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. 

Flag of Scotland
Royal Banner of Scotland
Royal Banner of Scotland

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:

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:

The easiest way to get started is to search by name and surname, ideally with a date range. You can do so using the form in the home page:

Using ScotlandsPeople search functionality
Using ScotlandsPeople search functionality. You only require a name, surname and if possible a date range.

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.

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. 

Among the paid sites, we recommend Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage (disclaimer: if you sign up to any of these through the links or banners, we might earn a small commission). 

Here’s a full list (links are not affiliated).

Recommended Books about Genealogy and Local History