National Library of Scotland Post Office Directories Collection

Doing some research in/about/for Scotland? The National Library of Scotland has the Scottish Post Office Directories site at This site has over 700 digitized directories spanning 1773 to 1911.

The directories are browsable so you can, if you wish, page through them, but searching is available as well. I found the online browser mechanism slow, but the NLS also offers the ability to download the directories. And that is why I have a copy of “Pigot & Co.’s new commercial directory of Scotland for 1825-6” sitting on my desktop, but man, that 169MB was a slow download. (You can also download high-quality individual pages as well, if you don’t have hours to hang around.)

Search allows you to search the first several letters of a last name, a place, and a year. (There is an advanced search as well but I thought the basic search enough, as long as you can narrow down by year or place.) A search for Cal, covering 1871-1889, found 821 results. Results are presented in a gallery with a thumbnail of the relevant directory, and a link to take you to the page where the partial name is found. Click on that link for a larger version.

What you’ll get depends on the directory. Looking at the Inverness County Directory from 1887 I found names, addresses, and yearly rent or values, while looking at the County Directory of Scotland from 1872, I found names, addresses, and in many cases occupations. For the most part the scans were excellent and easily readable, but I did have a problem with the “Royal national commercial directory and topography of Scotland” from 1872, as it was pretty faded. Downloading a high-resolution single page fixed that, however.

If you just want to get a sense of what’s available in the collectoin, the NLS has put together a few goodies for you. There’s a pointer to several pages of advertising in a Glasgow directory, a page from the 1809 Dundee directory, and a directory title page. An about the directory section gives you a good overview of what you might find (and why it might be wrong.)

A fascinating collection. Worth a browse but I recommend downloading anything you want to do a lot of research on.

An Archive of London History Through Documents

A story in yesterday’s Guardian pointed me toward a very cool new site called London Lives, an online archive covering 1690 and 1800 (these are not absolute dates — the records I saw stretched a little before and a little after this span.) The archive contains 240,000 manuscripts from eight archives and fifteen datasets. That’s over 3.3 million names. It’s available at

There are several ways to go through the content on this site. You can browse by record type, or you can browse a selected list of names or go through a tag cloud. And of course on the front page you can do a search by first name and surname, with the additional option of specifying a time span.

I did a search for John Smith across the entire history of the site. Initially the page showed I got 20 results, but by clicking on the “Calculate Total” link I discovered that it was actually 6752 results. Results included name, record type, and relevant extract. For example: “John Smith, minor[es] / Records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1681-1709, 1st January 1659 / 5712 Baptism John Smith male “born ye .18. January baptizd ye 1st”. Click on the name or the record type name for a detail page which will also allow you to page through additional records in this collection.

I did a second search for John Pratt (long story) and got a much shorter list of 203 results. This set of results eemed more diverse than the first result, with records including baptisms, proven wills, and tax records.

While searching I did not see any way to look at the original pages of the records, but if you browse the documents by record types you’ll have the option of going through an entire document, looking at a transcription and the original document image at the same time. Run your mouse over the original image and it acts as an instant magnifying glass, showing you close up views of individual lines as you pull your mouse pointer down the document. Very nice.

For additional information about this project, check out the <a href="; historic background page and information on how this particular project was put together. There was an astounding amount of work put into this: well done.

UK Election Leaflets

Thanks to reader APS for pointing me to The Straight Choice (, a Web site containing almost 3500 (at this writing) election leaflets from UK general election candidates. The front of the site contains a list of latest leaflets found, the top parties, top constituencies, and campaign “not spots” (sorry, Aberdeen North.) You can also search the leaflets by postal code or browse them by party or category. There’s also a fairly substantial tag cloud of keywords.

I went looking at the parties, and found literally dozens — unfortunately some of the most interesting looking ones had no fliers associated with them. (The Dungeons Death and Taxes party?) I did find one flyer from the “Best of a Bad Bunch” party. The party pages for fliers contain links for getting an RSS feed or e-mail alert, and even embed codes if you want to feature a party’s leaflets on your own site. There’s a little data about where the leaflet came from and when it was uploaded to the site, and a few relevant categories listed.

The image quality of the leaflets themselves varied a lot — visitors are encouraged to scan or photograph leaflets and send ’em on in — but all the ones I looked at were available in a large enough size that they were easily readable. I know this wasn’t the intention, but if you wander through a site with almost 3500 flyer designs you can learn at least a little something about layout.

As long as you’re looking at UK election campaign materials, drop by, which is attempting to document election billboards. There’s a leaderboard where you can get points for taking pictures of and sending in billboards. Billboards have some data about the associated campaign and a map of the area where it was found. At least one billboad I looked at seemed to have suffered a bit of annotation. Not as extensive as the leaflets site but there seems to be more elections data here.

Ghostsigns in the UK

Ready for a big wall of advertising nostalgia? How about over 600 big walls? An article in last week’s Guardian looks at the Ghostsigns Archive, a new offering from the History of Advertising Trust. This archive tracks painted advertising on buildings across the UK.

It looks like the official site is but you can browse the signs at Signs are divided into several categories including Medical & Health, Food & Drink, and Shoes & Clothing.

Choose a category and you’ll get a gallery of signs with thumbnails. Detail pages include location, photographer, date taken, and a transcription of the sign if it’s necessary. I like how there’s a little thumbnail of the gallery so you can continue browsing from detail pages.

Since the idea is to document signage painted on buildings, and a lot of that signage is very old, the images vary a lot in quality. Some of them look like they were painted yesterday and some of them are barely readable.

If you want a larger pool of images than what’s here, you can get over 3700 (though perhaps not categorized as well) at the Ghostsigns Flickr group. And if you’re really interested in ghost signs, you can download a download a Google Spreadsheet of Ghostsigns Archive ad locations.

Scottish Architecture and Archaeological Database Available

A database of information about 280,000 Scottish archaeological and architecture sites has been updated with some interactive features. I’m glad to learn about it, because I’d never heard of it before. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland has its database, Canmore, available at .

The front page has a simple keyword search available or you can use an extensive advanced search form that allows you to search by location, site type, ID, online collections only, and more.

I stuck with the simple site search and looked for castle, restricting my results to online items only. I found 1,482 results. Results (it looks like you can get only 500 at a time) are listed 20 to a page, with a thumbnail of the site, site name, site type, council, and collection items. There are two types of collection items: those that are online (those are listed first) and those that are available in the search room (and those may be images, maps, manuscripts, etc. There is information about how to order them but they are not available online.)

Each listing has its own page; here’s the one for Castle Tioram.There are some images available for the site as well as architectural and archaeological descriptions and book citations. Visitors are invited to submit their own sites and images as well.

If you’re less interested in browsing the database and more interested in looking at the images, you might want to check out the RCAHMS Flickr stream at There are 228 images here covering everything from distilleries to castle ruins to rock carvings.