Online Sources for Scottish Ancestry
Stewart recommends 10 of the top sites for Scottish genealogy
you’re of Scots descent, you’re fortunate that
many of the primary records for Scottish family history
research have been digitized and made available for you
to view and download via the Internet. Since 1 July 1999
Scotland has been a self-governing part of the United Kingdom
(similar to a state in the US or a province in Canada),
and the Scottish Government has provided £3 million
to fund a project known as the Digital Imaging of the Genealogical
Records of Scotland’s People (DIGROS).
Images of the records of the 1891 census of Scotland were
the first to become available online in July 2000, followed
by those of the 1901 census in January 2002. Since September
2002, you’ve been able to view online the vital records
contained in the statutory registers of births, marriages
and deaths. Images of the baptisms, marriages and burials
contained in the Scottish parish registers are due to follow
later this year (the baptism and marriage indexes are already
You should also be able to view the indexes and images of
the Scottish census records for 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871,
which are set to come online later this year. The 1881 census,
which was transcribed and indexed by the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is already available
online in transcribed form. Images of the actual records
will also become available on the web this year.
If your ancestors made wills (and in many cases, even if
they didn’t), you’ll find the index of Scottish
wills put on the web by the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN)
in 2002 to be invaluable. Since 2003, the images of most
of the wills themselves have been added. This project is
a partnership between the National Archives of Scotland
(NAS), and the Genealogical Society of Utah, with funding
from the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund. The NAS, which
holds the original wills, was, until 1999, known as the
Scottish Record Office.
As well as these primary records, there are also many web-based
indexes to other sources. My recommendations as the top
10 online sources for Scottish ancestry are:
Vital Records (Civil Registration)
You can download images of the fully indexed Scottish statutory
records from 1855 to 1903 (births), 1928 (marriages) and
1953 (deaths) from the official ScotlandsPeople website
ScotlandsPeople is a collaboration between the General Register
Office for Scotland (GROS) and Internet service company
Scotland On Line. The Scottish birth records helpfully state
the date and place of the parents’ marriage, while
the marriage records give the names of both sets of parents,
as well as the maiden surnames of the mothers. The death
records include the names of the deceased’s parents
(if known), including the mother’s maiden surname.
For £6, you can buy 30 ‘page credits’,
valid for 48 hours. Unused credits are added to those in
the next session you purchase. A page of up to 25 names
from one of the indexes costs one credit, and the image
of a record five credits.
Images of the records of the 1891 and 1901 censuses can
also be downloaded from ScotlandsPeople, as can transcripts
of the 1881 census made by the LDS church. All of these
records are fully indexed. You’ll be able to access
the actual images of the 1881 census records later this
year, as well as fully indexed images of the records of
the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses. The access charges
are the same as those for the statutory records.
Old Parish Registers
Also at ScotlandsPeople, you can carry out searches in the
indexes of the church baptisms and marriages that took place
from 1553 to 1854. The images of those records will follow
later this year, together with fully indexed images of the
burials. Unfortunately, the information in the parish records
is not as detailed as in the statutory registers. Access
charges are again the same as for the statutory records.
Wills and Inventories
Fully indexed wills and inventories from 1500 to 1901 are
online at the Scottish Documents website (www.scottishdocuments.com).
You can search the index free of charge, although it costs
£5 to download the image of a will or inventory. The
images are actually those of the ‘testaments’
handwritten into ledgers by court officials as part of the
process of confirming inheritance. ‘Testaments testamentar’
deal with cases where the deceased left a will (and include
its text): ‘testaments dative’ with those where
he or she had not. Both types of testament may well contain
an inventory of the deceased’s possessions.
Soldiers’ Discharge Papers
You can search an index of British soldiers discharged to
pension between 1760 and 1913 (which are in class ‘WO
97’) free of charge using the web-based catalog of
the UK’s National Archives (known as the Public Record
Office until 2003) at catalogue.pro.gov.uk.
You can then order copies of the actual pension records
online at www.pro.gov.uk for a minimum charge of £10.
Scottish Strays Marriage Index
The Anglo-Scottish Family History Society (ASFHS) has compiled
an index of marriages that took place outside Scotland,
where at least one of the partners was born in Scotland.
You can search the index online free of charge at the website
of the ASFHS’s parent society, the Manchester and
Lancashire FHS (www.mlfhs.org.uk).
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
In the online index of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
(www.cwgc.org), you can
find information about the 1.7 million members of the armed
forces of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
India and the UK who were killed in the two World Wars.
Searching is free of charge.
You can search the International Genealogical Index (IGI),
Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource File (but not the
1881 Scottish census) at the LDS FamilySearch website (www.familysearch.org)
free of charge. Almost all the Scottish parish records are
indexed in the IGI, as well as the first 20 years of the
The aim of GENUKI (www.genuki.org.uk)
is to act as a free “virtual reference library”
of genealogical information about the UK and Ireland. For
Scotland, you’ll find useful information at national,
county and parish level (about topics such as monumental
inscriptions, photographs, descriptions of the countryside,
its history, maps and population figures).
The Statistical Accounts of Scotland
A better title for these volumes which were published in
the 1790s and 1830s/40s would have been: “A detailed
look at life in each of the 938 Scottish parishes”.
You’ll find a variety of fascinating information in
these sometimes idiosyncratic descriptions of your ancestors’
parishes, which were compiled by the local ministers. You
can read the accounts free of charge at edina.ac.uk/statacc,
and find out about a wide variety of subjects, ranging from
the crops that were grown, to the cost of living, local
superstitions and whether people spoke Gaelic, broad Scots
As well as parish registers, there are other Scottish church
records that contain useful information for family historians.
SCAN is currently in the early stages of a five- to seven-year
project to digitize the records of the kirk sessions, which
are held by the National Archives of Scotland. These were
church courts dealing with the moral transgressions of their
congregations, such as adultery, drunkenness, fornication
In addition, SCAN is digitizing 19th-century poor relief
registers, of which the first being tackled are those for
the historic counties of Caithness, Ross & Cromarty
and Wigtownshire. It also hopes to digitize the NAS’s
collection of sasines (land records dating back to 1599)
and taxation records.
The Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms (www.lyon-court.com),
the government agency in charge of registering Scottish
coats-of-arms, is digitizing its Public Register of All
Arms and Bearings in Scotland. Known as the Lyon Register,
this records all coats-of-arms authorized by the Lord Lyon
since 1672, and contains a good deal of genealogical information
on well-to-do Scottish families.
The Lyon Register is expected to be online by around 2006
or 2007, and will form part of the resources of a new Scottish
Family History Research Service. This is intended to be
fully operational by 2006 and to provide integrated online
services, which will include those currently available through
the Scotland’s People and Scottish Documents websites.
Stewart is a member of the Scotland’s People User
Group and the author of Gathering the Clans: Tracing Scottish
the Internet (Phillimore, 2004).