Frequently Asked Questions [PDF Version]

What is AddressingHistory?

The AddressingHistory is an online tool, based on Web 2.0 principles which combines data from digitised historical Scottish Post Office Directories (PODs) with contemporaneous historical maps.

Currently AddressingHistory focuses on Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen mapping and 9 Post Office Directories from late 18th to early 20th centuries. The technologies are scalable to the full collection of digitised materials which includes over 700 PODs and associated maps covering the whole of Scotland.

AddressingHistory includes Edinburgh PODs from 1784-5, 1865, 1881, 1891, 1905-6; Glasgow PODs from 1881 and 1891; and Aberdeen PODs from 1881 and 1891.

The Map Overlays used in AddressingHistory are:

  • Alexander Kincaid Plan of Edinburgh, 1784 - this map is contemporary to the Edinburgh 1785-5 directory.
  • Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Edinburgh, 1865 - this map is contemporary to the Edinburgh 1865 directory.
  • Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Edinburgh, 1882 - this map is contemporary to the Edinburgh 1881 directory.
  • Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Glasgow, 1882 - this map is contemporary to the Glasgow 1881 directory.
  • Andrew Gibb & Co. Plan of the City of Aberdeen, 1888 - this map is contemporary to both the 1881 and 1891 Aberdeen directories.
  • Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Edinburgh, 1891 - this map is contemporary to the Edinburgh 1891 directory.
  • Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Glasgow, 1891 - this map is contemporary to the Glasgow 1891 directory.
  • Johnston Post Office Plan of Edinburgh, 1905 - this map is contemporary to the Edinburgh 1905-6 directory.

Who built AddressingHistory?

AddressingHistory has been developed at EDINA as part of a JISC-funded Rapid Innovation project (Apr. 2010 - Sept. 2010) under the Developing Community Content strand of the JISC Digitisation and e-Content programme. The second phase of development work (Feb 2011 - Sept 2011) has been funded by EDINA.

The project has been run in partnership with the National Library of Scotland (NLS) using materials already digitised under ongoing NLS programmes. The project team took guidance from an Advisory Board which included staff from Edinburgh City Libraries, the National Library of Scotland, and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. We are also indebted to the Internet Archive team based at the National Library of Scotland for scanning the Scottish Post office Directories used in the project.

What are the Scottish Post Office Directories?

The historic Scottish Post Office Directories (PODs) are rich and notable resources that offer a fine-grained spatial and temporal view on social, economic and demographic circumstances. For Scotland there are at least 700 such directories, totaling over a quarter of a million pages and spanning the period 1783 - 1912.

The Directories featured in the current AddressingHistory tool are a unique and reliable collection of street, commercial, trade, law, court, parliamentary and postal information relating to the respective urban centres. They also provide a wealth of detailed information regarding residential names, occupations and addresses. This information has huge potential for family and local historians and you can read more about some of the ways people have or plan to use this data on the AddressingHistory blog.

How are the Post Office Directories being digitized?

The process of digitization was led by an Internet Archive team based at the National Library of Scotland.

The process involved a manually operated stand and two high resolution digital cameras. Each volume was scanned by raising a glass plate, turning a page of the directory, lowering the glass plate, and taking an image of both pages on display.

It took around a day to complete a single POD volume. The images were then checked by another team member for blemishes, problems, blurs etc. Once the scanned pages had been approved the text was automatically transcribed using an OCR programme. This data was then combined into a full set of files and shared on both the National Library of Scotland and Internet Archives websites. The data was then available in a standardized format that could be fed into the AddressingHistory tool.

Where do the maps come from?

Maps that were published and stored within the Post Office Directories have been used however in other cases the National Library of Scotland have kindly provided contemporaneous maps of the city.

How can I access the AddressingHistory tool?

Access to the AddressingHistory tool, API and website are free. You can search the Post Office Directories for surnames, professions and placenames. The online tool also allows you to edit and enhance the information we have already extracted from the digitised Post Office Directories.

You do not need to register or login to search and explore AddressingHistory. However by registering for an account you will be able place historical addresses on the map, edit addresses, names and professions thus enhancing the original resource.

If you do not wish to register but would like to added to the AddressingHistory mailing list for any future announcements please email us at:

What can I do with AddressingHistory?

You can search and browse for individuals, businesses, professions and addresses from a range of PODS and view the locations of each address on historical maps from the same time period.

Once registered you can also make edits to the data within AddressingHistory to correct small errors e.g. an incorrect location or a poorly transcribed word. There is also an Application Programming Interface (API) that allows you to combine AddressingHistory data with other tools and mash-ups. You can read more about the API here or join our AddressingHistory API Google Group.

We would like to hear more about what you do with AddressingHistory and welcome your blog posts, Facebook comments, Tweets, emails, videos, podcasts, pictures or emails about how you are using this tool and what you have discovered.

What professions can I search for using AddressingHistory?

Entries in the Scottish Post Office directories have professions and industries associated with people. You can use the AddressingHistory 'profession' search mode to restrict your searches, focusing on a particular profession.

Please note that truncated searching is enabled. Thus searching for e.g. groc will return records for grocer, grocer and sprit dealer.

It should also be noted that there may be more than one way to describe the same profession (as can be seen across the time periods).

We have attempted to map the historic professions in AddressingHistory to the modern UK Standard Industrial Classification. To view the classification of a particular entry please view or download the record in JSON, Text or KML (viewable in Google Earth) using either the website or API. Look for the "Category" and a letter will be shown corresponding to the appropriate UK Standard Industrial Classification. As some profession names and roles have changed significantly over time these classifications may not be accurate but should provide a helpful starting point for those using the POD data in their research.

Listed below are the top 50 most commonly listed professions as they are listed in each of the three Edinburgh directories (1784-5, 1865, 1905) from Phase 1 of the project, with the number of entries with that profession.

194 writer
87 grocer
86 merchant
73 baker
68 shoemaker
59 wright
50 writer to the signet
43 brewer
42 advocate
36 smith
34 vintner
33 tailor
30 stabler
27 mantuamaker
24 painter
23 surgeon
22 milliner
21 shipmaker
21 roomsetter
20 musician
19 flesher
18 tobacconist
17 taylor
15 hairdresser
14 watchmaker
14 spirit dealer
13 mason
12 glazier
12 bookseller
12 teacher
12 midwife
11 merchants
11 bookbinder
11 banker
11 wine merchant
11 weaver
10 accountant
10 schoolmaster
10 printer
9 jeweller
9 coppersmith
9 solicitor at law
8 messenger
7 druggist
7 saddler
7 turner
6 founder
6 change keeper
6 goldsmith
6 engraver
185 lodgings
148 grocer
132 baker
107 medical doctor
104 advocate
102 spirit dealer
87 ladies' nurse
74 dressmaker
71 tailor and clothier
71 bootmaker
69 writer
65 wine and spirit merchant
60 flesher
59 agent
53 tailor
52 builder
48 spirit merchant
47 boot and shoe maker
44 accountant
42 teacher
41 victual dealer
40 grocer and spirit dealer
39 cabinetmaker
39 merchant
38 draper
38 printer
33 grocer and wine merchant
33 clerk
31 coal merchant
31 butcher
31 grocer and spirit merchant
31 confectioner
30 teacher of music
30 shoemaker
28 architect
28 shipmaster
26 wright
25 commercial traveller
24 dairy
24 stationer
24 engraver
24 milliner
23 photographer
23 artist
23 surgeon
22 gardener
22 cowfeeder
21 dairyman
20 smith
20 boot and shoemaker
147 dressmaker
141 apartments
137 dairy
125 wine and spirit merchant
124 medical doctor
105 joiner
99 butcher
97 grocer
90 commercial traveller
89 grocer and wine merchant
88 solicitor
77 advocate
70 bootmaker
67 teacher
67 confectioner
66 tailor and clothier
62 fruiterer
60 draper
59 ladies' nurse
57 dairyman
54 baker
52 baker and confectioner
51 spirit merchant
51 tobacconist
47 clerk
46 hairdresser
43 com. trav.
39 plumber
39 coal merchant
38 teacher of music
37 newsagent
35 artist
35 milliner
35 engineer
34 painter
34 fishmonger
33 gardener
32 grocer and spirit merchant
32 joiner and cabinetmaker
31 secretary
31 architect
30 cabinetmaker
30 printer
30 tailor
30 grocer, wine and spirit merchant
29 chemist
29 boot and shoe maker
28 agent
27 chemist and druggist
27 greengrocer

Can I add pictures to an entry on AddressingHistory?

This is not currently possible in the main AddressingHistory interface - though you can combine AddressingHistory data with images on your own website or mash-up. If you would like to share images related to searches and research you have done with AddressingHistory then tagging them with "AddressingHistory" will help us find them on the web so that we can Tweet and blog about interesting ways to use AddressingHistory.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences and images on our blog, or have a ideas to mash up or combine AddressingHistory with images, videos or other digital resources then please get in touch.

What do you mean by "download text / JSON / KML"?

These are the formats in which AddressingHistory data is made available.

Text is a plain text version of the address data, using commas to separate the data, which can be accessed via any word processing program.

Clicking on the download text link will open a new tab or window of your browser displaying all of the headings for the record on one line and all of the data on the next line. A comma separates each piece of information and the location on the map is given as latitude and longitude co-ordinates.

Structured text files can also be used in web applications and mash-ups - if you want to download a number of text records for these purposes you may want to consider using our API.

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) provides a version of the address data suitable for re-use in web applications.

Clicking on the download JSON link will open a new tab or window of your browser displaying the record in JSON format as a structured set of fields and values. If you want to download a number of records in JSON for your own project or mash-up you may want to consider using our API.

KML is a particularly formatted XML version of the address suitable for import into Google Earth or other open geo-browsers.

Clicking on the download KML link will begin a download of the KML file to your machine (these are small files of around 2kB per address - less than an average email). The KML file can either be opened directly in Google Earth or can be combined with other data. If you want to download a number of records in a single KML file for your own project or mash-up you may want to consider using our API.

How can I get involved or find out more about AddressingHistory?

AddressingHistory has a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Blog.

One significant deficiency of the Post Office Directories is that the digitised address data was not geo-referenced. We have utilized an open geo-parser in order to begin the process of geo-referencing addresses for AddressingHistory however we are looking for your help in correcting, editing and adding to this initial geo-referencing. Note - We know that there are many addresses that will not appear on the map when you search as the geo-parsing exercise was unable to geo-reference many of the addresses accurately.

You can show your support for the project by adding an AddressingHistory badge to your website by copying the embed code for the appropriate badge shown below:

Copy/paste into your own website or blog:

Copy/paste into your own website or blog:

Copy/paste into your own website or blog:

How can I geo-reference an address contained within a Post Office Directory?

You need to register to add a geo-reference to an address in the historic Post Office Directories. Registration takes only a few minutes and we ask only for an email address (which becomes your username) and a password - this allows us to know that you are not a robot or spammer and gives us a way to get in touch should we have a question about an edit that you have submitted.

Once you have registered and logged in simply search for the address you want to edit. When that address appears you can use the "Edit this entry" button to suggest a change. The "Edit this entry" button takes you to a page where you can suggest a new or corrected geo-reference. You can also make small corrections to the text here.

If there is a problem that cannot be resolved with the "Edit this entry" button then clicking on "Contact us about this entry" will take you to a form where you can describe the problem and it will be forwarded on to the AddressingHistory project team.

Are there any licensing restrictions associated with the Scottish Post Office Directories?

The National Library of Scotland are currently scanning, OCRing (Optical Character Recognition - an automatic way to transcribe text) and publishing the historic Scottish Post Office Directories in partnership with the Internet Archive and as such the content is free of Intellectual Property Rights and in the public domain.

What is an API? How can I use it?

Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs are part of services known as middleware. This means they're intended to be used by another application - a script, or a web site. In order to use the AddressingHistory API technical knowledge is assumed.

You can use the AddressingHistory API to search AddressingHistory's database of Post Office Directories. This allows you to download and use the results in another website or application such as Google Earth. Queries are made as HTTP GET requests, in the same way web browsers request webpages - using URL parameters to specify the search parameters and output format.

Requests can be made to search the AddressingHistory database using your web browser, script or software, with combinations of the following parameters:

  • forename, search for entries with a specific forename.
  • surname, search for entries with a specific surname.
  • address, search for entries by street name / address.
  • profession, search for professions such as e.g. 'surgeon', 'baker'.
  • category, search for categories of professions e.g. 'Medical', 'Merchant'.
  • id, return a single directory entry by its identification number.
  • directory, restrict your search to a single directory e.g. '1865'.
  • maxRows, limit the number of results returned.
  • boundingBox [Required], map extents to limit search. e.g.:
    • Aberdeen: boundingBox=-2.345,57.067,-1.875,57.216
    • Edinburgh: boundingBox=-3.417,55.867,-2.947,56.021
    • Glasgow: boundingBox=-4.498,55.780,-4.028,55.935
    • Scotland: boundingBox=-8.084,55.429,-0.570,57.845

You can also choose to see the results in different formats by using a different 'format' parameter in your request.

  • kml, to see KML data suitable for import into Google Earth.
  • json, for a Javascript Object Notation suitable for re-use in web applications (default).
  • txt, for a plain-text represetation, using commas to separate the data.

More information on this can be found on our API page and we welcome your questions, suggestions and discussions of the AddressingHistory API - and what you are doing with it - on our AddressingHistory API Google Group.

What are the future plans for AddressingHistory?

AddressingHistory has reached the end of it's funded development period. EDINA are committed to hosting and maintaining AddressingHistory for 1 year regardless of whether future funding becomes available and we are looking at ways in which we can host and sustain the site beyond this period.

If you are interested in funding further development of AddressingHistory, in providing support for funding applications based on your own use of AddressingHistory, or if you would like to donate towards maintenance costs for the site please get in touch with the project team.

How do I access the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer.

The AddressingHistory augmented reality layer was built to enable users to compare information about their current location (from their phone) and the geo-referenced entries in AddressingHistory to work out which historical residents and businesses used to be located near where you are standing at that moment. These were displayed as "points of interest" icons that hover over the appropriate locations.

Unfortunately the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer, which was developed to trial this technology using Edinburgh as the trial area, is no longer available. This is due to significant changes in the way the Layar App, which we had to designed our data to work with, is run and delivered.

If you are interested in finding out more about Augmented Reality, creating your own AR view on the AddressingHistory, or would like to see us restore this functionality via a different app/tool, please do get in touch.

How can I request new PODS to be added to AddressingHistory?

The best way to request a new POD be added to AddressingHistory is to contact us. Once you request a new POD we can either support you to convert that POD using our POD parser (this requires some time and technical knowledge), or we will add that POD to our priority list for future AddressingHistory development.

If you are interested in using AddressingHistory as part of a particular funded project or initiative then please get in contact.

Can I reuse the code for AddressingHistory?

Yes you can. We have made the POD parser code available in Github and it is hosted on the Official Python Programming Website. The code is available under a GPL (General Public License).

You can find out more about the AddressingHistory POD parser in a paper the team has written to assist those wanting to use the code in their own research: Osborne, N, Hamilton, G and Macdonald, S 2014. Historical Post Office Directory Parser (POD Parser) Software From the AddressingHistory Project. Journal of Open Research Software 2(1):e23, DOI:

If you do decide to download the POD parser code we'd love to hear about what you've done with it and to hear about any ideas, or suggestions on tweaks or improvements you may have.

AddressingHistory Blog