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  • Three people at a desk pore over maps, ledgers and other documents on a table
    Tracing ancestors at the Heritage Hub - the Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre, Hawick
  • People study documents at a table in a modern library-style room
    The Highland Archive and Registration Centre, Inverness
  • A woman standing at a table checking documents with packed shevles of old ledgers behind her
    New Register House, Edinburgh
  • People work at desktop computers in a large airy oval room lined with bookshelves
    The ScotlandsPeople Centre in The National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step and this is never more true when you start researching your family tree. Happily, it's never been easier to start delving into your family's Scottish roots, thanks to the vast number of records that have been digitised and are now accessible online.

This section of the site will point you in the direction of all the main resources you'll need to begin your search for your ancestors.

First steps - your journey starts with you

Starting your family tree from the information you already have around you – the births, marriages and deaths that form the punctuation marks in every family’s story – is the first part of your journey to discovering your personal history and heritage.

Write down your name and date and place of birth. Now add your husband, wife or partner and your date and place of marriage if you are wed. Next add your children, your brothers and sisters, parents and so on. You’ll be surprised how much information you have already.

Gather together old photographs, letters and other documents and don’t forget to talk to elderly relatives who are usually a rich source of details, information and helpful anecdotes. Write every detail down as you never know when the smallest nugget of information will be the key to taking your researches further.

This outline ancestry is only part of the process. To really understand your Scottish family tree, you need to start to add details to the branches using official resources, by learning about the places your ancestors lived and also of their way of life.

ScotlandsPeople

The most useful website for really starting to dig deeper into your Caledonian roots is ScotlandsPeople, the official Scottish genealogy resource.

The site is one of the largest online sources of original genealogical information, offering more than 90 million records to search. Best of all, you can do this via the internet wherever you are in the world.  For a modest fee, you are granted on-line access to Scotland's official registers of births, marriages and deaths as well as indexed census records dating back to 1841 and digitised wills and testaments from Scotland’s National Archives.

In what is an exciting, world-leading initiative, ScotlandsPeople offers a one-stop family history service, integrating old parish registers and Catholic record and making ancestral research easier than ever before.

So if you know of an ancestor who was born, married or died in Scotland after 1553 – the date of the earliest records - you may very well be able find out about them online.

Other resources

Want to know a little bit more about the lives of your ancestors? You might find out using any of the following collections of records.

National Records of Scotland

The National Records of Scotland, created in April 2011 when the National Archives of Scotland merged with the General Register Office for Scotland. The archives hold a wide range of public and private records, including wills and testaments, estate records, valuations, court records and church records. Some of these date back to the 12th century.

Scottish Archive Network

Use the Scottish Archive Network website to search a single electronic catalogue to historical records in 52 Scottish archives. The site also contains the answers to frequently asked questions on Scottish history, together with research tools, digital images of historical documents, exhibitions, publications and a discussion forum.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) records, interprets and collects information relating to Scotland's buildings, archaeology and maritime sites and promotes its use through educational and outreach activities. RCAHMS is one of the primary contacts for members of the public carrying out further research into their ancestry in Scotland. Having compiled a family tree, the collections contain a range of material which may help you to build a fuller account of the history of your family. In 2013, it was announced that RCAHMS would be merged with Scotland's other major built heritage agency, Historic Scotland.

Parish church records

Local parish church records can unlock many secrets for ancestral researchers. Not only was it the place where children were baptised, proclamations of marriage announced and the dead buried, it was also the centre of most social activity within the Parish. And that makes the local church a must-see on your trip to Scotland.

Although no actual records are held within local churches, arrangements can usually be made to be shown around.

The Old Parish Registers (OPRs) are held in New Register House, and the Kirk Session records are in the National Archives of Scotland, both in Edinburgh. The OPRs are also available to search online on the ScotlandsPeople website.  Other records may be in local archives.

Local Studies Libraries and Archives Offices

Almost every municipal authority in Scotland has a collection of local history publications, maps and archives. These range from the vast resources available for Glasgow and the west of Scotland at Family History at the Mitchell, located in the Mitchell Library, to small collections run on a part-time basis.

Although most of these libraries are prepared to undertake a limited amount of searching on your behalf, it is far more fulfilling to visit them yourself. You could lose yourself for hours, pouring over old newspapers and photographs.

You can find more information on archives and libraries on the ScotlandsPeople website.

Professional ancestry researchers

Researching your Scottish roots is hugely rewarding. But it can sometimes become challenging and time-consuming. So if you don't have the time to conduct a full search yourself - or if you feel you're hitting a dead-end or two in your search - you can always call on the services of a professional genealogist.

Several of these are registered in our Ancestral Tourism Welcome scheme and are dedicated to meeting your requirements for family history and archive services. Find genealogy services in Scotland.

The National Records of Scotland also lists record agents as well as professional genealogists on its site.

The Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents (ASGRA) is an independent body of professional independent searchers  and a list of their members can be found on their website. The same is also true for Scottish members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) - simply select 'Scotland' in the 'Country of Residence' dropdown to see a list of all Scottish APG members.
 
Some genealogists specialise in a particular area of Scotland, so if you know where your ancestors lived, the local VisitScotland Information Centre may be able to provide you with details of genealogists for the area.

Finally, why not join one of Scotland's family history societies?  You'll get plenty of support, advice and encouragement from like-minded researchers. 

Ancestral Welcome scheme

When you come to Scotland to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, we want to ensure you have a warm welcome so be sure to lookout for providers sporting VisitScotland's Ancestral Tourism Welcome award.

Dedicated to meeting your needs, these specially trained hosts are passionate and committed to meeting, and preferably exceeding, the needs of the ancestral tourists. They will be able to provide you with information on local ancestral research resources and places to visit during your stay in Scotland. 

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