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Inverness Archive Centre

Following Your Ancestral Trail

Within an unassuming building in Inverness, the Highland Archives Centre preserves the
history of the Highlands and its people in historic records, photos and more.

BY TERRY WILLIAMS

"We'll make an archivist of you yet!"

There was laughter. Up to that point I'd shown more evidence of a lively imagination than an orderly, enquiring mind, but I'd finally come up with the right next question: "Do we have the school records for Abriachan?"

The Highland Archive Centre in Inverness is no dark Victorian edifice of gloomy rooms filled with dusty, musty, leather-bound tomes and administered by despots brandishing tarnished golden rules of silence. This is an elegant modern building, terra-cotta tiled and plate-glass windowed, set in parkland overlooking the River Ness, just a short drive or a pleasant riverside walk from the city centre. I was here to meet the Highland Archivist, Alison Mason, and her Senior Archivist colleague, Fiona MacLeod.

Entering the building through two sets of automatic double doors, I stopped in my tracks and gasped at the height, the light, the feeling of space. My feet were on dark Caithness flagstones; to my left, a wall of warm creamy-brown marbled sandstone reached up to the ceiling far above my head. If there's a golden rule in this place, it's shining bright and full of welcome.

"Can I help?" asked the receptionist. I was early but happy to wait and absorb the atmosphere. "Can I help?" echoed a passing archivist, who introduced himself as Grant and whisked me off on a mini-tour of the ground floor.

"I love working here," he said, disappearing as Alison and Fiona arrived to greet me. Upstairs there was more light, more space, views to the river and the archives I'd come to learn about. This was the public heart of the building where it's all too easy to lose track of time.

"We provide the service for the Highland Council," said Alison, "and what we collect has to have a Highland connection. Material can be 'gifted,' which gives direct ownership to the Highland Council; or records can be 'deposited.' In this case we will look after them, catalogue them and make them available to the public, but they're still owned by the person, family, or business who's given them to us.... Also, if somewhere's closing down, we would approach them and hopefully the records would come in and add to the history of the Highlands."

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

Archival photos courtesy Highland Archives Centre; Main photo © Terry Williams

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