Trace the history of your street using the National Library of Scotland Maps website

07 June 2020
Expert advice from National Library of Scotland on using their website to trace the story of your UK street over the decades.

There’s a wealth of documentary sources for those researching their house. But to those documentary sources we must add the National Library of Scotland’s maps website.

This website is rich in information for everyone doing research on their house in Scotland (and England and Wales too). We have added around 230,000 maps to the website, and intend to double this number in the next five years.

Find By Place

The maps date back into the 16th century, but of most interest to those researching their house is the Ordnance Survey mapping dating from the mid-19th century. You can view these as single maps in the ‘Find by Place’ section of the site.

Two tips for this – and other areas of the site – are:

1. search for your desired location in the Gazetteer, as this will take you straight to the place you want to view

2. use the drop-down menus below the Gazetteer to allow you to choose the different series

But our top tip for the maps website is the ‘Explore Georeferenced Maps’ viewer. When you click the link you’ll be taken to 1-inch-to-the-mile mapping. We suggest choosing a larger scale series, such as the 25-inch-to-the-mile mapping.

Once you’ve found the house you’re interested in, have zoomed in, and are viewing it in a scale you are happy with, then you can get started with the magic of georeferencing (one Library user called it a ‘time thief’ – she sat down to use it at 8pm, and was still there the next morning).

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Master georeferencing

Under the drop-down menus you’ll see a slider with the detail ‘Change transparency of overlay’. Drag the slider left. You’ll see the historic map fading to reveal the default background, which is a satellite image (there’s a drop-down menu at the top of the screen that allows you to change the background). 

Once you’ve mastered georeferencing, take a look around the site. There are so many different aspects that it’s simply a case of scouting around and finding what interests you – viewing maps side-by-side, the 3D viewer that allows you to overlay maps on the contours of the land, and the spy viewer.

The 'Search OS six-inch 1888-1913 names: gazetteer' in the Explore Georeferenced Maps viewer allows you to search for names on maps from a century ago. 

Don't give up!

If you find the site difficult to navigate, don’t despair and close down. Our advice is to play with the site for a couple of hours, and learn how it works. If you’re still struggling, we’re more than happy to answer any queries. Phone calls aren’t possible under lockdown, but you can still contact us via email.

And be sure to check the Library’s What’s On guide for online workshops on how to get the best out of our maps website.

(All images copyright National Library of Scotland)

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