Tips for beginners

Tracing your Scottish ancestry is a fascinating and rewarding hobby and isn’t nearly as difficult, time consuming or expensive as you might think. From the 17th century onwards, everyone left a paper trail of some kind – it’s just a matter of finding it. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Begin by talking to your oldest living relatives and making notes of what they remember about their early lives. Then check your local lending library for books on family history research. Now you are ready to begin your research in earnest, commencing with yourself and working backwards.

Refer to the Statutory Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates for all of Scotland which have been issued from 1855 until the present day and contain a wealth of information. Your own birth certificate will show your parents’ full names and more importantly, the date and place of their marriage. With that information you can find their marriage certificate, which will give you their full names, addresses and occupations, as well as the full names of your four grandparents. You will then be in a position to find the marriage and birth certificates of these grandparents and to continue working backwards until you arrive at 1854.

You can search for Statutory Certificates (which are fully indexed) in person at both New Register House, Edinburgh, and the Glasgow Genealogy Centre, which is now situated on the 3rd floor of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Tel: 0141 287 8364, open 9.15 – 4pm Monday to Friday or online at At New Register House and the Mitchell Library, all certificates from 1855 to 2011 can be accessed. However, only births before 1907, marriages before 1932 and deaths before 1957 can be viewed online. Currently also available online are the indexes to births 1907 - 2006 and deaths 1957 - 2006. The actual certificates cannot be accessed online, only at New Register House or Park Circus.
The current daily search fees are: Edinburgh - £15. Glasgow £15. Online, payment is by credit card in multiples of £7. (Sept 2011)

Prior to 1855, births/baptisms, proclamations/marriages and to a much lesser extent deaths, were recorded in the local Parish Register (or OPR). These registers have all been microfilmed and there is a names index available on microfiche. In addition, there is a world-wide index of births and marriages on microfiche, known as the International Genealogical Index (or IGI), compiled by the Mormon Church. These two indexes along with the OPR films allow you to find details of your pre-1855 ancestors.

OPR films and indexes as well as Census films are available at the same locations as the Statutory Certificates and searches are covered by the same fees. In addition, most reference libraries have the films and indexes for their own area and a copy of the IGI. Our own Research Centre has the IGI, the OPR index for all Scotland, OPR and Census films for all counties in the west of Scotland and many other sources of genealogical information.
Note: The Old Parish Registers record mainly Church of Scotland information, although some other denominations are included. Pre 1855 Roman Catholic Records are held at the National Archives of Scotland, in Edinburgh.

A Census has been held every ten years commencing in 1841 and those up to and including 1911 are available to the public, with the exception of the 1911 which is only available at New Register House, the Mitchell Library, Glasgow or online at They are an invaluable source of information and contain details of every person living in a household, their ages, occupations and their places of birth. It is worth bearing in mind that in Scotland, widows sometimes reverted to their maiden names. Most censuses have searchable indexes and are available at the same locations. Our Society has the Census films for the same areas as the OPRs.

Using the above sources, you should be able to trace your ancestors back to around 1750 at least. Once you have mastered the basics, there are many other sources of information such as records of Wills, Post Office and Trade Directories, newspaper archives, Poor Law Applications and Register of Sasines (transfer of title deeds) all of which are readily available.

Last of all, I suggest you become a member of a Family History Society, where you will get all the help and advice you need.

Happy researching!

Gordon Grant. Member No 2894.