Ancestry in Orkney

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  • People admiring the Broch of Gurness, Evie
    Broch of Gurness, Evie
  • A woman makes her way into Maeshowe
  • Ring of Brodgar, Stenness
    Ring of Brodgar, Stenness
  • Looking into a dwelling at Skara Brae
    Skara Brae
  • St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney
    St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney

Trace your ancestors in Orkney. You could learn if you share your surname with the locals or uncover hidden stories locked away for centuries. Whether you know that you have Orkney ancestors or you are just hoping to find a chance connection, there is plenty of history on offer.

Orkney is an archipelago which has witnessed many generations come and go over time. The first settlers arrived here before the pyramids were constructed in Egypt leaving behind them a legacy of monoliths, tombs and stone circles.

Neolithic, Pictish, Celtic and Norse settlers have all contributed to the Orcadian gene pool and the islanders' hospitality is renowned worldwide.

For centuries, the men and women of Orkney have travelled and settled all over the world, taking Orcadian names and culture wherever they went. Many families around the world have handed down stories of family crofts, ancient traditions, daring exploits, dangerous journeys, and strange new homelands.

Whole families left the islands in times of hardship to seek a new life on the other side of the world, while the young population went off to seek their fortune in developing countries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hudson’s Bay Company recruited at Stromness in Orkney for young men to make the passage across the Atlantic to Canada. There is a strong community of Orcadian descendents across the Atlantic - and subsequently further afield - to this day.

Every year, many of their descendants feel the pull of blood ties and birthright and begin the journey of discovery about their ancestors which often leads them home to the beautiful islands of Orkney.

A family tree is always helpful for getting started, or if you have additional details such as the dates for births, deaths and marriages, these will also be valuable. Contact the Orkney Family History Society, run by volunteers who work closely with the local library and archive system, to find out more.

Today you will find welcoming locals who are only too happy to help in your hunt. As you explore Orkney, you will also find inspiration in the history which surrounds you, from the Pictish to the Norse and Celtic heritage.

Get back to your roots on the Orkney Isles.