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A view from outside

Preparing for 2014 in the digital age

Stefanie Metze (Online Resources Archivist, National Records of Scotland)

Those of us involved in the heritage sector are fully aware that 2014 is going to be a busy year in Scotland - with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, events across the country commemorating the outbreak of the Great War, and Homecoming - a celebration of Scotland's past, present and future.

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) will be supporting Homecoming Scotland 2014 and expects a growing interest in ancestral tourism and all matters relating to genealogy and family trees. This interest goes hand in hand with the increasing demand for the online digital availability of historical documents which we are currently trying to meet via the ScotlandsPeople and ScotlandsPlaces websites. On the ScotlandsPeople website you can carry out research on indexed digital copies of census returns (1841-1911), wills and testaments (1500-1925) and some valuation rolls. On the ScotlandsPlaces website you can view digital copies of 17th-19th century tax rolls, Ordnance Survey name books, and maps and plans.

But what use is the online availability of historical documents without also providing necessary guidance on, for example, how to read old handwriting and decipher difficult and unfamiliar words, often in Scots? It is here that the online availability of the Dictionary of the Scots Language has been very important to us and our users.

The significance of the Dictionary of the Scots Language is most prominent for the users of our Scottish Handwriting website at www.scottishhandwriting.com. This website offers online tuition in palaeography and sets out to help people read and understand manuscript historical records written in Scotland mainly in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The website provides interactive tutorials, a coaching manual, and weekly posers that provide opportunities for regular practice in palaeography. Each poser is accompanied by specific guidance (often a link to the Dictionary of the Scots Language), a puzzle question and a full transcription of the document.

Our staff and researchers, who provide us with new posers, value having easy access to the DSL to help decipher the words and their meanings. One excellent example can be found in a recent poser provided to us by a professional researcher and archivist.

The poser featured a passage from the Book of Rates, taken from Exchequer Records compiled in about 1669, which contains the name of different commodities, the specific quantity and physical qualities of the goods with their appropriate custom duty. (National Records of Scotland, E76/6/41; www.scottishhandwriting.com.posers).

extract from Book of Rates c1669

Studying this record introduces you to chalders, bolls and dackers different measures and quantities, and to fumarts, fittsealls and scadling, which after some detective work using the DSL, leads you on to foumart - the polecat, and to futefells and scaldings - wonderfully descriptive words for lamb or sheepskins.

If you are interested in extending your Scots vocabulary and enjoy a challenge, visit our latest poser on www.scottishhandwriting.com.