I seem to be on the move constantly these days. I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Traquair Castle near Peebles, in the Scottish Borders, for the launch of a fantastic book by Margaret Fox and Catherine Maxwell Stuart. It uses the family archives to shed light on key members of the Stuart family, and their relationship to their ancestral home, Traquair, which is one of the oldest castles to remain in the same family’s occupancy – from the early 15th century to the present day. Margaret has selected some amazing documents to tell the story of key individuals through the ages, up to 1875 – and the emphasis is indeed firmly on story-telling. There’s always a temptation when writing a book on larger than life historical characters, bearing in mind the family’s connections to Mary Queen of Scots and subsequently the English court after the accession of James I, to turn it into an academic monograph; or, when putting together images from wonderful archives, portraits, architecture and landscape, to go down the route of a coffee-table book. This is not to demean either form of publishing, by the way. However, Margaret has managed to achieve something quite rare – the amalgamation of the best of both genres in an accessible book that lets the stories and images captivate the reader. It’s a great example of how to bring personal archives to life. Admittedly, we might not all own a castle, or have correspondence, papers and accounts dating back over 600 years; however, it does show us that the minutiae of history has its place, and can be interesting to a wider audience if presented in the right way.
On a related topic, last week I was speaking at the Community Archive and Heritage Group (CAHG)’s annual conference, where the awards for Community Archive of the Year were presented. The following evening, I accompanied some colleagues from CAGH, and the Archives and Records Association (ARA), to Marden History Group. Since 2008, they have secured funding for their own space in the village library; digitised and transcribed many local records, placing them on their website; undertaken a series of oral history events, recording the memories of local residents for posterity; written a series of books on aspects of local history; talked to school children about their community history; and even found time to begin some restoration projects. They are an inspirational group, and worthy winners of the inaugural award. I’m personally pleased to announce that Your Family History magazine will be sponsoring next year’s award, so to examine the categories in which presentations are made, and for more details about how send in your nominations for 2012, visit the CAHG website www.communityarchives.org.uk