Data Protection guidance

Many historical societies and businesses will find themselves looking after records that contain personal data that relates to living individuals.  These people may be mentioned directly or may be easily identifiable within the context of the document due to local knowledge. 

Such information is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and therefore there are rules as to how this material should be stored and whether access may be granted to researchers.

If the records have been gifted to the society, then the historical society is responsible for this data under the Act.  Businesses who maintain personal data for their own records are responsible for it.  Unauthorised disclosure of data regarding living individuals could lead to prosecution.

What is personal data?

Personal data is information about a living individual from which that person can be identified explicitly or that can easily be identified.  Although the Act predominantly relates to electronic records and databases, it also extends to paper records and it is general good practice to treat anything where individuals are easily identifiable as being covered by the Data Protection Act.

Common records

Common records containing personal data help by historical societies, businesses and organisation include:

  • funeral societies records
  • school admission records
  • school log books
  • membership records of clubs and societies
  • shareholder records
  • membership records of the Historical Society
  • personnel records

Nominated individuals

Within a historical society, business or organisation, it is recommended that two members of the executive committee are delegated responsibility for Data Protection.  This means they are responsible for dealing with enquiries regarding records containing personal information about living individuals.  Access to records containing personal data should be restricted to these nominated individuals.

Closure periods

Archivists will normally close records that contain personal data about living individuals.  This means that they will not be put on display and public access to the records is not allowed, even to the members of historical society.  The Archivists in Scottish Local Government Working Group recommend closing dates for various records held by local government archives and many of these dates can be applied to records found in Historical Society and business collections:

Record Types

Recommended Closure Period

Public Assistance Committee minutes e.g Lewis Public Assistance Committee

 75 years

Parochial (poor) registers and registers of poor houses

 75 years

Children’s poor registers

 100 years

Register of beneficiaries of charitable organisations e.g. bequests

 75 years or 100 years

Personnel (employment) records

 75 years

Friendly Society Registers (if they contain sensitive information) e.g. Funeral Funds

75 years

School Admission registers

 100 years

School log books

 30-75 years (if log books contains details of criminal cases, prosecutions or explicit details of punishment for example, the longer closure period should be applied)

Education Committee minutes

 Closed for 75 years


School records

Some historical societies hold education and school records.  Due to the popularity and regular use of these records, guidance has been provided by the Tasglann that helps a society to manage access to these records.  This can be downloaded from the link to the right of this screen.


The Tasglann is happy to provide training, advice and guidance on data protection issues relating to archive material you hold.


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