To start off:
using a spread sheet (so you can sort it and edit it easily) or a word
processor – enter all that you know is fact about your siblings, your
parents, their brothers and sisters, their parents etc… include all you
can muster – dates, places, addresses, occupations, service in the world
wars, and religion/church.
Using the database facilities in Excel, allows sorting by various
criteria, often leading to the revealing of “hidden” or “lost”
Then – get a genealogy software package– PAF at Family Search is free (see
below, and you can transfer the data to a commercial product later) – but
there are others that are more robust – no suggestions here – you
decide……..then enter what you have.
Fill in the blanks and expand what you may have by further discussion with
your various family members as required, asking specific pointed questions
and getting as clear and detailed information as may be possible. Try to
get detailed very specific answers; but this can be a sair fecht or
While doing all of the above also attempt to get copies or originals of
family photographs, bibles, diaries, news clippings, certificates (birth,
marriage, death), announcements, letters, old passports, military ID
Put all new information
(and source) into your note file and/or software, with the source details
in a manner that will make sense both to you and others, ten years or a
Review it, and correct it, this is your base and it should be rock solid
to build on. Commit what you can to memory so that when you do come across
sometime relative “the bells go off.”
Now – at the top of the tree is your first wall – the search begins there
and goes back in time one step at a time in a logical focused manner.
Don’t shotgun it or you will be chasing a multitude of false leads and red
herrings much of the (wasted) time. Note that going backwards is always
far easier than going forward in time.
Your main goal initially is to “get across the pond” and establish,
positively with precision and confirmation, the names of the person(s) who
are your ancestors in Scotland, and hopefully discovering the name a
specific area or city in which they lived.
BASIC SCOTTISH RECORD INFORMATION
SCOTLAND CIVIL REGISTRATION (1855-now)
In 1855 it became
compulsory to register every birth, marriage or death in Scotland with the
local registrar. Prior to 1855 such information may have been recorded in
the relative parish church records (but not a certainty).
Information on birth registers:
1) The child's name, date, time and place of birth.
2) If illegitimate it may state so, but not always.
3) Surname may be the mother’s or the father's depending on legitimacy.
4) The father's name, plus occupation, unless illegitimate.
5) The mother's married and maiden name will be logged. If the record does
not specify a ‘maiden name' (or MS) then the couple may not have been
6) Excepting1856-1860, all births should have the parent's marriage date
and place, unless they were not married.
7) The informant's name and relationship to the child.
If the child is illegitimate, and the time period is 1855 until about 1890
you may find a mention of it in the relevant parish Kirk Sessions, and
possibly learn the father's name. Should the word ‘Paternity' be rubber
stamped on the certificate - there has been a paternity suit brought
against the father by the mother. This may be followed up (off line) from
the reference number to find the father's name and address.
Information on marriage registers:
1) The date, place, and denomination of the marriage.
2) The names of the bride and groom, and their ages, occupations, marital
status, and usual residence addresses.
3) Their parent's names, with mother's maiden name, whether the parents
are alive or dead, and the occupations of the fathers.
4) The minister and witnesses names.
Ages may at times be incorrect especially when there was a significant
difference in age between the couple, it is a second marriage, or under
Information on death
1) The deceased's name and the name of the spouse. The 1856-60
certificates do not give the name(s) of spouse(s).
2) The date, time and place of death, plus age.
3) The parent's names if known, with mother's maiden name, whether parents
alive or dead, and occupation of the father.
4) The cause of death and the name of doctor, if certified.
5) The 1855-60 registers may indicate place of burial, and name of witness
to the interment.
6) The informant's name, relationship to deceased and maybe their address.
Be cautious of the accuracy of age, and parent’s names – dependent on who
the informant was, and how knowledgeable they might have been.
Sample SR Death Record
OLD PARISH RECORDS
Before Civil Registration
in 1855, the recording of baptisms, proclamations and some burials was
undertaken by each parish church, the established church being The Church
of Scotland. A parish entry does not contain the wealth of information
that a civil registration contains, it MAY give you evidence of previous
marriages, (e.g. widowed), father's occupation, father's military regiment
and rank, wife's father's name as in some Edinburgh parishes, witnesses
names (who may be related), village, place or farm names to enable you to
do a look up in a census, evidence of illegitimacy .There was no set way
of recording the information, so the quantity and quality of information
is HIGHLY variable.
BIRTHS - BAPTISMS
The level of details varies widely from parish to parish, and over time.
Usually little more information than what appears on the on line indexes
will be found. Yet sometimes the occupation of the father and place of
residence may be listed.
PROCLAMATION OF BANNS - MARRIAGES
This church process involved a pre-nuptial document which registered the
names of a couple intending to marry, and were called 'The Banns'. Their
names were read out three times, or Proclaimed, usually on successive
Sundays to the parish congregation. If anyone knew of a reason why they
could not marry, now was the time to come forward. Not every proclamation
ended in marriage. Not all proclamations guarantee that a marriage
actually happened. Again amount of details vary, but rare
bonus information may include the groom’s occupation, the name of the
groom’s “cautioner”, the name of the father of the bride, and perhaps
witness names and occupations of all.
Burial is not a sacrament in the Presbyterian Church and the subsequent
lack of records shows this. Most pre-1855 burial records contain little
useful information and are rare. Some parishes did, in certain time
periods, record such. However, you might still be able to establish a
death before 1855 as it may sometimes be inferred by the rental fee of a
mort cloth in the records.
Sample SR Marriage Record (and a double wedding to boot)
CENSUS RECORDS 1841-1891
Although the Census was
taken in Scotland beginning in 1810, only the 1841 forward are of any use
for genealogy purposes.
The census is an enumeration of all the people in Scotland living in
homes, hotels and institutions and ships in port on the nights of:
1841, 7 June
1851, 31 March
1861, 8 April
1871, 3 April
1881, 4 April
1891, 6 April
1901, March 31
These are the only census dates available to view at present because of
the “hundred year law.1911 will come out 2010. 1871 through 1901 are on
line. 1841 to 1861 are promised for summer 2005 at present, although there
are fragments available here and there.
If you can not find your ancestor on a census where you thought they
should be – search further – they may have been away visiting someone that
evening, or working away from home and would be listed as a visitor or
Although the Censuses superficially resemble one another, keep in mind
that the detailed required contents varied from one Census to another.
There are earlier Censuses, starting 1801; but these did not include
names, so are of little use for genealogical purposes. The listed Censuses
were held at different times of the year for each one, ranging from
Mid-March to late June, so in those Censuses where a person’s age is given
to the year rounded down, it can seem to be one year younger or older than
the Census 10 year “simple” progression suggests.
Generally in the British Censuses, it is the persons actually present on
the Census Night, NOT those who normally lived in the premises. Hence a
sick person would appear in the Census return for a hospital say, not in
the normal family home; but occasionally due to misunderstanding, the
person can be listed in both places.
The Given Name may be what you expect; but it may be different in the
Census as the Head knew the person only by another name, such as a middle
name or a nick-name or an alias.
Sample 1891 Census Record
DISSENTING and “OTHER” CHURCH RECORDS
(THESE ARE NOT ON LINE!)
The SR’s and the OPR’s are not the definitive list of every christening,
birth, proclamation or marriage that took place in Scotland. The pre 1855
events are predominantly from the Church of Scotland. They do not include
the records of Catholic, Free Church, and Episcopalian, or other breakaway
groups, and religions.
Should you be Protestant, or Catholic, don’t presuppose that your
ancestors were also. An interdenominational marriage may have changed the
family's religion. Plus jobs were easier to find in some places when you
were of a certain religion, or there was no church of their denomination
locally. You may be looking in the wrong records.
In 1843 over 400+ of 1220+ (i.e. 1/3) of the ministers broke away from the
Church of Scotland to form The Free Church of Scotland. At this point your
family may seem to disappear. New children seem to suddenly show up in the
later census for which you can find no birth records. This family may have
belonged to a church with a dissenting minister and become members of The
Free Church of Scotland. I call this the “Intermediate Black Hole” and it
is to me, and many others, the cause of a brick wall or a gap in data.
There is no index of names for non Church of Scotland births and
marriages, but there are parish records for dissenting churches which are
held in the National Archives, Edinburgh. These are indexed by parish, so
to find an ancestor in them you must know, at least roughly, the parish
they were in.
(THESE ARE NOT ON LINE!)
You may find as you are reviewing the marriage date of a couple and the
subsequent birthdates of their children that there is evidence of pre
marital pregnancy. Perhaps even have an illegitimate birth may be lurking
in your ancestry. Don't feel embarrassed about it, because this may be a
good thing leading to an entry in the Kirk Session Minutes as the couple
is disciplined by the church for their sin. The information contained in
that entry may give more details than you ever wanted to know about your
ancestor but also vital paternity information, as well as personal
testimony. There aren't many places in the records where you get to hear
your ancestors speak.
Between 1834 -1836 each Church of Scotland parish was required by the
General Assembly to list their communicants. Some are headed 'Roll of
Communicants', some as 'Heads of Families', either way you get a list of
male names in the parish.
When a marriage date cannot be found for a couple, although subsequent
children are in the parish records it could be due to an 'irregular
marriage'. A couple could declare themselves married in front of witnesses
without using a minister (this was quite legal – a dockworker could wed
them). There would be no paperwork to prove the marriage existed. When it
came time for the baptism of a child, the couple usually wanted back into
the 'fold' of the church and confessed their 'irregular marriage' -there
was usually a fine involved.
They may also have married in another denomination, such as one of the
Burgher churches, but for some reason came back to the Church of Scotland.
Again they would confess their irregular marriage and get straight with
the church. Proving the legitimacy of a child seems to have been an
impetus, although impending emigration would also spur the couple on as
that would be the only way to get a good testimonial certificate to take
with them to their new parish or country.
There was a rent paid on the seat or pew you took in church. The best
seats went to the Laird etc, and there are some 'Pew Plans' of just who
sat in which pew.
ELECTION OF ELDERS ETC
Also recorded in the minutes are the election of Kirk Officers and Elders.
OTHER INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE MINUTES
Each parish had a different minister, session clerk, and session
members. This means there is a lot of variety in the amount and types of
information contained in the minutes. Some are filled with the Sabbath
sermon preached by the minister, some by the poor list, and some were only
concerned with the discipline of the parishioner right down to the
smallest transgression. One may find the record of a private baptism of an
illegitimate child before the session or lists of burials plots within the
(Some are on line)
During your ancestors'
life , they may have recorded deeds, been subject to litigation, sued for
divorce, tried to prove paternity, gone into partnership, got into debt,
or even got into trouble with the law. All these types of records are held
within the court records. For a fuller explanation of the records
available I would suggest you obtain a copy of 'Tracing your Scottish
Ancestors, A Guide to Ancestry Research in The Scottish Record Office by
Cecil Sinclair. (also- see NAS much further down)
WILLS & TESTAMENTS
(Some are on line)
The minimum information
needed to search for a will is the date and place of death of your
ancestor. When it is a common name, (eg John McDonald in Glasgow) the name
of the spouse and occupation will help identify the correct will.
TENANCY & ESTATE RECORDS
(THESE ARE NOT ON LINE!)
Names of tenants may be
found within the Estate Papers of landowners, many of which have been
deposited in the National Archives (ref :GD - Gifts and Deposits). The
name of a farm, village or parish is essential to establish which
landowner records to search.
Valuation Rolls for each
county will also give good tenant information in many cases.
A wonderful source of tenants names, along with some biographical details
at times, are the Annexed Estate Papers. Jacobite landowners, on the
defeat of their cause, either lost their estates to the Crown, or had them
managed by the Barons of the Exchequer. Either way, there was a full
accounting of the estate to establish its value. Farms, tenants, rents
paid, and reparation received are listed. The Scottish Exchequer (Ref: E)
contains papers of estates forfeited after the 1689, 1715 and 1745
SASINES (LAND RECORDS)
(THESE ARE NOT ON LINE!)
A sasine is the legal
record of the transfer of land ownership, either when inherited, gifted or
sold. Land used as security for a loan will also be recorded in the county
Register of Sasines. Most people in pre WWII Scotland were tenants and did
not own their house or land, so these records are best searched only if
you have knowledge of land or house ownership from previous research.
Transfer of some lands via a will was not possible prior to 1868.
However if you do have
reason to think that an ancestor may have owned their land or house then
these records can contain a wealth of information. For instance if a
family owned a piece of land for generations, each sasine refers back to
the previous transfer, neatly linking each generation with names and
relationships. This can be very helpful in areas with sparse birth and
These records should be searched with reference to specific events such as
the death of the land/house owning ancestor, initially.
Sample of an OPR marriage Record
Variations in forenames
When searching you should remember that some given names have variants,
abbreviations or other possibilities besides the possible miss-spellings:
Agnes - Nancy, Nan
Alexander – Alexr., Alec, Alex, Sandy, Eck, Al
Catherine – Katherine, Kate, Kath, Kathy, Cathy, Kit
Charles - Chas., Charley, Chuck
Elizabeth - Elisabeth, Eliza, Betty, Betsy, Beth, Bessie, Elspeth, Elsie,
George – Geordie, Dod, Geo
Hannah – Ann
Hellen, Ellen, Ellie
Hugh, Hew, Ewan
James -Jas., Jamie, Jimmy, Jim
Jane, Janet, Jean, Jessie
Margaret – Margt., Mgt., Maggie, Meg, Peggy, Peg
William - Will, Wm., Willm, Willie, Bill, Billy
Williamina, Ina, Wilhelmina
And on……………and on…