Update on the Clan Donald Visitor Centre Library and Study Centre by Margaret Macdonald, Archivist

What makes a family deliberately miss a ferry booking in order to visit the croft their ancestors had left 150 years previously, or a grown man wipe away a tear? These are two of the reactions we have had to a successful search for family history at the Study Centre.

Now in its fifth year of operation the Study centre is an established part of the Centre’s attractions. Our genealogy data of censuses and parish records encompasses the old administrative counties of Argyll and Inverness-shire, including the islands as well as the west coast parishes of Ross-shire. We now cover all the old territory of the Lords of the Isles and the branches of Clan Donald, except for Lewis which we plan to be the next addition to our data.

Not everyone reacts in the way described above, but even the most understated response leaves us satisfied as to a job well done. However it is not always possible to help every searcher. Sometimes they do not have enough information with which to start searching; in other cases their family left, as did so many, before the written sources begin.

Genealogy is only part of our function. We have probably the best historical reference library in the northwest, and it continues to expand, helped by generous gifts and grants. The variety of subjects we cover is popular with our visitors while the average time spent visiting the Reading Room tends to increase in wet weather.

The library is used as an information resource by the scholars at our three local secondary schools, Portree, Plockton and Mallaig, who are otherwise restricted in their sources of available reference material. It is also used by students at the nearby Gaelic Medium College, the Sabhal Mor Ostaig.

Our primary sources continue to grow, though much more slowly than the library stock. The main element of our archive is the collection of papers from the Macdonald Estates in the islands of Skye and North Uist. This is an important source for Highland history generally as well as being of great local interest, and it has been used by a number of academics who have made the long journey to Skye. Although catalogued in detail, the collection still has to be indexed.

We also put on exhibitions. The two small galleries on the ground floor of the Study Centre enable us to stage temporary exhibitions for which there is no space in the main museum building. Over the past five years we have had exhibitions of paintings, ceramics, sculpture and tapestry by local artists as well as displays from our own collections such as Jacobite maps, or on the transport services in Skye over the last 200 years. 1995 marks the big one – an exhibition on the role of Clan Donald in the ’45 Rebellion.