Three questions to discover your street's history

28 May 2020
Would you like to find out more about what your street was like in years gone by? Maybe discover who used to live there, which is the oldest building and lots more? Take a look at these 3 key questions to get you started.

#StoryOfOurStreet, a new local history project from Family Tree and History Scotland is inviting everyone to explore the history of your neighbourhood, wherever you live. This is a project you can work on from home and we have plenty of resources to help you along the way. Find out more HERE.

Below are 3 questions to help you think about what clues are on your chosen street and how you can interpret this information to discover the story of your street.

1 Which is the oldest house on the street and when was it built?

Date stones could help you here, so check the oldest buildings for a plaque that might have the builder’s initials and hopefully the date it was built. Failing that, a look at the architecture of the shops and houses will help you find a date range or the area’s local history society might be able to help – the British Association for Local History has details of hundreds of UK societies here.

Finally, use a local social media group or ask around the neighbourhood (using social distancing of course!) – residents who have lived in the area for a long time will have lots of local knowledge and this could be a great chance to get the neighbours involved in the project too.

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2 Are there any clues from street furniture?

Street furniture such as postboxes, street lighting and bollards can all help to date the street. Postboxes usually have the initials of the reigning monarch, giving you a rough date span, whilst items such as milestones, a water pump or bollards should give you an idea of the age of the street.

You can then fine tune your research by looking at maps of the local area over the decades, working backwards until you can’t spot the street – this means that the previous map shows the date range of the road. Your local library or record office will have maps of the area and whilst Coranavirus restrictions are in place, sites such as National Library of Scotland maps provide a good starting point with comprehensive UK coverage.  

3 Is your street and/or its inhabitants mentioned in old newspapers?

Both local and national newspapers might have reference to your street and the people who lived there over the years. Whether it’s a photo of a VE Day street party, details of a court case involving a local shopkeeper or mention of a building application for one of the structures on the street, it’s surprising how much information can be found. 

Our ancestors relied heavily on newspapers for information, gossip and local news and so your chances of finding your street within their pages are good. Try the British Newspaper Archive (paid site) for starters, the collections at National Library of Scotland The Times digital archive (paid site).

The UK National Archives has some great advice here.

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