Online heritage information boosts ancestral tourism

Mary Fricke and Judy Vander Hook on their recent visit to Lewis; in the background is the sealoch where their ancestors would have fished.
Mary Fricke and Judy Vander Hook on their recent visit to Lewis; in the background is the sealoch where their ancestors would have fished.

The availability of online genealogical and historical information about the Outer Hebrides is contributing to ancestral tourism, say those involved in the Hebridean Connections digital archiving project.

Several recent visitors to the islands have emphasised the role of information found on the Hebridean Connections website in stimulating them to visit in person, it is claimed.

This information is derived from the archives of the local historical societies who participate in the project.

“Ancestral tourism has been identified as a huge growth area for Scotland,” commented Donnie Morrison, chairman of Hebridean Connections.

“Our recent experience suggests that ancestral tourists are indeed growing in numbers, and for some of them, the discovery of information about their family history on our website is an important contributory factor when planning a visit.”

Mary Fricke and Judy Vander Hook (pictured) are cousins, both descended from a woman who emigrated from the Isle of Lewis to the Eastern Townships of Quebec with her parents and siblings in the 1860s.

In summer 2015 they came to see for themselves the area where their ancestors lived.

Mary commented: “I was fortunate to discover the Hebridean Connections website. With the information available on this site and the help of some local historians, I identified another generation of my family, as well as the exact locations of their residences on Lewis prior to emigration. This knowledge inspired me to plan a visit.”

Another visitor was Dan Buchanan of Vancouver, the descendant of a family who crossed the Atlantic from the Uig area of Lewis nearly two centuries ago.

Dan contacted the Hebridean Connections team for help in organising a visit after discovering much information about his ancestors on the website.

In discussing the background to his visit, he emphasised the breadth of historical material provided on the Hebridean Connections website, which includes not only genealogical information but also a variety of other records relating to places, historical events, stories and traditions, and many other topics.

“Names and dates don’t mean much: I want to know where [my ancestors] lived and how they lived,” he commented. “There’s just a wealth of material... I’ve not found another site like this.”

Like Dan, Bob and Jacqui Munro are residents of Vancouver. Bob is descended from a family who originated on the Isle of Berneray, and a record of a known relative on the Hebridean Connections website was the key to discovering this Berneray connection.

During their recent visit to the island, Bob and Jacqui found out more about the poverty that existed on the island following the collapse of the kelp industry and the subsequent potato famine in the mid-19th century, prompting many people to leave. In turn, members of the historical society learned about the family’s later history in Lewis and then Canada.

“We are glad to welcome and support all these visitors, knowing that they will not only contribute to the local economy but also, with their knowledge of family history, enrich our website and the archives of the historical societies that participate in our project,” said Donnie Morrison.