Please note: due to the recent Covid-19 outbreak the Centre is currently closed, but our website is still open for business.


Using the search box in the banner at the top of the page, you can search the entire website, including the catalogues of East Lothian Council’s heritage services.

Results are shown in the order of: general pages and articles, followed by results found within the catalogues. The catalogue search tool is called ‘Heritage East Lothian Online’, or HELO.

You can also add comments or information to records and upload your own images (but check our Terms of Service and our User-to-User licence first).

Our research guides explain how to make the most of the archives at the John Gray Centre.

Other resources will also become available on this website over time, including articles about East Lothian’s heritage, and learning resources, which you can also contribute to (see Your Stories or contact us for more information).

On this page we explain how to search the catalogues on this site. If you have any comments or further questions, please leave a comment below, or contact us. We also offer group workshops on how to use and get the most out of research tools available online, including this website. Call 01620 820 695 or email [email protected] to find out more.

What does Heritage East Lothian Online (HELO) search?

HELO searches the computerised catalogues of the Archive Service, Local History Centre, East Lothian and Midlothian Historic Environment Records and Museums Service simultaneously, displaying search results on one page.

HELO only searches the current online catalogue records. However, these records are being added to all the time so it is always worth checking at a later date as we update our catalogues and refresh them online. If you can’t find what you are looking for, please contact us to confirm whether we have it.

What information can you find?

A search will display a results page listing the records in order of relevance (so results with most occurrences of your search term appear first). You can change the sort order to alphabetical (‘Title’) or date (‘Date’) by choosing one of the options to the left of the results list.

The results page will display the basic catalogue record information and a thumbnail image where available. The basic information may include the name of the item, relevant dates, brief description and will tell you which heritage catalogue supplied the record.

You can read the full catalogue entry by clicking on the record title. This will display further details on the individual item, which can include the unique Ref No for archive material and Accession Number for museum objects, a more detailed description, including dimensions, production details and related terms where appropriate and available.  This page will also display further images where they exist.  Larger versions of image(s) can be viewed by clicking the image.


The search box can be found at the top of all pages. This will search all the fields in all the records of all the heritage catalogues. This is a very powerful but not very selective way to search.

To start a search, type in the word or phrase you want to search for and click Search.  This will return records and display them in order, with the most relevant (those with the search term appearing most frequently) being first. The search on this field is not case sensitive.

If you are not sure of the spelling, you can use an asterisk as a ‘wildcard’ to represent any letters you’re not certain of. For example: ‘ye*man*’ will bring up results for ‘yeoman’ and ‘yeomanry’. You cannot start a search term with an asterisk (so eg ‘*lothian’ will not find anything). Note that wildcard searches only find results from HELO, not the rest of the website.

You can search for more than one word. If you enter more than one word, the website will presume you want to search for both words, and will only give you records that mention both. Records where both words appear together will appear first, followed by records that include both words, but separately. If you want to search for either of the words you are using and not both you will need to type ‘OR’ in between the words, eg: ‘Word1 OR Word2’.

Boolean searches of collection records

Specifically for the records from the archive, museums, local history and HER (ie HELO): If you want to search for one word, but don’t want any records to have a specific second word, you can use + and . To use them you just need to type them next to the words like this:  +Word1 -Word2 . This will make sure the collection records have Word1 but don’t have Word2, for example: +Queen -Mary will find all records with ‘Queen’ but without ‘Mary’ in them.

Phrase search

You can search for an exact phrase by using double quote marks.  Create your search like this:  “Word1 Word2”, for example: “Mary Queen of Scots” or “Haddington Parish”.

If you see the words No records found, this means that there are no records matching your search term.  This does not mean that records on your chosen search subject are unavailable, just that you should think about using a different search word or phrase.  This is where the Advanced Search facility can be very useful.

Advanced search

The Advanced Search fields allow you to be more precise in your search by looking for terms in particular fields.   You can enter search terms into more than one field to make the search even more specific.

The fields are:

`Collection’ allows you to define whose records you wish to search by checking the tick boxes on the page – if you leave them all unticked it is presumed you want to search all collections.  So you can search all, or pick just one, or any combination as suits your needs.

Generally, the collections hold the following types of material:

Archive Service: Papers, Manuscripts, Photographs and Maps.
Local History Centre: Indexes to Newspapers, Printed Books (mostly via the separate Library Service online catalogue).
Museum Service: Physical artefacts, works of art, technological items, handicrafts and other social history objects etc.
Historic Environment Record (HER): Details of archaeological sites, buildings and also finds from digs. This site includes the HERs for both East Lothian and Midlothian, and you can choose which to search if you want.

`Title, Descriptions’
will search for your term across the title, object name and description fields.

`Person, Organisation’ refers to the people or organisations associated with individual items.  This may be the name of an artist whose work is held by one of the museums, a company which made one of the museum objects or the person or company associated with a photograph or some other item from the archives.

`Place, Postcode’ allows you to search for items across the collections relating to a particular city, area, town or street name.  Also, try searching for postcode or place name on the map search.

‘Times, Periods’ relates to specific historical time periods and range from Early Prehistoric (500000 BC – 4001 BC) to more recent times, such as Victorian (1837 – 1901).  Where possible, items in the collections have been linked with their relevant time period and this may help when refining your search. Click here to see our full list of HELO Time Periods.

‘Subjects, Keyword’ identifies subjects and terms associated with the museum object or archival document. These are broad themes that link together different types of materials. View the terms used in our Museums and Archives catalogues here.

‘Identifier, Ref No’ refers to the unique identification number assigned to archive documents and museum objects. If you ever want to see, or enquire about, the original item mentioned in the catalogue, this is the number you will need.

Displaying your results

Your search results will be displayed in a list of 10 per page with thumbnail images shown where available.  If your search returns more than 10 results they will be shown over multiple pages. Use the Next, End, Previous and Start and page numbers to display the different pages.

Narrow your search

On the left-hand side of the results page is the ‘Narrow your search’ section.  This is a list of additional terms that group together the results and show how many items from the overall results fall within each group. Clicking one of these will filter the results, only showing those associated with that term.

You can normally only apply one filter per group, but you can filter on multiple groups. For example, you can filter by the group ‘Collection’ and by the group ‘Subject’, but only choose one filter within each (eg Collection: ‘Museum Service’ and Subject: ‘Ceramic’). If you want to remove a filter and try another one, all you need to do is click on the light grey X beside the filter.

The groups are as follows:

`Subjects’ identifies themes and terms associated with individual records, and there can be more than one for each record.  These subjects are designed to highlight important links which can help the user find relevant records in their search.  The subject matter of photographs, documents and paintings will be identified, along with wider relevant subject areas.  These may include component materials, associated industries, leisure activities and events in history.

`Times’ relate to specific time periods in our history and range from early periods such as Early Prehistoric to more familiar historical periods including Victorian (1837 – 1901).  Where possible, items in the collections have been linked with the time period they are associated with.  For example, an object made in 1850 will be linked to the time, Victorian (1837 – 1901).  

`People’ categorises records by people and organisations related to the item.  These may be company names, artists, trade unions and people referred to in archival documents and photographs.

`Places’ identifies place names associated with the item and often refers to where the item was made, the place depicted in a photograph or painting and the place archival documents relate to.

`Format’ represents the materials used to make the object, or the form or style of building or monument.  For example the museum collections hold items made from materials such as bone or glass; the HER notes places as castle or garden.

`Collection’ narrows the search down by collection, identifying which service has catalogued the item(s).

Browse images

The website has many excellent images of museum objects and artworks, and an increasing number of archive and archaeology images. More will be added over time.  You can browse the images by using the ‘Images’ link at the top of the website, next to the ‘People, Places, Times, Subjects’ themes. You can sort and filter the images using the facets on the left of the image browser. This is a good way of gaining an initial overview of the collections held across East Lothian, though at present it mainly consists of images from the Museums catalogue.

Browse themes

We have also started to create a number of pages that provide an overview and additional information and detail.  These are found at the top of the page under People, Places, Times and Subjects. So if you are uncertain who someone was, what a time period exactly covers, or want to know more about a particular place, these pages can help you. They appear at the top of any general search results, but not when you do an Advanced Search. Note that you can also contribute articles here, simply by emailing them to us to post online, or by adding them to our Your Stories page. We have templates you can download if you need some guidance on what to include.

Map search

The map search displays all of the records that have a map reference (that are ‘geocoded’).  Please note that this is less than 10% of the records (though includes all the HER records).  When you click on ‘map search’ beside the main Search box near the top of the website, the map will show a centred view of Haddington, with an overlay showing where findspots and archaeological sites are located.  If you add a keyword, such as ‘Fort‘ or ‘Musselburgh‘ and click Search, the map will re-centre and provide a map view with a fresh Collections overlay highlighting related find spots and archaeological sites.

On the left-hand side of the map is a list of layers or overlays you can add to the map. The default base layer is ‘OS Open Data’, but you can choose a different base layer, such as ‘Open Street View’, which allows you to zoom in further, or various Google and Bing options, including an aerial view and a satellite view.

Then you can choose other layers to go over your base layer. These can completely cover the base layer, so that it’s no longer visible, or you can vary the opacity of the layer, so that you can see the modern map underneath the historic one, and clearly see what has changed. If you are very zoomed in on a Street View base layer, some of these historic layers may not work, so revert to the ‘OS Open Data’ layer, or zoom out if additional layers are not working as expected.

The NLS Historic Maps layers include several Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, including the first edition OS map (1843–82). These maps have been shared with us by the National Library of Scotland.

The Historic Scotland layers show where listed buildings and scheduled monuments are.

The NLS Large Scale Town Plans show the Ordnance Survey plans from 1853 and 1893 for Haddington and Musselburgh, as well as for some other towns near East Lothian. These maps also come via and courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

The Our Collections layer allows you to toggle our data on and off on the map, and show photos or not. The data is shown by purple dots, lines and polygons (larger purple areas).

Click on a purple dot in the area you’re interested in, and a list of records will pop up. Select and click on the record you want, or explore another dot. Once you’ve selected a record, the map will zoom in to that area, and the dot will change to yellow. Scroll down, and you will be able to read the full record. The map reverts to the ‘OS Open Data’ base layer, but on the left once again are the extra layer options.

You can zoom and move around the map the same way as on Google maps. Another way to zoom in on an area is to hold down the Shift key and hold down the left button of the mouse and drag it over the area you want to enlarge.

Each Historic Environment Record (HER) record shows the entry on the map, with the associated text for the record beneath the map. Double-click on the three dots in the left-hand side of the map frame to make the map layer options visible.

User tags

At individual records you can add ‘user tags’ to help you identify and group items with your own preferred keywords. For instance, at a record showing a coronation mug, you can user tag it ‘coronation’, and add the same tag to other coronation-related items. When anyone clicks on these tags, they will see all records that have the same user tag. More on user tags.

Internet browser compatibility

This site is best viewed using Internet Explorer Version 7 or above, or any modern browser such as Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

12 thoughts on “Help”

  1. Chris Richards says:

    I notice there is a photograph of Jessie Lowe in your collection , I am related to her through my Mum.
    I wonder if there is a chance the photograph could be e-mailed to me .
    Thanks for your help.
    Chris Richards

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Chris,
      We can certainly do that. Please look out for an email explaining the procedure. Thank you.

  2. eileen says:

    Hello there,

    You helped me a few years ago to trace one of my ancestors John Beaumont/Beamont. All I have of this man is his name on the 1841 census, he lived in Market Street, Haddington and was a gardener, and came from England.
    According to your search he died in 1845 a pauper, and was buried by the church.
    Is there any way of findiing out where he was buried? If the church buried him there must surely be a record of this?
    I´d really appreciate this as I am coming over to Scotland in October and it would be nice to visit the cemetry or churchyard.
    Thank you

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hello Eileen,
      Thank you for your enquiry. As your ancestor died a pauper, there may be a spot/plot at St. Mary’s kirkyard in Haddington where all the paupers were buried. Someone at the Church may be able to help when you come over for a visit.
      All the best.

      1. eileen hoppe says:

        Hello Hanita,

        Thank you for this info. I´ll most definitely visit St Mary`s.

        Regards, Eileen

  3. Laurie O'Neill says:

    Hi. My family in Tasmania are putting together a memorial to my g-grandmother, Agnes McDevitt, nee Nimmo. She and her parents achieved considerable acclaim from the time they arrive here in 1852. Sadly, one-year-old Sarah died en route to Tasmania. My g-g-grandfather, James Nimmo, was born to the family that founded the Nimmo Publishing Company on the late 1800s, so it’s no wonder he acquired the moniker of being the Poet of the Huon, in his time living south of Hobart. Agnes was one of the first qualified nurses in Australia, and her reputation was such she was considered to be the midwife of all the families in the far south of Tasmania. In researching the Nimmo’s time in Prestonkirk and Haddington, using Scotland’s People, I have been able to find the marriage between James Nimmo and Janet Michie in 1834, but haven’t been able to find Agnes’ birth/baptism registration for when she was born on 25/1/1838. The 1841 Census shows both Janet and Agnes were born in Prestonkirk. Also cannot find any record of Sarah being born in Haddington in September, 1851. Can you folks please tell me if there are any other way of searching for those life events online without coming to the dead end I’m faced with on Scotland’s People. Your advise would be greatly appreciated. Best wishes, Laurie.

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Laurie,
      Thank you for your enquiry. I’m afraid it’s a bit tricky if ScotlandsPeople does not have any of their births recorded, as you’ve already experienced. They are the National Records of Scotland and will have all records in existence.You could try other websites like Find My Past or family Search (if you haven’t already) and match any info there with the source of your dates. Hope you find something.
      Wishing you all the best with the rest of your research.

      1. Laurie O'Neill says:

        Thank you very much for your help, Hanita. I’ll keep plugging away and see if I can find a way this obstacle.

  4. valerie coyle says:

    Many thanks for your help I will be in touch with john grey centre on Monday

  5. David says:

    Hello Valerie

    We could help with the local part – I’m sure that the Valuation Rolls and photographs in our collection would show traces of Mr Donaldson. But for emigration and passenger lists then there is usually no alternative to websites like Ancestry or Findmypast where a subscription is required. They are pretty comprehensive on UK – Australia trips, so he should be findable; many UK libraries have a free version of Ancestry (we do, if you can drop in).

  6. valerie coyle says:

    I am trying to find out the name of a person who was on a passenger list going to Australia in 1929 the name is A.C Donaldson Gas work cottages North Berwick East Lothian.
    can anyone help?

  7. Joan Lewis says:

    Hi ,Can I request a copy of the Battle of Prestonpans please in DVD? Thank you

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