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One million memorial inscriptions gathered in lockdown history project

The Great Lafayette Sigmund Neuberger with his dog Beauty
The Great Lafayette Sigmund Neuberger with his dog Beauty

History dating back more than 1,000 years has been collected in a new online database revealing stories of those laid to rest in Scottish burial grounds.

Volunteers have been working with Dundee-based Findmypast throughout lockdown to gather more than one million epitaphs and memorial inscriptions, all available to view via digital tours.

The collection is the end product of months of painstaking work by volunteers across the country, who spent lockdown transcribing memorials and gravestones from more than 800 burial grounds for the database.

“Scotland Monumental Inscriptions” includes details of Sotland’s most notable figures in history, including kings, queens, Flora Macdonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie evade government troops after the Battle of Culloden, and pioneer Adam Smith.

Flora Macdonald.

Interest in local history has spiked during lockdown but with travelling restrictions still in place, Findmypast staff wanted to make the information, dating back to 1093, available online.

Users can virtually visit the final resting places of ancestors and famous Scots alike to read epitaphs from burial sites such as Dundee Howff, Edinburgh Greyfriars and Canongate Kirkyards, and Dunfermline Abbey Churchyard.

A memorial in Dundee Howff.

Myko Clelland, regional licensing and outreach manager at Findmypast, said: “Scotland is a nation of stories, but so many lie forgotten in cemeteries across the country.

“Through the tireless efforts of local expert volunteers, combined with new technology, these stories can be told for the first time online.

“What better way to bring these tales to life, than to let descendants tell these tales for themselves?”

David Rizzio.

The database details the lives and deaths of almost 1.1 million people by merging almost 600,000 new records with existing documents already available on Findmypast, to create the largest single collection of its kind.

Notable individuals and memorials include:

  • ‘Scotland’s vilest man’, the Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, who is said to have died after a chess game with the Devil.
  • Flora MacDonald, known for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape with his life after the battle of Culloden.
  • David Rizzio, the murdered courtier of Mary Queen of Scots and rumoured secret father of King James VI.
  • Adam Smith, from Fife, widely known as the ‘Father of Economics’.
  • Queen Victoria’s favourite servant, John Brown, the ‘best, truest heart that ever beat’.
  • The heart of Edward Bruce, Lord Kinloss, buried at Culross Abbey in a heart-shaped silver case clamped with iron between two stones, discovered in 1808 and reburied.
  • The highest paid magician of his time, Sigmund Neuberger, the ‘Great Lafayette’ and his dog ‘Beauty’. Beauty was given to him by Harry Houdini and they were laid to rest together after dying only a month apart from each other.
  • The families and forebears of Scots including Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Rob Roy MacGregor.
  • True life inspirations behind Robert Burns’ poems. Mary Campbell, known as ‘Highland Mary’, can be found along with the ‘Bonnie Wee Thing’ Deborah Davies

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