17 best free online Scottish resources

By Guest, 15 June 2017 - 3:05pm

Ayrshire-based genealogist Chris Paton takes a look at 17 free resources to help you unlock your Caledonian family connections


Children selling shells in the Inner Hebrides in 1929. Credit: Getty Images

Although Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1707, it has maintained very separate legal, ecclesiastical and education systems and records to those found in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This separation means that, while Scottish research areas cover similar territories to their sister nations such as inheritance, church records and civil registration, they have often done so in very different ways.

Nevertheless, the basics of genealogical research remain the same, with archives cataloguing and storing records from across the country and family history societies working to find, record and preserve hidden gems found elsewhere.

And as with the rest of the UK, Scotland also has a long tradition of indexing, digitisation and hosting its records online.

If your ancestors were Scottish, there are a range of free website resources to help you with your research, ranging from amateur transcription projects and community projects, to resources provided online by the Scottish Government and national bodies such as the National Library of Scotland.

The following resources – including databases, finding aids and local gems – should give you the tools you need to trace your Scottish ancestry.

1. ScotlandsPeople

ScotlandsPeople provides access to civil registration records, parish registers, wills, valuation records, and more. A great deal of free information is available on initial searches and you can pay for scans of the originals.

2. FamilySearch

FamilySearch hosts two useful Scottish vital records indexes – Scotland Births and Baptisms 1564-1950 and Scotland Marriages 1561-1910. These mainly contain Church of Scotland records prior to 1855 and statutory records from 1856-1874/75.

3. Scottish Indexes

Emma and Graham Maxwell have created Scottish Indexes to provide information from many difficult-to-access record sets held within the National Records of Scotland, including paternity cases and asylum records. The index information is fairly detailed and free and you can pay for the original scans.

4. Memento Mori

Easter Rising Dublin

Memento Mori contains free-to-access indexes of monumental inscriptions from Glasgow and central Scotland listing names of the deceased, dates of death and ages when given. Further information requires a payment, but this site will help you to identify when and where ancestors were buried.

5. SAFHS

The Scottish Association of Family History Societies has two free finding aids on its site. The Burial Grounds database notes where all known Scottish burial grounds exist, if their inscriptions have been recorded/published, and where available to consult. The Pre-1841 Population Lists database notes the locations of useful early census substitutes.

6. ScotlandsPlaces

ScotlandsPlaces provides free access to 17th and 18th century tax records, as held at the National Records of Scotland. Original document images and transcriptions are available for dog tax records, window tax, hearth tax, farm horse tax and more. Various other resources are also freely accessible on the site.

7. NLS Maps

Easter Rising Dublin

The National Library of Scotland’s free to access maps collection is by far the most definitive and accessible mapping collection in the UK. It has thousands of maps for Scotland from 1560-1964, but also holdings for England, Britain, Ireland, and more.

8. Scottish Military Research Group

The Scottish Military Research Group is a charitable organisation set up to educate and inform the public about how to research their Scottish military ancestry. As well as providing free access to rolls of honour, it has the most comprehensive collection of Scottish military war memorials online, accessible via its Commemorations Project.

9. Scottish Mining

The Scottish Mining Website provides a veritable treasure trove of information and resources on those who worked in Scotland’s central belt. There are detailed parish reports, gazetteer and newspaper articles, reports on accidents and strikes and more, with some 22,000 miners named, including information on 15,000 fatalities.

10. NLS Internet Archive

Easter Rising Dublin

The National Library of Scotland has a dedicated platform on the Internet Archive. Among the collections freely available are published family histories, military lists for the British Army, RAF, and Royal Navy, rolls of honour, gazetteers, over a thousand Post Office directories, Gaelic manuscripts, and much more. 

11. Electric Scotland

Alastair McIntyre’s Electric Scotland site is packed with resources dealing with Scottish ancestry and history. Its many useful holdings include Francis Groome’s Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, and thousands of books covering a range of subjects, such as the Scottish worldwide diaspora.

12. Perth Records

The Friends of Perth and Kinross Archives have indexed many records collections, which have been presented in free-to-access databases. Among the collections are Perth burial records from 1794-1855, militia collections, Jacobite resources, and the Perthshire People and Kinross-shire Kin.

13. Dundee Records

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If your ancestors came from further along the River Tay, check out the Friends of Dundee City Archives platform. Church records, burial records, burgh registers, trade directories, school records, Poor Law registers and more have been transcribed and made freely available.

14. Virtual Mitchell

If your ancestors came from Glasgow, check out the city archive’s Virtual Mitchell website where you can view and download hundreds of historic images of streets, buildings, and images from daily life. You can search by area, street name, or subject.

15. NLS Newspapers

If you reside in Scotland, registering on the National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) e-resources collections can provide access to several newspaper resources – the Scotsman, The Times and the British Library 19th Century Newspaper Collection (providing access to the Glasgow Herald, the Caledonian Mercury, the Dundee Courier, and the Aberdeen Journal).

16. Edinburgh Gazette

Easter Rising Dublin

In 1699, the Edinburgh Gazette was conceived as the official paper of record for Scotland. Appearing irregularly up to 1793, it has appeared twice a week since then, and is freely available. Use the site to search for business notices, bankruptcies, military promotions, civil honours and much more.

17. SCAN

Many research documents needed for our research still lie in archives. The Scottish Archive Network catalogue is a good starting point to search holdings from over 50 archives across Scotland. The site has not been updated in many years, however, and so local archive websites should also be consulted.

Want to find out even more about your Scottish ancestors? You can find Chris Paton's full list of the 50 best free online Scottish resources in the latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on sale now.

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