Discovering your family tree
People from all over the world can trace their roots back to Scotland, with many of their ancestors emigrating to places like America, Australia and New Zealand in search of a fresh start and the chance to make their fortunes. With its easy access to the sea, Aberdeen was often the departure point for their journeys and many Aberdonians took up the chance to set sail from Scotland and to embark upon a new adventure.
A good place to start your ancestral search is at the Aberdeen City Registrars Office at Marischal College or at one of the Aberdeenshire Council Registration Offices across the region. With the help of a knowledgeable registrar, all of these centres will allow you to search the whole of Scotland’s birth, marriage and death records from 1855 to the present, as well as census returns from 1841 – 1911.
For research before 1855, the Old Parochial Registers (OPRs) of local parish churches are a good place to begin your search. These can be viewed at all local Registration Offices, the main local libraries and through the Aberdeen & North-East Scotland Family History Society.
The Aberdeen City Archives contain a vast array of information about the people of Aberdeen City and Shire. As well as school records, electoral rolls, poor relief records, tax lists and valuation rolls, the city archives also care for the oldest and most complete collection of burgh records in Scotland, dating back to 1398. In 2013 these burgh records were recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding historical importance to the United Kingdom and are now included in the UK Register of Important Documentary Heritage.
Another fruitful source of information is the NHS Grampian Archives, which provides access to the historical records of many north-east Scotland health organisations. Browse through hospital administrative logs, staff records, admission registers and case notes, as well as the records of three local poorhouses: Maud, Oldmill and Woodcot.
You can search for photographs of your relatives using the Aberdeen City Libraries’ online resource, The Silver City Vault, which will give you access to over 1,000 images of Aberdeen, together with index records and many personal names.
Once you have pieced together your family tree, there are a number of excellent museums, archives, local studies centres and voluntary organisations in the area which can help you to discover more about the lives your ancestors would have led, both in the local area and further afield. Common occupations from throughout the centuries have included stonemasons, farm workers, soldiers, shipbuilders, sailors and fishermen.
With nearly 3,000 recorded ships built in Aberdeen since 1811, many people with north-east roots will be able to trace their heritage back to the region’s shipbuilding and shipping days. Search for ancestral clues in the Aberdeen Maritime Museum’s historical records and excellent digital resources, which include photographs and podcasts as well as details of all of Aberdeen’s recorded ships, before enjoying the museum’s maritime displays.
The beautifully restored Salmon Bothy at Portsoy, is a great resource for exploring any fishing connections you may have. Use their excellent facilities to delve deeper into your fishing heritage or explore the museum, which brings Scotland’s fishing heritage to life through fascinating exhibits.
If you have military connections then the Gordon Highlanders Museum at St Luke’s is a must visit. Explore the newly refurbished museum, view the stunning interactive displays and discover the regimental treasures of the world famous Gordon Highlanders.
Enjoy a trip to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh and discover if you have an ancestral connection to Scotland’s lighthouses. Visit the museum to learn more about the Northern Lighthouse Board, as well as the famous Stevenson family's lighthouse work, or delve into their extensive collection of lighthouse archives and photographs.
With some of the oldest and most renowned educational institutions in Scotland, Aberdeen has been home to many of the country’s brightest students over the centuries. Search for your scholarly ancestors at educational institutions such as Robert Gordon’s College, Robert Gordon University and the University of Aberdeen, who have all opened their registers and excellent archives to the public.