Family History

What to do at home
Things to bear in mind
Key Information sources
My Ancestor was ...
  Key Information Sources

Tracing your family history back into the early 1800s can be difficult, as the registration system changed in the middle of the century. This section helps you to make sense of the different information sources.

The key date in Scottish Family History is 1855, when the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths first started. Prior to this date, the recording of births, marriages and deaths was largely in the hands of church clerks - and in 19th century Scotland over a third of the population were not members of the Church of Scotland, but belonged to other churches.

Civil Registers

For information from the period after 1855, have a look at the civil registers of births, marriages and deaths held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). You can get a description of how the registers are organised by reading one of the books recommended in the ' What to do at home' section.

Old Parish Registers

For information prior to 1855, have a look at the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) of baptisms, marriages and burials (i.e. those compiled by the clerks of Church of Scotland parishes) - also held by the NRS. Microfilm copies of OPRs are held in many parts of Scotland by local studies libraries, family history societies and genealogical centres run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Again, the books recommended in the ' What to do at home ' section provide further details. Information about what to do if your ancestor does not appear in the OPRs will appear in this website shortly. Register, and we'll keep you up to date with developments.

Census Returns

Another type of record crucial for 19th century family tree research are census returns . Censuses were taken every 10 years and household surveys, or returns, listing individuals in each household are accessible from 1841 until 1901. Census returns are held by the NRS , but microfilm copies of the censuses can be consulted throughout Scotland in local studies libraries, family history societies and genealogical centres.

Image of census return
1891 Census return, reproduced with the kind permission of the Registrar General for Scotland.

Searching the Registers

The civil registers and OPRs are searchable online via the ScotlandsPeople site. In addition, much of the Scottish information in the Genealogical Society of Utah's familysearch online service is based on information from the Old Parish Registers. For further guidance on Scottish genealogy via the Internet see our useful links pages in the SCAN Directory.