Understanding the basics

Understanding the basics

This section will discuss the type of records you are to be working with, any issues associated with them and this is where we will discuss the difficulty of the work involved. Certain types of records will be easier to work with than others and we want you to start working at the best level, hopefully so you can move on to greater challenges.


Getting Started

Who can transcribe?

Anyone! Ideally, those interested in Scottish history, perhaps with a further interest in local and family history are likely to be most attracted to this project. We can also envisage groups or societies interested in historical geography or topography wanting to contribute together to the project. We will provide help and guidance so that you can read older styles of handwriting and we welcome all to contribute to the work.

Getting started

We have lots of different records you can transcribe! Try to think about what time period you are interested; what place draws your attention, and what type of record interests you. Read the guidance associated with your chosen record-type, and then browse what has already been done so that you know and understand what your task will be.

If you have never transcribed or even used documents like this, you should take your time and know your capabilities. Slow and accurate is much better than fast and inaccurate.

Set goals and make a plan

It is important that before you start volunteering your time that you set some goals. Each transcription can take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Always attempt to have time available which is free from distraction, where you can work comfortably and you will be able to concentrate fully.

Keep track of your work

Keep a note of what you have worked on! Work with a notebook where you can record any particular problems. This will be useful in helping you to understand and figure out palaeographical problems, and also create reference points for anything you may wish to post in the forums or group forums.



You can either register yourself, or get in touch with the Outreach Officer to indicate you would wish to take part in the transcriptions, giving your name and an email address so that a user account can be created.

Upon successful registration as a transcriber you will be sent an email welcoming you to the project and given you details of how to get started.


Types of Records

Ordnance Survey Name Books

Ordnance Survey name books (or 'original object name books') provide information about place names and building names on the first edition Ordnance Survey mapping which took place in the mid-19th century.

The handwriting is not too difficult, depending on the writer, and these would be suitable records for a confident beginner to transcribe. Depending upon the area, they can contain Gaelic names and spellings and so Gaelic speakers might enjoy transcribing these records.

Taxation Records

When the Crown collected taxes, it collected information about its subjects. Most taxation was levied from landowners until the late 18th century when government sought to broaden the tax base by taxing other forms of property. A by-product of this is a useful series of records for historians, listing different types of people in each of Scotland's parishes and burghs. 

The majority of these records are from the eighteenth century and would be good for intermediate-level transcribers.

Official Publications

The site holds several official publications, like the Medical Officer of Health Reports and the Inventories. These reports were written on a certain subject and were published to allow the public access.

The majority of these records are not handwritten and so are an excellent way for beginners to get use to transcription.



Reading historical documents, also known as palaeography, can often be a challenge, but practise helps your learning experience. Before too long, you will read historical documents with few problems. The tax records of the later 18th century are written in what is called a cursive hand style, which is very similar to ‘joined-up handwriting’ that we know today. Most of the letter forms and words should be familiar to the reader, but there may be a few abbreviations, contractions, letter forms or words which may be unknown or unusual to those working with the documents.

We have classified the transcription difficulty of all records available on the website with one of the following categories:


Beginner indicates just that. If you haven’t transcribed historical documents before, we recommend you start here. These records will usually be late 18th century and 19th century documents, which are formatted in printed books.


Intermediate standard usually indicates you have worked on historical records from the 18th century previously, and are confident and comfortable reading and understanding them.


Advanced transcriptions are most likely to indicate complex document styles from the 18th century, or be found associated with the 17th century hearth and land tax records. These records will either have a more complicated layout, or use the secretary hand style of handwriting, which requires training to understand.