Obituary: Violet Murray - Genealogist with a Miss Marple-like tendency for finding missing pieces in family trees

Born: 10 August, 1926, in Aberdeen. Died: 28 October, 2011, in Aberdeen, aged 85

VIOLET Murray was the one-time history and religious education teacher who became the face of family history in Aberdeen.

For the many thousands who crossed the threshold of the Family History Shop in King Street, she was an immediate contact, her quiet ways and soft speech concealing an encyclopaedia of information in a brain renowned for uncovering new routes through the unlikeliest of genealogical backwaters.

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The problem for a family historian hitting an apparent dead end would be solved through her gentle and efficacious advice. In a manner that Miss Marple herself might admire, she would suggest diverse or innovative ways of surmounting the apparently intractable problem.

Stooped and somewhat frail, Murray developed her talent for being a genealogical detective through listening carefully, nodding but not interjecting, then pointing to avenues so far apparently hidden.

Murray was born in Aberdeen and lived her entire life within one small corner of Gilcomston in the city centre. An only child, she cared for her ailing mother from the age of 12, being forced to leave school in 1940 at 14. Thus she not only missed out on the learning process she loved, but also her own career potential. Her personal fortitude saw her go to night school to pick up the Highers she had missed out on, and at 38 she entered Aberdeen University. Six years later, graduating in both in arts and divinity, she secured a post in Peterhead Academy as a teacher of English and religious education. Modest to a fault, she rarely spoke of the personal hardship she underwent to achieve this ambition.

Making up for lost time, she travelled widely in Scotland and to the Holy Land. Always interested in roots – her own and those of anyone she met – she based her hard-won knowledge of family history on the basis of having researched her own lineage the hard way.

Travelling in school holidays to Edinburgh by bus to save on train fares, she became a habituée of the record centres there, trawling through birth, marriages and death certificates and census records a generation before family history societies were born and the internet invented.

The hard-won experience taught her one lesson she never forgot: that accuracy comes only through working from primary sources. So while she always shared her expertise, she insisted that original material only be used.

In 1987, the year after retiring from teaching, she joined Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society, and established from the start of her membership what was referred to in her eulogy as “a record for near perfect attendance”.

She joined in an era when the society stored records in someone’s garage and brought them to monthly meetings in a hired church hall. She helped the society’s expansion to a point where the membership now owns one of the largest family history centres in the UK, backed by one of the most comprehensive genealogical libraries in Scotland. She acted as social secretary to arrange speakers at monthly meetings, while also quietly appointing herself a member of shop staff.

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She was possibly at her happiest when faced with an apparently insurmountable gap in a family tree, matching her patience with profundity of knowledge of where to find information. Thus countless family histories gained the vital link that might otherwise have been lacking. For someone so intensely private, she possessed a notable circle of admirers. A generation of researchers had cause to bless her uncanny ability to spot new leads, while to many of her former pupils she was the much-loved teacher with whom they maintained contact right to her death.

She was admired by those who knew her and respected by those she encountered. She was immensely proud of being an Aberdonian; her practical interest in almost all aspects of North-east life ensured that her name appear on the attendance list of many an event.

A deeply thoughtful Christian, she was a member of Gilcomston South Church almost all of her life – and right to the end, she took her turn in cleaning the church.

She had no immediate family, and is survived by her cousin Jim. GORDON CASELY