Books and packs about Scottish Handwriting

Grant G Simpson, Scottish Handwriting 1150-1650, Edinburgh, 1973, is the only published attempt to look at early Scottish handwriting. It is available in paperback.

Scottish Handwriting 1500-1700: A self-help pack, Edinburgh 2022, is a step-by-step guide to reading the handwriting of Scottish documents dating between 1500 to 1700 using facsimiles, mainly from the National Records of Scotland's (NRS) archives. This is an updated version of the original 1994 kit, created in partnership with the NRS and the Scottish Records Association (SRA).

The updated kit includes higher quality colour images of the records, updated bibliography, and the inclusion of web sources for further practice and reading. Types of documents studied are: wills and testaments, bonds, personal letters, burgh records and High Court minute books.

A physical copy can be purchased from the ScotlandsPeople Online Store. A free digital version of the handwriting pack is available to download from the Publications page on the NRS website.

Scots dictionaries

A good Scots dictionary is vital. The best paperback version is The Concise Scots Dictionary, originally published by Aberdeen University Press and subsequently by Chambers, now published by Edinburgh University Press (since 1999).

Occasionally it is necessary to consult more detailed works on Scots words and two multi-volumed Scots dictionaries are important in this respect. The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue was completed in 2002, and is now published by Oxford University Press. The Scottish National Dictionary was compiled between 1931 and 1976, and is now published by Scottish Language Dictionaries.

Both of these can be found in many reference libraries, but some people may find it easier to consult the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, which combines these two resources in a searchable format

English dictionaries

Multi-volume English dictionaries can be useful for archaic words which are not specifically Scots. These can often be obtained from second hand or antiquarian booksellers. A splendid example is The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Charles Annandale and John Ogilvie, published in London, usually found in 4 volumes. Editions from the 1880s onwards have excellent illustrations of all sorts of useful things.

Specialist glossaries and word lists

A. D. Gibb, Students' Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms, Edinburgh, 1946.
Peter Gouldesbrough (comp.), Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents, (Stair Society) Edinburgh, 1985.
R. E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-list from British and Irish Sources, London, 1965.
Eileen Gooder, Latin for Local History, London, 2nd edition, 1978.
George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland, New York, 1946, reprinted 1956.


New publications on Scottish place-names and reissues of previous gazetteers appear every year. Problem place-names in Scottish documents are often best solved in the relevant local studies library for the area in question, but there are a couple of useful general gazetteers, of which the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by Francis H. Groome, is worth its weight in gold. First published in Edinburgh and London in 1885, it went through several editions. The new edition, published in 1896, contains many corrections to previous errors and takes account of changes to parishes and counties imposed by the Boundary Commissioners in the 1890s.

On dating and regnal years

For complicated dating styles, such as the use of feast days or regnal years,
C. R. Cheney, Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, London, 1945; reprinted 1961.