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Historical Articles from Larry Ruickbie
Searching for Your Canadian/Scottish Ancestors
Tips and Tools


TIPS and Tools

Tip – learn how to copy and paste all types of data from a website into Word and Excel (or similar programs). Also learn how to copy photographs, maps or picture files onto your local hard disk. (Select the area………right mouse click………..etc)

Tip - organize your web browser “favourites” and make a library of sites with titles you understand and recognize (not just what it was saved as). Set them up logically in a folder tree structure by location/type. You will collect many as you go forward. This will save you hours of time.

Tip – if you don’t already have and use an ad blocker and a spy-ware package, get some and use them as necessary. I use “Pop-up Stopper (free)”, “Ad-Aware 6(free)”, and “SpyBot Search and Destroy (free)”. If you’ve never used one of the spy ware packages before – brace yourself – you’ll be amazed at the garbage that exists on your hard disk, and a lot of it slowing your system speed. Go here for the free software mentioned above (and lots more – all have been voted by worldwide users as the best free stuff around):

You will find that your computer system will run much better if - every week you go into your browser’s tools menu and manually delete all cookies, all saved web pages, and clear your history.

This can be made easier if you put Shortcuts to the various programs of that ilk into an easily-identified (eg “Maintenance”) folder on the Desk Top.

Mak siccer (Make sure) that you keep your anti-virus software up-to-date or you may feel sicker.

The free version of this program is another gem I recommend highly. It allows you to create a pdf file from any print job imaginable. This is great for capturing large amounts information to an electronic file or to allow sharing of documents over the net and in emails. The resulting file is compact and fully compatible with Adobe Reader.

MWSNAP Version 3 – By Mirek – GET THIS PROGRAM! – You can selectively capture ANYTHING that you see on your monitor and save it as a graphics file or paste the clipping into other files or emails – FANTASTIC TOOL and works flawlessly! - Even when the right mouse button has been deactivated at a website. Put this one on a hot key! It’s free.

PCLOUPE – By BlueFive Software – GET THIS PROGRAM TOO! – An area magnifier for small areas of the screen. There are many such programs as this out there but I’ve found this the simplest and the smallest memory hog.  You’ll find it great for viewing maps and small print. Put it on a hot key too. It’s free.

PIXRESIZER – Also by BlueFive Software – Another free tool – For reducing the size of any graphics file, picture or clipping you have. Saves space and memory. This was used a lot in creating this document after grabbing the image with MWSNAP.

World Time Clock – handy little program by Johannes Wallroth – simply displays in a very small widow 5 different clocks which are user selectable. I find this useful to see the time at several locations in the world. Maybe you might too-if you converse with afar on a regular basis, or are trying to figure out when something was sent or posted. It’s down the page a bit under “downloads”. And it’s totally free.

Are you unhappy with the current version of a piece of software or looking for the older free versions?


Ya gotta see it and try some of this stuff.

The few of the better freeware sites:

Not all freeware – but there are a few gems:,00.asp

Pop Peeper - A great unlimited number of addresses email notification freeware program that I recommend:

A bunch of handy freeware programs from Moonsoftware

My favorites being these 4-

1- Bookmark Wizard – a fantastic little program that will make a compact organized HTML page from your Internet Favorites list. Great for sending your links selectively by cutting and pasting what you want from the listing produced into an email or just send the whole file to a friend. Love it!

2- ClipClear – do you find your computer a tad slower after cutting and pasting numerous files and pictures, or after running memory intensive graphics programs? That’s because you’ve loaded up your memory chips with a bunch of whatever. This utility clears it and you’ll be faster.

3- CopyUrl – save the time of loading a favorite website from your Favorites list to get the address to paste into an email or such by using this. Has a few cool options too – and will do multiples.

4-  FileTargets – Copy and move files quicker to your other folders via added menus selections. Much better than “send to”.

AM-DeadLink by Martin Aignesberger – another little program I find handy. It scans your entire internet Bookmarks list and reports which ones are dead-links (or other errors) then lets you selectively delete them if you wish. It is a quick way of housecleaning useless links or prompting yourself to update your files. Avoid the wasted wait time waiting while the browser times out only to discover a link is bad while surfing. This program will check 500 links in a few minutes if you’re on high speed. It has a few other options too.

FreeNote by MG Shareware - Yellow stickees (or any colour you wish) for your computer screen. Free.

FreeRip – could be used to put your audio CD’s on your hard drive. Free.

WordWeb -It includes a comprehensive English thesaurus and dictionary, and can be used to look up words from within most programs. Free.

Some notes to read regarding Naturalization and tracing your family tree.

Regarding Shortcuts on your Desktop:

If you’re like me and eventually have many various programs and net shortcuts set up and accumulating upon your “Desktop” I would imagine that you may have noticed that once the screen becomes a wee bit crowded that  it takes quite a while to refresh the screen, after returning to it from whatever activity. There is a way to get rid of this – simply set up a folder on your desktop and then cut and paste the rarely used shortcuts into it - and when you do need them on those rare occasions - they’ll be there waiting for a click. This can be done endlessly by subject or such as you may wish. In this case faster is better.

Regarding Programs running in your system tray:

After having installed a lot of programs you might just find that things don’t quite go as fast somehow. Check your right hand system tray – every program displayed there is a “time-sharer”. The fewer, the better for system speed. If you see some that you do not use regularly – remove them from there, and from your “Startup”, and access them via the programs menu or the via shortcut folders I spoke of above.

Tip – record everything, set up a spreadsheet, and put your notes there. Also copy and paste little bits and pieces of info you see out on the net into this file. You can use multiple sheets within the workbook to organize the data. Sometimes it is also useful to make note of the web address where the info came from – this again is easily done by pasting the address from your browser within the note(s). Review these notes every once in a while – a new search idea, amazing revelation, or fresh approach may come to mind.

Use Word, or the like, to paste info and internet addresses into as you search as a temporary notebook to store info while searching (use paste special – unformatted text) – this will save backtracking and you can copy the information to your note file if worthwhile or just blow it away if not needed.

Tip – people sometimes marry more than once, plus sometimes a mother’s name in a death record may be a step mother’s name, plus every once in a while children may be born before a marriage with the maiden name of the mother and adopt the eventual husband’s name later.

Tip – Illegitimate children sometimes lie on their marriage records; or have been given misleading stories as to their origins. Additionally the “happy couple” may not know the facts, whether “legitimate” or illegitimate”. Do you know your parents full names?

One person and his relatives did have doubts about his given names, were they “Arthur William” or “William Arthur”?

Neither! - Actually “Arthur Willie”; but only discovered after his death.

Tip – Some records just plain do not exist now - or never did. Robert Burns’ death record was lost with the destruction of records in Dumfries. Sir Walter Scott’s birth was never recorded.

Tip – Not everyone with your Surname is related. (I’ve found this good sometimes. (smile))

Tip – Very few of us are related to nobility or “famous” people; but the family lore may have a grain of truth, leading to greater discoveries.

Tip – Most family trees will have “black sheep” and various skeletons in the closet.

Tip – Age information on Census or death records should be considered only as “close” – the information may have been provided by someone who was not related, and had limited knowledge, or was a flat out guess. Birthplace information on Census lists should not be taken as fact at all times for the same reasons.

Tip - Use what info you have to help find a person or confirm their identity:

What was your ancestor’s trade, profession, skill? Family or locality trades?
Census, marriage and death records often indicate the profession, marital status, etc.
Pay attention to these details, it could give you an alternate way of searching; but keep in mind that today’s interpretation may not be the meaning of that era, eg “Gangster (Bookmaker)” in the 1881 British Census; or have different meanings in different countries.

Tip – search on your surname once a week at Google, Surname Navigator and Yahoo, new data is loaded daily. Every week you’ll possibly see a new avenue.

Tip – Use your local word processor to compose posts, don’t do it right at the query site. Then copy and paste the completed post - after your processor checks the spelling and grammar. You’ll look like a pro, and avoid errors, plus you’ll get to save the message locally for use, at other sites or in possible modified queries or messages in the future.

Tip – Data transcribers make tpysos typos too.

Tip – Pay attention to the brothers and sisters of your ancestors, their data & information could help a lot in your quest.

Tip – Middle names can sometimes point to a grandparent’s given or surnames.

Tip – Read responses to other peoples’ queries – you may learn useful methods, links, etc.

Tip – When you do find a post or query that is relative -check the poster’s and the answer’s history of posts – perhaps you may find more useful information or contacts.

Tip – Use at least a two (+- 2) year buffer when using the 1881 Census of Scotland to calculate birth dates – in my experience they appear several years light. 1891 and 1901 are closer. This also applies generally to any on-line database searches. Then go to 5.

Tip – If you plan to make this your on-going pastime or intend on doing a lot of research you will find it much cheaper in the long run, and a big time saver, to purchase the 1881 UK Census which covers Scotland, England, Wales, Channel Islands etc.(but not Ireland); and perhaps the 1881 Canadian Census. Owning the census opens the way to much more powerful multi-parameter searches.

Tip – A gap larger than 3 or 4 years between children can indicate a childbirth death; and/or possibly the mother’s death followed by re-marriage to a lady with the same First Name, on occasions to add to the confusions.

Where a child died young, the same name/s may be used for a later child, leading to possible confusions of the birth year of the eventual survivor.

Tip – A huge list of children, or a list that spans several decades, attributed to one father may indicate multiple wives; or it could be that a son/relative/stranger with the identical name/s is having family simultaneously.

Tip – BACK UP YOUR DATA REGULARLY – it’s a real shame to “scrogg” months of work. Get another hard disk in your PC; or simply copy everything over; supplemented by occasionally sending all your data, images etc to other interested relatives occasionally by CD or DVD.

Tip - Understand this- Variant Spellings:

Hundreds of years ago there was no compulsion for parents to send their children to school.

Because of this, many Scots (and Canadians) at this time were illiterate as evidenced by the use of X marks, instead of signatures, on the statutory birth, marriage and death certificates. This led, inevitably, to both forenames and surnames being spelt in different ways by either the Kirk Session Clerk (usually the parish schoolmaster) pre 1855, or the local Registrar subsequently. Understandably, the incidence of spelling variants was particularly high in Gaelic-speaking areas. The problem of spelling variants was of course compounded when families immigrated, particularly to America where the officials at Ellis Island, for example, would simply write the name, and home town phonetically or as a name they had previous experience with.

The range of pronunciations for the same name or words within Scotland is extremely large. This is compounded in that some of the later records and most names on maps, hence in degree Censuses, were recorded by English surveyors, totally unaccustomed to Scottish practices. For example Gleneagles Hotel and Golf Course has nothing to do with eagles. It was an English surveyor understanding of the Gaelic for Glen (valley) of the Church Lockheed = Loch-head

To give some idea of how miss-leading some of the Gaelic words and spelling can appear to be, when compared with their pronunciations- Slainte Mhath - Slaandji vaa - to your health

Or things like: The ‘z’ of Drumelzier is pronounced as a ‘y’, Hawick is pronounced Hoik by many, and so forth…..

Another thing that compounded spelling mistakes, or flat out errors, was that sometimes the parish records (prior to 1855) were re-written into the formal from the memory and/or notes of the parish clerk and/or minister. Some records became scrambled.

Introduction to the Derivation of Scottish Surnames

Tip - Memorize this – Scottish naming patterns:

People of all countries tend to use forenames which run in the family. In Scotland families not only use such names but they tend to follow naming patterns - the most common of which is:-

1st son - named after his paternal grandfather
2nd son - named after his maternal grandfather
3rd son - named after his father
1st daughter - named after her maternal grandmother
2nd daughter - named after her paternal grandmother
3rd daughter - named after her mother

Tip – Variant spellings and phonetics can occur in place names, addresses and occupations too.

Tip – I hate spam and junk mail – but – it is worthwhile signing up for the free newsletters at Scotlands People, The National Archives, and other such reputable sites. This will keep you current, they sometimes announce new links and services - and really -they do not come all that much. I get 2 or 3 new links a month this way, and avoid waiting to hear of its creation elsewhere. Try it - if you do find them an annoyance – they must by law remove you from the mailing list if you so ask.

Tip – a few times I’ve saved time while working on a remote computer at a library or such by emailing data to myself at home from that location – saves time, a bunch of hard copy files, and the print/copy fees there. (I am Scottish after all)

Tip - regarding Average Numbers: Time between generations – about 25 years. Average age of a male at marriage was about 25, - for most women about 21 (this proven by GROS studies). Good numbers to use when approximating things. Also if they say they were 19 it may be less.

Females could marry as young as 12, males from 14. Some mothers in their Fifties had children, whilst there is almost no limit to the father’s age.

Tip – get a small spiral wound note book to log all the various passwords and logons you will be accumulating – and keep it at your work area – saves lots of time.

Here are some paper work examples to give you a rough idea how to set up your files. Do it right from the start, the number of notes you'll be making will amaze you. However, I still promote use of the computer rather than hand written documents for most data.

Tip – I have seen that the IGI database is NOT complete in the OPR area. There is not a great amount missing, and it is spotty with no pattern - but the point remains that if you use the IGI exclusively you are may be missing important data.

Tip – Occasionally there are spelling differences between IGI and Scotlands People.

Tip – There are occasional duplicate entries for births and christenings in the OPR databases at IGI and ScotlandsPeople.

Tip – A small cheap solar powered calculator is handy at your computer desk to quickly calculate birth dates from census and death information. You can get one for about $5.

Tip – Most of the better websites are constantly being expanded and improved. It pays to revisit sites in your Favorites list now and then to see what’s new.

Tip –Feet are a different size in the UK and Canada – check the tag on your Reeboks to see….

"Even in the cottage, where the earthen floor,
The straw-made bed, the wooden candlestick,
Display their sober equipage - even there
The Muses will haunt, where Pomp discusses to tread
And breathe the song, deny'd to Palaces."
James Ruickbie 1757-1829

I have found that a digital camera saves a bunch of time – it does not have to be a top of the line model – but you can photograph papers and photos amazingly well for later use – use the close up mode without flash and lots of light – sunlight is best. Get a good size extra chip. And when you do shoot something take a few (or more) from differing angles.

Remember that a digital camera is effectively a high-speed digital scanner; and a digital scanner is a slow-speed camera!

Another “toy” I’ve found useful is a “flash-drive” or “memory stick” that you can plug into your USB port and it becomes a portable hard drive for taking your files, or GETTING other files from a remote computer easily. A 64Meg stick costs much less than $25 and its like having over 50 re-useable floppies in your pocket, and for those wishing more capacity they are available to 1Gig in size. The drivers are right on the chip so it will work on any PC anywhere – i.e. the library, the LDS Family centers, etc…

Nicknames – used a lot in Scotland – check your target’s alternates

Search for living relatives in the electoral polls
Search for living relatives in one of the phone lists

What’s it worth now?
This calculator will convert UK currency from days past to 2002.

Old Occupations in Scotland – a listing and descriptions

GEDCOM & software (viewers and “privatizers”):

Get to know your way around Scotland a bit- using maps- then the following lists will make sense.
Parish Locations- go to this site and download the free software-
It can also help you work out the STRAIGHT-line distance between two places

Parish Listing and ref. Numbers website

Good site for the conversion of Roman Numerals to Arabic numerals – handy.

Dating Old Photographs

Everything you ever wondered about dates:

Help in reading that horrible writing on scanned records:

Various Acts of Parliament of interest to the Genealogist

Archaic Medical Terms:

Old Medical Terms: 

Dictionary of Scottish words

Ever wonder what day of the week goes with a date? Try this:

British Telecomm re phone number look ups

GED2WWW for converting Gedcoms to HTML

and better yet:

This index lists 1716 verified GED2WWW databases. These databases contain a total of 6208264 individuals and 2229958 families. TRY THIS – an amazing number of information that luckily could help you.

Dates Affecting Scottish Genealogy

Presented by Kay Ronald Devonshire

Scottish Event and Historical Timeline 7000BC forward

Regarding Saving Web pages

Storing web pages on your hard disk is a great thing to do with a page on a site you have found to be of use and to protect against the chance of it going off line or being revised by having a snap shot of it always available whether you are connected to the net or not.

For example – you find a web page that has a fantastic list of links and you really don’t want to slowly access them one at a time and save them as favorites. In Internet Explorer by simply clicking on “File” (in the upper left hand corner of the screen), then clicking on “Save As” – a window will pop up allowing you to select a location to save the webpage. This will action will create an HTML file of that single page, and also a subdirectory of similar name which will contain the objects (i.e graphics) from the page. I would suggest that you save each page in its own subdirectory to make things a bit organized, but you can place many in a single location if you so please for sites that have multiple pages (just make sure each has a unique file name). By clicking on the created HTML web page file the links will work as they did formerly.

Another example is a web page that simply contains a massive amount of information that you wish to store locally for reading at your leisure while off line. This can save a bunch of money if you pay by the hour for on line access or have a time threshold.

Do remember though that this method only saves the web PAGE that is active at the time of the save – it does not save other “linked” pages within that site or afar. Saving of entire websites is possible with freeware packages available - but I don’t really recommend this as the size of the download required to capture entire sites can run into hundreds of megabytes and hours of time. Plus I would mention that many sites may have counter acting software that disallows or scrambles such website reaping programs.

File Parking for Massive files or whatever:

I’ve been experimenting with something that I thought might be of possible value to many.

Basically it’s a way of posting freely almost any file up to 50 meg (or larger) in size at a site which allows a third party to visit the hosting site –if they know the correct URL – and download it – for free and without your having to reveal your name or email address, at either end.

Some query sites do not allow attachment of files. This is an alternate way to do so. (Imagine the possibilities concerning pictures, registers, spreadsheets, Gedcoms, any file, etc. – might save a load of typing and enhance sharing)

These sites I speak of do have a “pay” side too – but I found that the free ones work just fine.

It’s quite simple:

1) Visit the site below and you will see a box prompting for a file name – with a browse button – go find it, and upload it.

2) The site will immediately give you two things - an URL to pass along to others as a way to download it (and a URL as well for you to “kill” or erase the file.)

3) Just right click and save the URLs in a Word doc or whatever (for future reference and sharing) – then pass the download URL along as you wish to others in an email or in a post.

4) They click on the URL, scroll down the page and select “FREE” from the bottom box of the feature comparisons area, the screen will change and then you scroll down to the bottom of that and will see the file name displayed – click on it and the regular download sequence of Windows begins…etc.

The file up-loaded will remain on this site for a minimum of 30 days – OR – the up-loader “kills” it with the link originally provided. If it is not downloaded within a 30 day period it will be erased by the host site.

Tip -If you’ve got multiple files – just ZIP them first to avoid multiple visits.

I have used this with no ill results. (You may occasionally see a nag screen, but hey – it’s free)

All of this is done anonymously as neither the up-loader nor down-loader have to identify themselves at all, or register, at this site– so I would strongly suggest that should you download a file from here – you virus scan EVERY file before you open it. And – NEVER download or open an executable file (i.e COM or EXE extension on file name).

This is one such site:

RapidShare Webhosting + Webspace:

And to give you an option - Here’s another site that offers the same, again- with no registration required, and may be easier for some (but be aware of the immediate launch on the download of a posted file - as I describe later below):


This one is very similar in use and supports even larger files up to 75 Meg. Stale date erase time is also one month. The site will only ask that you classify the file type.

The upload is the same drill, with it giving the two URLs.

The download is simpler as the filename is displayed immediately on screen.

However the download operation at this site has a caution, I believe it may be safer to do a “right click” on file name with your mouse to do a “save target as” sequence to put it wherever on your local drive. (If you double click on it your system may/will load your local associated software and display (or run) the file without you having a chance to scan it.)

Tip – If you have Windows XP – turn on your firewall – it’s free with the software and will only help you in many ways, and stop most of the “electronic vandalism”.

Tip - If your ancestors died in Scotland in 1855, or from 1861 onwards, their death record will show spouse & parentage. If they died between 1856 & 1860 the record will give parentage, but state only 'married' or 'widowed'.

Tip – About making assumptions – don’t.


Return to Larry's Searching for Your Canadian/Scottish Ancestors Index Page


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