If you are starting to compile your family tree the best advice is to work backwards in time. Start with a person whose full name you know, together with identifying details such as place and date of birth, marriage or death. You will usually find tracing a Scottish line of descent back to 1855 fairly straightforward but going beyond 1855 can be more difficult.
This brief guide covers: the main records for tracing Scottish ancestors; where and how you can access them; and our guides and services to aid your family history research.
Our research guides cover all areas of the national archive collections. The following are the main records for family history research:
Birth, death and marriage records including
- Statutory registers of births, deaths and marriages (from 1855)
- Old Parish Registers (1553 to 1854)
- Census records (1841 to 1911)
- Soldiers' and airmen's wills (1857 to 1965) and Military Service Appeals Tribunal records (1916-1918)
- Valuation roll indexes (1855 to 1935)
- Wills and testaments (1513 to 1925)
We also provide access to:
- Catholic Parish Registers (1703 to 1964) from the Scottish Catholic Archives
- Coats of Arms (1672 to 1913) from the Court of the Lord Lyon
Access to the records
You can search the records in the following ways:
- On our ScotlandsPeople website
To protect the privacy of living people there are cut-offs of 100 years for images of birth records, 75 for marriages and 50 for deaths.
- At our ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh
There is a statutory fee for access. We also provide:
- Introductory family history talks - details on the Events, talks and visits page
- Group evening visits
- A small Reference Library
Once you have got the outline of your family tree you may like to continue your research in the Historical Search Room.
- At Local Family History Centres elsewhere in Scotland.
The Shop page has details of our official guide to tracing Scottish ancestors and other publications to aid your research.
The palaeography page provides information about our online tuition, evening classes and self-help pack on Scottish handwriting.
Useful websites for family historians provides access to online resources and the official records of other countries.