have not been there before. In order to make a research trip successful, the trip requires advance planning. This presentation will help the family historian to plan such a trip by describing: where the key records are, which records are available only on-site in Scotland, and what kinds of resources can be found in local archives, university archives, local family history societies and libraries. The presentation will also discuss how to gain a better understanding of Scottish cultural and social history and how family historians can discover their own Scottish heritage.

11:30 AM-12:30 PM — Lunch
There are several food outlets near the Library or bring your lunch. There are also two lunchtime sessions that you can choose between.
11:45 AM-12:15 PM — Concurrent Lunchtime Sessions (30 minutes)

Session D — The Working Man’s Lair
Speaker: Linda Reid
In Scotland, a “lair” is the ground for a grave in a cemetery, especially an area set aside for an individual or a family. Records from cemeteries that list all those buried in a particular lair can be very helpful in expanding the family tree. A lair could include not only the lair owner and his immediate family but also a parent, grandchildren, siblings, nieces/nephews and in-laws, in varying combinations. The lairs Linda has researched are in the Eastern Necropolis (Janefield) in Glasgow, which opened in 1847. This was the last resting place of many working-class people who moved to the east end of Glasgow during the 19th century industrial boom.

Session E — ScotlandsPlaces
Speaker: James F.S. Thomson
ScotlandsPlaces (a joint project of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland) is an increasingly rich and interesting website that allows users to search across different national databases using geographic locations. This short presentation will suggest how genealogists can make very good use of ScotlandsPlaces in order to obtain a richer sense of the context of ancestors’ lives. New additions to the site, as well as different levels of access to its resources, will be highlighted.

12:30-1:30 PM — Plenary Session

Session F — Scottish Emigration and Settlement in Canada: A Transatlantic Perspective
Speaker: Kevin James
This presentation explores processes of Scottish migration that date back hundreds of years, embracing movement within the country’s borders, migrations to Europe, England and Ireland, and also to places farther afield. Focusing on Canada from the late eighteenth century, it suggests that researchers must consider the period of settlement, the place of origin in Scotland and the destination of migrants as interlinked, illuminating such critical topics as ‘step migration’. The goal is to contextualize your ancestors’ migrations within broader waves of emigration and settlement.

1:30-1:45 PM – Break
1:45-2:45 PM – Concurrent Sessions

Session G — What was Life Like for Agricultural Labourers in 19th Century Scotland?
Speaker: Sheena Tait
This presentation is aimed at those who have already found their ancestors in rural Scotland and are now trying to add “flesh to the bones” by finding out what their ancestors’ lives were really like. The lecture will cover a range of topics including some background on Scottish agriculture, how people found work in agricultural communities and what was the working day like, wages for agricultural labourers, what were their accommodations like, what was their diet and health as well as what people did in their leisure time. The emigration and internal migration patterns of agricultural people will also be discussed.

Session H — Scotland’s People in Motion: Remigration in North America
Speaker: Krista Barclay
While many Scottish families migrated from Scotland to Ontario and stayed put for generations, many others did not and they present a number of challenges for researchers. We are just beginning to understand the extent to which 19th Century Scottish families were mobile over large distances, and maintained ties (leaving archival traces) all over the world. This presentation will discuss the prevalence of remigration among Scottish families who came to Ontario. The aim is to provide an historical context for these migrations, share the stories of individual families and to showcase strategies that will help family historians to surmount the challenges involved in researching these families.

2:45-3:00 PM — Refreshments Break
3:00-4:00 PM — Concurrent Sessions

Session I — Scottish Family History Research in the GTA
Speaker: James F.S. Thomson
Perhaps surprisingly, south central Ontario is one of the best places in the world from which to conduct Scottish family history research. Taking account of newly acquired material and other recent developments, this presentation will show how a GTA researcher can efficiently structure such research, by taking advantage of both locally available and online resources. A significant focus of the presentation will be on the locally available resources that are sometimes overlooked as researchers increasingly rely on searching online for what they need.

Session J — Scottish Local History Online: Sources of Interest for Genealogy and Social History
Speaker: Marian Press
One of the most enjoyable aspects of genealogy for Scotland (and elsewhere) is expanding knowledge of a family by studying the local history of the area where the ancestors lived. It is sometimes difficult to find local history sources for very small rural areas or specific parts of a large town or city, especially if you are researching an area where you do not live. This is where the Internet is very helpful because local libraries, historical societies and local history-specific web sites are filling the gap online. This presentation covers the various local history sources available online for Scotland – both ones that are genealogically specific and those that provide social context – and how to find ones relevant to personal research.

4:10-5:00 PM — Closing Plenary Session

Session K — Picture the Past: Where and How our Ancestors Lived in Scotland
Speaker: Sheena Tait
This presentation will show how a researcher can develop an image or impression of where and how our ancestors lived in Scotland, using a combination of visual and text sources. Included in the presentation will be images and information from sources such as the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, maps and town plans, house plans, house interiors, photographic collections, paintings, books, travellers’ journals and resources in museums.


Krista Barclay
Krista’s research interests are in 19th century Scottish and fur trade family migration, interests that she is pursuing through doctoral studies at the University of Manitoba. Before starting her postgraduate studies, Krista worked for several years in community museums and archives in southern Ontario and has researched local histories.

Kevin James
Kevin James is an Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of Guelph where he is also a faculty member in the Scottish Studies Program. Dr. James completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2000 and, since then, he has been a faculty member at Guelph. Kevin’s research interests are in modern Irish and Scottish economic and social history, tourism in Ireland, British and Irish textile history and women and work during industrialization. His current interests are in the social and cultural history of the inn and hotel in Victorian Ireland. His current research work has followed on previous research projects on Irish and Scottish tourism and travel history. His most recent publication is Tourism Histories in Ulster and Scotland: Connections and Comparisons, 1800-1939, co-edited with Eric G.E. Zuelow, and published by the Ulster Historical Foundation in 2013.

Marian Press
Marian Press, MLS, MA, is a retired academic librarian. She has taught courses about the Internet and Genealogy for the Professional Learning Centre at the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, the Ontario Library Association and the Ontario Genealogical Society. She has been doing her own genealogical research for over 30 years and is a frequent speaker at genealogical conferences. She is a regular contributor to Internet Genealogy and Family Chronicle and recently published Education and Ontario Family History: A guide to the resources for genealogists and historians (OGS and Dundurn, 2011).

Linda Reid
Linda Reid is a retired librarian and has been researching her British roots for 30 years. She volunteers in the Toronto Family History Centre and speaks at genealogy conferences and workshops throughout Ontario. She is actively involved in the Toronto Branch of the OGS, presently serving as program coordinator and compiler of the Branch electronic bulletin.

Sheena Tait
Born in Scotland of Scottish parents, Sheena was living in England when she was bitten by the genealogy bug. After working as a civil servant managing large computer networks and running management training courses, Sheena decided to combine her love of family history with her analytical skills and started a new career as a genealogist specializing in Scottish and Anglo-Scottish research. As well as carrying out research for private clients, Sheena has contributed to the British-based Family Tree and Practical Family History magazines. She is also the Director of the Scottish Studies program at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. Sheena is studying for the MLitt degree in Scottish Local and Family History at the University of Dundee.

James F.S. Thomson
James Thomson has designed and taught over a dozen very popular advanced and expert-level family history courses co-sponsored by Toronto Branch OGS and the Toronto Public Library. James can draw on over thirty years of experience in family history and local history research to develop courses, write articles and make presentations at conferences and workshops on a variety of topics including Scottish history. James is also an instructor in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.

Old postcard of Ardtoe, Scotland

Old postcard of Ardtoe, Scotland

Christine Woodcock
Scottish-born and raised in Canada, Christine is a genealogy educator with expertise in searching Scottish records. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.