Research in Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

Abbotsford, ScotlandI’ve decided that it is time to return to researching my Scottish lines. News about archives and libraries in Scotland are sparking my interest, and there is new material on the Web to keep me busy until I can actually make a trip.

My last research trip to Scotland was four years ago. In that time the resources online have expanded and I have been able to carry on with some of the work in my research plan from home. I use online resources in three ways:

(1) To search for ancestors in the major record groups (censuses, civil registration, baptisms and marriages in Church of Scotland registers, and testaments)

(2) To find information about records and for background to my research

(3) To search catalogues of archives and libraries—so I can plan future work in Scotland or find out what can be done using microfilm copies of records in the local LDS Family History Centre.

Websites I use most often are:

Scottish Archives Network

National Archives of Scotland

Angus Archives and other regional archives

Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Websites of family history societies

Destinations in Scotland
Three destinations top my list of places I want to visit on my next trip to Scotland. The first is the new facility for Angus Archives at the Hunter Library, Restenneth priory, just two miles outside Forfar. The location is adjacent to the ruined twelfth century Restenneth Priory, burial site of a son of Robert the Bruce.

The second is the new Family History Centre at Dundee. It is in the Central Library which is in a shopping mall. How many of us go to the mall to carry out our research? Lunch breaks should be fun! More important is what the Dundee City Council has done. They have brought together local officials from civil registration, administration of burial grounds, and local history services in one location. They also have an onsite service which, essentially, gives patrons a “buddy” while they research. The charge is reasonable. You can read more about this on the Dundee City Council website.

Third on my list is the General Register House in Edinburgh, where the new ScotlandsPeople Centre is now open. The building has undergone renovation and refurbishment and it’s well worth your time to look about and appreciate the changes. Information about the Centre can be found at its website. 
The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) has two public search facilities in central Edinburgh. We’ve mentioned the General Register House, and the other is West Register House. If you go to Edinburgh, wonderful as the General Register House facilities are, be sure to plan to research in both facilities. To find a brief summary of what is in each building visit the website.

You will also find information about location and open hours at the NAS website as well as source guides to many types of records, catalogues and indexes. The NAS help page tells you how to get the most out of the website. 

Other worthwhile research locations in Edinburgh are: the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh Central Library and the library of the Scottish Genealogy Society. The National Library has a particularly good website to help you prepare for a visit to Scotland. Not only can you search for materials in online catalogues, but you can also view images of more that 4,000 maps in their care.

Stay Informed
So much gets lost in the mass of e-mail we receive. One way to keep abreast of changes is to set aside a little time each month to check out sites that are important to your research. Most archives, data, and society sites will have some way of announcing what is new. If you are part of a mailing list, no doubt you get news that way. At RootsWeb you can find out what mailing lists there are for any county of Scotland by putting in the county name at the search page.

Finally, for my Scottish research, I keep an eye on the Talking Scot website. You can read the forum discussions, whether or not you decide to join in. 

Sherry Irvine, CG, is an author, teacher, and lecturer specializing in English, Scottish, and Irish family history. She is the Course Director and co-owner of Pharos Teaching and Tutoring (, a British company. Her books include Your English Ancestry (2d ed., 1998), Scottish Ancestry (2003) and Finding Your Canadian Ancestors (co-author, 2007) all published by Ancestry. Upcoming lecture locations include Ottawa, Kelowna, London, and Auckland.

9 thoughts on “Research in Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

  1. For a good secondary source that can lead to promary ones, go to Here, you can search the paper’s entire archive. For a fee you can print or download relevant articles or pages. This has been a useful source for me in several instances. The first concerned a great grandfather who was thought to have been a jeweller in Dundee but with no solid evidence (in my side of the family at any rate!) The Scotsman search revealed reference to a bankruptcy (definitely never mentioned in the family!!) which then led to a search of the NAS archives. This revealed two of the original court documents which I was able to see at the West Register House in Edinburgh.
    The second instance concerned another Scottish greatgrandfather who droned in the Forth while working as a boatman for the Northern Light Board. I knew of the drowning from the death cert (from Scotland’s People –, but not the circumstances. The newspaper gave more detail and a further archive search has led me to the NLB papers at the NAS. I haven’t yet had time to check those records, but here primary & secondary sources work in harmony.
    I hope this is of interest.


  2. Thank you for this information which I hope will be useful in my Scottish/Irish family research.
    it will also be shared with my group

  3. For those of us that have ancestry in the Western Isles of Scotland research is very limited. One might try Bill Lawson. He has a history center on Harris I think. I forget what it is actually called. It is not a paid sight or anything like that, but you can request information or go and do your research. He also has numerous books about the families on Lewis and Harris INCLUDING those families that moved to the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

  4. Since I’m just a bit slow, common names like Dundee, could use the name Scotland next to it. Afraid I first assumed you were talking about a place in Illinois. And since I live in Wisconsin — well.

  5. I found a great feature on the SAFHS website – Surname Search.

    I’ve been looking for the names Moscrop, and Abernethy for some time – always thought they were German. My grandparents met in Pressen, which I thought was German for Prussia.

    Turns out these names are Scottish.

  6. The Tombstone of my GGRandfather, Richard Scott is who is buried in Collamer, NY States he was born in Lochmouth in 1799. Would anyone know where this area is?
    Stan Scott

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