How to start researching your ancestry.

On discovering possible Scottish roots, most people will immediately want to follow up and trace their ancestry. Genealogy is an often complex pursuit. This page isn’t the place to address the subject in-depth. However, we can suggest places to start.

Work backwards.

The place to start is with those who share your ancestry: parents, grandparents and more distant relatives. Family will have stories, records, even old photos that will provide clues to follow. Someone might have even already done some of your genealogy research for you.


Your first task would be to interview each of your living relatives. Start with those who are closest to you. Write down or do a recording of their experiences and call out the important periods in their lives. Be sure to ask each of them what they remember about their parents, grand-parents, uncles and aunts. This information provides important background and helps you understand who these people were. As you gather information, you will find that your ancestors are more than just names and dates on a chart, they become rich full personalities. You may also be able to identify some of your family traits, and follow them down through the years.


Study every photo of the family that you can find. Each early photo has an important story to tell. Get the best copy of every photo you can find. If possible, scan the photo into a “tiff” file. (From the tiff file you can always make a Jpeg, or a PDF, but you cannot make a tiff from a Jpeg or PDF.) The tiff file will retain a record of the photo in high resolution that will not lose its quality. Identify as many people as you can in the photo. Attempt to determine where the photo was taken, and, if possible, why they were there. It may have been an important wedding, graduation, or anniversary.


It is very likely that one of your relatives has written out stories, or some family history that will help you. Even if it is only a list of all the members of the family and their birthdays; that will be a start. It is not uncommon for someone in a family to assemble a “fishbone” chart. At the head of the fish is you, or a parent, or grand-parent. From that beginning person you draw two lines, and list the mother and father of that person. From each of those parents draw two more lines and list their two parents, and so forth. This fishbone chart is a basic graphic framework showing the structure of the family. Then you can begin to fill in their birthdates, marriage dates and, death dates. The family genealogy can also be placed in an outline form, where those in the same generation are at the same margin, and then each consecutive generation is indented for graphic clarity.


Another important ingredient in the genealogical process are documents. Copies of obituaries, wedding announcements, graduations and job promotions all help to tell the story of who your ancestors were, and what they did. Start a file on key members of your relatives and collect as much as you can find about their lives. Locate local archives where you can find early newspapers on microfilm. Hunt down articles, obituaries, or announcements that may help tell the story. Not all the information in the articles, or obituaries, will be totally factual, but you have to take down what you can find, and verify the accuracy as you go along.

Life stories.

With all of this information you will begin to build the life story of your family. The personality of individuals will come to life, and express the character of your entire family. As you complete portions of the story, you can then share what you have found with great enjoyment.


The building blocks of genealogy are the “birth and death records”. These are supplemented by “marriage certificates and church records”. Another major building block of a family history are “census records”. If you can locate where the family lived, it is also valuable to read through the “city directories”.


Inside most genealogical societies you will find a library. They will be of varying quality, but may be a big help locating some background information. Public libraries can also be valuable when researching families, various companies, organizations, or towns. Most people have made some kind of mark in society, and maybe you’ll get lucky.


With today’s technology we can do so much to locate information about families, or their place of origin on the internet. Often the background of families can be discovered by doing word searches, and following a trail of information

Genealogical websites.

The most popular website for sharing family charts is “”. There is a monthly charge for use of the website, but you may also find that you can access “Ancestry” at your local public library or genealogical society. is set up so anyone may open a genealogical site for their family. The author of the account would simply enter their family information in a chart or an outline and make it available for all to see. The prime author can invite others to also provide data. The accuracy of the information is only as factual and true as the person that entered the data. What you find should be considered a start, or used to supplement what you already have, but you will want to qualify what you find with another source. You may find a number of family trees of the same family and often there information will conflict with each other.

Research websites.

For those of Scottish heritage, a valuable website will be “Scotland’s People”. On the Scotland’s People website you will find an inexhaustible collection of census charts, birth and death records. Each year more and more of the records of Scotland are brought on to Scotland’s People. It is also a fee based website service, but rather than paying by the month, you pay for each document that you download. After you open an account on Scotland’s People, you will purchase a number credits. The credits can then be “cashed” in when you purchase copies of various documents that are pertinent to your family history.

The L.D.S. Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has an astounding archive of family histories. As with any genealogical research, you want to start with the earliest ancestor where you have their full name, a birth date and a death date. On "" you enter the name of your earliest relative, the birth date and death date, and branch out from there. You will want to verify that this person had the same children as those you have listed. From there you must confirm you have similar birth and death records as in your family. If the names and date are pretty close, it is likely that you have located someone in your family. In most metropolitan centers throughout the country, the L.D.S. Church has libraries where you can visit. The attendants are most helpful, and their website can be access free of charge.

Building your ancestry.

Once you have established the earliest ancestor where you know the full name, the birth and death date, you’ve got a start. If you also know the town where they lived, and who some of their children were, you are on your way. Next, it is essential that you obtain that person’s birth certificate and death certificate. Those can usually be found at the county seat near the town where they lived. These certificates are invaluable and can help you establish the proper names and addresses of that person’s immediate family and their parents. Now you step back into history, and use the information to obtain the birth and death certificates of each of the parents. Now, combine that information with what is available in the census records, and you are making valuable headway.

U.S. census schedules.

A reliable source of genealogical data, US census schedules compiled by county, taken every decade since 1790 (most of the 1890 census burned in a fire c. 1920) and available from 1790 to 1940. The later the census the more information it will provide.

Scottish census records.

Census records from Scotland can be found on You call up images of the various indexes to the years between 1841 and 1901. At first they recorded only the names and ages of people over 15. Later they began to gather more information, such as marital status, birthplace, relationship to head of household, etc. All the information was significant to where you were when the interview was being done. (If you were visiting a neighbor’s house at the time, then your information was added to that which was listed with that neighbor’s family.)

Civil registration.

Civil registration is the record of all births, marriages and deaths in Scotland. It started January 1, 1855. Similar to the Scotland’s Census, the amount of data gathered increase over time. On the indexes are listed by year, by surname, and by date of registration.

Old parish records.

Also on you can find copies of a record of the daily operations of early churches all over Scotland. Some of the parish records go back to the year 1553. These records consisted of a listing of small and large events that happened in the church. The event might be a birth, a marriage, or a death, but it also might be the size of penalty for a parishioner who didn’t follow the dictates of the church.