The Statistical Accounts of Scotland: An Essential Tool for Scottish Family History Research
Do you have Scottish ancestry? We share one of our favorite tools for Scottish family history research!
One of the best resources for learning more about your Scottish ancestors’ day-to-day lives are the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Written by Church of Scotland ministers in two different waves (the Old Statistical Account covers 1791-1799 and the New Statistical Account covers 1834-1845), these accounts are full of rich details about life in each parish including occupations, social customs, religion, trade, population, antiquities in the area and much more. Some ministers even included detailed maps, though they were not required.
The Weavers and Fisherman of Newburgh
While researching a Scottish family history project for one of our clients, we came across something a bit unusual—the ancestor was recorded as a handloom weaver on all other records, but his death recorded him as a salmon fisher. This was a bit perplexing, but his wife’s name and his parents listed on the death record confirmed he was the same man. His father was also consistently recorded as a handloom weaver on all other records but was listed as a seaman on his son’s death record. Was this just a mistake on the death record or was it common to have two occupations in Newburgh? Was there a link between weaving and seafaring?
We searched the Old Statistical Account of Newburgh parish which provided a clear answer. The parish minister who wrote the statistical account reported that Newburgh was “a provincial town inhabited chiefly by sailors and weavers, possessed of small properties, and nearly on a level with respect to riches…”
The trade which occupies the greatest number of hands, is that of weaving cloth. No fewer than 270 of the inhabitants are at present employed in it. The weavers of Newburgh, however, do not yet abide constantly by the loom. Accustomed from their early years to handle the oar, as well as the shuttle, they betake themselves, in considerable numbers, to a sea-faring life, when the price of these kinds of cloth, which they are in the practice of weaving, falls low in the market…
The reverend continued on to explain the salmon trade and how sailors from Newburgh were often hired to convey the fish to the London market themselves. This account was a perfect explanation for the differing occupations found for William Lyell—clearly, it was common in Newburgh to be involved in both the weaving and seafaring trades, especially when linen prices dropped.
How to Search the Statistical Accounts
Both the Old and New Statistical Accounts are in the public domain and can be accessed on Google Books and Archive.org. However, there is also a dedicated website for the Statistical Accounts, which has fully digitized and indexed both accounts. It can be searched by parish name and by subject, such as “mills.” This index is freely available, though some features such as viewing specific results and downloading pages can only be accessed with a premium subscription. Specific parishes can also be found by clicking through the county map available on this website. Although names of specific individuals are not in the Statistical Accounts you will find contextual social details of those who lived in each parish.
If you have Scottish ancestry, our professionals and onsite agents are ready to help you learn more about your Scottish family history. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your research goals and determine which of our project options is best for you!
 Rev. Thomas Stuart, The Old Statistical Account, 1791-1799, Newburgh, County of Fife, OSA, Vol. VIII, p. 180, (William Creek: Edinburgh, 1793) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845, http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/, accessed September 2018.
 Rev. Thomas Stuart, The Old Statistical Account, 1791-1799, Newburgh, County of Fife, OSA, Vol. VIII, p. 189, (William Creek: Edinburgh, 1793) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845, http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/, accessed September 2018.