Family history and the Statistical Accounts

We’re always interested to hear how you use the Statistical Accounts. Family historians are one of the key groups who make use of our service so we were delighted to see Jane Harris recently publish a blog on using the Statistical Accounts for family history research. Jane has kindly agreed that we republish her post – we hope it’s useful for those of you researching your Scottish roots! 

portrait shot of Jane

Jane Harris

Jane specialises in Scottish genealogy and family history. A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Scottish Genealogy Network, Jane provides both family history research and tutoring so you can do research yourself. Her particular interests include the Stirling area, where she lives, and Orkney, where she was born and grew up. Jane described her experience with the Statistical Accounts for us:

A row of books with rather dull dust jackets; a couple of interesting quotes in a lecture or course book. That sums up my knowledge of the Statistical Accounts from my student days. When I started seriously researching my own family history many years later that view changed rapidly. Checking the earlier censuses, I was fascinated by the number of distinctively Highland surnames in my father’s home parish of Walls, Orkney. The Old Statistical Account provided an explanation: that a large number of people had come from “Strathnaven”, having been cleared to make way for sheep, so early victims of the clearances. I was hooked.

The Statistical Accounts are now one of my standard sources for client research in the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries, both for general background and also for specific information on churches, migration, occupations and so on. 

Now for Jane’s original blog, with some great pointers…


S is for Statistical Accounts of Scotland 

Keep reading! They are far more than numbers. The Statistical Accounts are two fascinating sets of reports on each Scottish parish in the 1790s and the 1830s/40s.  They cover economic and social activities as well as natural resources.

What, when, who, how? 

Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster sent out 171 queries to the ministers of each of the 938 parishes in Scotland in the 1790s. Their responses form the Old Statistical Account (OSA). In 1832, because of all the changes that had taken place in Scotland, a new survey was agreed. The responses are collectively known as the New Statistical Account (NSA). Find out more about the background.

 How are the Statistical Accounts useful for family history? 

  • Context for our ancestors’ lives.

“The prejudices, entertained by the inhabitants of this parish, against inoculation [sic] were, for a long time, invincible. But the better sort, setting the example, the rest gradually followed… In one season 460 were inoculated, of whom only 3 died” (Kilmalie, Invernesshire, Old Statistical Account, p409). Mortality by age group statistics (Glasgow, Old Statistical Account p508).


  • Information on churches other than the established Church of Scotland.

“There is in St Ninians a Relief meeting-house… there is another meeting-house in Ba-burn connected with the United Secession” (St Ninians, Stirlingshire, New Statistical Account p336).


  • The state of the parish registers: “the fourth is a mere ragged fragment” (Wick, Caithness, New Statistical Account p137). May explain why you can’t find a baptism:
Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Wick, Caithness, Vol XV, 1845, p137.

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Wick, Caithness, Vol XV, 1845, p137.







  • Names of landowners, which could lead you to estate records.

For example, see Menteith, Perthshire, New Statistical Account p1108.


  • Local history generally, development of industries, migration and so on.

“What accounts for this [population] increase of 71 is the settlement of a colony of Highlanders, who had been forced to emigrate from Strathnaven [sic], where their farms had been converted into sheep pasture” (Walls, Orkney, Old Statistical Account p313).


  • The minister’s view on his parishioners.

This snip from the Dalziel, Lanarkshire, (Motherwell area) New Statistical Account is particularly rich:

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Dalziel, Vol VI, 1845, p454.

Excerpt from the New Statistical Account for Dalziel, Vol VI, 1845, p454.










In summary 

Topography, geology, botany, agriculture, weather, population statistics, diseases, the state of the church and manse, manufactures, occupations (for example see table from Inverness’ Old Statistical Account below), wages, prisons, schools, language, history, antiquities, communications – and much more. Each account as individual as the minister who wrote it. You can find them all on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland website.

Table of occupations from the Old Statistical Account for Inverness, Vol IX, 1793, p622.

Table of occupations from the Old Statistical Account for Inverness, Vol IX, 1793, p622.











Thanks to Jane for letting us share her thoughts. You can find Jane’s blog here:

Follow Jane on Twitter @janenharris


Let us know your story 

Could you share your Statistical Accounts experience with us? What have you found that’s been particularly helpful in your local or family history research? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below or email us,


Upcoming Event of Interest: Open Rights Group Event in Edinburgh, 10th May

This is a quick post to let readers of this blog know that there will be an Open Rights Group Scotland discussion day with Charlie Stross, Jim Killock and others, in Edinburgh during the afternoon of Saturday 10th May 2014 (next Saturday). Unfortunately I don’t think I will be able to make it along on Saturday but I thought others here may still be interested in booking a spot, and I would love to know how the event goes and how the discussions develop. 

The event is part of a fundraising and awareness-raising campaign for a new role and strand of Open Rights Group (ORG) activity in Scotland, in recognition of devolved digital rights issues here, and the differences between the Scottish and the English and Welsh legal systems.

For those not already familiar with ORG‘s work, the group campaign on digital rights issues and advocate for openness in digital contexts which brings in open source and open data but is more strongly concerned with digital democracy and digital rights. For this reason there are some particularly interesting connections between the likely topics of discussion at this upcoming event and some of the recommendations in the Spreading the Benefits of Digital Participation Inquiry Final Report surrounding digital rights and responsibilities.

More information and links to book a (free) place at the event can be found on MeetUp. And any comments/feedback on the event would be more than welcome in the comments section below. 


Inaugural Scottish QGIS user’s Group



“Today we have a guest blog post from one of the Geo-developers at EDINA.  Mike works as part of the data team and is usually up to his oxters in databases ensuring that the data offered through Digimap is both up to date and in a useful format. Over to Mike.”

Following on from successful meetings In England and Wales, on 19th March I attended the inaugural “Scottish QGIS User Group” hosted at Stirling University. My first thought revolved around  the level of interest that such a meeting would acquire, but as it turned out, it was very popular. I was also surprised at the geographical spread of the attendees, with several folks coming from Brighton (Lutra Consulting) and  Southampton (Ordnance Survey) as well as all over Scotland & northern England. Although the attendees were dominated by public sector organisations.


A more detailed breakdown of the presentations can be found here:

From my own perspective, the talks on developing QGIS and Cartography in QGIS were of particular interest – demonstrating the every growing potential of QGIS. Additionally, the improvements (particularly speed enhancements)  that look to be coming soon (as highlighted in Martin Dobias’ presentation) are impressive.

As for the user group itself, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here and what direction it will take. How will future events be funded? How often should the group meetup? What location? A recommendation from myself would be to have general presentations and talks in the morning, then in the afternoon split into different streams for beginners / users / developers.

At the end of the meet-up (and a few geo-beers in the pub) there was definitely a sense that everybody got something out of the event and would like to attend more meetups in the future.

A special mention of thanks needs to go out to Ross McDonald – @mixedbredie (Angus Council) for his efforts to organise the event and additionally thinkWhere (formally Forth Valley GIS) for sponsoring the event.

Links and seful things

BFI Mediatheque at Bridgeton Library, Glasgow

Recently I went on a visit to the first ever BFI Mediatheque in Scotland, which is located in Bridgeton Library at the Olympia, Glasgow. The BFI Mediatheque is a free resource that lets you make new film discoveries and get reacquainted with old favourites, free of charge. All you need to do is log on to a viewing station and you can chose from a range of highlights from the BFI National Archive and partner archives across the UK.

Bridgeton Library

Bridgeton Library moved to its new home on the ground floor of the former Olympia cinema complex, back in December 2012. It is a bright and welcoming space, which has zoned areas, such as a training suite, children’s library and the BFI Mediatheque room. It also has a “Turning Pages” station, onto which the library is very keen to add local content, thereby encouraging the public to interact with new technology. Bridgeton is a deprived area on the east side of Glasgow, which is in the process of being re-developed and rejuvenated.

Photo of the Olympia Building, where Bridgeton Library is located.

Bridgeton Library at the Olympia, Glasgow, 2014.

BFI Mediatheque

The BFI Mediatheque @ Bridgeton Library was launched just over a year ago, with its official public opening being held on Friday 22nd February. It contains over 2,000 films, including a specially commissioned collection of Scottish film and television from the BFI National Archive and Scottish Screen Archive, covering more than 100 titles of Scottish interest. Highlights include street scenes in Glasgow from 1901, early colour footage of tartans from 1906 and 1950s colour travelogues recording Scotland’s epic landscapes.  A list of the Scottish Reels films is available, as well as a full list of film titles currently available to view in Mediatheques around the country. In addition, there is a hard-copy of the catalogue at Bridgeton Library.

In Bridgeton Library’s BFI Mediatheque in both the search and browse functions results from the Scottish Reels collection appears at the top, due to it being of more local interest. In total, there are 77 collections containing such items as feature films, TV programmes and documentaries. The BFI add 18 to 20 new items every 2 months and items can be suggested by users, as long as the material is British.

Photograph of one of the BFI Mediatheque viewing stations at Bridgeton Library

BFI Mediatheque at Bridgeton Library, Glasgow. 2014.

There has been a very good uptake for the Scottish BFI Mediatheque, but there is some room for improvement. Many researchers and students use the resource, especially those studying film and media. People find it easy to use the resource once they have a go. Even older people who do not have experience of using the internet can get to grips with the resource quickly. Some introductory workshops have been run and these have been very well received.

There is a real focus on getting more of the general public, and school children especially, to use the resource. With the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence in mind, work has been undertaken on the development of guides and resources for pupils, for example putting together WW1 resources for schools.

An events programme, called ‘Discover Film at Bridgeton Library BFI Mediatheque‘ has been running from November and finishes in June this year. This includes ‘Page to Screen’ held on the first Monday of the month to enable people to discover the secrets of great screen adaptations and the original works they are based on and ‘Reel Essentials’ held on the second Thursday of the month which introduces key moments, movements, themes and genres in British Film and Television. Unfortunately, there has not been as great a take-up as hoped so far. Another issue to be addressed is the filling of identified gaps in the collections, especially items on the local area.

Using the BFI Mediatheque

There are two main ways of using the resource.

  1. Browse archived collections. There is a brief biography for each item. You can view the item on the full screen or you can hit escape and do further research whilst watching.
  2. Detailed search – Filtering your search using basic or advanced terms. Title; Year; Director; Cast; Subject Term; Subject Region or nation.  Subject terms range from ‘Advertisements’ through to ‘Youth Culture’.

They also provide suggestions on what you might like to look at (‘Why not try…’).

The BFI Mediatheque room is built to BFI’s specification, with ten viewing stations available. In general, you don’t have to book to use a viewing station, but it may be best to if there is a group. Opening hours are the same as that for Bridgeton Library.

BFI Mediatheques give everyone easy access to a diverse range of film and television, in many cases rarely seen since their original release or broadcast. There are 8 BFI Mediatheques in the UK, each with their own collection of local interest brought together in partnership with local film archives. To find out where your nearest BFI Mediatheque is located and what collections they hold take a look on the BFI website.

Items of Scottish Interest in MediaHub

If you are not able to visit the BFI Mediatheque at Bridgeton Library or would like to see more items of Scottish interest then take a look at MediaHub’s Films of Scotland collection. This contains 125 items (50 hours in total) from the Scottish Screen Archive at the National Library of Scotland, some of which forms part of the Scottish BFI Mediatheque’s Scottish Reels collection. One of the most coherent local and national film collections in the UK, Films of Scotland charts the changing face of Scotland from the 1930s to 1982. One example is a film called ‘Scotland for Fitness‘ made in 1938 for the Empire Exhibition, part of a campaign to improve the fitness of the Scots.

Image showing a hill walker in a kilt walking along the banks of a loch. Taken from the short film 'Scotland for Fitness', shot in 1938.

Scotland for Fitness. Films of Scotland, 1938.

There are also items on Scotland found in other Jisc MediaHub collections. As the Commonwealth Games is taking place this year in Glasgow one particularly interesting item is a ‘Commonwealth Games Preview‘ from the ITV Late Evening News Collection, which reports on the 9th Commonwealth Games which was held in 1970 in Edinburgh.

Image of Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh just ahead of the 9th Commonwealth Games in 1970.

Commonwealth Games Preview. ITV Late Evening News, 1970.

There are a wealth of resources available on Scotland and the rest of the UK, which can be easily accessed. We hope that this post encourages you to go and visit one of the BFI Mediatheques, as well as explore more of what MediaHub has to offer.

Launch of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Digital Participation Inquiry Interim Report

Today sees the publication and launch of the Interim Report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh Spreading the Benefits of Digital Participation Inquiry.

I have been delighted to be a member of this Inquiry Committee as we have spent the last year or so investigating existing research and speaking to people across Scotland about their own experiences, concerns and ideas. And I wanted to make sure the report was shared here as I hope you will help us get word out about it.

We are really keen to ensure that the Interim Report is read and responded to by many new voices, particularly those who we have yet to engage with. We are keen to hear your honest and informed feedback, comments, and suggestions as we reflect upon the Interim Report and make changes and improvements before a final report is launched in Spring 2014.

The best way to get in touch with your feedback is to email the Royal Society of Edinburgh ( but I will also be happy to pass on any comments left on this post or sent directly to me.

Find out more:


AGIScotland 2013 – New directions in Geo

The 2013 AGI Scotland event marked a slight change in direction for the AGI, this being the first “showcase” event that they have run. 6 showcase events and the annual GeoCommunity event are scheduled across the year.

It was fitting that the first plenary speaker was from the Scottish Government. Mike Neilson is the Director of Digital and represents the top end of the digital restructuring that has occurred in the Scottish Government. Mike reinforced the importance of digital in governing a country and that there was a push to make more public services available on line. This would encourage the public to get online, but Mike was acutely aware that there was a danger that moving services online would exclude those who could not get online, perhaps due to financial constrains. Improving digital connectivity was important as Scotland, especially Glasgow, currently lags behind the UK average which impacts on the social and economic development of the Country.

At a recent meeting of the Spatial Information Board, 6 priorities were agreed and these will form the focus of activities in the immediate future. These are:

  1. effective use of spatial data thru inspire
  2. data sharing and collaborative procurement
  3. build GIS capabilities capacity
  4. embed spatial data within broader data agenda
  5. promote awareness of benefits of wider use of spatial
  6. mechanism for hosting spatial data

The restructuring of digital data teams in the government seems to make sense and looks to provide sensible, hierarchical structure. However, the Scottish Government are looking for feedback and input from the GI community on what they see as being important and where they think digital data is going.  To provide feedback you can contact shonna or follow them on Twitter @digitalscots

The second plenary speaker was Anne Kemp, Atkins. Anne pointed to the changing role of the GI professional and urged us to step out of our insular groups and comfort zones and to interact with other groups who use spatial data. Anne strongly believes that Building Information Models (BIMs) are the future for many aspects of GIS. BIMs focus on the lifecycle of anything in the built environment, from planning to operational management. Calculations suggest that effective use of BIMs can save 20% in the cost of construction and operation of new infrastructure.  The use of BIMs has been mandated by the government for England and organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Highways Agency, are currently aligning themselves to meet the 2016 target. Interestingly the Scottish Government does not have a similar mandate and seems to have no plan to do so. This raises interesting questions. Many large engineering companies and consultancies are GB wide organisations and tend to operate to organisation wide best practices, of which BIM is almost certainly going to be. Will much of BIMs seems to just represent industry best practice, mandate from central government which then filters down through local government would ensure best practice and potentially interoperability across infrastructure. Certainly the feeling from the floor was that if BIM was being adopted wholesale south of the border and that BIM management was seen as an exportable skill-set, it might be sensible to mandate it in Scotland as well. (cough trams, cough cough Scottish parliament, cough).

Next up was a double act from SEPA’s Dave Watson and Duncan Taylor who introduced Scotland’s Environment Web (  Scotland’s Environment Web (SEWeb) brings together information on Scotland’s environment. It merges environmental data, information and reports, from known and trusted sources, so they can all be viewed in one place. SEWeb links to 30 WMS which are organized in themed groups. Dave and Duncan outlined the pro’s and con’s of this approach.


  • Each organization is responsible for their own data
  • Reduces development time and maintenance
  • Maintains 1 version of the truth
  • No singl point of failure


  • Many points of failure which it is hard to track and sometimes confusing for the user to know who to contact if there are problems


  • No standard look and feel to symbology and styles
  • Issues with data scales.

The current work represents Phase One. Phase Two will allow users to download data and there is a business case to support forestry assessments.  There is a longterm aim to add WFS capabilities to SEWeb.

One of the sites that feeds data into SEWeb is Scotland’s Soils, run by the James Hutton Institute.  The soil map is based on the 1984 1:250,000 mapping and has 580 different mapping units although the web map uses a simplified unit scheme. You can also access the data through an iPhone app which gives you access to the soil structure at over 600 points across Scotland.

It is great to see this data being made available, but I can see the “ugly” issues mentioned by Dave and Duncan.  Just move from Scotland’s Environment to Scotland’s Soils and the maps are very different. From a usability side of things the map controls are completely different.  We, as GIS professionals, have no problem knowing how to use either. They are intuitive to us, but we are experts. The average member of the public may well struggle. Imagine if they finally learn to use 1 map interface then find that the map on the other site is completely different. Not ideal. The solution would be to develop a consistent interface and share the code. However, this would mean that all partners would have to agree to use the same libraries to build their web maps.

Other highlights from the event included Astun Technologies Mike Saunt who talked about “Doing something with this Open Stuff”.  Mike showed how local government was making data available, and importantly, accessible. Councils could then share data feeds automatically therefore saving time and money. However, Mike highlighted some of the problems that arose when making data open with examples where url’s did not resolve because of typo’s. More worryingly was an organization that was promoting it’s WMS but was also serving a WFS. The organization was not promoting or linking to the WFS and Mike suggested that they may not be aware that they were serving the WFS.  The solution is to ensure you understand what you are making available and why. If you don’t have the skills in house then get someone in to ensure everything is set up correctly.  This is kind of what Astun do and using services like theirs is a cost effective way of working.

Another talk that really shone was Crispin Hoult from Link Node. Crispin introduced the concept of GIality which is the use of geospatial data in augmented reality. This makes a lot of sense. You have a location aware device with a host of sensors in it and can use this to visualize changes to a landscape while you are actually in that environment. This semi-immersive technology would certainly help the visualization of developments like windfarms or new housing estates and takes us beyond the “comfortable” use of overlays on paper maps.

The day finished up with Anne Kemp talking about the future of AGI Scotland and the strengthening community of GIS professionals in Scotland.  There was mention of the Chartered Geographer in GIS qualification but it was pointed out that to become chartered you had to join the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) which did not have a remit in Scotland. Anne noted this and said she would look into it.  She also mentioned other recognised professional qualifications such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who offer a GIS orientated qualification. Will be interesting to see how the CGeog GIS issue progresses this year.  It does seem the best suited but is not perfect if you are living and working in Scotland.

Robert Burns – Man of the People

The life of Robert Burns is celebrated every year on the 25th January; the date of his birth. Why did the Burns Night tradition start and how did this obscure Ayrshire farm lad, born in 1759,  turn into a literary phenomenon and national hero?

The Birth Certificate of Robert Burns held at the General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh: Getty (still images) 24-01-2007

The first Burns Night was held on the wrong date (29th January 1802) due to a mistake in a  newly written biography by Dr James Currie (one of many inaccuracies written about Burns’  life).  The poet had been dead less than  six years yet, such was the impact he had made on the Scottish people, there was a great wish to preserve his memory. And what better way than to celebrate in the manner he would have appreciated most: with good company, haggis, Scotch whisky and of course, poetry. If you are thinking of hosting your own Burn’s Night Supper it’s advisable to consult some reliable information on the running order of the event. Click on the image below to watch a newsclip about Burns’ 250th anniversary in 1996.

Delivering the Address to the Haggis
Scotland: Robert Burns: Channel 4 News 23-01-1996


Robert Burns was born into a poor Ayrshire farming family in 1759. It was a constant struggle to make a living off the land and Robert endured hard manual labour during much of his early life. Despite this, his father made sure Robert was given the basis of a classical education, although he spent little time attending school. Find out more about the area where Burns grew up by watching ‘ Ayr from the Auld Brig‘ made by Films of Scotland.

Burns Birthplace at Alloway: Ayr from the Auld Brig: Films of Scotland 1961

As a young man he read widely and began to write poetry inspired by his passion for nature,  revelling and the local girls. To say he had a complicated love life would be an understatement and his many amours (plus resulting progeny) deserve a blog post all of their own.

The Brig O’Doon from Burns’ famous Tam O’Shanter
Ayr from the Auld Brig: Films of Scotland 1961

After his father’s death,  life on the farm continued to be precarious. In a bid to secure a reliable job and escape the embarrassing fallout of a recent romance, he came up with the unlikely idea of emigrating to Jamaica. Unfortunately he did not have money for the ship’s passage so decided to publish some of his poems (by subscription) to try and raise the funds. Astonishingly his volume, written in Scots dialect, was a runaway success. He changed his plans and set off for Edinburgh, where he knew no-one, to seek his fortune.

A Legend is Made
Scotland: Robert Burns: Channel 4 News 1996

In the course of arranging a second edition of his poems, he found himself in demand by the leading figures of Edinburgh society who were eager to meet the  ‘Heaven-taught Ploughman’ themselves. He charmed them all with his vivacity and wit and soon became a celebrity figure. Burns also had a strong interest in folk songs and he set many of his own poems to music. In 1787  he toured different parts of Scotland, in the course of which he collected many traditional songs which were in danger of disappearing. On his return he worked collaboratively with others to collect, publish and preserve this vital part of Scottish culture. Take your own Scottish tour  by watching Holiday Scotland which features most of the places Burns visited himself.


Burns travelled as far north as Inverness during his travels in 1787
Holiday Scotland: Films of Scotland 1966

Sadly,  Burns was never destined to make much money. He sold the copyright to his poetry early on and refused to take any payment for his work collecting folk songs, which he regarded as a patriotic service. He returned to Ayrshire to bring up his family and took up a post with the Excise in order to earn a regular income. Click the image below to find out more about how Burns is still remembered in the town of Ayr.

People of Ayr celebrate the June Rite of Burns by re-enacting the ride of Tam O’Shanter: A Town Called Ayr: Films of Scotland 1974

His outspoken radical views got him into a lot of trouble with the authorities and there were occasions when he nearly lost his job with the Excise as a result.  He desperately needed to support his growing family but hard times lay ahead and he became unwell. Many have said his illness was due to a dissolute lifestyle but we now know he was suffering from endocarditis which, in the days before antibiotics, would inevitably prove fatal. He died on 21st July 1796 at the age of 37. His wife, Jean Armour, gave birth to his 13th child on the day of his funeral. His popularity was so great that it was said  over 10,000 people watched his funeral procession.

Burns Celebrations: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel: 29-01-1920

What was Burn’s legacy to the Scottish nation? His works have been translated into 50 languages and songs such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ are known globally. His poetry is remarkable for its simplicity and honesty,  expressing his zest for life and egalitarian ideals. He has become a conduit for spreading  Scottish culture throughout the world.

Burns’s poetry and ideas continue to be relevant to us today. When the new Scottish Parliament opened, one of  Burns’ most famous songs was chosen to mark the occasion.  ‘A Man’s a Man for A”That’  is a declaration of equality and liberty.

For A’ that and a”that

It’s coming yet for a’that

That Man to Man, the world o’er

Shall brothers be for a’that


Further Links:



Old Maps online workshop

Old maps online launched some months back and has been quite a hit.  It essentially is a catalogue of old maps from library collections around the World.  However, it is much more than just that. Old maps online allows users to make spatial searches for maps rather than having to rely on fields such as Title, author and published date.  This is not the information that springs to mind when you want a map.  Place-names, regions and coordinates are more logical search terms.

As part of the Old Maps Online project, the  team are putting on workshops and i attended the Edinburgh event on Thursday 13th December. Edinburgh is steeped in mapping history and has one of the largest map library collections in the World.  Whats more, a significant percentage of the National Library of Scotland’s collection has been scanned and made available online for free.  The NLS have recently updated their catalogue interface and it is even easier to search and view maps.  This is a huge resource and has sparked the interest in many researchers who have utalised the old maps in their research.

The NLS site is uses software from Klokan Technologies, a small Swiss company run by Petr Pridal. Petr has put a lot of effort into improving the searching and discovery of historic maps online and it was for this contribution that he received the Bartholomew’s Globe. The Bartholomew’s Globe is an award from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) and is awarded in recognition of an exceptional contribution to cartography, mapping and related techniques in Scotland over a long period of years. The award was presented by Bruce Gittings, RSGS Vice Chairman.

Bartholomew’s Award 2012

The rest of the event focused on how historic maps, and historic geographical data in general, were being used in researchers. The flavor was, as expected given the location, generally Scottish, but it also brought together a mix of academic researchers, commercial organisations and enthusiastic amateurs.  Presentations that stood out included:

Alice Heywood (NLS) who described a project that got School children to develop content for mobile apps that provided historic tours of their home towns. The pilot had been run in Elgin and the children had produced some excellent narratives explaining their local historical sites and traditions.  This kind of partnership between the NLS and schools seems like an excellent initiative. Perhaps it could link in with organisations such as VisitScotland to create apps for tourists visiting Scotland. More information about the Great Escapes project can be found on the NLS website.

Chris Speed (University of Edinburgh) who discussed the “blue dot” concept.  This is really that a mobile device will represent your position as a blue dot, but using historic maps and data you can allow the user to travel back through time at a particular location. Chris has had publicity with his Walking through time app, a project which was supported by JISC and EDINA. This allowed users to view historic maps of Edinburgh and embark on guided tours through history via their mobile phones. Chris want to expand this to Glasgow, arguably a more dynamic environment which might reveal more startling change to users. I am not sure I entirely agree with Chris’ comments about connecting with individual objects such as trees which have persisted in green spaces while the build environment has changed around them.  Trees on maps tn to be representative rather than an absolute record.  However, if you are in a greenspace and faced by a tree that is clearly over 100 years old and trees are marked on the map you can believe that the surveyor stood there and added it to the map all those years ago and that tree is a link to the past environment.

There were 2 talks on mapping old transport links.  David Simpson had tried to locate roads marked on Roy’s Maps, Roy’s Roads. David found that bridges were quite reliable features of Roy’s maps and by locating these on the ground and modern maps you could then find the old road features. Many of these bridges are being lost, used only by farmers to access fields but represent an important part of Scotland’s history.  Neil Ramsay (Scotways) was working to display old path networks on modern maps.  Discovering old routes and posting them online is one way in which Scotways in encouraging people to get out and discover their local area. It was noted by a member of the audience that there was an apparent lack of paths connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh. Neil noted this and mentioned that it was certainly on the list of places to investigate, perhaps enthusiastic walkers could lend a hand.  Just go to the NLS maps page and scan through the maps to see if a path exists in your local area that is missing from the modern OS maps, then get out an see if it exists on the ground. Take a look at Scotways excellent Heritage Paths site.

There was a very interesting presentation on using Historic maps as a tool for place-name research given by Jake King (Ainmean Aite na h-Alba). Jake had used the NLS historic maps to investigate the changes in spelling of Gaelic place-names through time.

Bomb Sight

Bomb Sight

Humphrey Southall and Andrew James (The National Archives) deputised for Kate (bomber) Jones (University of Portsmouth) who was unable to travel to the event.  The Bomb Sight project maps the bombs that fell on London during the first phase of the blitz. This project digitised and mapped records held by the National Archive. These maps were previously only available for the public to view in the reading room at the National Archive.  Users can view the location of bombs and display attribute data such as the date, bomb type and, in most cases, view “nearby memories” such as audio and pictures from the archive. Users can switch between the modern map and the 1940 Bomb maps. These maps are a bit grainy and it would be great to see some crisper historic mapping in there.  The Bomb Sight project also has a mobile app that allows users an augmented reality view of the blitz. The project has done incredibly well and attracted a lot of publicity. This demonstrates the power of fusing historic maps with archived data that has never been displayed digitally.

This really summed up the event.  There is public interest in historic data and making it accessible in a digital format is the key.  Once those interested in historic data can get their hands on the digital data, they can turn it into useful information that others can enjoy or even re-appoint for other uses such as education and tourism.


Guest Blog Post: Whose Town? a heritage project for schools

This week we have a guest post about the Whose Town? Project from Clare Padgett, Library Services Officer at Edinburgh City Libraries and part of the Whose Town? team. We bumped into her at the Scottish Association of Family History Societies Conference and she kindly offered to let AddressingHistory blog readers know more about this new resource about Edinburgh’s past.

School pupils across Edinburgh are getting to grips with an award-winning new digital teaching resource which uses real life case studies to illustrate key periods of history.

Whose Town? is an award-winning and innovative resource for teaching Social Studies developed by Edinburgh City Libraries. The resource is aimed at pupils aged between 8 and 13 and is linked to the Curriculum for Excellence, second, third and fourth levels. It is available on Glow, the Scottish schools’ intranet and on free CD.

Whose Town? looks at Edinburgh’s past from the 1850s to the 1950s through the eyes of people who lived there. There are 14 lives to discover who lived in Victorian times, at the beginning of the twentieth century, during the Second World War and in the Fifties. Archival material is collected in a digital box and hidden in an attic for pupils to uncover and examine. Each life is captured at a particular point in history, creating a snapshot of their life: a Life in a Box.

Pupils can discover what life was like for Levi, a destitute and orphaned boy in late Victorian Edinburgh, or how nine year old Bessie became the youngest Suffragette. They will uncover Luca’s story as he established an ice cream business in Musselburgh, or learn from John what it was like to grow up in wartime Edinburgh. They can hear a first hand account from Hugh of working on Edinburgh’s trams in the Fifties or the early days of television from Bill.

Edinburgh City Libraries worked closely with the volunteer contributors. Many of the participants who appear as ‘lives’ within the resource generously gave their time, memories and personal archives for inclusion in Whose Town? Nancy Comber (Pugh), who was an evacuee during the Second World War said:

“I really enjoyed being part of this project – it’s a brilliant idea and I’m sure the children will get a lot out of it. The fact that they’re looking into the lives of real people – some of whom, like me, are still alive – should help to make it much more interesting. It makes it like a kind of living history, which is possibly easier to relate to than just reading a book about someone’s life.”

Whose Town? is a Heritage Lottery Funded project. It has been developed by Edinburgh City Libraries in collaboration with Edinburgh Museums and Galleries and Edinburgh City Archives, and has been supported by many partner organisations.

To find out more, visit Whose Town? or contact the Information and Digital Team at Central Library on 0131 242 8047.