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:

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: 

Ordering certificates

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).

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 NorthScotland SouthWest Lothian, MidlothianScotland 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.

Census

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.
This page last updated on 2 March 2022