Sources - Where?

If you’ve got Scottish ancestors then you’re in luck because Scotland is a world-leader in providing family history information online.

Amongst the most useful websites is Scotlands People which provides online access (for a fee) to Scotland's official registers of births, marriages and deaths as well as census records from 1841 to 1911 and digitised wills and testaments from Scotland's National Archives and Scottish Catholic Archives records.

For births less than 100 years old, marriages less than 75 years old and deaths less than 50 years old, it is only possible to view the index entries over the internet and extract certificates need to be ordered to view the detail on the certificates. 

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 to find out about them online.

The Scots travelled and settled all over the world, however, information on emigrants and migrants is sparse in Scotland. There are sources of information available to discover more about your ancestors emigrating from Scotland, although it may depend on when your ancestors emigrated as to how much information you can find. Initially, there was no legal requirement to record emigrants; the paperwork was all done at the port of arrival. However, official passenger lists were compiled by the Board of Trade from 1890 to 1960 – and these were all kept in the National Archives of London. They have now been made available online and can be accessed via the Find My Past website, where you will find details of every passenger who left from a UK port, including all Scottish ports, for destinations around the world between these dates.

The Scottish Emigration Database currently contains the records of over 21,000 passengers who embarked at Glasgow and Greenock for non-European ports between 1 January and 30 April 1923, and at other Scottish ports between 1890 and 1960. The Highlands & Islands Emigration Society assisted almost 5,000 people to leave western Scotland for Australia between 1852 and 1857. You can find out more about their work at the Scottish Archive Network.

If your ancestor was caught up in the Highland Clearances, you may find them listed at the Clearances website.

The Scottish census, taken every 10 years since 1801, can provide a fascinating snapshot of a day in the life of your ancestors. It can also provide details of anyone else who happened to be in the house at the time, including servants, lodgers and visitors.

Census records can also give you some idea of how your family lived, for example, recording how many rooms with one or more windows their house contained. Geographic mobility can be tracked through the given birthplaces and social mobility through addresses and occupations.

The returns of most value to the family historian are those from 1841 onwards. Records may only be inspected after 100 years, so the census records currently available for public scrutiny are 1841-1911. You can access census records on the Scotlands People website.

The population tables and associated published statistical reports can be viewed for free at

You can use Ancestral Scotland’s clan search facility to see whether your surname is linked to one of Scotland's famous clans. This will also give you an initial idea of where your family may have come from, as many clans are associated with distinctive geographical areas of Scotland. There, you'll also find a history of the clan and the tartans relating to it. Almost every surname in Scotland has links to an ancient clan, and with it, the right to wear a distinctive tartan.

 An official Register of Tartan is maintained by the National Records of Scotland and housed in General Register House in Edinburgh. The Register is available online providing detailed information about the hundreds of different patterns and their history. Anyone can create their own tartan and, as long as it is unique and complies with the standards laid down, it too will be placed on the Register.

Discovering what your ancestors did for a living can provide a fascinating insight into their lives. In the middle ages, most Scots would have worked the land or fished the sea. However, the industrial revolution changed the nature of the workplace forever.  You might find the names of occupations in census records or other family records such as birth, marriage or death certificates. You can find out some common occupations and suggested sources of additional information at the Ancestral Scotland website.  You can also get information on occupations at the Scotlands People website, and statistical information from the census can be viewed at

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