Digging Deep: Researching Gaelic Heritage at Nova Scotia Archives
May is Gaelic Nova Scotia Month in Nova Scotia, which offers an excellent opportunity to explore this rich and lively aspect of our provincial culture. Perhaps you are interested in finally digging into your family’s Gaelic roots, you’ve been assigned a class project, or you’re simply interested in learning more about this piece of our collective history: Nova Scotia Archives is here to help!
If you’ve visited our website anytime over the last few years, you’ll know that making records and finding aids available digitally has been a priority. This is an ongoing project, and new resources are added regularly. Check back often!
There are several options available to you online, including our popular Virtual Exhibits. The Goireasan Gàidhlig (Gaelic Resources) and Helen Creighton products will be of particular interest to individuals researching Gaelic history in the province.
Resources like these provide you the research value of primary sources, combined with the luxury of viewing them in the location of your choice. Gaelic communities and themes from across the province are represented in these virtual resources (which have the added benefit of being keyword-searchable). Textual sources are available on our website, as are photographs, audio and film.
To date, Nova Scotia Archives has digitized editions of four of the province’s Gaelic-language newspapers: An Solus Iùil - (Guiding Light), Fear na Céilidh - (The Visitor), Mosgladh - (Awakening), and Teachdaire nan Gàidheal - (The Messenger of the Gaels). These papers are mostly centered in the Sydney area of Cape Breton in the 1920s and 1930s and offer snippets of daily life in Gaelic Nova Scotia, such as church news, community events, local business advertising, Gaelic poetry and stories, and even basic Gaelic language lessons.
MemoryNS is our searchable database of archival holdings and allows us to make a lot of our collections’ finding aids available in one place. While it doesn’t make actual records available online, it gives you an idea of what we have so you can better plan your onsite visit (see the entry for the MacLean, Sinclair family fonds as a Gaelic example). This resource is being constantly updated as we acquire and process more material, and is a great tool, particularly for more recently acquired materials. MemoryNS is a resource we share with other archival institutions across Nova Scotia, so you can use the same tool to search other Archives simultaneously (the collection of the Beaton Institute Archives may be of particular interest on Gaelic topics). Our Library catalogue is also keyword searchable and, like MemoryNS, will offer up an array of Gaelic sources for you to view when you visit us onsite.
At the Archives
Our virtual products can be viewed as an entry point into further, deeper digging, as only a small percentage of our archival holdings have been digitized. Once you have exhausted what is available to you on our website, it’s time for a visit to the Archives itself. Welcome!
The Reference Archivist’s desk will likely be your first stop when you arrive in our research room on the Archives’ third floor. The archivist on duty will help you get started in your research, assist you in navigating our extensive onsite finding aids, and suggest the best archival sources for your work. They will also be on hand to answer any questions that might arise during your research.
As terrific as our searchable databases are, they are best used in combination with a chat with our Reference and Retrieval staff and a foray into our extensive card catalogues. The card catalogues are primarily subject based, and peeking into our Miscellaneous, Communities, Biography and Library card catalogues will turn up any number of wonders.
Research can be overwhelming, even to those of us with experience. My goal with this post is to convey the variety of sources available to you, while also highlighting their accessibility – I’m sure you’ll let me know whether or not I have succeeded. Also remember, while you can use these resources to explore any aspect of Nova Scotia’s history (and you should!), we hope you’ll take some time to explore our Gaelic heritage.