Tracing Your Scottish Roots

Scottish poster advertising emigration to New Zealand

Scottish poster advertising emigration to New Zealand

Like Ireland or Wales, Scotland has always been a country affected by emigration. In Scotland it was people from the Highlands and Islands and from the Borders that emigrated above all. When the clan system broke up in the 18th century many people emigrated to the cities, the Lowlands and to America, and after the American War of Independence as well to Canada. Later, from the 1840s Scots emigrated preferably to Australia and New Zealand.

Even in the 20th century there was still a high rate of emigration among the Scots. The Highlands were especially affected: More than 100,000 people left their Highlands homes between 1850 and 1950.

When immigrating to a different country, the Scots didn’t give up on their traditions, their culture or their language. With place names like Glenelg or Glengarry they tried to retain a piece of Scotland in their new home and soothe their homesickness.

It is estimated that there are about 40 million people with a Scottish ancestry. People all over the world share Scottish roots, and thanks to the Internet today it is much more feasible to trace these roots back to their origin.

It also helps that Scotland is at the vanguard of providing information on family history online. This is thanks to a well conserved record of written documents that date back a long time. For example, Census records go back to 1841, but marriage, birth and death registers go back to 1553 and wills even to 1500.

The Higland emigrants monuments Helmsdale

The Higland Emigrants Monuments at Helmsdale

It is the General Register Office for Scotland that is responsible for the register of births, deaths and marriages. They also run the Census. Since 1998, these records can be accessed by the public. There is a genealogical website called Scotland’s People where anybody can have a look at the records on a pay-per-view basis. This website is constantly updated and comprises actually around 40 million individual records.

If you are physically in Scotland and want to investigate your family tree, in Edinburgh you should go to the Scotland’s People Centre or the Scottish Genealogy Society. Registers of property, testaments, church, business and family records and records of the Scottish government can be found at the National Archives of Scotland. The National Library of Scotland is another option. There you can search the International Genealogical Index. Some of its records go back to the Middle Ages. Also, they have Old Parochial Records, Census Information and Monumental Inscriptions. In Glasgow your first option is the Mitchell Library with voters’ rolls, emigrants and graduation lists, street directories and comprehensive family histories.

If you have any other tips on how to track down your Scottish ancestors, please leave a comment!

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One Response to Tracing Your Scottish Roots

  1. Adrian Campbell says:

    After reading this article, it makes me wonder if I have any scottish ancestry? I have direct lines to Durham county, England and the Duke of Durham. Also a whole lot of German in the family lines. I bet if I researched, I would find some Scot in me. Thanks for the read…

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