Monday, June 29, 2015

How to trace your ancestors with Scottish heritage.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting two sessions at the Houston Family Genealogy Day sponsored by the LDS Church.  In this week's blog, I am presenting a few highlights of my Scottish presentation. My class handouts for the both the Irish and Scottish session are posted here.  In addition, there are handouts from several of the other presenters that are profiled here.

Millions of Americans claim Scottish ancestry.  Here are a few of the famous Scottish Americans.

Scots vs. Scots-Irish

James Webb in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America -2004 cites statistics that 27 million Americans can trace their lineage to Scotland. Centuries of continuous warfare along the border between England and Scotland was one of the contributing factors that forced many to immigrate to North America.  England encouraged many Scots to become part of the Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland.  One challenge in Scottish genealogy is to determine if your immigrant ancestors came from Scotland or Ireland.  The following slide shows that the number of Americans who were actually born in Scotland has always been a relatively small number.

Authoritative estimates of Scottish immigration between the period from 1607 to 1850 are difficult to find.  One measure of Scottish immigration is to look at the number of people who were actually born in Scotland according to the U.S. census at various points in our history.

Using (FS) for Scottish genealogy

The first stop that I recommend for researching Scottish ancestors is the Family Search Wiki for information, links and a bibliography of reference books.  My next recommendation would be to review the Family History Library Catalog.  Start by searching Scotland, then focus on localities of interest.  A similar search strategy can be used with Family Search Books.  You can also use a locality & surname as search terms.  Also review the compiled family trees for your surnames of interest.

Learn Geography of Scotland 

Counties and parishes are the principal record jurisdictions of Scotland but learning the names of the towns and boundaries of the estates is also important.  Maps, atlases and gazetteers are useful tools for learning geography.  The Genealogical Atlas of Scotland is available for free download at Family Search Books. I also recommend that you search “Scotland Maps” at Family Search Wiki  which has dozens of links to online maps, atlases and gazetteers.  The National Library of Scotland has an impressive collection of maps online at

One of the sites that I highly recommend viewing is   GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers. One of the many resources on this website is an 1868 Gazetteer of Scotland.

By far the most valuable website for Scottish genealogy research is  This website has evolved from the 2011 merger of the General Register Office for Scotland and National Archives of Scotland.  The website has over 90 million records from 1500s to 1900s.   

ScotlandsPeople is a pay site but compares favorably to the cost of ordering microfilm for the same records which are available through Family Search.  Each page of search results costs one page credit to view ($.32). Viewing document image costs 5 credits (1GBP or $1.58). 

However if you already have a subscription to or have convenient access to a Family Search center you may want to pay attention to this comparison of records available at the "Big Three" of Scottish genealogy.

These are just a few of the highlights from my presentation on Scottish genealogy.  Don't forget to review all of my slides here.   I would be happy to consult with you on your Scottish genealogy.  If your genealogy society is looking for a speaker on the topic or if you need more information, please contact me in the box in the right hand column of this blog.

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