Seallam Visitor Centre
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Seallam! Visitor Centre was officially opened by Alasdair Morrison MSP and John MacDonald, Fort William and Northton in July 2000


See our new site at for information on all our services and for access to our online genealogical databases

Seallam! is the premier Visitor Centre on the beautiful Isle of Harris and provides exhibition facilities to
suit all degrees of interest, with a main static exhibition for the first-time visitor and changing displays
for the many return visitors. There are also visiting exhibitions at times through the year.


You can browse among exhibits dealing with the history and natural environment of the Hebrides,
or consult more detailed sources of information in the Research Area.

For the visitor, here is a chance to get to know some of the factors which have had an influence on the development of the various Island communities, while for the more serious student there is a vast
resource of detailed source information from different parts of the Hebrides.
Whether you wish to spend an hour or a whole day, there is plenty to occupy your attention at Seallam!
And if you feel the need, there is a tea and coffee bar in the small craft-shop in the reception area!

Seallam Visitor Centre set among the hills and sandy beaches of the Isle of Harris

Seallam! Visitor Centre is located in An Taobh Tuath (Northton) at the southern end of the Isle of Harris.
It occupies a central position among the Isles of the Hebrides, with road connection to Lewis,
and car ferries to the Uists and Barra.

Seallam! Visitor Centre has assisted disabled facilities.

Open all year round
10am - 5pm
Monday - Saturday

Exhibition Entrance Fees
2.50 (2 Concession)
Special rates for parties


Seallam! Visitor Centre. An Taobh Tuath (Northton) Isle of Harris HS3 3JA Scotland

Phone: 01859 520258 Fax: 01859 520488


Bill Lawson has been specialising in the Family and Social History in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland for over forty years, and is widely recognised as an authority in the area.

Virtually every household in the Western Isles in the last 200 years has been researched and a resource bank of over 27,500 family tree sheets has been ingathered, together with many emigrant families in Canada, USA, Australia etc.

Family tracing in the Outer Hebrides has always proved difficult, due to the scarcity and poor quality of source material, but from the resource available at Co Leis Thu it is usually possible to chart families back to the generation born c1750-80 - and frequently much farther.

With the opening of Co Leis Thu, information from this resource can now be made available to genealogists and researchers as a professional service.

We use the following sources:

Census Returns 1841-1901

Civil Registrations of Births, Marriages and Deaths from 1855 onwards

Old Parish Registers (Established Church and Roman Catholic)

Estate Papers, including rental rolls

Emigration Lists

Government Papers and other published sources

Oral Tradition

Oral tradition has always been strong in these islands, and since it is preserved in Gaelic, which is still in normal usgae here, it is more comprehensive and often much more reliable than many written sources in English.

Large collections of oral tradition have been, and still are being, gathered in conjunction with local Comuinn Eachdraidh (History Groups), and this resource can be used to expand and correct information taken from more formal sources for the researcher.

Oral tradition includes patronymics, song, story and preservation of family relationships.


For families still based in the Outer Hebrides, pedrigree charts can be prepared showing all lines of direct ancestry, so far as can be traced. 5-6 generations is not unusual, but this depends on the available source material.

Average Fee for this service: 20 to 80 plus VAT

Extracted entries or certified copies of registers can be obtained for an additional fee.


Many visitors to the Islands are disappointed in tracing their families here, due to lack of information on the family after emigration. Useful data would include the island of origin, the place of original emigrant settlement, local census entries, family naming patterns etc. With information of this type, it is usually possible to trace the village from which the family emigrated, and to make links with any relatives remaining here.

Fees depend on the amount of research required, which in turn depends on the quality and detail of information supplied as a starting point. On receipt of data, we will be happy to advise on estimated fees.


One of the major problems with family tracing in the Western Isles is the scarcity and poor quality of written records.span>The decennial census is available from 1841 onwards, but its accuracy is very questionable, especially in the earlier years. Civil Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages commences in 1855, as in the rest of Scotland, but there are many omissions in the early years. As late as 1897, in Barvas Parish, Lewis, there occurs a whole year with almost no entries, and in all areas the accuracy of the information is very poor, especially in matters such as mothers' maiden names etc.

Old Parish Registers are available for most parishes, but again their coverage is very variable. Those for Barvas and Stornoway Parishes in Lewis commence in the early 1800s, with a handful of earlier entries, and are reasonably comprehensive. The OPR for Uig, Lewis, begins in the 1820s with good detail, but its content deteriorates after a few years, and the information becomes minimal. Lochs, Lewis, also begins in the 1820s, but is never particularly good, even for the main parish, while records for the detached part of the parish, around Carloway and Shawbost area, are extremely poor.

Harris OPR commences in the 1820s also, but after a few years becomes restricted to the area around the manse, and the merchant and farming classes, while the crofters who made up by far the bulk of the population, are virtually ignored. North Uist OPR covers only the area around the central church of Kilmuir, and does not includes the mission stations of Carinish and Trumisgarry, which accounted for fully half of the population, who do not appear in any register. South Uist and Barra were, and are, almost wholly Roman Catholic islands, and the OPR coverage of the few Protestant families is very poor, though there are excellent RC records for parts of the OPR period.

In using any of these written sources, it is essential to bear in mind that the people of the Islands were overwhelmingly Gaelic speaking, whereas these records were kept by English-speakers, whose knowledge and interest in the local people was often slight. The translations of Gaelic names often depended on the whim of the individual registrar, and as registrars changed, so did the names in the Register. Apart from the usual mixture of Catherine/Kate, Margaret/Peggy which occur inspan>all registers, the island registers also confuse Angus/Aeneas, Finlay/Philip, Effie/Euphemia/Henrietta, Marion/Sarah, Gormelia/Dorcas/Dorothy, Rebecca/Betsy/Sophie, and very many more. It is not at all uncommon, especially with girls' names, to find birth, marriage and death registrations all showing different variant translations.

Because of these problems, there seemed to be no point in making any attempt to reproduce the actual names shown in register entries etc. Instead we have used our own standardised equivalents of names, which, although in a sense equally arbitrary, are at least consistent. So Christina, Christian, Christine, Christy, Chirsty etc. are all shown as Kirsty, as being the nearest equivalent in sound to the Gaelic Ciorstag - which is the name the lady would have used herself!

Dates can be another problem with Island families. Those derived from Civil Registration of Marriages and Deaths are generally accurate, though those of Births are much less so. OPR entries often do not distinguish between dates of birth and baptism, which especially in the remoter areas could be quite different. Census ages are notoriously inaccurate, but in most cases an average has been taken from census, OPR etc. to give the dates of birth shown. Dates of deaths, taken from civil registration, have been shown, up to 1920, and dates of marriages, where shown, are taken from that source or from OPR. Individual extract entries can be obtained if desired, at extra cost.

To make up for the deficiencies of these usual sources, we have to rely on secondary sources, such as Estate Rentals etc, many of which show names in patronymic form, and on oral tradition. This latter is often discounted by genealogists, as it cannot usually be proved, but it should be remembered that it is of local origin, and consequently likely to be more accurate than many of the written records compiled by outsiders. These sources can frequently be used to extend family trees into the early or middle eighteenth century, and sometimes much further.

If further information is desired on our methodology, or on the service we can provide, we will be happy to respond to any specific enquiries.


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