Maps of Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

Recently I wrote about facilities in Scotland that are tempting me to return for another research trip, and I made brief reference to the online maps at the National Library of Scotland website. We all appreciate the value of maps whether researching at home or on location. Maps clarify our planning, whether for research or travel, or both, because a visual aspect helps us think logically and break a problem down into workable segments.

Whatever record I am searching, I begin with getting my bearings and that means finding out about boundaries specific to the record and contemporary with my research.

Wherever I travel I want contemporary maps of different scales. They help me find the bed and breakfast where I am staying, or the location of a surviving house, or the local library. Good road maps are usually at a scale of four miles to the inch and detailed town plans can be as large a scale as six inches to the mile–or the metric equivalent. (Maps in the United Kingdom are metric.)

I also look for maps that portray background information, such as the distribution of names, the historic location of industries, or patterns of migration.

Online Selection
At the National Library of Scotland website, you can examine the first three editions of maps at the one inch to one mile scale that were published by the Ordnance Survey, Britain’s official mapping agency:

  • One-inch to the mile, 1st Edition – 1856-1891 – 131 sheets
  • One-inch to the mile, 2nd Edition – 1885-1900 – 131 sheets
  • One-inch to the mile, 3rd Edition – 1903-1912 – 131 sheets

In addition, the website offers the first edition at the scale of six inches to the mile (2123 sheets), the four miles to the inch series of 1921 to 1923, and something known as the one-inch popular map of 1921-30.

Scotland produced many famous mapmakers of its own and the National Library reflects this in its online collection with the 1912 Bartholomew’s Survey Atlas of Scotland, and an atlas by John Thompson published in Edinburgh in 1832. A very useful collection is of town plans, many from the first half of the 1800s. Choose from a list of places, some with one or two dozen maps available (e.g. Edinburgh and Glasgow).

On the Scotland’s Family website you’ll find maps of county and parish boundaries.

The parish boundary plans are from The Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland (first published 1993), which is available from the Scottish Association of Family History Societies.

Try out the interactive website, Gazetteer for Scotland. On this site you can view modern and historical maps, read about places, and find the location of historic buildings.

Place Name Aids
There are many place name lists online. Among those I refer to are gazetteers at Ancestry; you can find them by going to the Maps, Atlases and Gazetteers collection and typing in Scotland or a county name.

Among those listed is a favorite of mine, The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, by Francis Groome. The Gazetteer of Scotland website mentioned above also is a good source for place names and I sometimes use the gazetteer at the website of the Scottish Archives Network. 

Sometimes I know I am dealing with a very specific bit of place name information, and in those situations I use the free database of all addresses in the 1881 census, available at Scots Origins. Test how it works with the place name Broomley. You will get seven results in two counties, four in the parish of Dun in Angus. You can also search on part of a word such as “stam.”

Other Useful Suggestions
I am always watching for old guide books and pamphlets, some are useful not only for research but for trip planning. I enjoy early motoring guides that were written before four-lane roads were built. One good example is the “Road Book of Scotland” published by the Automobile Association in 1953. There are descriptions of thousands of places, town plans, suggested routes to drive, and an atlas in the back. For up-to-date information I refer to Ordnance Survey maps, in particular the Explorer Series which are at the scale of 1:25,000 (4 cm to 1 km or 2.5 inches to the mile). If you use the Get-a-Map tool at the Ordnance Survey website you can zoom in to see the level of detail at this scale.

If you are considering a trip to Scotland in the near future be sure to visit the genealogy site for Scottish tourism.

Sherry Irvine, CG, is an author, teacher, and lecturer specializing in English, Scottish, and Irish family history. She is the Course Director and co-owner of Pharos Teaching and Tutoring (, a British company. Her books include Your English Ancestry” (2d ed., 1998), “Scottish Ancestry” (2003) And Finding Your Canadian Ancestors (co-author, 2007) all published by Ancestry. Upcoming lecture locations include Ottawa, Kelowna, London, and Auckland.

3 thoughts on “Maps of Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

  1. As usual I find your recommendations both interesting and stimulating. Have just spend a pleasant evening checking out maps for my current areas of interest. Wish I had had these when I made my one trip to Scotland. Next time I’ll be so much better prepared. Thank your for once again sharing your knowledge and experience so willingly

  2. The most eciting thing about the town plans are that the ones by John Wood have the names of the inhabitants written by the side of every house on the street, so it’s just like a census. The town I am interested in, Kilmarnock, is from 1819, long before the earliest census, so has provided me with lots of information about who and where my family were living at that time.

  3. Looking for a place that is engraved on my GGrandfathers Tombstone. ” Lochmouth”
    Would you be able to help?
    Stan Scott

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