Some Thoughts – and Resources – for Scottish Research

By Carolyn L. Barkley

April 6th marked the annual celebration of Tartan Day. I have been reminded by friends that I neglected to do a Scottish-related posting earlier this month, so I thought I had better redeem myself and my heritage by doing so before the month was over.

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. After the success of movies such as Rob Roy and Braveheart, however, the interest in all things Scottish, and the desire to discover one’s Scottish ancestors, has grown dramatically in this country.

In 1999, under the leadership of Trent Lott, the U. S. 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 Date, created an official date on which Americans of Scottish descent can 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.

For me, the basics of Scottish genealogical research revolve around the “3 Cs� 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 in the IGI (International Genealogical Index). 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, it is important to read about the history of the official church in Scotland to understand what church was official at what time and the records that it created, as well as the records that may be available for nonconformists.

The Scottish census is available from from 1841 to 1901 [check the website for subscription pricing or check the subscription at your local public library] and from scotlandspeople [fee based]. The index to the 1881 census is a free index on and on Again, read about how the censuses were collected. Unlike in 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 might normally belong to a household elsewhere. If Aunt Phebe was visiting an old childhood friend [and a name unknown to you] in another town or area of the country, it can be difficult to identify her accurately.

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. They are available on scotlandspeople [fee based]: Births from 1855 to 2006, marriages from 1855 to 1932, and deaths from 1855 to 2006. One caveat of this research (of 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 what full records may be viewed online. Due to privacy restrictions, images of birth entries are available from 1855 to 1907, marriages from 1855 to 1932, and deaths from 1855 to 1957. For records in years after those that can be viewed online, the indices may be used to identify records for which you may wish to order an extract.

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 mentioned above, include:

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