Guide to Scottish Genealogy
Step 1

What is the first thing I should do?

Before rushing off to start you search, it is worth doing some essential pre-planning:

What will I do with all the information I’m about to gather?

Very quickly, you are likely to find yourself becoming overwhelmed with a tide of paperwork. Now is the time, before the paper starts to mount, to plan ahead and decide how you are going to organise it all, so that you can easily identify where there are still gaps in your knowledge.

One sensible approach is to devise a single sheet of paper for each person on which is recorded the basic information of name, date and place of birth, death and marriage, occupation, and details of parents, spouse and children. This can then be filed and information added as it becomes available.

In order to show family tree relationships, it is probably easiest to lay out the information in the form of a chart on large sheets of paper. (the back of an old roll of wallpaper would be a first step).

Alternatively, you can make use of one of the genealogy software packages readily available.

It is largely a matter of preference which package you use, but be sure it supports the GEDCOM system, which is a standard format that allows you to swap your files into and out of other genealogy programs. Initially, you may like to try the free package offered on the Mormon site at, called 'Personal Ancestry File'.

Personally, I have found ‘Family Tree Maker’ a straightforward and easy to use program, with a good range of options for displaying the information. My advice would be to purchase the most basic Family Tree Maker package. It is marketed in various editions, with extra data bases on CD which can add considerably to the cost - and may be irrelevant to your needs.

Where is the best place to start?

Arm yourself with a notepad and pen and a lot of patience, then try to gather as much information as you can from the resources immediately available to you – yourself, your living relatives and any documents you can trace within the family.

Start with yourself and your siblings then your parents and grandparents and all of their siblings.

Can you write down the details of their births, marriages, deaths and occupations? Chances are, there will be lots of gaps and details which are only approximate, but do as much as you can.

This points the way to your next task – contact as many of your relatives as you can and talk to them, to try to confirm the details you have, and to fill those elusive gaps. Get them to reminisce about the past. (Be tactful – there may be skeletons in the cupboard!) If you cannot visit in person, phone them or write to them, enclosing a s.a.e. Compile and enclose a list of specific questions. (Use our detailed enquiry form as a guide).

If you are overseas, try to find when your ancestors left Scotland, what method of transport they used, and the points of departure and arrival.

TIP 1: Track down documentary evidence, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, to confirm the information you are gathering. Almost certainly, you will be amazed by the inconsistencies. Make copies.

TIP 2: Ask to see photographs, diaries, wills, family bibles, letters etc. Get copies if you can.

When you have done this, you will understand how useful it will be for future generations if you develop the habit of writing names and date on the back of photos whenever you have them developed!

The picture opposite was taken about 1910, and is a family portrait of my grandparents. The 'girl' on my grandmother's knee is in fact my uncle. It was traditional for both sexes to be dressed similarly until the christening - when they were 'shortened'. My uncle, who grew up to be a burly miner, never lived down this picture!!!

Another trap for the unwary ancestor seeker!

TIP 3: Believe nothing unless you can find evidence to confirm it. Family stories tend to grow in the telling!

TIP 4: Do not put off this first step. The sooner you make a start the better. Those elderly relatives, bless 'em,  will not be around forever!

Where do I go from here?

If you are living outwith Scotland, your next step is to use your local archives to complete the basic information about your ancestors since their arrival from Scotland.

You are now ready to find your Scots Roots!

The next decision you have to make is whether to attempt to carry out all the research yourself, or to employ someone such as to carry out some or all of it on your behalf.

Partly, the decision will be based on financial considerations, but it will also depend on whether you can personally visit Scotland, and how much of  such a trip you are prepared to devote to tracing your ancestors.

The beauty of genealogy is that you have control over the direction you want the search to go!

To help you decide, I have explained below the main sources of information necessary to carry out such research.

Step 2

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