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Ten Online Sources for Scottish Ancestry

Alan Stewart recommends 10 of the top sites for Scottish genealogy research.

If 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 online).

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:

1. 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.

2. Census Records
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.

3. 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.

4. Wills and Inventories
Fully indexed wills and inventories from 1500 to 1901 are online at the Scottish Documents website ( 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.

5. 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 You can then order copies of the actual pension records online at for a minimum charge of £10.

6. 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 (

7. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
In the online index of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (, 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.

8. LDS FamilySearch
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 ( free of charge. Almost all the Scottish parish records are indexed in the IGI, as well as the first 20 years of the statutory

The aim of GENUKI ( 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).

10. 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, 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 or English.

Further Digitization Projects
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 and Sabbath-breaking.

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 (, 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.

Alan Stewart is a member of the Scotland’s People User Group and the author of Gathering the Clans: Tracing Scottish Ancestry on
the Internet (Phillimore, 2004).


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