By now, with the aid of the statutory records and the censuses, you should have built up a good picture of your family tree. Of course, there have been hiccups along the way, but now is the time to take stock and decide where you want to go next.
Exploring the Past
One option is to set your ancestors in their historical context. You have probably found out how they earned their living, where they lived and how they died. From this and using your local library or online resources, you can start writing up your family history, relating it to the society in which your ancestors lived. You may even be able to visit and record their houses, the schools they attended and workplaces such as farms, docklands or factory buildings. Check out the Old, New and 3rd Statistical Accounts for Scotland for information about individual parishes (see https://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/home)
Another route is to take your ancestral journey into more distant times. ScotlandsPeople gives access to the Old Parish Records (OPRs) which started in 1553. Before civil registration, Church of Scotland ministers and session clerks kept records of births and baptisms, proclamations of banns and marriages and deaths and burials. These have been digitised by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) and are available on ScotlandsPeople.
The OPRs are incomplete and the hand writing is often challenging. The original images and indexes to them are available online, together with guidance on reading old scripts (see https://www.scottishhandwriting.com)
One problem with digging deeper is that a third of Scottish parishes have no surviving pre-1855 death and burial records. This lack is partially compensated for by mort-cloth records, detailing the hire of coverings for coffins at funerals. These are found in the OPRs. Often transcribed by individual family history societies, mort-cloth records can give the name of the deceased, age at death, place of death and relationship to the person arranging the funeral.
The wording on a headstone (Monumental Inscriptions or MIs) can also provide a substitute for absent burial records. It must however be remembered that headstones were often for the better-off and most burial places were unmarked.
Recent years have seen a growth in companies set up to meet the demand for DNA testing. Motivation for wanting to be tested varies from ethnicity checks to searching for biological parents, with variations in between from solving ‘brick wall’ family history problems to finding distant cousins.
There are three types of test:-
- the Y-chromosome DNA test which explores the direct paternal line from son to father to father’s father and so on
- the mitochondial DNA test which mirrors the Y-DNA test and follows the direct maternal line, from daughter to mother to mother’s mother etc.
- the autosomal DNA test, applicable to men and women, which searches paternal and maternal lines but without identifying on which side of the family the matches occur. This test can help find ancestors up to fifteen generations back.
DNA testing can be very helpful but is best used as a back-up to more long-established and conventional methods of genealogical resarch.
There is a wealth of other archival sources, many of which are available online. The following is an overview of such sources, with guidance as to where they can be found. The list is far from definitive and other records may be available for specific geographical areas.
- Church Court records at:
- National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, Aberdeen
- Ayrshire Archives, Kilmarnock
- Glasgow City Archives, Glasgow
- Highland Council Archives: Inverness/ Fort William/ Wick
- Orkney Library & Archive
- Scottish Borders Archive & Local History Centre, Hawick
- Shetland Island Council Archives, Lerwick
- Stirling Council Archives, Stirling
- Directories – trade, professional, telephone and street (online at https://digital.nls.uk/directories/about-directories/trade.html)
- Familysearch – the huge database of the Church of Latter Day Saints at https://www.familysearch.org/en/ (online) and at local LDS centres.
- Newspapers – at Findmypast and the British Newspaper Archive (online); local libraries
- Poor Law records – at Glasgow City Archives as follows:
- Glasgow 1851-1948
- Barony 1861-1898 (part of Glasgow from 1899)
- Govan 1876-1930 (part of Glasgow from 1930)
- Bute, West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire (not Paisley) often dated from 1845
- Poor Law applications for East Dunbartonshire are in East Dunbartonshire Archives; for North Lanarkshire in North Lanarkshire Archives and for Paisley in Renfrewshire Libraries
- Register of Sasines – a public national land register dating back to 1617 – at ScotlandsPeople and local archive centres
- Retours of services of heirs – records that prove a person is the closest blood relative of the deceased and therefore able to inherit their property – indexes available at larger libraries
- Tax records – poll tax 1694-9; hearth tax 1691-5; other taxes including a window tax 1747-1798 and a farm horse tax 1797-8 – at the National Archives of Scotland and transcriptions in local libraries https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/records
- Testaments and Inventories – records relating to the executries of deceased persons in Scotland 1513-1925 – at ScotlandsPeople
- Valuation Rolls – lists of owners and occupiers of buildings and property in Scotland since 1855 – at ScotlandsPeople
- Voters’ Rolls – at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh for a full set covering all Scotland since 1855 and at local libraries and archives for their areas