The founding of Tay Valley Family History Society, in June 1980 was instigated by Donald Whyte, then chairman of the Scottish Genealogy Society who was convinced of the need “for the expert and the amateur-the scholar and the hobbyist” to come together to further their interests in family history.
On the 3rd of May 1980, a meeting was held at the home of Dr James F McHarg in Dundee attended by a cross section of people from Angus, Perthshire and North-East Fife. All were known to Donald as having a particular interest in family history and had been invited to attend.
Those enthusiasts at the preliminary meeting in Dr McHarg’s house took the view that there would be sufficient interest to start up a society in the area. The next step was to organize and advertise an inaugural meeting, which duly took place in the Public Library, Wellgate Centre, Dundee, on Tuesday, 10th of June. Sixty people came and, caught up in Donald’s enthusiasm, unanimously approved the setting up of the Tay Valley Family History Society.
The newly elected Council set to work, organizing a program of meetings for members, on a range of subjects and venues throughout the Tay Valley area. As Kennedy McConnell, the Society’s Editor (who incidentally had worked during WW2 at Bletchley Park, helping to break the Enigma code), wrote five years later, it was largely thanks to “the established reputation in Scottish genealogical circles” of Lawrence Burness, that they attracted many notable speakers to their meetings.
Donald Whyte had acted as advisor to genealogical groups in Glasgow and Aberdeen, thus Tay Valley became the third family history society to be registered in Scotland. In the first decade the society moved about, meeting in members’ homes, public places in Dundee such as the McManus Galleries, the Wellgate Centre, and for several years at Abertay University, until in 1992 when 179 Princes Street was purchased. The premises were renovated and then extended into number 181 Princes Street when this became available for purchase a few years later. On the 30th of September 2000 the expanded Centre was officially opened by Mary, Countess of Strathmore, wife of the Queen Mother’s great-nephew.
The research area that Tay Valley covers includes the former counties of Angus, Kinross and Perthshire, with North-East Fife and the city of Dundee. That area reaches thirty-eight miles north of Dundee to Montrose, the northernmost coastal town in Angus, fifty miles south to the East Neuk of Fife and the Firth of Forth. Sixty miles northwest to the Grampian mountains and sixty miles due west where Perthshire borders Stirlingshire and Argyllshire on the west coast of Scotland.
It is an area which is rich in history, from Dundee’s whaling and jute industries to the royal connections with Arbroath Abbey, where in 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath specifying the independence of Scotland was signed; Scone Abbey which housed the Stone of Destiny until 1296 when King Edward I of England forcibly removed it; and the old Royal Burgh of Perth which until 1452 served as a Capital of Scotland. On Dundee’s doorstep, royal connections and intrigue are furthermore provided by Glamis Castle, the former home of the Queen Mother, the birthplace of Princess Margaret, and the ancient residence of the Earls of Strathmore.
It was thus fitting that our first Honorary President was Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, one of Scotland’s best-known royal genealogists, followed on his death in 1985 by Michael Bowes-Lyon, 18th Earl of Strathmore and great nephew to the Queen Mother. Our current Honorary President is Iain Flett, former Chief Archivist for Dundee City Archives. He was one of our earlier members as are David Dobson and Douglas Soutar, both founding members of the Society, who are currently our Honorary Vice Presidents.
On the 10th of June 2005, in celebrations to commemorate twenty-five years of the Society, an investiture was held at the Discovery Point when Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Burnett, presented the Society with our Armorial Bearings. Our Coat of Arms has subsequently been displayed on the front of the Research Centre, on our website as well as on appropriate occasions.
On that occasion, Douglas Soutar, then chairman, described how different family research had been in 1980. “The IGI was in its infancy”, he wrote. “Few local libraries had copies of OPRs or censuses and if they had censuses, there was no index. A visit to New Register House involved lifting the heavy index book for a particular year from the shelf and searching through it. If the event you were looking for wasn’t found that year, the same procedure had to be repeated with other years until the sought-after event was located. To see the actual certificate a request had to be put into a queue until the assistant took you upstairs, put the register in front of you, opened it at the right page, and allowed you to copy out the certificate. Woe betide you if you tried to turn to another page!”
With the development of genealogy and local history resources in Scotland, things are so different now! We welcome our members to our centre, and enjoy sharing our expertise - while always continuing to learn more ourselves and develop our resources.
Over the last 40 years Tay Valley Family History Society has through the dedication and hard work of members gone from strength to strength and long may it continue.
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