Obituary: Donald Whyte, author and genealogist
Farm worker who rose to become a prolific author and leading authority on genealogy . . .
Donald Whyte, Genealogist and author. Born: 13 March, 1926 in Newton Grange, Midlothian. Died: 23 April, 2010, in Uphall, West Lothian, aged 84.
DONALD Whyte was a young farm worker who became a prolific author and one of the world's leading authorities on genealogy. His fascination with family and Scottish history sparked a lifelong interest in his craft and left an extraordinary legacy for genealogists and those researching their family history worldwide.
He was a founding member of the Scottish Genealogy Society, set up six family history societies in Scotland and was a member of the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents, Scottish Record Society, the Heraldry Society of Scotland and the Scottish Records Association, among many others.
In a career already packed with his various day jobs and family commitments, he also crammed in public service as a local councillor and justice of the peace. "I can't remember a time when he didn't do all of those things," recalls his daughter, Catherine.
Whyte was born in Newton Grange, outside Edinburgh, to John and Catherine, a cattleman and dairy maid who worked on various farms until moving to Kirkliston in 1941.
A clever child, he was educated at Currie Primary and Crookston School and aspired to grammar school but, as his mother was an invalid, he left education at 14 to help support his family.
He worked initially with his father and then, during his teens and early 20s, moved around farms in various areas, including the Borders, but always returning to Kirkliston. It was there he met his wife, Mary, whose family lived at Almondhill Farm, as did the Whyte family.
They married at the Old Manse in Kirkliston in 1951 and had three daughters, Lorna, Catherine and Margaret.
Whyte continued to work the land as a ploughman, often winning best-dressed competitions with his horse Chance. But he had had an interest in Scottish history since his schooldays and that, combined with his keen sense of the importance of family, led him to start researching the history of local farms and families who lived in the big houses in the surrounding area.
He compiled his own family history and in 1953 helped found the Scottish Genealogy Society, established in Edinburgh to promote research into Scottish family history and advance and encourage the collection, exchange and publication of related material.
He wrote the Kirkliston Parish History in 1956 and contributed columns on local history for publications including the West Lothian Courier, Linlithgow Gazette, various clan magazines and the Scottish Young Farmer.
It was the start of a prolific writing career and genealogical consultancy work, which he combined with a variety of day jobs, including coalman, Winchburgh cemetery keeper and lorry driver.
Whyte worked tirelessly on genealogy for the love of it. He was a member of about 30 organisations, including the Scottish Genealogy Society, which he served as deputy chairman 1959-61, honorary librarian 1961-65 and chairman of council 1974-83, remaining an honorary vice-president since then.
He lectured throughout the US, Canada and the UK, and was a keynote speaker at the Ontario Genealogy Society's conference in the 1980s. The society supported the publication in 1986 of his work, two volumes of a Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation. The following year he was rewarded with the Ontario Society's Certificate of Recognition.
He was also elected a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists in 1986 and in 1999 made an Honorary Fellow, only one of three. He was also a Fellow of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies at Canterbury.
His bibliography includes Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to the USA (pre 1855); Walter MacFarlane: Clan Chief and Antiquary; The Scots Overseas: A Selected Bibliography; Scottish Clock and Watch Makers, 1453 -1900; Scottish Surnames and Families; Scottish Forenames and Scottish Clockmakers, the latter published in 2001.
In addition, he wrote a history of Scottish gypsies and other travellers and a series of other clock and watchmakers volumes, both of which he had been determined to complete – and did so – before the effects of Parkinson's disease prevented him from writing.
During the 60s and 70s he became a councillor, serving on Winchburgh District Council from 1964 to 1970 and then on West Lothian County Council from 1970 to 1975. The following year he became a JP, sitting first at Linlithgow and then Edinburgh District Courts – a service always marked by bringing a bunch of flowers home to his wife the week he was on the bench.
He retired at 65 as a security guard at Edinburgh Airport, but continued his genealogy work, meticulously keeping his records, often in beautiful handwriting, on cards, in filing cabinets and drawers in the family home, which was always full of books. He tapped away on a typewriter before eventually converting to a computer, although he never fully embraced 21st century technology.
Widowed in 1997, he loved the company of his three daughters, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, an enduring sign of his great belief in the importance of family, which began his lengthy career in genealogy.
Janet Bishop, chairman of the Association of Scottish Genealogy Researchers in Archives, acknowledged that he will be a huge loss to the family history community, saying: "Everybody knew him and he has always been there."
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