Scottish genealogy

Scottish Genealogy Research and Resources

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited and updated post originally by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. In this piece, Ms. Barkley provides guidance on getting started with Scottish genealogy in particular, and lists websites, publications and other resources that may be of interest to those digging into their past in Scotland and the British Isles. 

Americans have always displayed interest in British Isles genealogy. The fact that the Family History Library in Salt Lake devotes an entire floor to British Isles resources illustrates the depth of that interest. With the 1995 success of the movies Rob Roy and Braveheart, the interest in all things Scottish, and the desire to discover Scottish ancestors, has grown exponentially in United States.

In 1999, under the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, the United States Senate passed Resolution No. 155 establishing Tartan Day as a day of special significance for all Americans, particularly those of Scottish descent. The date was not chosen randomly, as it was on 6 April 1320 that the Scottish declaration of independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, was signed. Some 450 years later, this seminal document would provide inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence. The Senate, by establishing Tartan Day, created an official date on which Americans of Scottish descent come together to celebrate their shared heritage, as well as the richness of the contributions that Scottish Americans have made in the history of our nation, and indeed of the world. (For example, forty-eight recipients of the Nobel Prize were born in Scotland or are of documented Scottish descent.)

The basics of Scottish genealogical research revolve around the “three C’s” of church, census, and civil registration records. Later research can then involve testaments, sasines, military, immigration, and many other types of records. A very (very!) brief summary includes:

The Old Parish Registers (OPR) are the records of births/baptisms and banns/marriages kept by individual parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland) before the introduction of civil registration in 1855. Deaths and burials were recorded infrequently and, if found, usually record the rental of the mort cloth – the pall draped over the coffin. The OPRs provide the opportunity to research these events beginning as early as 1553, depending on the parish. These registers are easily accessible at LDS Family History Centers through the Scottish Church Records database and through extracted data online at FamilySearch. In addition, they may be accessed online (fee-based) at Scotlandspeople, the official government source for genealogical data for Scotland. Please note that there may be more information available through the Scotlandspeople site as the general record offices are constantly updating their indices as errors or misinterpretations in the original documents are identified. Before using these records, researchers should read about the history of the official church in Scotland to understand which church was official and which records were created during a specific time period, as well as the records that may be available for nonconformists.

Several sources and websites can provide a great deal of assistance as you research your Scottish roots. Some of my favorites, in addition to those I will discuss in more detail, include the following:

The Scottish census is available online from 1841 to 1901 (check the Ancestry website for subscription pricing or check the subscription to AncestryPlus at your local public library) and from Scotlandspeople [fee based] from 1841 to 1911. The index to the 1881 census is a free index on Ancestry and on FamilySearch. Again, read about how the census data was collected. Unlike the United States, the British census is a snapshot of the people in a household on a given night and can therefore include people who were visiting overnight and who might normally belong to a household elsewhere. If Aunt Phebe was visiting an old childhood friend (a name probably unknown to you) in another town or area of the country, it will be difficult to locate her in that specific census.

The Statutory Registers (civil registration) are the official records of births, marriages, and deaths in Scotland from 1 January 1855. These records were compulsory, were unrelated to religious denomination, and followed a standard entry format. Indices to many of these records are available on the fee-based website Scotlandspeople. One caveat (as with any research) is that indices do not include all of the data in the actual register entry (for example, birth indices do not include parents’ names, and marriage and death indices include only the year of the event – the full date is in the actual register entry). In addition, restrictions apply to which full records may be viewed online. Due to privacy restrictions, images of birth entries are available from 1855 to 1910, marriages from 1855 to 1932, and deaths from 1855 to 1960. For records in years that cannot be viewed online, you can still use the indices to help you decide which record abstracts you may wish to order.

Image Credit: Robert Modern‘s map of England, Scotland, and Ireland (the “British Isles“), c. 1680. By Robert Morden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

german genealogy, german research

Essentials for German Genealogy Researchers: Angus Baxter & Ernest Thode

This March has released an updated book by genealogy expert Angus Baxter entitled In Search of Your German Roots. Fifth Edition. We’re taking this moment to provide a roundup of essentials for German genealogy research: the works of Angus Baxter and Ernest Thode.

Both of these authors and genealogy experts have work we’ve featured on this blog. We have found that not only is the information what we would consider essential, but both Baxter and Thode have a gift for accessible writing that appeals to researchers at all levels.

Please enjoy our roundup of Essentials for German Genealogy Researchers: Angus Baxter & Ernest Thode: Continue reading…

germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – “The Germans and Germany”

Editor’s Note: This article is condensed from the chapter, “The Germans and Germany” in the brand new 5th Edition of Mr. Angus Baxter’s classic how-to book, In Search of Your German Roots. Readers should note that in the interest of brevity, a number of tables in the book which describe the migration and distribution of the German population and the contemporary archival holdings of other nations that have a bearing on German genealogy have been omitted from this except. This excerpt is part one of two we will share with our readers. 

The development and coalescence of the German nation took many centuries. The word “Deutsch” (German) was first used in the eighth century, but it only referred to the spoken language of the area known as eastern Franconia. This empire reached its height of importance under the Emperor Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse), and after his death in 814 it disintegrated. The western section eventually became the area we now know as France. The eastern section varied in area over the centuries, but the main area–the heartland–became known as the Deutschland (the land of the Germans). By 911 the Duke of Franconia was elected King of the Franks, and later King of the Romans. By the 11th century the area became known as the Roman Empire, and by the 13th the Holy Roman Empire. In the 15th century the words “German nation” were added. Continue reading…

Colonial Virginia

Virginia Historical Index – A Major Source for Colonial Virginia Research

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly updated article by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. As she mentions, many of us tracing our roots here in America will find the path leads back, through, or is otherwise tied to Colonial Virginia. While there are resources available for specific periods dealing with Colonial Virginia, such as Early Virginia Immigrants 1623-1666, or those that address not just a time period but specific family names, like Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624/5. Fourth Edition. Volume One, Families A-FThe publication Virginia Historical Index is considered one of the most important resources for Virginia research. Ms. Barkley explains why in the post below. 

Despite your ancestors’ more recent geographical locations, for many of you, the research trail leads back to Virginia. One of the most important sources for Virginia research is Earl Gregg Swem’s Virginia Historical Index, often simply referred to as “Swem.” Worldcat, the international cooperative cataloging database, includes entries for several editions held by numerous libraries worldwide. One edition is held by 246 libraries representing forty states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Dr. Earl Gregg Swem (1870-1965) began his bibliographic career in Chicago after graduation from Lafayette College in 1893. Between 1903 and 1919, he worked first at the Library of Congress and later at the Virginia State Library where he served as Assistant State Librarian. In 1920, he became librarian at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is noted for the significant growth in the college library’s book and manuscript collections during his tenure, but in particular, for his completion of the Virginia Historical Index. Dr. Swem died in 1965, the year before the completion of the college’s new Swem Library, named in his honor.

The Library of Virginia calls Swem’s index “one of the most important research guides for Virginia historical and genealogical researchers.” Sixteen members of the Virginia Historical Society established a fund that enabled Dr. Swem to begin his indexing project. These funds were supplemented by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading…

family tree, transitional genealogist

Are You a Transitional Genealogist?

Editor’s Note: The following post, originally published in 2008, is written by Christy Fillerup, a self-proclaimed transitional genealogist. She has been researching her own family lines and those of friends and in-laws for over ten years. She lives in Salt Lake City where she dove into the professional genealogy pond by conducting record search services for other professional genealogists at the Family History Library. She completed the University of Toronto’s Professional Learning Certificate of Genealogical Studies in English. Christy is a graduate of the English track at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies as well as the ProGen study group. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Her website can be found at

Call it genealogy, call it family history, I simply call it addicting. I also call it my career goal. I am one of many family history hobbyists working to make their living through genealogy, whether by researching, lecturing, teaching, or writing. Classically, genealogists have been categorized in one of two ways: “Professionals” or “Hobbyists.” Although the definitions of these terms are a topic of hot debate, for the purpose of this article, I define “professional” genealogists as those making some portion of their living from any of the afore-mentioned genealogical activities.

I began my journey to professional genealogy by reading the wonderful posts of the pros on the Association of Professional Genealogist’s Rootsweb mailing list. These thought-provoking posts were full of obscure record source references and detailed source citation questions—they were terrifying. It was with some trepidation that I posted my first query to the APG List, hoping for the secret to a long and fruitful life as a professional genealogist.  What I received was a lot of good advice and the realization that the transition between hobbyist and professional was much bigger than me – there were a lot of us toiling in obscurity.

Most individuals aspiring to make this transition find themselves traveling a lonely and often confusing road. There is hope, however, for genealogists working toward making their hobby into their career. A largely overlooked Rootsweb mailing list, the “Transitional Genealogists Forum,” (TGF List) enjoyed a revival in December 2007, and it has become home to many genealogists striving to make a career from genealogical pursuits. It has grown over the past nine months and is populated by some promising new professional genealogists. The benefits of coalescing into a community have been many and varied. Some benefit from the networking and mentoring relationships. Others enjoy opportunities to refine research skills by participating in one or both of the list serve’s current online study groups. It provides younger genealogists with the chance to ask often admittedly obvious questions of the willing professionals monitoring our little corner of the world. More than anything else, the list provides companionship and road signs for those walking the winding paths of professional genealogy. I would highly recommend the TGF List archives to anyone just now joining the TGF List.

The APG List has periodically debated the need for a formal mentoring process within the professional genealogy arena. This online community has enabled many well-established professional genealogists, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell and Mary Douglass, among others, to mentor professional hopefuls on a large scale. In addition many private mentoring relationships have developed as a result of discussion on this list.

Rondina P. Muncy, owner of Ancestral Analysis, is an active participant in the mentoring process. During a recent conversation about the benefits of mentoring, she said, “Normally, the mentor/mentee relationship is one that evolves into a mutually beneficial arrangement. I find that I have strengths that help my mentors and my mentee has strengths that help me. The easiest way to establish this kind of relationship is to be vocal on the APG and TGF lists. You have to put aside your fear of saying something foolish and take the risk of stating your opinions and asking the harder questions. You also have to take the time to answer questions. There will always be someone that knows more about a specific area than you that you will benefit from and someone that can benefit from the expertise you have gained.”

Networking is a huge part of any successful entrepreneurial endeavor. The TGF List has not only allowed many mentoring relationships to develop, but also many symbiotic relationships between peers.  Sheri Fenley said it best on her blog when she wrote, “I have become part of a community of like-minded individuals who are collectively striving for the highest level of truth and accuracy in their research. This community cares about the quality of research that they will be leaving behind for future generations. I have stepped way out of my comfort zone in the area of social networking (you know, making friends and playing nice with others) and have found that it’s not as intimidating as first thought.” She has given me permission to broaden her emphasis from the blogosphere of her original post to the transitional genealogy community at large. Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings similarly believes that “the TGSG [another name for the NGSQ article study group] and ProGen chats have enabled me to know my group colleagues better.”

The transitional genealogy community has also come together to form two online study groups, both the brain-children of transitional genealogist Lee Anders The first to develop was a group studying the articles published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. The study group is based on the William Litchman model that was advocated widely by the highly respected genealogical educator Ken Aitken. Angela McGhie leads one of the discussion groups and believes the exercise has been beneficial. She says, “I have appreciated the TGF mailing list and especially the well known professionals that monitor the list and take time to answer questions.  One of the best things that has come from the list is the online study groups.  I have been a part of the Transitional Genealogists study group from the beginning and have enjoyed the focus on studying methodology. As a group we work to see if we feel the case study meets the Genealogical Proof Standard.  We discuss the sources and the methods of using them to solve genealogical problems.  I have gained great insights and feel more prepared to apply the principles of evidence analysis to my own research.” What hopeful professional can’t benefit from a brush-up on methodology?

The second online study group studies Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001, reprinted 2010). This study group’s focus has been on the more practical side of starting a genealogy business. Topics have included contracts, setting rates, creating business plans. Look for more on this group in the coming months from creator Lee Anders. Lee has excelled in organizing our community into productive study groups bent on furthering our own knowledge of good business tactics, good research skills, and good communication.

The free exchange of ideas and information is the lifeblood of any profession. The TGF list provides a safe environment for genealogists transitioning from hobbyist to professional to explore the expectations of the professional genealogy world. As the next generation of professional genealogists begin to rise, it is vital that they discuss important issues facing the profession, seek guidance in shaping our best practices, and discussing ways to educate the public about what we do. The Transitional Genealogist Forum List allows us to do this with ease.

Image Credit: By Johann Caspar Höckner ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.