Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Research stage two: Tracking HBC families through Scottish newspapers

Dateline: Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17, 2015
Places: Orkney Library and Archives, National Library of Scotland and the Edinburgh
                  Public Library
Time: Over time
Temperature: 18° C (both days) 
Song of the day:  Anything from Brigadoon by Lerner and Lowe 

"Dear Martha,

One important source, though time-consuming to research, is local newspaper accounts, which contain occasional news items about Native people in Orkney. You might find it useful to look at newspapers published shortly after the HBC ships returned to Orkney each year, to see if they have comments about people returning (and their families, if any) ...  Orkney newspapers are undoubtedly available on microfilm .. [and be] useful.


Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the
Canadian Northwest and Borderlands

(AU Athabasca University Press)
Associate Professor Patricia A. MacCormack is with the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. 

One of her areas of research interest is Aboriginal peoples in Scotland. She's written a chapter entitled "Lost Women: Native Wives in Orkney and Lewis," in the volume she co-edited with Sarah Carter entitled Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands. 

We've had an email conversation about my original research problem and I decided to take her advice and see if I could identify and examine local Orkney newspapers. In particular, I wanted to see what was available in digital format in addition to what I could access in either microfilm or print.

Step One: Orkney Library and Archives
My first step was to email Lucy Gibbon, the Assistant Archivist in Kirkwall to find out what was available at the Orkney Library and Archives, even though I decided not to travel to the Orkneys. Lucy confirmed that:

1. The two local newspapers that were printed during the 19th and early 20th century were The Orcadian (1854 - present) and The Orkney Herald (1860 - 1960). 

2. The Orkney Library and Archives holds both on microfilm but only has one index, for the Orkney Herald from 1919-1932, so readers have to consult them "page by page." 

Lucy is kindly going to look at copies of The Orcadian published around 1911 to see if there is any mention of Native families. She will send me scanned copies of any material that she might find.

Step Two: British Newspaper Archive
My second step was to consult the British Newspaper Archive. This archive is the product of a partnership between the British Library and findmypast and since 2011, millions of British newspapers (many local) have been digitized. We don't have access to this database at Carleton. My colleagues Scott Turner (Newspapers) and Margaret McLeod (History), looked into purchasing it but the price tag is too high for us (C$45,000 annually). 

I knew I could consult this electronic archive at the British Library, but chose to access it at the National Library of Scotland, in part so that I could also consult print copies of the newspaper, given that the library is the main repository for Scottish newspapers. 

The reading room at the National Library of Scotland is a lovely space. 

It is designed in the tradition of big long desks, solid mahogany shelving and comfortable leather chairs. 

To enter, you pass through these doors to the security area and then on to the reading room itself, which has two floors.

I used computers on the second level to access the digital archive. When I was looking at paper copies of The Orcadian, I worked at a desk on the first level.

The general section includes family histories.
I discovered that the digital archive only has copies of the Orkney Herald for a limited period of time (1860 - 1871) and, similarly, that print copies are available for a limited run:
  • 1892
  • 1895
  • 1897
  • 1900
  • 1916
  • 1934
  • 1937
  • 1938
  • 1950

I did a search of the digital archive, using terms such as "Hudson's Bay Company," "Rupert's Land," and "fur trad*." I found advertisements for labourers to work with the I did a search of the digital archive, using terms such as "Hudson's Bay Company," "Rupert's Land," and "fur trad*". I HBC but nothing more specific that was related to my topic.

I also ordered those papers from 1900 - 1950 but unfortunately the copy from 1900 was in too poor shape to be consulted. I did look at the others and although there were articles related to the Hudson's Bay Company and individuals who were either in Canada or had returned from Canada, there was no specific mention of Native families.

Unfortunately the copy of The Orcadian from 1900 was too fragile
to view but I did look at this copy from 1916
as well as several from the 1930s and early 1950s.
The best source of newspapers is the Orkney Library and Archives, so any scholar interested in pursuing my topic and newspaper archives will have to make the trek to the Orkney Islands.

Using newspapers is a challenge, in part because unless an article specifically identifies an individual as being Aboriginal, identifying HBC fur trading families will be difficult because presumably the surnames are Orcadian (e.g, Flett). I did do follow-up research at the Edinburgh Central Library, which has a local history section, and found a book entitled Orkney Surnames, by Gregor Lamb (1981), which could be a useful secondary source. I also discovered that the Central Library holds the parish records for the Orkneys until 1855, when the official census began. 

These records are located in the family history section of the Central Library, located on the lower level of the library.
There are 30 boxes of parish records available in microfilm at the Central  Library. The records date up to the mid 1800s. 
Again, however, without knowing the surname of a particular family, these records have limited value.

Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderland
     (n.d.). AU Athabasca University Press. Retrieved August 14, 2015 from

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