Scottish Genealogy FAQs

Have questions about Scottish genealogy and family history research? Many people do. We have therefore decided to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and hopefully, make the quest for your Scottish ancestors a little bit easier and more enjoyable.

1. Why can I find birth, marriage and death records only from 1855 onwards?

The reason why you cannot access records of births, marriages and deaths prior 1855 is because there weren’t any. Civilian registration in Scotland began only in 1855. You can also access birth, marriage and death records at the ScotlandsPeople website.

2. Where can I find information about my Scottish ancestors prior 1855?

There are several resources that can help you find your Scottish ancestors prior 1855. Old Parish Records are probably best to begin with because the Church of Scotland recorded births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials three centuries before the civil authorities. As a result, you may be able to trace your Scottish ancestor as far back as 1550s. Other resources for genealogy and family history prior 1855 include Catholic Parish Registers, Miscellaneous Records (registers of Irregular Border marriages, registers of births, marriages and deaths by non-Churchly authorities, and private records of births, marriages and deaths) and Wills and Testaments from 1513 to 1925. All resources can be accessed at the ScotlandsPeople website.

3. How do I start searching?

The easiest way to start tracing your ancestors is to look for parents of the last known ancestor in birth, marriage and death records. You can look either by date or by name, or better yet – both.

4. How can I tell that I have found the right person?

Just because the date and name seem right that doesn’t necessarily mean you have found your ancestor. The only way to make sure that you have found the right person is to trace his or her descendants to see if they lead you to your family. If they don’t, you don’t have the right person.

5. What if my ancestors emigrated from Scotland?

Records of emigration and immigration in Scotland are unfortunately relatively sparse because there were no legal requirements to record emigrants for a very long time. The earliest passenger lists date only from 1890 and can be accessed either at the National Archives of London or via online at the Find My Past website. If you can’t find your ancestor in the passengers list or if they left Scotland earlier, look for information in the country they went to. For example, if your ancestors emigrated to the United States, try the Ellis Island website.