In April last year we had the duty as citizens to complete a multi-paged census. These detailed, fact-finding surveys have been carried out by the UK government for over 200 years and have increased greatly in detail as the 20th century progressed. Over 10 years ago, using a microfilm of the 1901 census in the AK Bell Library I used the census as a primary source of Abernethy history. The census survey gives a detailed snapshot of the people of the parish e.g. names, age, gender, address, where born, occupation. By doing some tedious counting it was possible to work out how many people there were of each surname; how many farm workers, weavers, salmon fishers etc; and how many were born within the parish. Those born elsewhere could be plotted on a map of Scotland and so on. These statistics were shown as lists or in graph form, and were used to build up a picture of Abernethy at the start of the Edwardian era. The resulting display has been of interest to visitors to our museum over the past 10 years.
Since the census contains personal information, a century has to elapse before its full details are made public. The census of 1911 therefore has only recently come into the public domain. Sadly this census is not available for scrutiny in the AK Bell Library on microfilm, unlike every other ten-yearly census from 1841 onwards. The census is of course a valuable source for those seeking out details of their ancestors. Since the 1911 census is on the internet, kinship searches can be carried out on the computer and such searches have become hugely popular. It was only after negotiating with National Register House, Edinburgh, and later visiting that fine building, I was able to download the entire 1911 Abernethy census, at some cost. We now have a full copy of it in the museum. A full analysis of it will form a large part of the main new display in the museum this year.
The aim of this display is to build up a detailed picture of life in Abernethy in the years leading up to the First World War. In the museum we have quite a few photographs showing people and aspects of local life here 100 years ago, but we need more. We ask for your help to obtain more photos and any other items which would help us present a picture of life in Abernethy at this time, when it could boast a new bowling club, a new golf course, not to mention its curling pond. Some regard this period as a “Golden Age” before life was convulsed by two disastrous world wars. The display seeks to show the extent to which this was true for Abernethy in the era of ITV’s “Downton Abbey”.
Looking a bit further forward, in 2013 the museum hopes to follow on with a major exhibition on World War 1. This will include details of the local men who fought and of life on the home front. Any informa- tion, photos, or artefacts to help make this a special event would help greatly. No doubt WW1 will be very topical generally as the centenary of its outbreak in 1914 arrives. On our screens we may see more TV adaptations like “Birdsong” shown in January. We want to do our best in honouring the memory of well over 100 local men who enlisted and especially of the 30 who perished. The 1911 census will also be useful in tracing these servicemen pre-enlistment.
In the meantime I can divulge a few discoveries I have made from the 1911 census : -
Visit the museum when it opens in mid-May to see our attempt to evoke Abernethy 100 years ago. Come earlier on any Tuesday if you have any item to contribute to either of these exhibitions mentioned above.