Tuesday 10 November 2015

A Visit to the NLS Map Department

It has been wet and wild in Scotland this week but a hardy group of Scottish genealogists received a warm welcome in the reading room of the National Library of Scotland maps department.

Located at Causewayside in Edinburgh the building holds over two million items. They have gazetteers and a massive collection of Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland but also have maps created by the British Army as they trekked the globe as well as a variety of other unique maps. Together with their Ordnance Survey maps of England, Wales and Ireland their collections are worth a look whichever part of the world you are researching in.

As well as holding a vast collection of topographic masterpieces they have catalogued their collection and have digitised a huge part of it. These digitised maps are available to view online and are a wonderful asset to anyone researching the history of their family or a specific place.

Amongst the collections are some real gems. One that was shown to us today was a street plan of central Glasgow made for insurance companies. It shows the materials the buildings were made from, which had skylights and which businesses where in which building. If your ancestors worked, lived or ran businesses in Glasgow these maps could give you a real insight into the city at the time.

Before the first series of Ordnance Survey maps were made in Scotland between 1840 and 1880 there is no national coverage at large scales, but there are some wonderful maps covering certain towns and areas. For some country towns in particular there are maps showing who owned certain portions of land and what type of land it is; a wonderful resource for the family historian.

The National Library of Scotland is a very forward-looking organization. As has been mentioned, they are digitising their collection and making it available online. On their website we find a huge variety of tools such as side-by-side mapping and overlays so that we can compare modern and historical maps in their collection. If you are planning a trip to visit your ancestors home you will find this an invaluable resource.

There is of course some ongoing work. One specific record set that is waiting to be catalogued are the estate plans. They hold around 2000 such plans so if you are researching a house or village which was part of the estate it may be worth contacting them to ask if they hold any that would be relevant. They do not hold all Scottish estate plans, just a small portion (some are still in private collections and many are held by the National Records of Scotland),but it’s interesting to know that the NLS do have some and that they are not all listed on their electronic catalogue.

All in all the SGN had a fascinating visit to the map department of the NLS and would recommend all to make full use of this resource. To keep up-to-date with the NLS Map department here are some useful link:

NLS Maps Department on Twitter: www.twitter.com/natlibscotmaps 

Access high-resolution zoomable images of over 130,000 maps of Scotland, England, Wales and beyond on the NLS website: www.nls.uk/maps

Keep up-to-date with their recent additions' page where you can also sign up to the Cairt newsletter.


  1. Sorry couldn't make it, but thanks for useful links.

  2. Hi,

    Just a note to inform you that my latest book has been published
    and it contains a great deal of genealogical content relative to Scotland.
    Listed in the book are 1,219 Scottish members of the Royal Irish Constabulary
    Special Reserve (RICSR); 451 Temporary Constables and 142 members of the
    Veterans and Drivers Division. All three units were collectively called 'Black and Tans,'
    and were WW1 veterans.

    Best regards,

    Jim Herlihy