They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Much of your basic research can be done online, and this section of AncestralScotland.com will point you in the direction of all the main resources you will need to make your search for your ancestors a success.
- Delving deeper »
- Finding Scotland's People »
- Professional advice »
- What was our ancestors' world like? »
National Records of Scotland
Want to know a little bit more about the lives of your ancestors? You might find out at The National Records of Scotland, created in April 2011 when the National Archives of Scotland merged with the General Register Office for Scotland. The archives hold a wide range of public and private records, including wills and testaments, estate records, valuations, court records and church records. Some of these date back to the 12th century.
Scottish Archive Network
Use this website to search a single electronic catalogue to historical records in 52 Scottish archives. The site also contains the answers to frequently asked questions on Scottish history, together with research tools, digital images of historical documents, exhibitions, publications and a discussion forum.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) records, interprets and collects information relating to Scotland's buildings, archaeology and maritime sites and promotes its use through educational and outreach activities. RCAHMS is one of the primary contacts for members of the public carrying out further research into their ancestry in Scotland. Having compiled a family tree, the collections contain a range of material which may help you to build a fuller account of the history of your family.
Dedicated to meeting the needs of the ancestral tourist, this VisitScotland registered member scheme, provides information on local ancestral research and places to visit during your trip to Scotland.
The Parish Church
The Parish Church can unlock many secrets for ancestral researchers. Not only was it the place where children were baptised, proclamations of marriage announced and the dead buried, it was also the centre of most social activity within the Parish. And that makes the local church a must-see on your trip to Scotland. Although no actual records are held within local churches, arrangements can usually be made to be shown around. The Old Parish Registers (OPRs) are in New Register House, and the Kirk Session records are in the National Archives of Scotland, both in Edinburgh. The OPRs are also available to search online on the ScotlandsPeople website. Other records may be in local archives.
Local Studies Libraries & Archives Offices
Almost every municipal authority in Scotland has a collection of local history publications, maps and archives. These range in size from the vast Glasgow Room in the Mitchell Library to small collections run on a part-time basis. Although most of these libraries are prepared to undertake a limited amount of searching on your behalf, it is far more fulfilling to visit them yourself. You could lose yourself for hours, pouring over old newspapers and photographs.
Have a look in our Regions and Counties section for details of Local Studies Libraries and Archives Office in the area your ancestors came from.
Among the most useful web sites is Scotlandspeople.gov.uk with on-line access (for a fee) to Scotland's official register of births, marriages and deaths as well as indexed census records and digitised wills and testaments from Scotland’s National Archives. In an exciting, world-leading initiative, a one-stop family history service is currently being developed, integrating the records of the project partners and making ancestral research easier than ever before. So if you know of an ancestor who was born, married or died in Scotland after 1553 – the date of the earliest records - you may very well be able find out about them online.
Once you have found your ancestors online you’ll know where they lived.
Register now for AncestralScotland.com’s e-newsletter you will receive 10 credits (worth £2 sterling) in vouchers to use on the ScotlandsPeople website.
Researching your Scottish roots is hugely rewarding. But it can sometimes become challenging and time-consuming. So if you don't have the time to conduct a full search yourself - or if you feel you're hitting a dead-end or two in your search - you can always call on the services of a professional genealogist.
Several of these are registered in our Ancestral Tourism Welcome scheme and are dedicated to meeting your requirements for family history and archive services, click on the link above for further information.
The National Records of Scotland (NRS), created in April 2011 when the General Register Office for Scotland merged with the National Archives of Scotland, also lists record agents as well as professional genealogists on its site.
The Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents (ASGRA) is an independent body of professional individual searchers in Scotland. A list of their members can be found on their website.
To search for Members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) - click here and select Scotland in Country of Residence.
Some genealogists specialise in a particular area of Scotland, so if you know where your ancestors lived, the local Tourist Information Centre may be able to provide you with details of genealogists for the area.
Finally, why not join one of Scotland's family history societies? You'll get plenty of support, advice and encouragement from like-minded researchers.