National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Events, Talks and Visits

Events, Talks and Visits

We host a variety of events, talks and visits, including lectures on historical themes and records, introductory talks on family history, school workshops and visits by groups in further and higher education and evening classes in palaeography. The seminar facility at New Register House Dome can be booked for meetings and conferences.

Talks and visits

National Records of Scotland talks programme

All talks and events are free, except for ScotlandsPeople sessions as noted, and they take place in General Register House or New Register House. Please see our location map.  Places can be booked during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9.00 – 16.30) via the General Register House Reception on 0131 535 1314, or by following the 'Book Online' links below. For further information call the Reception or email: enquiries@scotlandspeoplehub.gov.uk.

21 August, 11.00-12.00pm, General Register House
The Early Reign of Mary Queen of Scots

Dr Alison Rosie (National Records of Scotland)
Book online

The downward spiral of Mary Queen of Scot’s life to her abdication and execution seems almost inevitable. Our Festival Fringe Exhibition, Famous Scots from the Past, focuses on the years of Mary’s personal reign in Scotland, when this outcome looked far from probable. Alison Rosie will examine the young Queen as Renaissance monarch, using skills learnt at the French court to try to consolidate her position. After the talk, there will be an introduction to the unique items relating to Mary on display in the Famous Scots exhibition, including her earliest letter written when she was only 7 or 8. The talk and exhibition visit will last up to an hour. For more information about the exhibition. To book.

31 August, 2.00pm-3.00pm, General Register House
A Capital Bard; Robert Burns and Edinburgh

Professor David Purdie
Book online

In the last of our talks to coincide with our ‘Famous Scots from the Past’ exhibition, Professor David Purdie describes the colourful personal life and literary career of Scotland’s greatest poet, song writer and song collector. One of the acknowledged experts on the Bard, David Purdie is co-editor of the 4th Edition of The Burns Encyclopaedia with Professors Gerard Carruthers and Kirsteen McCue. This illustrated talk will include Burns’s intensive song-writing in St James’s Square during the winter of 1787- 88, literally yards from General Register House. For more information about the exhibition. To book.

See below for Recent Talks

Talks and visits for groups in further and higher education

We deliver a limited number of specialised talks/workshops for groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students. To make enquiries, please contact: education@nrscotland.gov.uk or telephone 0131 535 1384.

Schools programme

For information on school visits and workshops, visit the Scottish Archives for Schools website or contact our Education team at education@nrscotland.gov.uk.

Evening Class

Archivists from the NRS run evening classes in palaeography on behalf of the University of Edinburgh's Office of Lifelong Learning. This practical course in Scottish Handwriting covering the period 1500-1700 takes place at General Register House.

New Register House Dome Seminar Facility

The New Register House Dome is a unique venue, purpose-built to house the Scottish birth, death and marriage records dating back to 1553. The Dome Seminar Facility can be booked for meetings and conferences.

Recent talks
The National Register of Archives for Scotland at 70

In autumn 2016 some of our talks were about private archives, to mark the 70th birthday of the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS). The NRAS is the section of National Records of Scotland that since 1946 has been advising private owners of archives, surveying their collections, and helping preserve them and also make them available for research.

14 August, 11.00-12.00pm, General Register House
Madeleine Smith: Murder and Morality

Research Professor Eleanor Gordon (University of Glasgow)
Book online

Accused of administering arsenic to her secret lover Pierre Emile L’Angelier with intent to kill, Madeleine Smith became infamous as the details of their love affair came to light. While reports of the case and the large volume of records about it in the National Records of Scotland reveal a great deal about Smith and L’Angelier’s relationship, the public’s response and subsequent re-interpretations of the trial, reflect the dominant narratives of their time. Research Professor Eleanor Gordon, co-author of ‘Murder and Morality in Victorian Britain: The Story of Madeleine Smith’, will talk about the trial and life of Madeleine Smith within the broader context of its time, the prevailing stereotypes of the Victorian era, and how past and present interpretations reveal the common understanding of social history. Afterwards there will be the opportunity to see some of the original productions in the trial including the arsenic bottle and forensic containers, on display for the first time in the Matheson Dome. The talk and exhibition visit will take up to an hour. For more information about the exhibition. To book.

 9 August, 11.00-12.00pm, General Register House
Sir William Arrol: The industry behind the industry

Dr Miles Oglethorpe (Historic Environment Scotland)
Book online

Sir William Arrol was one of Britain’s most important engineers and a leading contractor of his day. His work continues to be an iconic feature of the British and international landscape. Known for the construction of the Forth Bridge, which continues to operate 128 years after its completion, Arrol is also recognised for his work on the second Tay Bridge, Tower Bridge in London, bridges over the Nile at Cairo and elsewhere. Dr Miles Oglethorpe will take a closer look at Arrol’s contribution to the world of engineering, focusing on his Forth and Tay bridges, before going in to the Famous Scots from the Past exhibition to show you some of the unique items on display from the National Records of Scotland Caledonian Railway Company and British Rail Archives. The talk and exhibition visit will take up to an hour. For more information about the exhibition. To book.

21 June 2017, 10.00 – 12.30pm, New Register House
Folks' comings and goings - changes in Scotland's population over time

Book online 
Migration is central to much current political debate, but what does the history of migration in Scotland tell us? A British Society for Population Studies event in conjunction with National Records of Scotland (NRS). The speakers will be Professor Michael Anderson (University of Edinburgh), Dr David McCollum (University of St Andrews) and Kirsty McLachlan (Head of Demographic Statistics, NRS). There will also be a special display of original records held by NRS illustrating the findings from the event. For more details about this event and to book please see here.

12 May 2017, 5.00 – 6.00pm, New Register House
New thoughts on British War Resisters, 1914-1918

Cyril Pearce
Book online 
Cyril Pearce is a retired Leeds University Lecturer. His principal research interest in British war resisters in World War One was first stirred in the late 1960s when he met two Huddersfield men, who had both been Conscientious Objectors (COs) and who claimed that Huddersfield had been 'special' during the First World War because of the strength of its anti-war community. That led him to the research on which his book, 'Comrades in Conscience: The story of an English community's opposition to the Great War' (new edition, 2014) was based. The search for other 'Huddersfields' has driven his last twenty years' work and has resulted in the Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors, a database of more than 18,000 COs which went online in May 2015 as part of the Imperial War Museum's 'Lives of the First World War' project. A new book with the working title 'Communities of Resistance' is planned for late 2017/early 2018.

12 May 2017, 2.00 - 3.00 pm, New Register House
Getting the most out of ScotlandsPeople

Book online 
Iain Ferguson (ScotlandsPeople, National Records of Scotland)
Introducing some helpful hints and tips for ancestry-hunting on the ScotlandsPeople website. New Register House.

10 May 2017, 2.00 – 3.00pm, New Register House
Family history from Medieval Charters

Dr Alan Borthwick (Head of Medieval Records, National Records of Scotland)
Book online 
Dr Alan Borthwick will talk about how family trees can be created using Scottish medieval documents, like those in the current NRS exhibition 'Scribes and Royal Authority', and how he has used this genealogical data to illuminate his research.

5 May 2017, 11.00 - 11.45am, and at 12.15 - 1.00pm, General Register House
A guided visit to the exhibition 'Scribes and Royal Authority: Scotland's Charters 1100-1250

Professor Dauvit Broun and Joanna Tucker (University of Glasgow)
Book online 
This special guided tour by guest curators, Professor Dauvit Broun and Joanna Tucker, of the NRS's current exhibition will reveal the significance of some of Scotland's oldest charters, and the scribes who wrote them 800 years ago. Numbers are strictly limited (but the event is repeated on 5 May). General Register House. 

2 May 2017, 5.00 – 6.00pm, New Register House
William the Lion: Scotland's forgotten king

Dr Alice Taylor (King's College, London)
Book online 
Despite being Scotland's longest-reigning king before the Union, William the Lion (1165-1214) has not caught the popular imagination. His reign was one of great highs and lows. His military invasion of northern England was, an amitious campaign, that ended in his capture and imprisonment, and his kingdom being temporarily placed under English overlordship. Yet his reign also saw some of the most important developments in the formation of royal government in medieval Scotland. This talk will introduce William, explain his significance, and also suggest why his reign is not so well known as one might expect. Dr Taylor is author of 'The Shape of the State in Medieval Scotland, 1124-1290' (2016). New Register House

13 April 2017, 12.15 - 1.00pm, General Register House
A guided visit to the exhibition 'Scribes and Royal Authority: Scotland's Charters 1100-1250

Professor Dauvit Broun and Joanna Tucker (University of Glasgow)
This special guided tour by guest curators, Professor Dauvit Broun and Joanna Tucker, of the NRS's current exhibition will reveal the significance of some of Scotland's oldest charters, and the scribes who wrote them 800 years ago. Numbers are strictly limited (but the event is repeated on 5 May). General Register House. 

23 March 2017, 2.00 – 3.00 pm
Getting the most out of ScotlandsPeople

Iain Ferguson (ScotlandsPeople, National Records of Scotland)
Introducing some helpful hints and tips for ancestry-hunting on the ScotlandsPeople website. New Register House.

2 March 2017, 2.00 – 3.00pm
‘For King and Country’: Records of Military Service Appeal Tribunals, 1916-1918

Bruno Longmore (Head of Government Records, NRS)
Just over a hundred years ago, Britain's Liberal Government introduced military conscription under the Military Service Act, 1916.  Uniquely among combatants in the First World War, the men of Britain could apply for exemption. The Military Service Appeal Tribunal records for Lothian and Peebles 1916-1918 survive and are held in NRS.  Bruno Longmore  highlights the reasons why conscription was introduced, who was conscripted, why men appealed and what these records tell us about Scotland during WW1. New Register House

9 December 2016,  2.00 – 3.00pm
Caring for your family papers

Linda Ramsay, Head of Conservation in NRS, and her colleagues will provide advice on storing, packaging, handling and preserving your family papers, from letters and plans, to photographs and ledgers, including tips on what to do about damp, mould and insects. Come ready with your document dilemmas! (New Register House)

25 November 2016, 2.00 – 3.00pm
The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry’s Scottish archives

Crispin Powell (Archivist to Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry). Crispin will talk about the rich archives still held at Drumlanrig Castle and Bowhill House, in addition to the pleasures and challenges of his role as the first professional archivist to look after the Duke’s collections in Scotland and England. Cataloguing, conservation and access are key elements of Crispin’s work, and he will outline the progress that has been made so far, and what plans he and the Duke have for the future. (New Register House)

22 November 2016, 10:00 - 12:00
Treasures from the National Records
Alison Lindsay (Head of Historical Search Room, NRS) talks about the records that NRS offers for researchers: maps, court records, kirk session minutes and other sources reveal the history of the ancient villages that now form part of the western suburbs of Edinburgh. (General Register House) This talk forms part of the Pentlands Book Festival, and places can only be booked via Eventbrite.

17 November 2016, 6:00 - 7:00pm
The National Covenant and the Scottish People
Dr Laura Stewart (University of York). The National Covenant of 1638 is one of Scotland’s most controversial documents: for some, an expression of the people’s right to choose their own religion; for others, a statement in religious intolerance whose influence has lasted into modern times. Although the text has been heavily debated by scholars, very little attention has been given to its reception. This talk examines for the first time how the Covenant was taken by the people in the parishes. It sheds new light on its contested meanings and offers fresh reflections on its significance for understanding Scottish political identity. Dr Stewart is author of ‘Rethinking the Scottish Revolution: Covenanted Scotland, 1617-53’ (Oxford UP, 2016). New Register House. 

11 November 2016, 2.00 – 3.30pm
‘Something Sensible for a Change’ : The National Register of Archives for Scotland, 1946-2016

Dr Alison Rosie (Registrar of the NRAS) outlines the history of the NRAS and what it does to help owners and users of archives today. Bring along your own documents for an opportunity after her talk to find out more about them and get advice on their care and preservation. (New Register House)

2 November 2016, 2.00 – 3.00pm
The Argyll Papers
Alison Diamond (Archivist for the Duke of Argyll). Professor Allan Macinnes (Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Strathclyde and expert on Highland history), has described the Argyll Papers held at Inveraray Castle as ‘one of the most important private archives in Britain.’ Alison will talk about the archives, their history and content, and the current focus on raising the profile of the collection and making it more accessible. She will speak about the forthcoming partnership project with Argyll and Bute Council, Written in the Landscape, which will catalogue collections of family papers and conserve the maps and plans held at Inveraray Castle, working with local communities and heritage centres throughout Argyll.
(New Register House)

22 July 2016, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Getting the most out of ScotlandsPeople

Iain Ferguson (ScotlandsPeople) will give a presentation, including hints and tips, on searching the records on the ScotlandsPeople search system. New Register House.

7 July 2016, 2:00 - 3:00pm
An introduction to the NRS maps and plans collections

Jane Brown, Head of Maps and Plans, National Records of Scotland, explores the rich variety of maps and plans held in NRS, the largest collection of hand-drawn plans relating to Scotland. New Register House.

29 April 2016, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Getting the most out of ScotlandsPeople

Iain Ferguson (ScotlandsPeople) will give a presentation, including hints and tips, on searching the records on the ScotlandsPeople search system. New Register House.

18 March 2016, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Getting the most out of ScotlandsPeople

Iain Ferguson (ScotlandsPeople) gave a presentation, including hints and tips, on searching the records on the ScotlandsPeople search system. 

25 February 2016, 2:30 - 3:30pm
Lord Mar's plans: their context in early eighteenth-century Scotland and Europe

Margaret Stewart (University of Edinburgh) explored the fascinating architectural and landscape drawings of John Erskine, 6th earl of Mar, the Scottish Secretary turned Jacobite leader and exile, which are held in National Records of Scotland.

12 February 2016, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Using the National Records of Scotland for family history

Dr Tristram Clarke (National Records of Scotland) gave an introduction aimed at those who are ready to explore our records beyond what is available via ScotlandsPeople. 

15 January 2016
Italians' Count in Scotland: the 1933 Census, Recording History

To complement our exhibition Family Portrait: the Scots Italians, 1890-1940, Dr Terri Colpi explored the census of Italians in Scotland preserved for 80 years in the Italian Consulate. Through this unique archive she reveals the stories of generations of Italians who made Scotland their home from the late nineteenth century onwards, as detailed in her book 'Italians' Count in Scotland: the 1933 Census, Recording History' (2015).

4 December 2015
The National Library of Scotland map collection and how it can assist family/local historians

With around two million cartographic items, the National Library of Scotland map collection is the largest in Scotland and one of the biggest in the world. Craig Statham (Maps Reading Room Manager, National Library of Scotland) gave an overview of the collection and how maps are an important resource for family and local historians.

10 November 2015
Death in Childbirth: Past attitudes to this tragic loss

Professor Rosemary Mander (Emeritus Professor of Midwifery, University of Edinburgh) explored the impact of the death of a mother with reference to a number of artefacts and historical records, particularly from the archive collection of the National Records of Scotland. The free public talk complemented our exhibition 'Safe Delivery: A History of Scottish Midwives'.

4 November 2015
The 1915 Midwives (Scotland) Act: Whys and Wherefores

Dr Lindsay Reid
To complement our exhibition 'Safe Delivery: A History of Scottish Midwives', Dr Lindsay Reid presented a free public talk to commemorate the passing of the Midwives Act (Scotland), 1915. Historian Dr Reid was a midwife for over thirty years, in practice in hospital and community, education, research and writing.

8 October 2015
Putting Health into Family History

Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA) is one of the largest medical archives in the UK, home to records from NHS Lothian hospitals and their predecessors, along with a wealth of unique resources on the history of health in the Edinburgh region. Archivist Louise Williams explored how family historians can use hospital and medical records in their research, giving an introduction to the material that LHSA holds and how records can be accessed.

21 August 2015
'Trace'
Trace was a new, site-specific, group-vocal acoustic performance work created by sound artist Deb Marshall in response to the vast, neo-classical Adam Dome at General Register House as part of Edinburgh Art Festival.

7 August 2015
Kurt Schwitters' 'Ursonate'

The Ursonate , a vocal piece by artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), was performed by Florian Kaplick as a 'Finnisage' to the exhibition 'Germans in Britain'.

21 July 2015
German Roots and Routes in Contemporary Britain

Professor Ullrich Kockel (Professor of Culture and Economy, Heriot-Watt University) presented an ethnographic and personal reflection on how Germans in Britain have experienced everyday life and belonging in Britain. This talk complemented the exhibition 'Germans in Britain' .

2 June 2015
'To know man's life, keep death still in your eye': learning about everyday life in nineteenth century Scotland from the civil registers of death
Dr. Eilidh Garrett (Department of History, University of Essex) explored the different life experiences of Scots in two contrasting areas, Skye and Kilmarnock.

12 May 2015
Using the Dictionary of the Scots Language
An introduction to the online Dictionary of the Scots Language by Ann Ferguson (editor, Scottish Language Dictionaries).