Finding Scottish Records

Public Records in Scotland

A system of civil registration was introduced into Scotland in 1855, recording births, marriages and deaths.  These records will be an invaluable help in your search.  Originally hand written into registers, the National Records of Scotland created digital images of the register pages and these can now be viewed online.

There are two ways to access them.

The Scotlandspeople website is available to view at the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh and at local family history centres as follows:-

  • Burns Monument Centre, Kay Park, Kilmarnock
  • Clackmannanshire Family History Centre, Speirs Centre, Alloa
  • Heritage Hub, Kirkstyle, Hawick
  • Highland Archive Centre, Bught Road, Inverness
  • Genealogy Centre, Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow

For a fee you can book a place for a day’s search.

Public Records online

The second method is suitable for use worldwide, and is as follows.

First, register with the website scotlandspeople.gov.uk. On this site, you can buy credits to view an entry in an index and, if you wish, buy an image of the certificate which can then be downloaded and saved or printed.  You can also search the indexes for a specific name within a given time frame and see limited details of the subject of your research without charge.

With this latter method, certificates can only be viewed for births over 100 years ago, marriages over 75 years ago and deaths over 50 years ago.

Births

When starting with your family tree, look at the oldest certificate you have in your possession.  If it is a birth certificate it will show:

  • Full name and sex of child
  • Date and time of birth
  • Address at birth
  • Name and occupation of father
  • Name and maiden surname of mother
  • Date and place of parents’ marriage
  • Signature of informant

This information will enable you to search for the parents’ marriage.

Marriages

A marriage certificate gives the ages of both parties, allowing for a search for their births.  (Remember to search a year on either side of a calculated birth year, and even make provision for fibbing!)  A marriage certificate also gives the names of both sets of parents and the two mothers’ maiden surnames, together with the names of two witnesses who may be related to the bride or groom.

In this way you can continue working backwards until you arrive at 1854.

Deaths

Death certificates are particularly useful in 1855 and the year immediately after, as they can give the parental names of the deceased person (provided these were known to the informant) and the whereabouts of their burial.

Register of Corrected Entries

Keep a lookout for a note in the extreme left hand column of a certificate. It will may say ‘RCE’, (the Register of Corrected Entries), accompanied by a reference number.  Original entries in the statutory registers cannot be altered, but sometimes an error is noted or additional information comes to light.  These are recorded in a separate register.  A cross-reference to the RCE volume and page number is added in the margin of the statutory register entry.

Typical examples of corrections to entries in the Statutory Register of Births include adding a father’s name after a paternity case, removing ‘illegitimate’ from column one following the parents’ subsequent marriage, and a change of the child’s name.

Deaths must be registered within eight days. In cases of accident and sudden or violent death it isn’t always possible to establish the exact cause of death in time. The procurator fiscal or other officials report the revised information to the registrar who records it in the Register of Corrected Entries.

Divorce

If a couple who married in Scotland got divorced in Scotland prior to 1 May 1984 this was recorded in the Register of Corrected Entries (later the Register of Corrections, Etc). A cross-reference to the RCE was added to their entry in the Statutory Register of Marriages.  This procedure was discontinued after 1 May 1984 with the introduction of the Statutory Register of Divorces.

The Scottish Censuses of 1841 to 1911

A UK-wide census has been held every ten years commencing 1801, but individuals’ names and details were included for the first time in 1841. The last census currently available to the public is for 1911, and the 1921 census will become available in January 2022.

The censuses are an invaluable source of information and contain details of every person in the household on that night, their ages, occupations and places of birth. Searchable indexes are available on a number of sites including Scotlands People.

Problems with the 1841 census

Be aware that ages given in this census were not always totally accurate. The ages of adults were rounded down to the nearest five years, so that for someone aged between 25 and 29, this would read 25. Sometimes the enumerator did record the exact age.  Unlike later census returns, the 1841 census did not record places of birth or the relationships between family members. 

The 1851-1901 censuses

From 1851 onwards, every household had a schedule number, the relationship of each member to the head of the household was recorded, correct ages were given and more information about birth places was provided.

The 1911 census

The 1841-1901 UK censuses are available on a number of subscription sites such as Ancestry and Findmypast, but the 1911 census for Scotland can only be viewed on Scotlands People.

Family History Societies

Last of all, I suggest you become a member of a Family History Society.  There you will get all the help and advice you need, together with access to online databases and other resources.  People often assume that a family history can be traced by an individual alone on their home computer.  But just as your ancestral family grew out of a wider community,  so the most successful family history is built through a pooling of shared experience and knowledge.