Key resources, archives, libraries and gateways
There are many useful resources for researching Scottish ancestors. The key to finding them is in the State Library catalogue using a keyword search. Try searching under the name of a location – village, town or county – plus the type of source. Examples of keyword searches are: Scotland directories, Shetland census, Edinburgh almanacs. The following guides to researching Scottish ancestry are available in the Genealogy Centre on the 3rd floor or online:
- Tracing your Scottish Ancestors: a guide for family historians
- Tracing your Scottish Ancestors : a guide to ancestry research in the National Archives of Scotland
- Gathering the Clans : tracing Scottish ancestry on the Internet
- Scottish Ancestry : research methods for family historians
- Discover Your Scottish Ancestry : Internet and traditional resources
- A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering your Scottish Ancestors : how to find and record your unique heritage
- Scottish Roots : the step-by-step guide to tracing your Scottish ancestors
- Scotland’s People - Scotland’s People is the official government website for Scottish genealogy with births, marriages and deaths, census records, parish registers, wills and more. Initial searching is free and documents can be downloaded for a fee.
- National Library of Scotland - and its Family History section provides advice for those researching Scottish ancestry.
- The Word on the Street - An online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides or single-sheet newspapers 1650-1910
- National Archives of Scotland - This website includes guides on particular collections of records and an online catalogue.
- Scottish Archive Network - This site has a combined online catalogue for more than 50 archives in Scotland. For other online content go to the Digital Archive which includes a database of passengers who emigrated from western Scotland to Australia 1852-1857.
- GENUKI Scotland - This is the Scotland section of the UK & Ireland Genealogy website. It has pages for each county as well as information for the whole of Scotland.
- ScotlandGenWeb Project - This is the Scotland section of the WorldGenWeb site. It has pages for each county, links to other websites, message boards and mailing lists.
- Cyndi’s List - Scotland - This is the Scotland section of Cyndi’s list, a comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of genealogical research sites with online links.
- Scottish Association of Family History Societies - This website has contact details for family history societies throughout Scotland.
Births, marriages & deaths
The official recording of births, marriages and deaths by the government, known as civil registration, began in Scotland on 1 January 1855. Births, marriages and deaths are recorded by local registrars around the country and the details are forwarded to the Registrar General for Scotland where the information is collated into national indexes. The Scottish civil registration indexes 1855-1956 are also available on microfilm through Family Search.
For a detailed look at civil registration in Scotland see:
- An introduction to British civil registration
- FamilySearch Wiki on Civil Registration in Scotland
- Scotland’s People - This is the official government website for Scottish genealogy with all births, marriages and deaths indexed up to 2006.
- International Genealogical Index (IGI) - available on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints FamilySearch website, has some early entries extracted from the civil registration indexes.
- McKirdy Index - covers deaths for some Scottish counties and is held on microfiche in the Genealogy Centre at the State Library: Bute 1855-1875, Kinross 1855-1875, Lanark 1855, Lanark 1856, Lanark 1857, Sutherland 1855-1875
Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates contain more information than those for England and Wales. In particular, certificates issued during the first year of civil registration, 1855, are incredibly detailed. The information recorded on certificates depends on the knowledge of the person who was informing the registrar. Therefore, some information may be missing or incorrect. For information on what can be expected on a certificate see the State Library handout: Information found on certificates for Australian states, New Zealand and the British Isles (PDF 35KB).
- Scotland’s People - Certificates can be downloaded from the Scotland’s People website for a fee. See the FamilySearch Scotland Civil Registration – Vital Records Research Wiki for full details of microfilms available.
- General Register Office for Scotland - Certificates can also be ordered from the General Register Office for Scotland. The website has details of cost and how to apply.
Finding births, marriages and deaths pre-1855
Church registers where baptisms, marriages and burials are recorded are used for finding births, marriages and deaths occurring prior to 1855. These events continued to be recorded by churches after 1855, so parish registers also provide information after this date. To use parish registers, it is necessary to have some idea as to which parish is relevant to the person whose records are being searched. Many parish records have been published and are available at the Library either as books or on microfilm, microfiche or CD-ROM. Some parish records that are available in a series of CD-ROMs which are held in the Genealogy Centre on the 3rd floor include those for Scotland North, Scotland South, West Lothian, Midlothian, Scotland General. Try searching our catalogue under keyword using the name of the parish or geographic area and the following search words/phrases: church records and registers, registers of births, marriage records, cemeteries, epitaphs. inscriptions, sepulchral monuments
The following are useful sources of information about the location and extent of parish registers in Scotland.
- The Phillimore atlas and index of parish registers
- The Parishes,Registers & Registrars of Scotland
- GENUKI Scotland - information about parish registers for most counties.
- Scotland's People - includes many parish registers as well as civil registration documents.
- FamilySearch - one of the most important sources for parish registers is the extensive collection of microfilmed material available from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some of this material has been indexed on the website.
- International Genealogical Index - always consult the microfilm of the original document which often has additional information. Microfilms can be ordered for a small fee from any of the FamilySearch Centres located around the world. Check the Library Catalogue to see what is available and obtain the relevant microfilm number for ordering.
- British Isles Vital Record Index - this index covers England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and has over 10 million birth and christening records and nearly 2 million marriage records for the following periods: Baptisms 1530-1906 and Marriages 1538-1940
- FreeReg - transcriptions of baptisms, marriages and burials transcribed by volunteers.
- Ancestry Library Edition - contact the State Library or a local WA public library for details on how to access this resource.
Census records are a key source of information for family historians. Records can provide age, address, occupation, marital status and birthplace. It can be useful to check census pages either side of the one being researched as these can often uncover relatives and will also provide a information on the type of neighbourhood in which people lived. A census has been taken of the population in Scotland every ten years since 1801 with the exception of 1941. However, the 1801-1831 censuses did not record the names of people so are only useful for statistical purposes. The Library holds published census data and indexes for various counties. Try searching our catalogue under keyword with the name of the county + census e.g. Orkney census. The following shows the date of each census since 1841: 6 June 1841, 30 March 1851, 7 April 1861, 2 April 1871, 3 April 1881, 5 April 1891, 31 March 1901, 2 April 1911
- Census: the expert guide - for in-depth information about the censuses see this key work published by The National Archives in 2008. It includes tips for searching online censuses and comparisons of the various commercial sites.Census records for Scotland are available as part of the extensive collection of microfilmed material available from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Microfilms can be ordered for a small fee from the website and viewed at any of the Family History Centres located around the world. Check the Library Catalogue to see what is available and obtain the relevant microfilm number for ordering.
- Ancestry Library Edition - transcriptions of the 1841-1901 census returns for Scotland are available on Ancestry. Findmypast - transcriptions of the 1841- 1901 census returns for Scotland are available on Findmypast. Please note that census images are not available. Search for ancestors in the 1901 census on Ancestry and note the microfilm reel number, enumeration district (ED) and household schedule number. The original census image can then be viewed on microfilm. The 1901 census returns for Scotland are held in the Genealogy Centre on microfilm - Scotland 1901 census records.
- Scotland's People - The Scotland's People website has the 1841-1911 census returns available. They can be searched for free and downloaded for a fee.
- FamilySearch - Census records for Scotland are available as part of the extensive collection of microfilmed material available from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Microfilms can be ordered for a small fee from their website and viewed at any of the Family History Centres located around the world. Check the Library Catalogue to see what is available and obtain the relevant microfilm number for ordering.
- FreeCEN - this website has some census data which has been transcribed by volunteers. Check the database coverage to see how much information has been transcribed for the various counties of Scotland.