The Top Five for Scottish Family History Research

These are my top five lists of books, blogs and websites that can assist you with your family history research in Scotland. Do you have any that you feel should be added? If so please leave a comment.


The Gazetteer of Scotland 1882” by Rev. John Wilson published by Global Heritage Press

Tracing your Scottish Ancestry” by Kathleen B. Cory; revised and updated by Leslie Hodgson; published by Genealogical Publishing Co.

Discover Scottish Church Records” by Chris Paton; published by Unlock the Past Australia

Tracing your Scottish Family History” by Anthony Adolph; published by Firefly Books Ltd.

Scottish Local History: An Introductory Guide” by David Moody; published by Genealogical Publishing Co.


Chris Paton: Walking in Eternity

Scottish GENES (GEnealogy News and EventS)

Scottish Genealogist Blog

The Scottish Military Research Group

Brenda Dougall Merriman’s Blog



National Library of Scotland – Post Office Directories

Scottish Emigration Database

National Library of Scotland – Maps of Scotland

Statistical Accounts of Scotland

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Have You Checked Out The Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1791-1845) Yet?

This is a great resource to find out more about the places in Scotland where your ancestors lived. Chris Paton referred to this database a lot during his Scottish workshop in Toronto in June. When you first go into the website it asks you to sign in but further down non subscribers can browse the scanned pages. Subscribers get some extra features but this way you can check out the website for yourself and decide if you want to subscribe to get those additional features.

The browse scanned pages search page gives you several options. You can search by the place name in the parish or county reports, choose from the county lists, or choose from an A-Z list. Remember when reading these documents that sometimes the letter s may look like the letter f and a double s might look like ff.

My Rankin’s were bakers in Largs so I searched by that town name under parish reports. I get two choices from the Account of 1791-99 and one from 1834-45. All the options were descriptions of the parish of Largs. In the Account of 1791-99 the first entry is by Rev. Mr. Gilbert Lang and the second “By a Friend to Statistical Inquiries.” In the Account from 1834-45 the entry is by The Rev. John Down, Minister. Each description carries slightly different topics. The descriptions of the land and community are really interesting.

In Rev. Down’s entry is a heading entitled “Climate and Diseases” which a notation says “This department has been furnished by Dr. John Campbell, Largs.” Here I learn that in 1828 there was an epidemic of dysentery and in 1836 and 1837 an epidemic of erysipelas. Cholera showed up in 1832 and it is said that in two of the houses it was brought from Glasgow. They also say that they have typhus fever occasionally but it is mostly “confined to the poorer and worst lodged part of our population.” The parish says that “wonderful longevity exists at present” because there are a large number of people between the ages of 70 and 93.

If your family member died in Largs in 1828, 1836 or 1837 you might try and find out if it was because of the epidemics. Erysipelas is a skin infection that is caused by hemolytic Streptococcus. You might get a fever and large, raised red patches on the skin and other symptoms.

On the county lists I chose Wigton [Wigtown] home of my Grey and McCubbin families. You can choose a report from a pull down list; show reports in this county and find a report. I chose show reports in this county. This provided a similar listing as found in the pull down menu. I chose the parish of Leswalt as that is where my family was from.

Interestingly the section was written by The Rev. Andrew McCubbin, Minister. Now I will have to find out if he is connected to my McCubbin family. He tells me that Leswalt means “the meadow along the burn.” I learn that the parish is very hilly and has large sections of moss. There used to be an animal called “goat-whey” but you do not see them much anymore. You can find salmon and oysters in the waters of the parish. Leswalt “belonged to the monks of Tongland in the reign of James V.”

There is a listing of principle land owners and a population count starting in 1801 and every ten years to 1831. Under “Character of the People” Rev. McCubbin states that they “of late have improved much both in language and manners.”

Live stock found in the area is Galloway cattle and Cheviot sheep. The produce of the parish is oats and potatoes. They have just started to farm wheat. The market town and post office are in Stranraer. This would suggest to me that if I do not find them in the parish records in Leswalt I should try Stranraer. There is a parochial library “which contains nearly 400 volumes, and the people have a taste for reading.” He says that about “200 children attend the Sabbath schools.”

There is a section entitled “Poor and Parochial Funds” and here they say that the church takes care of the poor. Some money comes from a legacy left by the Earl of Stair. The interesting part is the statement that “the greater part of the poor, being Irish, are very frequent and importunate in their demands.” Stranraer is approximately 50 km from Ireland. This account is dated February 1838.

You can see how these Statistical Accounts can be a very useful part of your family history research.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Bagpipe Appreciation Day

Wednesday July 27th is Bagpipe Appreciation Day. It is a day to celebrate the instrument and tunes that lead many a Scot into battle and home again. Bagpipes are used to celebrate a wedding and to bid farewell at a funeral. The Piper’s to the Queen Mother played three mornings a week in the garden of Clarence House under her window.

Here is a video of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards performing the tune “Scotland the Brave” at Edinburgh Castle.

The lyrics of “Scotland the Brave” can be found here sung by John McDermott but unfortunately there are no pipes in his rendition.

The pipes loomed large in my childhood memories. My father learned to play them as a child. When I was born he was at pipe and drum practice. Father’s were not present at their child’s birth in those days.

Sunday dinner would include the record player providing a musical accompaniment with a mixture of Irish and Scottish records being played. I learned to enjoy the sound of the pipes.

My father would pipe in the New Year with Auld Lang Syne. He would practice in the afternoon and was always accompanied by the vocalizations of our dog Rusty.

A piper playing the tune “Amazing Grace” can still bring a tear to my eye.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Scottish Post Office Directories – Have you used them yet?

The National Library for any country is a wonderful resource for a family history researcher. Part of their mandate is to preserve their countries history through books and now quite a few are putting their digital collections online. The really wonderful thing is that these collections are usually free to access.

The National Library of Scotland has put their Post Office Directories online. The time period covered is 1773-1911 and 28 towns and counties in Scotland are represented. There are 694 directories in the digital collection.

Right now you can search the collection on the National Library of Scotland’s website but there are plans to have a website dedicated to the collection up and running some time this summer.

The main parts of the directory are the street and trade section and a section that alphabetically lists residents by their name. In the alphabetical listing you sometimes find their address and occupation.

The directory can create a picture in time of the town it is covering. You can find information on what can be found in the city including lists of banks, churches and clergy, conveyances, education, insurance, law, medicine, post offices and lists of the people involved in the parliamentary process.

The towns and counties covered in the collection are: Aberdeen (88), Airdrie (1), Angus and Mearns (2), Ayrshire (32), Bute (19), Clackmannan (1), Dalkeith (8), Dumfries (1), Dundee (52), Edinburgh (128), Forfar (26), Glasgow (115), Greenock (65), Hamilton (2), Helensburgh (2), Inverness (15), Kilmarnock (3), Morayshire (5), Motherwell (1), Musselburgh (1), North-East Scotland (1), Perth (29), Peterhead (1), Portobello (3), Renfrewshire (61), Scotland (18), Stirling (12), West coast Scotland (2).

The numbers in the brackets are the number of directories for each place. Edinburgh and Glasgow have the most. The one for Airdrie is for 1896 and Peterhead is for 1853.

You can download a PDF or you can view the book online. The online link takes you to the Internet Archive website where the images are held.

The earliest one for Glasgow is John Tait’s directory for the City of Glasgow 15 May 1783 to 15 May 1784. The alphabetical name index is by first letter only. The list for each letter is not alphabetical.

I went in and checked the Glasgow directory for 1801. This is an alphabetical list for last name but the first names are not alphabetical. Sometimes you can not read the last entry on a page so try making the image smaller. At the end of the names index there is a list of “Names omitted in their proper place” and while not all directories might have this it is a good idea to check if they do. I did not find the ancestors I was looking for in this directory.

They were found in the 1825 directory. Walter Campbell is a smith and farrier at 322 Gallowgate in Glasgow. In this directory I did a search for my Waddell family and the search said there were no results. When I checked under the letter W there were 12 Waddell’s listed. Do not rely on the search function.

I just spent a wonderful afternoon going through the post office directories and found many interesting items relating to my Waddell family. The directories along with statistical accounts of Scotland can help you find more information about your family and how and where they lived.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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One Stop Shopping for Scottish Genealogists

The website ScotlandsPeople, run by Brightsolid, has a multitude of government records you will not find anywhere else online. They say “it is the official Scottish genealogy resource.”

ScotlandsPeople has lately undergone a revamp and have now released the 1911 Scottish census.

It is a pay per view website but the rates are reasonable. The cost of 30 credits is 7 GBP. This is about $11.00 CDN at the current exchange rate. It costs one credit to view one index page which contains 25 entries. It then costs 5 credits to view an image. If the correct image is found right away that would cost you about $2.20 CDN for each image. It is free to register on the site.

You will find the Statutory Registers for births, marriages and deaths. The indexes for all the registers cover 1855 through 2006. The images for births can only be viewed up until 1910, the images for marriages up until 1935 and the images for deaths up until 1960. At New Year another years images are released for the registrations.

Statutory birth registrations for 1855 include information on the child (date, place and time of birth, full name, sex), the parent’s (names, maiden name of mother, father’s occupation, ages, birth places, usual residence, date and place of marriage) name of informant and the informant’s relationship to child. Also included is information on the child’s siblings. This proved too much information for the registrars so in 1856 they stopped asking for the details of the siblings as well as the parent’s ages, places of birth and date/place of their marriage. The marriage question was added again in 1861.

The information gathered for the marriage registration in 1855 included full name, age, marital status, occupation, usual residence, date/place of marriage, name/occupation of father, name/maiden name of mother, names of witnesses and officiating clergy. You can also find place of birth, number of former marriages of each spouse plus the number of children from each of those marriages. The birthplace and former marriage questions were stopped after 1855. They started asking the place of birth question again in 1972.

Death registrations for 1855 include the date, time and place of death, deceased’s name, sex, marital status, age and occupation, cause of death, duration of last illness, doctor’s name and details of the informant. The place of burial, name of the undertaker and last time the doctor saw the patient alive were included on registrations up until 1860. You will not find a place of birth or the names of any children after 1856. Between 1856 and 1861 you will not find the spouse’s name.

Register of Corrected Entries or RCE (after 1965 it was Register of Corrections, Etc.) refer to changes on registrations. If any changes were made to an entry after it had been completed a note would be made in the left or right hand margin of the register. They could not alter an original entry so the note was necessary. These corrections had to be approved by the sheriff. You can view copies of the RCE to registrations for the cost of 2 credits. Please read their section on help with RCE’s prior to viewing them.

Another record source is the Minor Records. These are records relating to birth, marriage or death for those Scots living outside of Scotland. These are great. I found a marriage in the late 1800s of a military person getting married in a Roman Catholic Church in Gibraltar in Malta. He was Protestant but was given dispensation to marry in the Catholic Church. Notes relating to this are found on the marriage entry.

You can search indexes and images for the Old Parish Registers. It must be noted that this is only for the Established Church of Scotland. Please check the Extant Records to see what areas and years are covered by the OPR’s.

These records can be minimal but you may come across some interesting information. You might get some of the following information for a birth/baptism: child’s name and baptism date, father’s name and occupation, mother’s name.

A bann/marriage record includes the name’s of the couple and place of residence, occupation of the groom, sometimes the name of the bride’s father. Marriage records in Scotland can be tricky especially with the Irregular Marriages. A marriage may have taken place with no official record of it recorded anywhere.

The death/burial records are very sparse. You must read the section on OPR death records that describes what years are available for each parish before you begin your search.

In the Catholic Parish Registers for Scotland you can find records dealing with: births/baptisms, marriages, confirmations, deaths/burials, communicants, sick calls, status animarum, converts, first confessions, and seat rentals.

These cover all parishes in Scotland that were in existence by 1855. About 700 registers have survived some as early as 1703 but most are within thirty years of the 1790s.

Census records can be found from 1841 through 1911. Each census year has its own criteria. In 1841 the ages were rounded up or down to the nearest 5, relationships to head of household were not given, birthplace was within county or not and occupations were recorded in an abbreviated format.

The 1851 census distinguished between households, family relationships to head of household were shown, a more detailed birth place was given, ages were recorded as given, marital status was asked and notations for blind, deaf or dumb were made.

The 1861 to 1901 censuses asked similar questions to the 1851 census. In 1911 there were additional questions asked: number of people in the household, marital status, duration of marriage, children born alive, children still living, industry or service with which the employee/employer is connected, nationality if born in foreign parts and whether they were totally deaf, deaf and dumb, totally blind, lunatic, imbecile or feeble minded.

You can search the Wills and Testaments for free but it costs you 5 GBP to view the image. You can find wills, inventories and other records related to probate.

There are sections on the website to help you with your research such as deciphering Scottish handwriting, a glossary of terms, and the way people lived. You can find out more under Research Tools. There are more suggestions under the Help section on ScotlandsPeople. You may feel like joining the Discussion and User Groups associated with ScotlandsPeople.

This weekend visit the website and see what you can find out about your Scottish ancestors.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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The Scotsman Digital Archive

The Scotsman first appeared on 25 January 1817 in Edinburgh and was published once a week. It upset the city establishment. Some people began surreptitiously obtaining copies so that they were not seen purchasing it and it was read behind closed doors. It was a liberal publication with rising readership. You can find a more detailed history of The Scotsman on their website.

The home page says “Here you can search every newspaper published between 1817 and 1950.” You can find a timeline on the home page that shows all the events covered in The Scotsman from 1817-2005. You can go into the timeline and read the articles that are mentioned on it.

It is free to search the digital archives but to view a page you will need to subscribe. The rates are quite reasonable starting at £7.95 for 24 hour access to £159.95 for a full year pass. You can view a sample page for free on the home page.

When you do your search you get a small clip of the page that really does not provide much information. You also get a relevance percentage which may help. On the side you get the date, section, page and word count. The first three items will help you create your citation for anything you find.

When you have found an article you want to view you have a couple of choices. You can show the full page or open the article. You can “add to clippings” to save the image on the website. You will still need to pay to see the clipping. When you use this option the article is clipped with information that reminds you why you clipped it, the date you clipped it and relevant information about the edition the clipping came from originally. They are stored in the Members Centre and can be accessed from anywhere. You also have the option of saving the article in PDF format.

One thing to remember while you are doing your search is the frequency of publishing. The Scotsman was published weekly from 25 Jan 1817 – 28 Dec 1822, twice weekly from 1 Jan 1823 – 29 Dec 1858 and daily from 1 Jan 1859 onwards. It has never been published on a Sunday.

They have a good search tips section so go in and read it ahead of time.

If you have nothing to do on a rainy afternoon why not go in and spend some time searching the Scotsman database. The cost for 24 hours access in Canadian dollars on today’s exchange rate is $13.00 not bad for an afternoon’s entertainment.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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A Vision of Britain Through Time

A Vision of Britain Through Time is a very interesting website. It is a snapshot of Britain from 1801 to 2001 and includes maps, statistical trends and historical descriptions.

Whenever I go to websites like this I put in Stalybridge in Cheshire. It is a small village and a good test for this kind of site. There is a small map showing its location in Cheshire. You have subtopics of location, historical writing, units and statistics, related websites and places names. There is a link to the website Ancestral Atlas.

Location provides a small map and an entry from John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles from 1887. There is a note that suggests the information for the modern district of Tameside should be examined. The area of Stalybridge has changed and this is where additional information may be found.

If you click on the map you are taken to a page with links for ten topographic maps, thirteen boundary maps and three land use maps. The first part of the page contains the links and then there is a table of the maps with more details, thumbnail pictures and links below. If you click on the thumbnails you get a larger searchable map.

Using the link to Tameside you get historical statistics such as population, industry, social class, learning and language, agriculture and land use, life and death, work and poverty, housing and roots and religion. These links are the most useful to the family historian.

You will find a boundary map, unit history and boundary changes and related higher and lower level units.

Back to Stalybridge under historical writing you find descriptive gazetteer entries and entries found in travel writing. Under travel writings you find an entry from John Wesley, 1744-45.

Under units and statistics you have election results for three constituencies for Stalybridge. You will find six different administrative areas for Stalybridge and historical statistics with the same topics as Tameside. If you click on the area you want to examine it takes you to another page. There is a note above the table to be careful as a unit may cover a town, village or larger surrounding area. Units with the suffixes of RD or RSD may exclude the place they are named after.

Related websites had one entry for Genuki with two links to different pages. Then there are links to other websites that have information that is geo-referenced and covers Stalybridge. I chose Flickr where you find some photographs relating to the general area of Stalybridge. They are modern photographs and provide a look at the village today.

Place names provide the different references for the village. There is a link to the travel writing or descriptive gazetteer where the place name is found. There is a listing of names found in administrative units which are associated with Stalybridge.

Other general topics include statistical atlas, historical maps, census reports, travel writing and learning resources. Statistical atlas contains the same topics found in Tameside under historical statistics but it is more general in nature. Historical maps contain maps from places such as England, Wales, Scotland, Great Britain and Europe.

Census reports cover the years 1801 to 1971. Each year contains different statistical information but it would be worth investigating to find out more about your geographical area of interest.

Travel writings cover England, Scotland and Wales. The works of James Boswell, Samuel Johnson and John and Charles Wesley, amongst others, can be found under this heading. The writings range from Gerald Wales description of Wales in the 1190s to George Borrow’s trip through Wales in 1854.

The last general topic is Learning Resources. Here you can view E-learning tutorials for agricultural changes, travelling, mapping boundaries, census taking and changing constituencies.

This website will provide family historians with a good idea of how their ancestors may have lived and the times in which they lived. The maps are a good resource to help you with your research and the notes on boundary changes are invaluable.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Historic Hospital Records Database for London and Glasgow

The Historic Hospital Records database is the “home of 19th century children’s hospital records.” They provide historical background, academic resources and links to help with your research. A searchable database is also available. You can register for free and have access to more detailed information along with the ability to download and print the results of your searches.

The databases provide searchable Admission Registers for the following hospitals: Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (London) 1852-1914, Cromwell House (London) 1869-1910, the Evelina (London) 1874-1877/1889-1902, Alexandra Hospital for Hip Disease (London) 1867-1895, Royal Hospital for Sick Children (Glasgow) 1883-1903.

You will find a section with general articles which includes an index. It provides background information on the subject of health and health care in Britain in the 19th century. Another useful tool is the Glossary of Medical Terms to help you understand the medical terms found in the records.

For those with connections to London and Glasgow it is well worth searching these databases to see if any children can be found in their records.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Robbie Burns Day

Today celebrations are going on throughout Scotland and the around world in honour of the 252nd birthday of Robbie Burns.

Robbie Burns is known as “Scotland’s favourite son” and “The Bard.” He is Scotland’s favourite poet and wrote in the Scots language. It is on this day that we have a wee dram, a piece of haggis and remember Robbie Burns. The most repeated Robbie Burns poem today is the “Address to a Haggis” which you can find here in both the original form and a translation.

I remember going to the local British shop and buying a haggis for my Grandmother. She loved it and they had small ones in a freezer. You can now buy haggis in a can and with different flavours such as curry. There is no problem if you do not eat meat because there is a vegetarian version. I wonder what Robbie Burns would think of that turn of events.

Haggis was peasant food in Scotland. The wealthy got the best parts of the beast and the rest went to those who could not afford anything more. They got creative by making a filling and nutritious meal to feed their families.

Haggis contains oatmeal, mutton suet, lamb or venison liver, sheep heart, liver and kidney, an onion and some spices. These are all minced and put together in a sausage casing then boiled 4-5 hours.

Traditionally Haggis is served with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips) and a shot of whiskey.

Happy Burns Day everyone!

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Happy Hogmany!

Happy Hogmany everyone!

Hogmany is the Scottish word for the last day of the year and it is the start of what can end up being a three day party.

A tall dark man is supposed to be the first person to cross the threshold into a home in the New Year. They bring coal, salt and other items to bring luck to the family of the house.

The traditional song for this time of year is Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


This version of the song came from Wikipedia and you can find out more about the history of Auld Lang Syne here.

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Hogmany in Scotland look here.

All the best for 2011!

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