Three Strategies for Finding an Ancestor in Scottish Records

Three Strategies for Finding an Ancestor in Scottish Records

What a treat it is to have Amanda Epperson, PhD joining us here on Genealogy Gems! Amanda is an expert on Scottish genealogy research, and is the author of The Family Tree Scottish Genealogy Guide. If you even suspect that you have Scottish roots keep reading because Amanda is about to share some of her top strategies to help you find your ancestors in Scottish records. 

Scottish Genealogy Starts with Scottish Records

If your love of tartan, bagpipes, and kilts equals your love of family history research, you are likely hoping to find an ancestor who was born in Scotland. Or perhaps nothing would surprise you more than to find a Scottish ancestor. In either case, the next step is to find this ancestor in Scottish records.

As with all immigrants, the first step to finding them in their homeland is to research their lives extensively in America before searching for them in Scottish records. Once you do that, use these three strategies to locate your ancestor in Scottish records.

1. An Important Divide in Scottish Genealogy

First, determine whether your Scottish-born ancestor arrived in the United States before or after 1855, the year Statutory (or Civil) Registration began in Scotland. This year is an important divide in Scottish Genealogy. Before 1855, you will need to start your research with the Old Parish Records (commonly known as the OPR) and after 1855 you can use the Statutory Records. With this knowledge, you will be able to organize your research and manage expectations of the data you will find. If your ancestors came to America after 1855, then they and their relatives should be included in Statutory records. These records are extremely detailed and each type invariably includes the name of an individual’s parents. Parish records are an amazing resource, but they are not complete and were not well-kept in all parishes. Consequently, many people do not appear in the OPR.

Scottish Parish Records

Indexes for parish records are available at many websites (for example Images of these documents can be viewed at your Local Family History Center or an affiliate library ( Statutory Registration records (called civil records in the FamilySearch catalog) are partially indexed at FamilySearch and select years are also available at your local Family History Center. ScotlandsPeople ( has a complete set of OPR and Statutory Records available on a pay-per-view basis.

Image above: When you download Statutory records from ScotlandsPeople, like this death record for John Sharp Hood, complete citation information is included. Photo Credit: 1908 Hood, John Sharp (Statutory Register of Deaths 488/2) ©Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland.

2. Determining Your Scottish Ancestor’s Birthplace

Second, determine your ancestor’s Scottish birth place. The name of the parish is best, but you may be able to manage with just the county if you ancestor’s name was uncommon or you know the names of several of their family members. Check available U.S. records for this information. For example: vital records, post-1906 Naturalization records (before this date Naturalizations usually only record the country of origin), passenger lists, county or local histories, or in correspondence. If you are really lucky, you may find your ancestor in the series of books by David Dobson who mines both U.S. and U.K. records for emigrant Scots. Several of his books are available at and are searchable. Location is a key fact because many Scots have the same name and many surnames (like Smith, Campbell, and Stewart) are quite common. Additionally, the same surname does not guarantee a family relationship, even for more uncommon names.  

Many passenger lists record an emigrant’s last place of residence, which for Europeans was their place of birth. However, due to high rates of internal migration in Scotland, this may not be true for many Scottish immigrants. Keep an eye out for other locations associated with you ancestor; also be sure to check if the passenger list records the name and residence of the immigrants nearest relation in the old country. It is possible that this is your ancestor’s actual place of origin.

3. The Importance of Name Variations in Scottish Genealogy

scottish genealogy guide

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Third, determine all variations of your ancestor’s first and last names, especially if your ancestor was from the Scottish Highlands. In this region, the bulk of the population spoke Scots-Gaelic until the nineteenth century. However, all church records were kept in English, even if the minister spoke Scots-Gaelic. This meant that all Gaelic names, both first and last, needed to be rendered in English. There was often no consistency in how this was done. Some English renderings were reasonably close to the Scots-Gaelic name, but others were inspired by biblical or Latin names. Two commonly interchangeable first names include Donald and Daniel, and Angus and Aeneas. Highlanders also easily changed surnames, especially when moving from the land of one landlord to another. These name changes are often included in parish registers as an “alias” as in McIntosh alias Cattanach. And when Gaelic speakers moved south, they often Anglicized their surnames, so MacThoimish in Inverness became Thomson in Glasgow. You can learn more about interchangeable names in a brief article by Alan G. McPherson (

Scottish Genealogy Success

While finding any immigrant ancestor can be a challenge, and Scots are no different, there is the advantage that most of the records are in English, are easily available, and many of have been indexed. Following these three basic steps will help you identify your ancestors in Scottish records. Read more about newly available Scottish records here at Genealogy Gems

About the Author: Amanda Epperson, PhD

About the Author: Amanda Epperson, PhD

Amanda Epperson is the author of the book The Family Tree Scottish Genealogy Guide. Since completing her Ph.D. in history from the University of Glasgow in 2003, Amanda has taught history at the college level, researched and edited family histories, most recently for, and written articles for a variety of publications including Family Tree Magazine and Your Genealogy Today. She blogs occasionally at the Scottish Emigration Blog.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New Scottish Records in Celebration of Burns Night 2019

New Scottish Records in Celebration of Burns Night 2019

Genealogy Giant Findmypast just published 700,000 new Scottish records online! This major update commemorates the 260th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland. Many of these records are available online for the first time. If you have Scottish ancestors, you’ll definitely want to check out these wonderful additions to Findmypast’s vast database of U.K. records!

Findmypast publishes 700,000 new Scottish records in celebration of Burns Night 2019

From Findmypast’s announcement made today: “Leading British & Irish family history website, Findmypast, is marking the 260th Anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, with the release of almost 700,000 new Scottish records.

Many of these new additions have been made available online for the first time and cement Findmypast’s place as the home of the fastest growing online collection of Scottish Records.

Scotland, Jacobite Rebellions 1715 and 1745

“Discover more about the Jacobites and the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Findmypast has digitized this expansive collection of records from The National Archives which includes lists of prisoners and those banished or pardoned along with correspondence, commission records, and briefs evidence. The rebellions had the aim of returning James II of England and VII of Scotland, the last Catholic British monarch, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne of Great Britain after they had been deposed by Parliament during the 1688 Revolution.

Each result will include both a transcript and scanned color image of the original document. The collection comprises of 193 pieces from 9 National Archives series so the amount of information listed will vary depending on the type and nature of the documents. Predominately covering the years 1701-1719 and 1740-1767, there are almost 76,000 in this collection of records from a significant time in Scotland’s history.”

Scotland, Glasgow Anderson’s College Anatomy Students 1860-1874

“Did any of your ancestors study at the Anderson College of Medicine, Glasgow? Discover details of their class dates. Anderson College was founded in 1796 following the will of John Anderson, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1757. Initially known as Anderson’s Institution, it changed its name to Anderson’s University in 1828 and finally to Anderson’s College in 1877. The Institution’s medical school was founded in 1800 when Dr. John Burns began lectures on anatomy and surgery. The medical school of Anderson’s College became a separate and distinct institution known as Anderson’s College Medical School in 1887.

The records consist of class rolls of those who studied under Professor George Buchanan. Each record includes a transcript and original image of the class roll that will list the names of students and the day they attended class.”

Scotland, Glasgow Smallpox Vaccination Registers 1801-1854

Explore these Glasgow smallpox vaccination registers to find out when your Glasgow ancestors received their inoculation to help fight the smallpox disease. “Smallpox was caused by the variola virus, there are two types of the virus. The more deadly form of the disease is the variola major which killed about 30% of people who were infected. The smallpox vaccine, introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796, was the first successful vaccine to be developed.

The collection consists of ten volumes of registers recording the inoculation program that was carried out in Glasgow between 1801 and 1854. Each result will include a transcript of the original register entry that lists the name of the individual being inoculated, the date of their inoculation, their birth year, address, the name of their parent or guardian, the name of the inoculator and the results of the inoculation.”

Scotland, Glasgow & Lanarkshire Death & Burial Index 1642-1855

“Over 283,000 additional records spanning the years 1636 to 2001 have been added to the Scotland, Glasgow & Lanarkshire Death & Burial Index 1642-1855. This index of deaths and burials consists of transcripts of original documents covering the years of 1642 to 1855. From the index, you may learn your ancestors’ birth year, death and burial dates, age at death, burial place, and mortcloth price. These new additions have been provided by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society.”

Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Registers

“Over 223,000 new baptisms, marriages, and burials have been added to our collections of Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Registers. The New additions cover 471 parishes across the country and span the years 1800 to 1966. Each result will include both a transcript and image of the original register entry.

Our collection of Scotland Roman Catholic Sacramental registers covers all eight Scottish dioceses: Aberdeen, Argyll & The Isles, Dunkeld, Galloway, Glasgow, Motherwell, St Andrews & Edinburgh, and Paisley, and date back to the early 17th century. The records form part of our wider Catholic Heritage Archive, a groundbreaking project that aims to digitize the historic records of the Catholic Church in Britain, Ireland and North America, and additional new records will be added to these collections later in the year.”

Scotland Roman Catholic Congregational Records

“Over 55,000 new records have been added to the Scotland Roman Catholic Congregational Records collection. Congregational records can help you get a better understanding of your ancestors’ relationship with the church and include registers of confirmations and communion recipients, as well as parish lists, seat rentals, lists of people who converted to Catholicism and more.

Congregational registers incorporate sacramental records other than those pertaining to baptisms, marriages, and burials, such as communicants (those who received Holy Communion), confirmations (those who received Holy Confirmation), sick calls (those who received the Anointing of the Sick), and first confessions (those who received Holy Reconciliation). You will also find records of people who converted to Catholicism. In many parishes, you could rent seats in the chapel for your family. The seat rental records will list the individual names, the cost of the rental, and the location of the seat. Another register type you will discover is status animarum, Latin for ‘status of the souls’. These records noted the names of all the Catholics in the area. Many include the names of head of households and the individual’s residence.”

More to discover at Findmypast

These newly released additions sit alongside millions of other records from family history societies, archives and repositories holding records that cover the whole length and breadth of the country. If you have Scottish heritage, Findmypast is an indispensable tool for discovering your ancestors. You can start exploring right now with a 14-day free trial! Click here to sign up and start using Findmypast for free. 

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Travel Back in Time with Genealogy Records Newly Online

Travel Back in Time with Genealogy Records Newly Online

This week’s roundup features rare, unique, and just plain fun new collections available online or coming soon. Go back in time to 1923 with new public domain additions, explore San Francisco as it was in 1940 online and in Google Earth, keep an eye out for rare Caribbean newspapers, a free database of Washington State newspapers, and a new collection from the Digital Library of Georgia. Get ready to time-travel and find your ancestors!

A Peek Into 1923

For the first time in 20 years, new works are entering the public domain in the United States and those works were all published in 1923.  From the Internet Archive’s recent announcement, “Settle in with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a Butterfinger, or a refreshing Popsicle (all invented in 1923!)” and explore the films, popular music, and entertainment from 1923. This update also includes 20,000 texts like newspapers, books, and poetry. You can browse fashion magazines, sheet music, and so much more. Get a glimpse into life in 1923, and your ancestor might just be hiding in plain sight!

San Francisco: David Rumsey Maps

Recently recovered after decades of dusty storage, and immense 42- by 38-foot wooden replica of the city of San Francisco as it was in 1940 has been cleaned and photographed by a dedicated team of individuals as part of the SFMOMA and San Francisco Public Library project called Public Knowledge: Take Part. The model is comprised of 158 pieces at a scale of 1 inch to 100 feet.

From David Rumsey’s website announcement: “The model pieces were expertly photographed by Beth LaBerge. David Rumsey created the large Composite image [right] of the 158 pieces, as well as the image and metadata database of all the images, which he hosts. Rumsey also georeferenced the large Composite image and placed it in Google Earth.”

[Image right courtesy of]

Caribbean Newspapers

The University of Florida has received a grant to digitize Caribbean newspapers. From the announcement (scroll to second article on the link page): “The grant award will support a continuing partnership between the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Rio Piedras Campus Libraries to digitize each institution’s unique, hidden holdings of Caribbean newspapers on master microfilm. The team, partners of the Digital Library of the Caribbean, will digitize and make freely available 800,000 pages of pre-1923 Caribbean newspapers.”

Washington State Newspapers

From the Washington Secretary of State: Browse and search historical publications with new Washington Digital Newspapers website. “The site features new titles in the State Library’s digital newspaper collection, with full-text article search of more than 400,000 pages from the State Library’s collection of historic Washington newspapers. Visitors can interact with the site with the help of text correction features to improve search results on dark or damaged pages, by attaching subject tags to articles, and saving their search history for larger research projects.”

Visit to start browsing now!

Digital Library of Georgia

The Digital Library of Georgia has recently announced a new collection for Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center and Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spelman Colleges. “As part of the CLIR-funded, ‘Our Story’ project, Atlanta University Center, Spelman College, and the DLG are happy to announce additional content documenting the largest consortium of African American private institutions of higher education.” In this collection, you’ll find scholarly journals, yearbooks, photographs, course catalogs, and more. 

Additional “Our Story” updates are available through the DLG blog.

More genealogy time-travel

Time travel technology may not be available yet, but Lisa’s Premium eLearning Video is the next best thing! You’ll discover ways to find content that can immerse you in the past to explore the cultural and historical events, places, and people that affected your ancestors’ lives. You’ll explore interactive timelines, advances in video, and geographic tools that can dramatically impact your understanding of your family history. Plus a downloadable handout is included. Available now to all Premium eLearning Members! (Not a member? Sign up today!)

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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