Keep reading! They are far more than numbers. The Statistical Accounts are two fascinating sets of reports on each Scottish parish in the 1790s and the 1830s/40s. They cover economic and social activities as well as natural resources.
What, when, who, how?
Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster sent out 171 queries to the ministers of each of the 938 parishes in Scotland in the 1790s. Their responses form the Old Statistical Account (OSA). In 1832, because of all the changes that had taken place in Scotland, a new survey was agreed. The responses are collectively known as the New Statistical Account (NSA). Find out more about the background.
How are the Statistical Accounts useful for family history?
- Context for our ancestors’ lives. “The prejudices, entertained by the inhabitants of this parish, against inoculation [sic] were, for a long time, invincible. But the better sort, setting the example, the rest gradually followed… In one season 460 were inoculated, of whom only 3 died” (Kilmalie, Invernesshire, OSA, p409). Mortality by age group statistics (Glasgow, OSA p508).
- Information on churches other than the established Church of Scotland. “There is in St Ninians a Relief meeting-house… there is another meeting-house in Ba-burn connected with the United Secession” (St Ninians, Stirlingshire, NSA p336). Information on the state of the parish registers: “the fourth is a mere ragged fragment” (Wick Caithness, NSA p137). These may explain why you can’t find a baptism and indicate other records to trace.
- Names of landowners which could lead you to estate records. See Menteith, Perthshire, NSA p 108, for example.
- Local history generally, development of industries, migration and so on. “What accounts for this [population] increase of 71 is the settlement of a colony of Highlanders, who had been forced to emigrate from Strathnaven [sic], where their farms had been converted into sheep pasture” (Walls, Orkney, OSA p313).
- The minister’s view on his parishioners. This snip from the Dalziel, Lanarkshire, (Motherwell area) NSA p 454 is particularly rich:
Statistical Accounts – summary
Topography, geology, botany, agriculture, weather, population statistics,diseases, the state of the church and manse, manufactures, occupations (see Inverness, OSA p 622 for a good table), wages, prisons, schools, language,history, antiquities, communications – and much more. Each account as individual as the minister who wrote it. You can find them all on on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland website. Free, with additional features available by subscription.