On November 30th, Scotland will celebrate St. Andrew’s Day in honor of its patron saint. For those with Scottish roots, it seems fitting to explore some of the Scottish collections that are available readily through an Ancestry.com World Explorer or UK Discovery membership. There are many useful databases and it is fair to say that the Scottish data collections deserve more attention than they get.
Check Out What's Here
You can identify what Scottish collections are available in two ways—by searching or browsing the catalog, or by working your way from the “Search” tab on the home page to the listing of all Scottish databases. I prefer the second method because of the many ways to explore the Scottish collections.
On the home page, click on “Search” in the top navigation bar. Scroll down a bit, and just below the heading “Explore by Location” you’ll see a file tab, “UK and Ireland.” Select it and then click on Scotland in the map.
You’ll be taken to this page where you can view a list of collections, which are organized in eleven categories. Not all of the individual databases for a section are visible and you must click on the link to “View All” at the bottom of each section to see more. In the frame to the right of the list of collections is a heading “Narrow by County” with a link for every county name – use the scroll bar to see them all.
On the right of the screen you can see a button to click for access to the Ancestry Card Catalog – “View All in Card Catalog.” This is not the entire catalog but a filtered version containing items for the UK and Scotland. You can browse this list or use the filtering tools on the left.
It really is a good idea to learn your way around all the options presented by this Scotland sources page. You will return here often to find something specific or look for new ideas.
Ancestry offers seven Scottish census indexes: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901. The transcripts are nearly full, including for each person (beginning in 1851 and on) surname, given name, relationship to the head of the household, age, gender, occupation, and birthplace. Only the marital status column is not included. The address of each house is provided, as well the place and county.
The 1841 census contained less information and the transcript shows all of the details found on that record—surname, given name, age (rounded down to the nearest 5 years for all over the age of 15), and occupation. As with other returns, the street address, parish and county are given.
It’s a good idea to search the census records one enumeration at a time, particularly if you’re working with a common name. You can search across all of the available censuses in a combined search by going to the UK Census Collection main page and using the search box at the top of the page, specifying Scotland or a place in Scotland in the “Lived in” field. This is a good shortcut if the name is unusual or if you have additional facts to include in your search so that your ancestor is likely to appear at the top of the list of results.
Census images have not been made available to Ancestry, which is the reason for the nearly complete details shown in the index. This compensates quite well and, in fact, gives Ancestry subscribers the ability to review carefully their search results to make sure you’ve correctly identified the family before deciding to obtain the image of an original record. That will likely save time and money.
The wise genealogist looks up places in a gazetteer and there are three of them available among the Scottish sources on Ancestry.com. These are the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1885, by Frances Groome; the Imperial Gazetteer, published about 1865; and the Gazetteer of Scotland, 1847.
These give topographical, historical, and administrative information about each community. Do not search these by personal name, in fact, if you’re going to search the gazetteers, I recommend you try the keyword search based on a place name.
Because these books were indexed by OCR, the browse function is actually the most effective way to navigate the volumes. When you select to search a gazetteer you will find the browse tool to the right of your screen.
Parish Registers, etc.
If you are searching for ancestors before 1855 you will need to consult the registers of the Church of Scotland and perhaps those of other Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Catholic churches. The Ancestry.com collections include some church register data from sixteen or seventeen counties and these can be found using the county list links mentioned above. It’s important to note that collections titled “parish registers” actually contain a mix if information such as town burgess lists, apprenticeship indentures, and churchyard records, among other things. Be sure to read the full description of each collection as it lists the contents.
With such a mix of source material, the results generated by your search will contain differing amounts of genealogical detail. Some include the parents' names, address, and occupation, but many entries are brief.
Not everyone belonged to the mainstream Church of Scotland and few of those records are on the Web, so don’t overlook a general internet search for more information about the records that were kept in the places in which your ancestor lived.
There are two databases of directories that contain many Scottish city and county directories, although the titles don’t make it obvious.
The UK City and County Directories 1600s to 1900s can be seen at the Scotland sources page within the section “Scotland Schools, Directories and Church Histories,” near the top. Although the description does not list the places or directory titles, you can use the “Browse” box to take a peek under the hood and see what directories are included.
You can of course, also do a search by name and place. I did a search for George Aitken and found a great variety of Scottish counties and places in the results.
UK and U.S. Directories 1680-1830 is listed in the second list of related data, when you click through to “View All.” Although this collection is an index of a collection of directories and therefore does not include the browse function, the collection description found below the search box does reveal what directories are included. This information can help you formulate your search.
This review of the Scottish collections on Ancestry.com reveals some of the many great resources that are here—some tucked away, almost out of sight. Be sure to explore the sources as described here and find your own hidden gems.
Remember also that your Scottish ancestors may only turn up if you search one set of data at a time and carefully review your results. Don't ignore records that sound too general, the directories are a good example of that pitfall.
You will learn about Scottish records as you explore, and you will realize that there is a lot to work with in the Scottish collections on Ancestry.com.
- Irvine, Sherry. Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2003)
- Scottish GENES Blog
Sherry Irvine, CG, is a founder and director of Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd, on online genealogy teaching company (www.pharostutors.com). She has written books and articles on English, Scottish, Irish, and Canadian research. For many years she was the course instructor and study tour leader for England and Scotland at Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research.
Explore Scottish Records