Guide to Scottish Genealogy
Step 2

New Register House

Your first port of call is New Register House, at the East End of Princes Street in Edinburgh, adjacent to the National Archives of Scotland. What you can access depends on whether you can visit in person (or get someone like to visit on your behalf), or if you have to rely on post/telephone/internet

TIP 1: Especially if you are visiting during the summer, it is advisable to book in advance for one of about 100 places available daily, or to turn up well before the opening time to ensure a place. There is a charge of £17 per day.


New Register House holds the following records:

Old Parish Registers (OPRs) between 1553 to 1854.

St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church, Dalkeith - just one of the churches that Cromwell knocked about a bit!
These registers were kept by the parish ministers or session clerks of the Church of Scotland to record births/baptisms, banns/marriages and deaths/burials. Because of wars, invasions, insurrections, fire, and the depredations of damp and vermin, not to mention plain carelessness, indifference and lack of diligence by some of the ministers or session clerks, the records are far from complete, and may be non-existent in some parishes for extended periods of time. In addition, the government attempted to impose a tax on the registrations in the years before 1855. Since registration was not compulsory at that time, this naturally acted as a deterrent. Who wants to pay taxes unnecessarily?

Where there are records, the information varies in both quality and quantity, and hence usefulness.

TIP 1: The registers are accessed on 35mm microfilm, and can be difficult to read. A magnifying glass and familiarity with early handwriting styles is helpful.

TIP 2: An index of births/baptisms and banns/marriages (but not deaths) can be accessed using the in-house computer system. This enables you to find the appropriate part of the film cassette.

TIP 3: The registers and indexes are sold by the General Register Office, and your local National Archive/National Library / Mormon Church may have copies, or be able to get them for you.

Register of neglected entries (1801-1854)

After it became a statutory requirement to register births, deaths and marriages in Scotland in 1855, a register was drawn up of events that had not been recorded in the OPRs. The register is on microfilm.

TIP 1: If the record you seek is not in the OPRs, you may be fortunate to find it here.

Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages (1855 to present)

Details of all births, deaths and marriages since 1855 can be accessed. The procedure is to trawl the index using the in-house computer to find the appropriate person, and then look up the original document on microfiche. It does not cost anything to copy down the details onto your notepad, but there is a charge if you want a copy of the original certificate.

Finding ‘the appropriate person’ can be very time-consuming if

    1. it is a common surname, or the person was known by a different first name
    2. you have the wrong date or place for the event
    3. your ancestor changed the spelling of his/her surname (or the name was recorded using a different spelling – how many ways can you think of to spell ‘Somerville’?) or was known by a different first name – a very common occurrence then as now. Each spelling variation requires a separate check, as do the Mac/Mc prefixes.
    4. a transcription error was made in transferring the data onto computer from the certificate – Daniel and David, for instance, are sometimes transposed in error.

Tip1: Pray that the event you are looking for occurred in 1855 - the certificates contain an enormous amount of additional information in that year.

TIP 2: Scottish death certificates (unlike English ones) include the person's parents' names and the name of the spouse. Knowing the parents, of course, enables you to step back a generation.

TIP 3: The indexes refer to the year that the event was registered, not when it occurred. For instance, it was quite common to marry on 31st December. The following day, being a public holiday, allowed the couple and guests to recover from the hangover, or indeed continue partying! The wedding, however, would not be registered until the New Year. Baptisms were sometimes held months, or years, after the birth.

TIP 4: Female deaths are entered twice - under both maiden and married names.

TIP 5: Copy out all the details on the certificates, even if they don't seem significant at first. Addresses may help with census tracing, occupation may help in looking up Trade Directories or employer's files, witnesses' names may point to in-laws you are not yet aware of, etc.

TIP 6: Treat all details on the certificates with care, and consider whether the informant was likely to be able to provide accurate information. Remember how difficult it was to write down details of your family at the beginning?

TIP 7: If you cannot find the person, but know where the event occurred, it is worth taking out the index fiche for that district to see if the name appears in the index. Occasional errors/omissions do arise!

Register of Adopted Children (post 1930)

This register applies to persons adopted under orders of the Scottish courts, and does not include anyone born before October 1909.

Register of Divorces (from May 1984)

This applies to divorces granted by the Scottish courts, and includes the names of the parties, the date and place of marriage and divorce, and details of court orders relating to the children.

Records are also held of births and deaths on merchant vessels (from 1855) or aircraft (from 1948) where the person involved was resident in Scotland or had Scottish parents.

There are Service records of births, deaths and marriages from 1881, and War Registers from 1899, covering the South African War and both World Wars, although the records of WW1 do not include officers, and WW2 records are incomplete in identifying people of Scots origin.

There are also records of births, deaths and marriages recorded by Consuls and High Commissioners in various countries, based on data supplied by persons involved, some of which go back to 1860.

Census returns (from 1841)

A census has been held every 10 years since 1841 (except 1941). Details are available on microfilm for 1841 to 1871 inclusive, and on computer index for 1881 and 1891, and now 1901. The censuses for 1891 and 1901 are now digitised.  Subsequent census details are subject to the ‘100 year rule’ and are not available for consultation. As the earlier censuses are not indexed, it is necessary to know where the family was living, and then search for them street by street or house by house through a village.

Different questions were asked at each census, and different criteria applied in obtaining ages, for instance, but you can find the name, age, marital state, occupation and birthplace of each member of the household present on census night.

TIP1: Treat spellings of names with care, as these relied on the enumerator’s literacy and familiarity with the local accent. I have found ‘Hairy’ for Harry, Jonet for Janet, and innumerable spellings of Catherine, for instance.

TIP2: Stated ages should also be treated with suspicion, as people were not averse to lying! Also, in the 1841 census, ages were rounded down to the nearest 5.

TIP3: The Mormons have released a set of CDs which cover the 1881 census for the whole of the UK, which can be purchased from their web site at . Note that earlier versions of the CDs erroneously included Sutherland, Scotland with Sunderland, in England.

TIP 4: If you cannot find the family you are looking for in the digitised images, and you know where they were living, it is worth taking out the census microfilm. We have found several instances of information that has been missed.

What if I can't get to Scotland?

If you are unable to visit New Register House in person, you can carry out a computerised search of the OPR indexes (1553 to 1854), Statutory Indexes for births and marriages (1855 to 1899) and deaths (1855 to 1917) and the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses by logging on to You can view, save and print images of many of the original documents.

There is a charge of £6 per 30 ‘pages’, available over a 24-hour period. For your money you get, depending on the parameters you set, a list of events (births/marriages/deaths/1881census), the date of the event, the names of the parties involved, and the district where the event was recorded. You also get a code number to order a copy of the certificate (£10 each).

TIP 1: If you have problems tracing the person you are looking for, try switching the 'soundex' on.

You can also contact the staff at New Register House and ask them to carry out a search on your behalf. They can be contacted by post at New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT, telephone at +44 131 334 0380 or e-mail at, or at their web site However, they require full information about the event, including the person’s full name, the date and place of the event, and the person’s parentage if the surname is common. They will not start a search in the records prior to 1855 without the parish name, or in the census records without the person’s name and address. If you can provide the necessary information, they charge £5 for each search and £8 for a copy of each document.

TIP1: E-mail orders are not accepted.

Alternatively, you can ask to carry out the search on your behalf.

We will attempt to find the information about the event you are interested in , based on the information you provide.

For details of our prices and terms, press the button below.

What else can I research to fill out my family tree?

By the time you have put together all the information available from New Register House, you will probably be well on the way to compiling a family tree going back to the early years of the 19th Century, and possibly earlier. You will have an idea of the social context in which your ancestors were living from details of their occupations. Now is a good time to explore other sources of information, so that you can gain a better insight into the daily lives of your ancestors.

Step 1 Step 3

Ready to pay? Check our Prices Page first