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Genealogy: Finding Your Scottish Ancestors, Part 1

Updated on September 27, 2012

St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland


A beginner's guide to researching your Scottish ancestry on-line for free.

So you've discovered Scottish roots in your family tree, congratulations!

A discovery such as this is exciting and opens up a whole new dimension to your family tree. Unfortunately, it can also seem a bit overwhelming if you've never searched another country for genealogy records. My own family tree led me to 1841 Scotland. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find documents and visiting numerous websites that promised all sorts of documents if I paid a fee to join. Some I joined, some I didn't. Some I am glad I did, some I wish I hadn't.

This is the first of a two part hub that will enable you to begin the search for your Scottish ancestors with confidence. Part 1 will focus on things you should know before you start and the best FREE resources available online. Part II will focus on the “pay per view” sites available on-line.

Below are five facts to keep in mind when starting your Scottish research.

1.) Know which records are available and which aren't. Not all records have survived and the ones that have may not be complete, they could have been lost, damaged, or destroyed. Statutory records didn't start until 1855.

2.) Understand where Scotland is located and its relationship to England.

  • Scotland and England are on the same island.
  • United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Great Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland.

These are important facts to know because while some sites list Scotland on its own, others narrow the search by United Kingdom, then Scotland. You may even come across a Census or other document where your ancestor listed his place of birth as England or Great Britain even though they were born in Scotland.

3.) In Scotland, as in many countries outside the US, dates are written as day/month/year, for example 8 Jul 1852.

4.) FAQ: They are on websites for a reason, READ THEM! They often give tips on narrowing searches which lead to better search results as well as time and money spent on random searches.

5.) On April 1, 2011, the General Register Office for Scotland (GRO) merged with the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) to become the National Records of Scotland (NRS). Both GRO and NAS website’s are still active until a new site for NRS is launched.

I could give you hundreds of websites pertaining to some aspect of Scottish records but to start off you need to find specific information such as names, dates and places. I strongly suggest you use all the "free" websites listed below to gather as much information as possible about your ancestors. You want to know as much as you can about your ancestors before you start paying to view originals. Depending on how popular your ancestor's name is you could spend a small fortune on vouchers and/or credits to view records that turn out to be someone else's ancestor. Details such as place of birth, marriage or death and even religion can go a long way in helping you narrow down your search and reduce expenses. Once you have narrowed the field you can then use the "pay per view" websites to locate original documents to confirm what you've found on free sites.

Below are three websites that will help you gather information at no cost. For best results visit in order listed.

1.) Explore and view the world's largest collection of FREE family trees, genealogy records and resources. Organized by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) to make family history available to everyone, LDS copies and transcribes records from around the world. Many of their records have links to the original document. Their records span billions of names across hundreds of collections—including birth, marriage, death, probate, land, military, IGI extracted, and more.

2.) GENUKI: Provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information relevant to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers. It offers a fantastic clickable map of Scotland Counties to help narrow down the area your ancestor is from. The site also includes many links to information about Scotland.

3.) ScotlandsFamily: Is a fantastic resource to free on-line Scottish data. It has a full color map of Scotland with the counties in different colors. It also has parish maps for each county, showing you which parishes are located in a county and where they are located within the county. An indispensable tool to narrow down where your family resided and what parishes were nearby.

Collect as much information from these FREE sites as possible. Try various search options on each one, for instance on Family Search you can leave the name field blank and search via just the parents names. An excellent way to find other siblings you may not have known about or a first or second husband or wife you never new existed. Sometimes less information is more.

List of Scottish Records Available on Scotlands People


More than likely the information you gathered already gives you a good idea of your family history. You've probably been able to find your family on more than one Census along with siblings. Maybe you are only interested in a direct line ancestor such as mother, father, grandparents and do not wish to pursue indirect lines such as siblings or aunts and uncles. Maybe this is a gift for a parent or a child's school project and what you've found is enough to satisfy you curiosity.

If, however, you find yourself pulled into the mystery of the rest of the family and want to find out if you have cousins out there you've never met. Or if you just want to see how far you can trace your family tree, see my next hub "Genealogy: Finding Your Scottish Ancestors Part 2, A beginner's guide to researching your Scottish ancestry on-line on “pay per view” sites."

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    • Christine Miranda profile image

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Thank you Gordon. I hope to visit there someday and enjoy reading your posts about Scotland until that day arrives.

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Wonderful tips and information, Christine. I am sure much of your information will prove to be of great value to many people. I love the way you point out the true nature of the important differences between Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom - it is amazing how much confusion that often causes! If I can be of help to you in any way with information from here in Scotland, don't hesitate to let me know. Best wishes.