Getting Down to it!
(Digging up your Scottish Roots)
by Tony Reid
Reid is a partner in Scottish Roots, the ancestral research
Scottish Roots, 16 Forth Street,
Edinburgh, EH1 3LH
Everybody has roots, irrespective of whether you're descended from
a humble farm labourer or a member of the aristocracy.
Digging them up has become, arguably, the fastest growing leisure
activity in the Western World. It is not altogether clear why
this should be, although increased leisure time and improved
research facilities are contributory factors. There is
perhaps a more subtle reason. As life becomes ever more
hectic and reliant on machines and computers, so people
increasingly strive to discover their 'identity'. There is a
school of thought that knowledge of one's forebears represents a
significant part of one's identity.
The term ancestral research embraces the two related topics of
genealogy and family history. The former is all about finding
out who your ancestors were, whereas the latter relates to what
sort of people they were and what kind of lives they lived. A
genealogical search is the essential first step, as this enables a
basic framework to be established.
Although in Scotland we have the benefit of really excellent
archival resources, there are some steps which should first be
undertaken before jumping in at the deep end. For example,
collect together all the birth, marriage and death certificates in
your possession. You will need a precise name, date and place of
birth in Scotland before you can begin. Note the main details and
start a rough family tree. Supplement this from memory in
terms of long-lost uncles and aunts, etc. Look for other
snippets from diaries, photographs, inscriptions, family bibles,
etc. Broadcast your interest to other members of the family
who will doubtless be able to tell you things that you would never
get from an archival source!
It is not a good idea to attempt too many lines at the same
time. Although most people tend to concentrate on the male
line, it is just as easy to follow the female side and of course in
this case the data found would be more reliable. The name of
the 'father' given on a birth certificate should sometimes be
treated with scepticism, and remember, DNA testing wasn't available
in those days!
Also, don't be put off by people who boast about getting their
line back to the time of Robert the Bruce - there were very few
records in those days. (One is doing pretty well to get back
to c.1770s using Scottish records.) It is more important to
appreciate the detail picked along the way, such as occupations,
Having produced a family tree, the way is clear to make a start on
the never-ending task of researching the history. But be warned,
once you experience the thrill of the chase it can take over your
social life! Space does not allow for a description of all
the various sources that can provide the basis of a family
history. To give just a few examples: arrange to get copies
of old large-scale maps to enable you to pinpoint where the
families lived; use the appropriate library to see if the local
newspapers have carried obituaries of any members of the family;
Kirk Session papers can provide all sorts of insights into family
life, including of course castigations aimed at those who gave
birth out of wedlock. If you have an enquiring mind, you will
inevitably soon find yourself asking about the economic and social
conditions of the time to help you to put your forebears into some
sort of context.
You are now ready to trace your family tree. There are three
main ways of doing this.
1. New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT (Scotland's People
This is the main record office in Edinburgh, and an all day ticket
costs £15. This building houses millions of documents,
primarily all Statutory birth/marriage/death certificates (1855
onwards), Census Returns (1841-1911) and Parish Registers
(pre-1855). However, this may be a little daunting for
beginners, though there are members of staff who will show you the
ropes. It is advisable to make a reservation as it can get busy:
0131 314 4300. Try to avoid holiday periods when the limited space
is quickly taken up by hordes of overseas visitors desperate to
discover details of their Scottish ancestry!
This is the official pay-per-view website, providing a searchable
index up to the present day, and images of Statutory birth
certificates from 1855 to 1911, marriages 1855- 1936 and
death 1855-1961. Census returns are also available online (up
to 1911), as are the pre-1855 Old Parish
Registers. For a fee of £7 the user is entitled to 30
page "credits". Again this may be quite daunting (and costly) to
the uninitiated, especially when using up a lot of "credits" when
searching a widespread name such as Smith, Wilson, etc.
3. Professional researchers
Although fees may seem costly in comparison to the above, you will
probably save money in the long run. You will also be assured
that a professional researcher should do the whole job properly,
without barking up the wring family tree! Expect to pay around £200
for a good researcher, and try and use one with at least 15 years
experience of using the records at New Register House.
Scottish Roots Ancestral Research Service have been tracing family
trees for almost 30 years - longer than any other research
company. They charge £225 for a Standard Search and can be
Scottish Roots, 16 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3LH
Ancestral research really is great fun. Good hunting!