Guides

Social history

Photograph of ponies on Ben Nevis

Census returns (1841-1911)

Photographic and image research

Valuation rolls

Wills and testaments (1513-1925)

Further reading

This is a brief guide with suggestions on how you can use a selection of records available on this site for researching social history.

Census returns (1841-1911)

The census can supply useful information about how families lived, for example, how many rooms with one or more windows a dwelling contained and how many people were present in the house. You can use the census to build up a picture of the inhabitants of a street or other communities. Geographic mobility of families can be tracked through given birth places, and social mobility through addresses and occupations.

Read our guide on census returns for more information and examples of these records.

Search census returns.

Photographic and image research

Photographs can reveal many things, for example, about the way people lived, dressed and worked and thus compliment the written record to help us understand and interpret the past.

Search the image library for images from the National Records of Scotland's diverse collections.

Once you have exhausted the above, read our guide on photographic and image research for suggestions on how you can continue your research online.

Valuation rolls

Valuation rolls can provide information on almost all buildings and other properties in a particular place, including those which do not appear on census records (because no-one was living there). You can use them to research the history of your house and other buildings such as shops and businesses.

Consult our guide on valuation rolls for further information about these records.

Indexes and images of valuation rolls for 1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1920, 1925 and 1930 are available to search on this site.

Search valuation rolls.

Wills and testaments (1513-1925)

Almost every document in the wills and testaments index contains an inventory of some kind, except where there are separate registers for wills. The inventory lists the moveable property belonging to the deceased at the time of his or her death. It can include household furnishings, clothes, jewellery, books, papers, farm stock and crops, tools and machinery, money in cash, bank accounts and investments, as well as money owed to creditors and money due from debtors.

Often the inventory consists only of a brief, overall valuation, but sometimes it is very detailed, with the value of every item listed. As such, it can supply a vivid snapshot of the deceased's lifestyle and help to build up a picture of what social and economic conditions were like in a particular locality at a certain time. An inventory that contains a 'roup roll' is very useful in that it itemises each lot sold in the roup, or auction, and states the prices paid (sometimes with the names of the purchasers).

Look at our guide on wills and testaments for further information about these records.

Search wills and testaments.

Further reading

There are many other sources available in the National Records of Scotland (NRS) which can help you research social and economic history. Read the NRS' research guides and consult the NRS' online catalogue to continue your online research.