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Statistical Accounts for Scotland


The two Statistical Accounts of Scotland, covering the 1790s and the 1830s, are among the best contemporary reports of life during the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe. Learn more about the area in which you or your ancestors have lived, or use this key source to study the emergence of the modern British State and the economic and social impact of the world's first industrial nation.


EDINA, Edinburgh University Data Library
Main Library Building, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ
Tel: +44 (0)131 650 3302
Fax: +44 (0)131 650 3308


Scotland Accounted For: An Introduction To The 'Old' (1791-1799) And The New (1834-1845) Statistical Accounts Of Scotland

What are Scotland's statistical accounts?

1845 Statistical Accounts for Ayrshire

1845 Statistical Accounts Ayrshire Index

Up until now access to the Statistical Accounts has not been easy—the 1978 reprint of the First Statistical Accounts is in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City on fiche and film but does not circulate to Family History Centers. The lucky ones among us find them in nearby reference libraries.

In 1791, Sir John Sinclair, a Caithness landlord with a particular interest in the Scottish economy and agriculture, conceived the idea of surveying the status of every parish is Scotland. He believed that "public policies and actions, especially Parliamentary legislation intended to benefit the populace, needed to be founded on something better than prejudice or mere hunch." (D.J. Withrington and I.R. Grant, eds. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, Volume 1, 1978," page xiv).

Sinclair designed a questionnaire with 160 queries and then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland seeking to harness the knowledge of local ministers. The questionnaire not only probed issues economic, it asked questions about natural features, antiquities, population, political, and moral matters. Some 500 ministers responded quite quickly and by 1794, 775 of 938 parishes had sent in reports. Sinclair did not yet realize the trouble he would have cajoling reports out of the remainder—those whom someone described as the incapable, the indolent, and the busy. In the end he had replies from all but twelve, and to these parishes he sent his "statistical missionaries."

The majority of ministers had lived in their parishes for five years or more. They were knowledgeable, if occasionally somewhat patronizing. Some went on at great length, carefully addressing the issues raised in the questionnaire—most wrote a narrative rather than specific answers. The facts are there, and though names are few, the material is of interest to family historians. For example, at the united parishes of Logie and Pert in the county of Forfar 30 persons died in 12 months, 1787-88, from a malignant fever (the symptoms are described). Forty years before, in the 1750s, one important business was the snuff factory, which had processed over 40,000 pounds of snuff per year, but in the 1790s only one person was employed and production was down to 5,000 pounds. If facts are few in your parish of interest, and even if they are not, read also about those adjacent.

In addition, at this Web site, you can scrutinize what ministers had to say roughly 40 years later. Changing to the report of the Second Statistical Account is only a click away. Comparing the reports is very interesting and can offer clues about living conditions, changing fortunes and why people came or went. The second account is one way to find out about secession or dissenting congregations in a parish or nearby. Be sure to read it.

Sir John Sinclair wanted proceeds from his accounts to go to the benefit of children of Church of Scotland ministers, so it not surprising that production of the second account was supported by the Society for the Benefit of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy.







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