A trip back in time

Travelling back in time has become something of a global obsession in recent years.   

We are referring, of course, to the tens of thousands of people who have become descendant detectives searching for clues to trace their forbears and help piece together a family tree.   

It's a journey made easier of late thanks to the internet and omniscient search engines such as Google that have thrown open doors to vast stores of information; a journey where the time machine is your own living room and a double click allows you to skip around the centuries and visit localities all over the world.    

A few steps is all it takes and you are hooked, looking in all directions to peel back the pages to the next distant generation; a search that will generally spring more than a few surprises and maybe even a skeleton or two.   

The electronic highway is particularly hot these days at the Heritage Hub in Hawick, a centre that acts as the guardian for Borders' archives on just about everything you would want to know about the region's past.   It holds all census records from 1841 (the first for which records survive) to 1901 for the four Border counties and, going further back, old parish records of christenings, marriages and burials.   
The building is part of the admirable Heart of Hawick development, built with the help of Heritage Lottery and European funding, and appropriately based in the oldest part of the town.   

The Hub is a safe haven for old documents of all descriptions that paint a fascinating and historical picture of life as it was in the Borders. The good old days they were not.   

Records of businesses and merchants, legal records, maps, school records, poor laws and police records sit alongside more ancient collections, much of which is stored in temperature controlled chambers.   

Rachel Hosker (pictured above) heads up a team at the Hub that has proved invaluable to the many people whose ancestry quest has wound back to the Scottish Borders.  "Since we opened, the Hub has become an educational resource and a valuable reference point for all sorts of historical inquiries. And if we aren't able to help out we can usually signpost people to somewhere that can.   

"In addition to all the social information we also hold copies of all the old newspapers from the Borders and important journals are resident at the Hub. We have been bequeathed several important,  

and we think very old, collections and these are the subject of research at the moment.

"We have an outreach officer that works closely with local schools and host a reminiscence group to bring young and old together to share knowledge. A lot of our work, though, comes from people researching their family history and many of these are from overseas, from Commonwealth countries and the United States,"  she said.   

In 1801 the population of the Scottish Borders was around 77,000, a figure that was in a constant state of flux for decades before and decades after.  People were uprooted from their homes by landowners pursuing aggressive new agricultural techniques in what became known as the Lowland Clearances forcing many to look to new horizons and a better life overseas.   

Thousands of Scots travelled to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the British Empire to make a fresh start.   

Many others booked a one-way passage to the brave new world that was the USA; young men like John ‘Black Jack' Elliot, the son of William and Barbara (nee Scott) Elliot. He had grown up in the Roberton area with brothers Frank and Jim and sisters Bess, Bella, MaryAnne and Barbara.   

Among the possessions he packed and took with him was a photograph album containing images of his family and cherished memories of the Border country he would never see again.   

Earlier this year the album came home. It was in the possession of John's great grandson, Bob Harris, a retired English and drama teacher now living in Rochester, New York State who was at the first stage of researching his family's history.   

The pictures contained in the album had been taken at the J Aitken Photographic Saloon in Exchange Arcade, Hawick and Bob decided the town was the obvious place to start.   He was directed to the Heritage Hub, and, wouldn't you just know it, now occupying the site where Aitken's photographic studio once stood. 

"I never met my great grandfather, he died in 1938 at the age of 80 the year before I was born.  When I inherited the photographic album I wanted to know more about the family and my Scottish roots. I am still trying to pin down the reference to ‘Black Jack' and there's a lot more work to do to fill in the gaps. It's been a great experience and I am planning a return visit to the Borders this year to do more research," said Bob.

Heart of Hawick | Innerleithen

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