Where to Look for Your Scottish Ancestors

Finding your Scottish ancestors will take some time and effort. You are most likely to find your ancestors in Scotland’s archives and libraries which hold extensive collections of books, manuscripts, documents, maps, records, etc.. The best places to start are the National Library of Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland, the General Register Office for Scotland (GRO) and the Court of the Lord Lyon. Also worth visiting is the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) website which offers an online access to over 50 Scottish archives as well as a number of resources that can be very helpful in your quest for your Scottish ancestors. Specifically, you should be looking for information in the following sources:

Birth, marriage and death certificates. They are the easiest and surest way to trace your ancestors. Unfortunately, registration of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland began only in 1855. These records are held by the GRO. The National Archives and the GRO merged in 2011 into the National Records of Scotland but all former departments function as a part of the new body.

Church records. Churches in Scotland began to keep track of their members including births, baptisms, marriages and deaths a lot earlier that the civil authorities. This makes church records a highly valuable source for tracing family history before 1855 (the oldest churchly records date back to the 16th century). Registers of the Church of Scotland before 1855 can be found at the GRO, while copies can be accessed at LDS centres worldwide. Records of the Church of Scotland after 1855 can be found at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. If you cannot find your ancestors in the records of the Church of Scotland, you should perhaps be looking for them in the Scottish Catholic Archives (at Columba House in Edinburgh) or the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre (Glasgow).

Census records. Census has been carried out every 10 years since year 1801. It offers valuable information about the Scottish residents which in turn is of major help if you want to learn more about your family history and your ancestors’ lives. Detailed information, however, is found only in census records after 1841. These are held at the GOS in Edinburgh. Also, keep in mind that you can access census records only up to 1911.

Other. Sometimes the necessary information cannot be found in the sources mentioned above. Also, if you would like to learn more about your family history other than just names and dates, you will have to look for information elsewhere as well. Other good sources include land and property records, court records, military records, emigration and immigration records, letters, wills, testaments, cemeteries, etc.