Archival information relating to the Highlands is spread far and wide, and a certain amount of detective work is often needed to find various repositories. The Highland Archive Centre has four branches (Inverness, Skye, Lochaber and Wick), and now an online catalogue too. The large and varied collections include burgh, county and parish administrative records, health records, maps, plans, some estate papers, background research undertaken for some books (eg by Edward Meldrum and Marinell Ash), some local history archives (eg for Avoch Heritage Society, Inverness Field Club and North of Scotland Archaeology Society), a number of archives relating to the Caledonian canal and presbytery and kirk session records.
Other materials relating to the Highlands are available in a number of archives, including the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh (good for estate papers, land ownership, exchequer and court records), the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh (good for maps (see below) and some estate papers and film), the National Archives at Kew in London (good for military and government records), and Parliamentary Archives at Westminster (good for Parliamentary projects such as Telford’s work in the Highlands). Records relating to the Highlands may also be found in varying quantities in county record offices and other archives in England and Wales.
Historic Environment Scotland’s archives hold a number of unique documents and photographs relating to Scottish archaeology. Some are digitised and available on Canmore, but far more are not, though at least they are listed on the Canmore database in relevant records. The Future Thinking on Carved Stones in Scotland panel (section 3.8) noted their desire to remove charges for academic use of Canmore images, the same should be true for community project uses.
The National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) has a searchable database of archives that includes material relating to Scotland that is in private hands along with records of private papers in libraries and museums. Their website includes a very useful series of research guides. The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) has a catalogue (still in progress) with information about historical records throughout Scotland, together with useful research tools.
In terms of the records themselves, compared to elsewhere in Scotland, there are relatively few documents which date before 1550 relating to the Highlands. Some purport to document earlier events, but need to be used very carefully. Narrative sources such as annals and obituaries survive only in bits, embedded in other works and most are derivative. Some records such as charters and financial records survive. These too need to be used with care and may require specialist knowledge (Richard Oram, pers. comm.). It is still worth consulting Barrow (1981), Shaw (1986) and Fenton and MacKay (2013) for advice on working with documentary records.
Births, marriage and death records, the earlier parish records, census returns and wills are all searchable on Scotlands People database run by the National Records of Scotland, available on-line for a fee. Day rates for using facilities in Inverness and Edinburgh are also possible. The Highland Archive Centre in Inverness has many of these resources available on microfilm and microfiche for free. Databases relating to military personnel are available from a number of sources, most via the internet. Several subscription websites also allow access to many of these resources and are useful for tracing people and compiling family trees. The Scottish Genealogy Society publications are also useful. Other useful archival material for tracking individuals include Free Church of Scotland records and poor law records.
Burial ground transcriptions are available for a number of Highland kirkyards. The Highland Family History Society, based at Highland Archive Centre in Inverness, has copies of many of these documents and has an active publishing programme.
Scotland’s Valuation Rolls are especially useful for researching modern heritage (1855-1989). They provide year by year entries for all properties over a certain value, listing owner, tenant, subtenant and valuation. Paper copies are available at the Highland Archive centres, but now also online at Scotlands Peoples website. The Scotlands Places website has various tax rolls and transcriptions from the Ordnance Survey 1st edition Name Books (see below, maps).
ScRAN and Am Baile
These two websites provide a number of resources including photographs of sites, objects, archive material, book extracts, and audio and video clips. Am Baile (www.ambaile.org.uk) promotes Highland History and Culture, while ScRAN takes a Scotland-wide approach. Full access to ScRAN is by subscription, but is free at present for many schools and libraries.
Photography first took off in the Highlands in the late 19th century, and a number of useful photographs of sites, objects and people are accesible to the public. Archives include:
- Scottish Life Archive, held by the National Museum of Scotland. A large collection of photographs illustrating Scotland’s material culture and social history. A number of photos are online on ScRAN (www.scran.ac.uk)
- Highland Photographic Archive, held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery contains photographs by David Whyte, Joseph Cook, Gordon Shennan, Jimmy Nairn, MEM Donaldson and Jimmy Thomson amongst others. Digital versions of many are on AmBaile (www.ambaile.org.uk).
- Am Baile (see above). Highland Photographic Archive as well as photographs from other archives and museums.
- ScRAN (see above).
- The Johnston Collection. Three generations of Caithness photographers working between 1863 and 1975. The collection is housed at Wick Museum and has its own website with a searchable database www.johnstoncollection.net.
- George Washington Wilson Collection. Aberdeen photographer who photographed in the Highlands as well. Good for landscapes and buildings. On-line catalogue www.abdn.ac.uk/special-collections/george-washington-wilson.php.
- Andrew Paterson Collection. Inverness-based photographer especially known for his portraits www.patersoncollection.co.uk. Many of the portraits are on the Scottish Highlander Website which has a searchable index.
- Photographs taken at Strathpeffer Spa in early 1900s by local pharmacist T Wellwood Maxwell (private collection)
Most local museums also have photographic collections, though few have put either an index or images on line.
Some interesting early films relating to Scottish culture are also available, including from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive (formerly known as the Scottish Screen Archive and Scottish Film Archive). These are particularly useful for crofting architecture, artefacts (eg creels) and ways of life.
Maps and Aerial Photographs
Scotland has a good mapping tradition from the 16th century onwards, though early representations of the Highlands are dominated by English and later Continental authors and cartographers. The National Library of Scotland has a huge collection of maps online, increasingly yearly, with free access that allows zooming, georeferencing and viewing. The collection includes old maps, coastal surveys, specialist maps including for railways or other themes, and a small but growing collection of estate maps. Important collections include the Pont maps (16th century), Gordon and Blaeu maps (17th century), Moll, Roy and Avery maps (18th century), Arrowsmith, Thomson, Wood and the Ordnance Survey maps (19th century), and later Ordnance Survey maps as well as the Bartholomew collection (20th century). For the Highlands, the Lovat Estate maps are now available, along with some of the Cromartie estate, and the digitisation of the Sutherland estate maps are in progress. The NLS maps website and it is extremely important, and a model for making a large collection widely and freely available for researchers.
The National Records of Scotland has a large collection of estate maps, but most of these can only be viewed in Edinburgh. Some are on the ScotlandsPlaces website scotlandsplaces.gov.uk. Highland Archives also has some maps relating to the area.
When the Ordnance Survey surveyors did their major mapping project of Scotland, they asked local people for information about the places they were mapping. These were written in the Old Name Books, now held by the National Records of Scotland. They have been transcribed and are available on the ScotlandsPlaces website. For many antiquities our only evidence is from the Old Name Books.
At the larger scales the 1st and 2nd edition OS maps numbered fields, and recorded information about the land quality. The Survey books survive for the 1st edition maps, and these are available from the National Records of Scotland.
There is also a very useful resource that is based on the 2nd edition OS maps at 25 inches to a mile scale. The 1909-1915 Inland Revenue outlined each property, croft and farm, giving each a number. For each property detailed information is available listing the buildings on the property, construction details, and ownership as well as rateable value. Many of the draft maps for this project are in the Highland Archive Centre. Final copies and the field books which have been digitised are in the National Records of Scotland.
Aerial photographs are available for much of the country. A few from WWI or just after survive, but for the main they date from WWII onwards. The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP) has a large collection in Edinburgh with some available on-line at ncap.org.uk. However, the charges for reproduction and use are a major barrier for large scale landscape investigation, and a more affordable scheme is much needed. The Britain from Above website has a much more limited selection but they are free to view. Jim Bone, a local Highland pilot and amateur archaeologist, flew over much of the eastern Highlands as well as other areas. He left his collection to NoSAS; photos are available from NCAP or NoSAS.
Google Earth, Bing and EWRI World Imagery all provide modern aerial photographs of the Highlands. The National Library of Scotland has a very useful facility to georeference historic maps with Bing or EWRI modern aerial views, either through overlaying them or side by side comparison. When combined with large scale Ordnance Survey maps, they provide a very useful research tool.
More LiDAR imagery (surveying from above using lasers to determine depth of land) is being undertaken, and this data is either available or will be soon, though there are significant gaps in the Highlands; see the Scottish Government website for data which can be downloaded. A good example of LiDAR’s potential can be seen in Castletown Heritage Society/ AOC Archaeology project ‘A Window on the Hidden Bronze Age Landscapes of Caithness’ (Cavers et al 2016). High quality LiDAR is desirable for all of the Highlands, especially in light of current government afforestation targets. However, the sheer quantity of data created by LiDAR surveys, and the means to incorporate it into other studies, will need attention so that it does not become overwhelming.