Using Maps in Family History

Editor – this is a report of the talk given last November to members by Craig Statham from the National Library of Scotland, in Edinburgh, where he is currently map reading room manager. Craig went to Dalkeith High School then Edinburgh University and took a post graduate degree at St. Andrews. He is also currently involved in digitising the BP Archive at the Shale Oil Museum in Livingston and has written five books including ‘Lost East Lothian’.

Craig commenced by giving a brief potted history of the ‘map room’ of the National Library of Scotland, which came in to being in 1925 when the NLS was founded, originally made up of books which had come from the Advocate’s Library of Edinburgh. It was in 1958 that a proper map reading room was opened at ‘the National’ on George the Fourth Bridge in the capital. However as the collection grew it was realised that the maps were actually too heavy for the space they had been allocated and they were moved to the old Middlemass biscuit factory at Causeyside Street, in Edinburgh south of the main national library. This is an area I know well because as a student at Edinburgh University in the early sixties, this was my stomping ground and I passed the ‘biscuit factory’ on my way in to lectures, on the number 16 bus.

The old Biscuit factory
The old Biscuit factory

The biscuit factory may have been a picturesque building, which was in use from 1874 until 1987, but again the collection outgrew that space and an addition was ‘tacked on’ in 1987. As with a lot of modern architecture there are mixed reactions to it – like the speaker I personally hate it, and he admitted it ‘leaks like a sieve’ (not great when precious documents are at stake). However that is a rant for another time, although Craig did emphasise that the collection was not at risk. There are two and a half million maps so they do take up a huge amount of space.

The speaker urged members to look at the website and familiarise themselves with it as there is an enormous amount to get to grips with, and he did admit that some parts of the site were clearer than others.

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