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Minister applauds web celebration of Scotland's historic sites and great characters of the past

22 July 2009

Link-up with National Library of Scotland & Oxford Dictionary of the National Biography, National Trust for Scotland and Historic Houses Association

Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, MSP Michael Russell has applauded Historic Scotland’s launch of a web-based celebration of the country’s people and past as part of its contribution to the 2009 Year of Homecoming.

MSP Michael Russell said: “This collection of material and information is a fantastic resource for people looking to tap into their family history.  The echoes of people past are held within the sites which Historic Scotland care for.  Their teaming up with the National Library of Scotland, Oxford Dictionary of the National Biography, National Trust for Scotland and Historic Houses Association creates a great partnership which provides people with a real starter to trace and discover where and when their forefathers once trod.  It provides inspiration to follow in the footsteps of some of Scotland’s most famous families and characters.”

The project has seen the creation of web pages which give brief but informative introductions to some unusual aspects of our history.  It includes downloadable guides to the Following in the Family Footsteps heritage trails developed earlier this year by Historic Scotland in conjunction with the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Houses Association for Scotland.  There will be 100 costumed character performances taking place at properties to support the family trails throughout summer 2009.

Then there are thumbnail biographies of heroes, villains and quirky characters linked to each of the 15 famous Scottish surnames highlighted in the heritage trails.  There are free links to the fuller accounts of their lives contained in the Oxford Dictionary of the National Biography (Oxford DNB).

Centuries-old maps and engravings held by the National Library of Scotland Map Library are used to reveal more about historic buildings and places.  These include a plan by a Jacobite sympathiser showing the Battle of Culloden.

Rebecca Hamilton, Historic Scotland Marketing and Media Manager, said: “The Homecoming area of the website is a fun and informative way to discover a little more about Scottish history and some fascinating people of the past.  We hope it will encourage people to come along and enjoy Scotland’s historic sites and have a look at some of the properties included in the family trails, and enjoy some of the events and activities we are running during the Year of Homecoming.  And especially for the year of Homecoming, we have been promoting Historic Scotland membership as a way of getting out to visit Scotland this summer – year round days out solutions for all the family from only £6.16 a month for a family.”

It is also hoped that the Homecoming area of the website will give people an idea of the enormous wealth of Scottish historical material available online.  By using the links to the NLS website there’s the chance for Scots, or those with Scottish ancestry, to find out what the area they came from was like in the past.

Christopher Fleet, NLS temporary map collections manager, said: “Historic maps are a fabulous way of discovering more about what Scotland was like in the past.  And if you know where your ancestors came from, they can offer all sorts of insights into the communities they were from.  This project gives people the chance to start exploring the past for themselves, and we hope it will be their route into all sorts of new discoveries.”

The Historic Scotland pages feature images from an NLS website dedicated to the remarkable pictorial survey of Scotland by John Slezer in the late 17th century and include engravings of places like Melrose Abbey and Linlithgow Palace.

The thumbnail biographies include people from Robert the Bruce’s grandfather to the Stuart princess who became queen of Bohemia.  There are also the Gordon who was dubbed Australia’s Poet and the Hamilton who provided one of the best records of early colonial life in the Americas.

Dr Philip Carter, publication editor of the Oxford DNB, said: “We were very pleased to take part in this project.  Scots and the descendants of Scottish families have done a huge amount to shape British history worldwide.  This small selection of people gives a flavour of the remarkable range of characters, and the unusual lives they have led, who appear in the Oxford DNB.”

Elsewhere there’s the chance to read what travelers from bygone ages, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, had to say about places they visited like Dumbarton Castle.

Notes for editors

Visit the Year of Homecoming area of our website at Once there you will find:

  • Downloadable guides to our Follow in the Family Footsteps heritage trails – these complement free leaflets already available at the sites taking part.
  • A guide to the events Historic Scotland has lined up for 2009.
  • Routes to Your Roots – see where your family came from in Scotland, and what it was like there in the past.
  • Thirty fascinating historical characters – heroes and rogues – who had the 15 family surnames featured in the family trails. Many of the people are featured in the Oxford DNB and there are free links to their fuller accounts.
  • Details of how some of the attractions in our care are linked to great innovations and what visitors of the past thought of places like Edinburgh Castle.
  • Extracts from the Treaty of Perpetual Peace – which aimed putting a final end to the history of conflict between Scotland and England, and which was commemorated at the recent Party at the Palace 1503 event at Linlithgow Palace.
  • A gallery of images that Historic Scotland hope will capture some Homecoming family moments throughout 2009.

Following in the Family Footsteps

The 15 heritage trails created by Historic Scotland, the NTS and HHA involve historic sites linked to the following famous Scottish surnames: Bruce, Campbell, Douglas, Forbes, Fraser, Gordon, Graham, Grant, Hamilton, Lindsay, Macdonald, Maxwell, Murray, Scott, Stewart/Stuart.

Examples from the pages

  • Early travellers views on Scotland’s historic buildings

After her visit to Dumbarton Castle in 1803, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote: “I never saw rock in nobler masses, or more deeply stained by time and weather; nor is this to be wondered at, for it is in the very eye of sea-storms and land-storms, of mountain winds and water winds.”

  • Firsts and innovations at Historic Scotland sites

Among the sites included is Kinnaird Head, which was transformed from a cliff-top tower house into a revolutionary lighthouse that helped transform the safety of mariners at sea. When the original light was lit in 1787 it was the most powerful in the world and visible for up to 14 miles.

  • Characters of the past

Princess Elizabeth Stuart was born at Falkland Palace in 1596. Intelligent and pretty, she seemed to lack nothing. Elizabeth married Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. He became king of Bohemia and Elizabeth was queen. Yet her low-cut dresses, irregular hours and pet monkeys offended locals. Worse was to come as the couple’s fortunes nosedived – losing their kingdom and much more besides. To read the Oxford DNB biography click here  

  • Images

Maps as politics – one of the images on the website is of detail from a battle plan by John Finlayson showing the battle of Culloden. It clearly displays the Jacobite sympathies of its maker showing a unicorn, royal symbol of Scotland, with its horn broken. For the whole map go to  

Dumbarton Castle by John Slezer. The website includes detail of this image. To see the whole image visit

The Year of Homecoming

  • Homecoming Scotland is a Scottish Government initiative managed by EventScotland, the national events agency, in partnership with VisitScotland, the country's national tourism agency.
  • Robert Burns is the inspiration for Homecoming Scotland as 2009 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national poet.
  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Houses Association.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871