Media Release: History sleuths sought to transcribe archives in ‘crowdsourcing’ project

THOUSANDS of volunteers are being sought to help transcribe historic archives in what might be the largest crowdsourcing project of its kind in Scotland.

Says a spokesperson: “They’re being asked to help transcribe the information on more than 150,000 pages of historic archives dating from 1645 to 1880, reading old handwriting, identifying local places and pinpointing people in Scotland’s history.

“There are more than one million records, written in Scots, English and Gaelic that cover land taxation; taxes on clocks and watches, windows and farm horses and Ordnance Survey ‘name books’ which formed the first official record of Scottish places and place names.”

More than 50 talks and workshops will now be held across Scotland in the next 12 months, to get people involved and trained in using the innovative online system.

The project – Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces – is unique in the archive world in Scotland and one of the first of its kind in the UK.

The information uncovered by the volunteer history sleuths will help to increase knowledge and understanding about Scotland’s history.

Their transcriptions will be added to a treasure trove of historical information on the Scotland’s Places website,, which brings together records from three of Scotland’s national archives: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Local and family historians, historical geographers, history societies and researchers can use the resources for their research and can also be part of creating further content. By getting involved in the transcription project, they’ll have access to more than one million records of people and places.

While some content on the ScotlandsPlaces website is only accessible via paid subscription, anyone who registers for the transcribing project will be given full free access to all resources.

The team behind the project hopes to unlock the secrets of the archives and make further discoveries about well-known individuals and places in Scottish history, for example

People: William Brodie, cabinet maker (or wright).A trawl through tax records has revealed that this was the infamous Deacon Brodie (1746-1788), whose double life as both an upstanding citizen and thief, inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.

From 1756 Brodie joined his father, Francis, in the family’s prosperous cabinet making business located in Brodie’s Close on the south side of Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket. In 1782 he succeeded his father as Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights – a position which also entitled him to a seat on the Town Council.

The shop tax roll for 1787-1788 tells us that his cabinet making shop was assessed at £15 a year and he paid 15 shillings duty on it. Brodie’s apparent respectability hid his involvement in corruption and house-breaking.

A failed robbery of the Edinburgh Excise Office led to his eventual arrest and trial. He was sentenced to hang, and was put to death on 1 October 1788.

Places: description in the Scottish name book of the Braes of Ballochmyle (Ayrshire): Precipitous, wooded, Rocky, Slopes forming a portion of the Western Bank of the River the property of Mr Alexander.

These Braes were the fauvorite haunt of the Poet Burns who makes them the theme of some of Songs this together with their wild romantic scenery renders these objects of attraction to all strangers.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said:

“Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces is an exciting project that will undoubtedly catch the public’s imagination. It will celebrate our long history in archiving and ensure these precious records become more accessible for everyone. I would urge as many people as possible to volunteer for this unique project and contribute to unlocking the secrets of Scotland’s past and improve our understanding of our history.”

Speaking on behalf of the project partners, Andrew Nicoll, RCAHMS outreach officer, said:

“Through this huge crowd-sourcing archive project, we hope that many thousands of volunteers will make new discoveries about people and places in Scotland’s history over the past 350 years. The website boasts a treasure trove of historical archives, which provide a fascinating insight into the history of buildings and communities across Scotland.

“But we need volunteer transcribers to help with the detective work, so that we can understand more and piece the jigsaw together. These records touch the lives of everyone from the famous figures of Scotland’s past, to the ordinary man and woman in the street. The potential of what we may find is incredibly exciting. And anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the internet can get involved.”

For more information about Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces or to find out how to get involved, email

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