Find My Scottish Ancestors

Helping you to trace your family history

As the internet expands, so does remote access to various records online and these form a valuable resource to anyone trying to piece together their family tree.

However, the first thing that you will probably want to do requires no technology at all (or possibly just a pen and paper and a telephone!). You should talk to as many family members as you can. This may sound obvious, but it is amazing how much knowledge your living relatives have - it may simply be that they never thought to mention it. Let your family know that you are interested in the story of your family's past - often older relatives know a great deal about their parents/grandparents/cousins etc. and this information may give you a valuable 'head start' when you begin your research.

Collaboration with other researchers is also a valuable tool...

Robert Foster and Maggie Jane Kirk with their children, c.1910

There are a number of genealogy websites out there where people can share their own knowledge and/or post their family trees. It could be that someone has already looked into a branch of your family and their research may make it easier to develop yours. It is also a fantastic way of making contact with other members of your family that you may never even have known about.

One word of warning, however: do remember that the information on these websites is submitted by individuals – and that these individuals are subject to being fallible just like all of us. Most people who post their family trees truly believe that the information that they post is accurate, and in many cases it is, but do bear in mind that it is possible that the information has not been verified and could be inaccurate.

With that proviso in mind, here is a list of some of the biggest genealogy websites available: is also a useful resource for finding links to other research tools as well as helpful advice about genealogy in general.
The official Scottish site for genealogy research is at

This site offers a pay-per-view service where you can search the records of the National Records of Scotland.

This allows you to search using the Statutory Registers of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (1855-present), the Old Parish Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages (1553-1854), Census returns (1841-1911) wills and testaments (1513-1901), and other records. Recently, Catholic Registers have been added to the website, and these form as additional valuable resource for researchers.

   Scottish Wills and Testaments

The records vary in terms of the information that they contain. The following is a general guide to what you can expect some of these records to contain:

  • Statutory Births (1855-present). The name of the child, the names of the parents (often the date and place of their marriage too), the time and place of birth, and sometimes the signature of the person who registered the birth.

  • Statutory Marriages (1855-present). The place and date of the marriage, the names of the parties involved (often including witnesses), the stated ages of the bride and groom, their addresses, the parents of the bride and groom (and often a record of whether the parents were living at the time), and sometimes other information – e.g. there can be a note of a subsequent divorce attached to the record in the form of a ‘corrected entry’.

  • Statutory Deaths (1855-present). The name, age, occupation and address of the deceased, the cause of death as well as the date and time of death, often there is a note of the name of their spouse, and you will also find the names of the deceased person’s parents and occupations (if this information was known by the person who registered the death).

  • Old Parish Registers: Births. The information in these is often much less complete. For birth records there is usually the name of the child and the date of the baptism/birth. Sometimes only one parent (often the father) is named, but other times both parents will be named. There can be information about the residence of the parents or the father’s occupation, but this varies from record to record.

  • Old Parish Registers: Marriages. These records also vary. You will usually find the names of the betrothed couple and a note of when the banns were read and where and when the marriage took place. However, even this information is not always there. There are records which simply record the groom’s name (often this occurs when the record in question is simply recording payment of the marriage ‘fee’). The utility of these records varies considerably.

  • Old Parish Registers: Deaths. Death records from before 1855 are very sparse. You can search for these on the Scotland's People website but you must be aware that relatively few are available. You can find additional information in the Kirk Session records at the National Archives of Scotland (again relatively few examples exist) or by consulting the survey of Monumental Inscriptions (gravestones) undertaken by the Scottish Genealogy Society Copies of these are often available in local libraries.

  • Census Returns (1841 onwards). These are again somewhat variable. The records become more comprehensive as time progresses, but in the earliest census you simply get information about the names of the individuals, where they were living, if they were born in the county in which they now resided, and an approximate age. Further information was added as time progressed, and by 1901 there is a wealth of information about each individual.


Using the search forms on the Scotland's People website is reasonably straightforward, but there are some important points to bear in mind:

You can only access images of what are deemed to be ‘historical documents’ on the Scotland’s People website: that is records of births from 100+ years ago, marriages from 75+ years ago, and death records from 50+ years ago. Although you can search the indexes for more recent events, you will not be able to view the actual documents.

If you do not have information that is older than these dates (i.e. a birth of someone more than 100 years ago, a marriage from more than 75 years ago, or a death from 50+ years ago) then you may find that the website is of limited value as you may not be able to research your first ancestor (the root of your family tree) without access to images of the actual document. Research into these more 'modern' records must be done at the Scotland's People Centre in Edinburgh in person and this is one of the many reasons that a researcher based in Scotland can be of great assistance in furthering your investigations.

If your ancestor has a relatively common name and/or is from a Scottish city, then you may experience significant problems identifying them...

Each time you search for information you spend a ‘credit’ on the website, and you spend additional credits each time you click to view a specific record. If you are looking for a John Macdonald from Glasgow, you may have to click a lot of times, and spend a lot of credits before you find ‘your’ John Macdonald…

The older the records are, the less complete the coverage is...

Edward Gaughan and his brothers

Although there are some 3500 surviving Old Parish Registers, these do not cover the whole of Scotland and many do not go back beyond the late 18th/early19th centuries. In addition, it must be emphasised that these registers were usually of people who were members of the established Church of Scotland. If your ancestors were members of one of the many dissenting churches, then you may not appear in these registers. Proof of their births/marriages/deaths must be sought in the Kirk Session records held by the National Records of Scotland ( and at present there is no remote access to these documents.

Children born out of wedlock may not appear in these records – or if they do then there may be important information omitted: often the name of the father...

To find out more, it is often necessary to consult the Minute books of the relevant Church parish to see whether the individuals involved were ever called before the Kirk Session to account for their actions. Once again, these records are held by the National Archives of Scotland, and at present there is no remote access to them.

Bearing all of this in mind, the resources available at Scotland's People can be invaluable – especially for finding a starting point from which to research further back...

However, the costs involved can often mount up quickly, as a large number of 'incorrect' records often need to be viewed before the correct one is located. This is why so many people choose either to visit the Scotland's People centre in Edinburgh or to engage a researcher to visit in their place. A researcher who is based in Edinburgh can spend a day investigating all of the records for a fixed daily fee. The ability to view all of the available resources at the Scotland's People centre as well as those held onsite at the National Records of Scotland, means that more information can often be uncovered more quickly.


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