Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland

The following was first published on my Walking in Eternity blog on 20 NOV 2010:

After birth, marriage, death and census records, one of the greatest resources for Scottish research is the special gazetteer collection known as the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, which provides a detailed parish by parish guide, including information on local landowners, schools, churches, morality of the people, industry, antiquarian sites and much more. (If you're English, think of them as a sort of equivalent to the Victoria County Histories, though more complete.) There have been three national statistical accounts, recorded in the 1790s, 1830s/40s and the mid 20th century. (In fact, there's also a fourth for East Lothian, currently being compiled over seven volumes and covering 1945-2000!).

The first two accounts are digitised and available on several platforms. Electric Scotland (www.electricscotland.com) and Google Books (http://books.google.com) have copies which are fully downloadable in PDF format and wich are keyword searchable. In most cases however, I have used the non-subscriber version of the collection available on the EDINA website at http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. This allows you to search by parish and by account, and then browse through the pages. I say non-subscriber version, because at the AddressingHistory launch on Wednesday 17th November I listened to a talk from Helen Chisholm of EDINA about the subscription version, which I had always assumed was just for academic and/or institutional access. I was surprised at some of the features available through this version of the site, so here is a run down..!

The first account, collated by "Agricultural Sir John Sinclair" runs to some 21 volumes, the second, commissioned by the Committee of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy in 1832 runs to 15 volumes. In the first account 938 parish ministers were asked to provide answers to 166 questions concerning their parishes, with 'Statistical missionaries' sent to hurry them on if they fell behind schedule! The second account maintained this tradition, though in the cities many other observations were also included.

There were 28,000 pages scanned in 1998 and first launched online in January 2001, though from 2005 the service has been run by EDINA. The subscription service has several differences to the free version. You can do a keyword search across all accounts at one go - the example given was "tea-drinking" - and compare various anecdotes from parish to parish, something that can't be done on the other two online suppliers with any ease. The accounts are also linked to the Ordnance Gazetteer of 1882-85, and as well as the scanned page returns you get a transcript along site which can be cut and pasted into any document you may be writing - very handy! There are also several related resources, such as background documents to the records' collation and more.

So how can the accounts help? In my recent talk in Australia on church records I gave a good example from the parish of Kinclaven's second acount. If I want to know what was going on by way of church denominations in 1843, this is what I am told:

Parochial registers: The parochial registers, consisting of six volumes, commenced in 1725, and do not appear to have been kept with sufficient care, - several of the volumes beng a good deal torn, and the writing defaced. It is to be regretted that parents are not sufficiently sensible of the importance of registering the births and baptisms of their children. Among the Dissenters, especially, great negligence in this respect still prevails; although, to induce them to do so, it has been the practice, during several years, to exact no fees for such registration.

and also:

The number of communicants at the sacrament generally amounts to 180. There are 86 families, inclusing 413 individuals, belonging to the Established Church, and 96 families, inclusing 465 individuals, who belong to the United Secession. It may also be mentioned that, within these few months, three Roman Catholic families have been brought to the parish, as servants to the Rev. Mr MacKay, the clergyman of the Roman Catholic church in Perth, who has obtained in lease a farm of seventy acres on the Arntully estate, which he is improving at great expense.

So if I am wondering why I can't find a Church of Scotland baptism on ScotlandsPeople for Kinclaven, this might give me a few clues!

Subscription costs for the enhanced version of the site are £10 for two months' access, £25 for six months' access and £40 for a year. If you need to do more with the material than just look up a simple parish account and read it, this is well worth the value and just might transform your research!


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