New geneology project at Northton announced

Northton Heritage Trust, based at the Seallam! Visitor Centre in South Harris, have been awarded a grant of £54,000 towards an important new genealogical project which will safeguard the life’s work of Bill Lawson and help the Trust to become sustainable in the longer term.

The funding towards the three year project starting this summer comes from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and LEADER Innse Gall.

Over his lifetime, Bill Lawson, who is internationally acclaimed for his work on the genealogy of the Outer Hebrides, has collected information from official records, other documents, and oral history, about every family resident in the Western Isles over the past 250 years – some 225,000 people. This includes information on over 20,000 emigrants from the islands to all parts of the world, including records of their family history after emigration. The centrepiece of this unique database is some 9,000 hand-written family trees. The data was donated by Bill Lawson to Northton Heritage Trust several years ago.

The new project will involve the rewriting and updating of the family trees, and placing these and other genealogical records on a new website,, which will make the information accessible all over the world and generate income for the Trust. Additional part-time employment has been created at Northton.

The new bi-lingual website was created by Reefnet Ltd with funding coming from Comunn na Gaidhlig and Highlands and Islands Enterprise and with assistance from Live Hebrides. The large range of Hebridean books sold in Seallam! will also be available on the website and it will have links to Bill Lawson Publications and the Islands Book Trust.

Chair of the Northton Heritage Trust, Morag Mackay, said: “We are delighted to receive this funding which will enable the Trust, which is a charity, to become more financially independent in the longer term, and to ensure that the fruits of Bill Lawson’s unique and highly valuable labours are preserved and continue to be available for use now that Bill has passed the normal age of retirement and wishes to reduce his time commitment.”

Seallam! Visitor Centre at Northton, which houses major exhibitions about subjects such as St Kilda, Emigration and the Landscape of the Hebrides, has become a major attraction for tourists and a mainstay of the economy of South Harris.

For further information, please contact the Seallam! Visitor Centre on 01859 520258.