People with Scottish ancestry are particularly fortunate when it comes to researching family history. The basic resources that you need to compile a family tree are accessible online. This includes birth, marriage and death records (statutory from 1855, Parish pre-1855), census returns (available for the period 1841-1911), wills and testaments. Most of these can be accessed through the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh and its corresponding website. Additionally, the National Library of Scotland and the National Records of Scotland offer access to kirk session minutes, poor relief records, property and court records and family and estate papers.
In this guide, we will go through all of these resources so you can kickstart your Scottish ancestry research and find those ancestors that will populate your family tree.
Search for Scottish Ancestors through Scotlands People
ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk is the official Scottish Government site for searching government records and archives. Their purpose is to collect, preserve and produce information about Scotland’s people and history and make it available to inform current and future generations.
The website can be used to apply for copies of official certificates and to research family history, biography, local history, and social history through access to the statutory registers of: Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census returns, Church records (thanks to the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Catholic Archives), Valuation rolls, Legal records from Scotland’s courts of law and All Arms and Bearings in Scotland (thanks to the Court of the Lord Lyon).
Here are some shortcuts to reaching the best records that the site has to offer:
- Church and Government Records, 1513 – 2014
- Statutory Records, BMD 1855-2014
- Catholic Parish Registers
- Scotland Census, 1911
- Scotland Valuation Rolls, 1854+
The website offers a series of Guides to assist you in doing your family research.
Among them you will find guides to find out about how to use the records for different kinds of research:
Once you find the correct documents, you can order the certificates online, either as officially certified paper copies of a register entry or as digital copies for genealogical research. While the search is free of charge, if you want view and download digital images of the records you find you will need to purchase credits (with each documenting averaging £10 cost). A credit or debit card is required for the certificates.
You can also book a search room seat at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh. The service costs £15 per day and you can view as many records as you like for no additional charge.
Find Records through Family Search
FamilySearch is a nonprofit family history organization dedicated to connecting families across generations. It has the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world, and they can all be easily accessed online and for free (all you need to do is register).
You can search directly in their Scottish records collection here. Keep in mind that not all localities are included in each database, and the time period varies by locality.
- Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950
- Indexed Historical Records for Scotland
- Scotland Presbyterian & Protestant Church Records, 1736-1990
- Scotland Census, 1841
- Scotland Census, 1851
- Scotland Census, 1861
- Scotland Census, 1871
- Scotland Census, 1881
- Scotland Census, 1891
- Scotland Census, 1901
- Scotland Census, 1901
- Scotland Marriages, 1561 – 1910, incomplete.
- Scotland Church Records and Kirk Session Records, 1658-1919
Other Online Records
There is an impressive number of records online, a lot of them are free while others require a membership or subscription fee.
Here’s a full list (links are not affiliated).
Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths
- The Catholic Heritage Collection, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials (£)
- Catholic Parish Registers (£)
- Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms (£)
- Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564 – 1950 (£)
- Scotland, Selected Births & Baptisms, c. 1640 – c. 1860 (£)
- Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages (£)
- Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records 1647-1875 (£)
- Gretna Green, Scotland, Marriage Registers, 1794 – 1895 (£)
- Scottish Deaths, 1747 – 1868 (£)
- England Roman Catholic Parish Burials (£)
Overseas Births, Marriages, Deaths
- British Army Service Records (£)
- Database of Scots in the Italian Peninsular during the Thirty Years War c.1600-1650 (Free PDF download)
- Perthshire, Scotland, Militia Survey, 1802 (£)
- British Military Lists, National Library of Scotland (Free)
- Rolls of Honour, Scotland (Free)
- Scotland’s War Dead, World War II (Free)
- Church Court Records Online (Free)
- Scotland, The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, 1306 – 1651 (£)
- Scotland, Selected Prison Registers, 1828 – 1878 (£)
- Scotland Prison Registers Index 1828-1884 (£)
- Scotland, Selected Sheriff Court Paternity Case Index, 1748 – 1914 (£)
- Scottish Indexes–Free Prison Search (£)
Emigration, Immigration, and Passenger Lists
- Scottish Immigration Database (Free, incomplete)
- Emigrants from Scotland to America, 1774 – 1775 (£)
- Glasgow, Scotland, Crew Lists, 1863 – 1901 (£)
- Ships from Scotland to America, 1628 – 1828, Vol 2 and Ships from Scotland to America, 1628 – 1828, Vol. 3 (£)
- Directory of Scots Banished to the American Plantations, 1650-1775 (£)
- Directory of Scots in the Carolinas, 1680-1830 (£)
- PERiodical Source Index (£)
- General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, (60,000 Family Coat of Arms) (£)
- Scotland, Post Office Directories (£)
- The Scotsman Digital Archive, 1817-1950 (Free)
- Scottish Newspapers on the Internet, British National Library (Free)
- Scotland, Paternity Decrees 1750-1922 (£)
- Scotland, Testaments 1514-1800 (£)
- Scotland, Will and Testament Index 1481-1807 (£)