Staffordshire Past Track – an introduction on how to use it

The Staffordshire Past Track website is a popular and valuable on-line resource of visual resources relating to the history and heritage of Staffordshire.  Launched in 2002 and revamped and improved over the years, there are now well over 40,000 items on the site.  These not only include photographs, but also paintings, prints, maps, objects and documents mostly covering a time scale from the 17th century to the present day, all helping to illustrate change and continuity in the story of our county.

Whether you’re interested in family history, the history of a place or building, or if you have a general interest in Staffordshire and social and industrial history, we thought this would be a good time to give you some ‘top tips’ on how to make the best use of the search facilities on Staffordshire Past Track.

Quick search

A good starting point is to use the ‘Search’ box which is on the top right of the screen, wherever you are on the website.  It’s best to start off with a broad search.  For instance you might want to look for images of Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland but you will find that get best results by just entering one key word, e.g. ‘Millicent’.  The results might not all be relevant, but it will find everything on the site that you want to see:

If you find that you are overwhelmed with results, you can fine tune the search by using the ‘Advanced Text Search’ (at the bottom of the results page) to narrow down by date and theme.  Once you’ve seen the image you want just click on it to see a larger image and to find out more information.

Map Explorer 

This is a really useful way of searching for resources relating to a particular place, and in towns you can get right down to street level.  The ‘Map Explorer’ tab is on the black bar near the top of each page.  When you click on it you are presented with a map of Staffordshire.  The coloured squares indicate that there are resources in that square kilometre – the pinker the square, the more resources are present.  You can zoom in to larger scale mapping by clicking or tapping on the map, or by using the blue wedge scale on the right-hand side.

As well as current maps, you can also look at historic mapping layers which include 1900s and 1940s series OS maps and, uniquely, the William Yates 1” to 1 mile map of 1775.  Just use the ‘Historic maps’ drop-down list.  You can also compare current and historic mapping by using the slider bar.

Once you’ve got to the area you’re interested in, for instance this part of Newcastle-under-Lyme, just click on view resources on the right-hand side:

And you will get a results screen like this:

Theme explorer

The third main way of finding resources is to use the ‘Theme Explorer’, which is another of the tabs in the black bar.  All the resources are allocated a number of categories which help when you are searching for a particular subject area.  The best way to get to know how these searches work is to click on the themes and see what categories are covered.  As you click on each theme you will be given a set of results, which you can narrow down by choosing one of the theme options from the next level.

As an example, you might want to look at the craft trade of coopering. To find coopering, click on ‘Business, Trade & Industry’.  You will be presented with another level of themes – click on ‘Trades & Tradespeople’, and then select ‘Cooper’. 

You should get a results page something like this:

You’ll notice on the right-hand side of every resource page is a list of the ‘Related themes’.  If you want to see what other resources are available on the same theme just click on the one you are interested in.  Some (such as ‘Village views’) will give you hundreds of results, others (such as ‘Boer War’) just a few.

There are other ways of searching the site, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  My best advice is to just have a go and see what it can do.  However, if you’re a regular visitor to Staffordshire Past Track, it’s worth pointing out that you can find out what has been recently added to the site by clicking on the ‘Latest additions’ tab.

In future posts I’ll explain where the images come from, how we select and scan them, how we research the captions, and how we protect owners’ copyright and reproduction rights.

If you have any queries or comments please do get in touch.

Chris Copp

Senior Museums Officer

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