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General Register House,
National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

Scottish Resources for Tracing Your Ancestors

Scotland attracts over 3.2 million overseas visitors each year and tourism generates about £4 billion and employs over 207,000 people. Since much of that is ancestral tourism, Scotland has greatly developed its genealogical resources to assist in tracing family roots. 


You can start your family research through books. One of the most comprehensive publications is Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors by Tristram Clarke and published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS.) Called an “insider’s guide” the book is “based on the combined knowledge and expertise of the people who look after the records.” National Records of Scotland is responsible for civil registration, the census in Scotland, demography and statistics, family history and the national archives and historical records.

The book lists and explains the many collections of records that are available through its ScotlandsPeople agency. Not only will you find a consolidated archive of the usual births, marriages and burials, but some unique records as well: wills, crown grants, tax rolls, tenants and crofters, criminals, soldiers, and clergy. You will also find an astonishing array of records regarding specific professions: medical practitioners, lawyers, architects, artists, railway workers, coal miners, and emigrants.

Another useful publication is The Family Tree: Scottish Genealogy Guide, by Amanda Epperson and published by Family Tree Books. Not only does the author direct you to some of the databases and resources mentioned above, but provides some very practical advice especially for non-Scots. For example, she devotes chapters to:

  • Understanding Scottish History;

  • Understanding Scottish Geography; and

  • Deciphering Scottish Names and Handwriting.


She also includes a handy list of genealogy societies and Latin words.

Online Resources


With a good understanding of the types of records and archives available, you can begin your research online. A good place to start is at ScotlandsPeople. You just need to type in the name and range of years for a specific ancestor. You will need to register in order to view the documents. Some of the databases you can access include:

  • Statutory registers: Search the statutory (civil) registers of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland from 1855 to the present.

  • Church registers: Search church registers of births (or baptisms), marriages and burials in Scotland from 1553 onwards.

  • Census returns: Search the lists of people recorded in censuses taken every 10 years in Scotland from 1841 onwards.

  • Valuation rolls: Search lists of owners and occupiers of buildings and other properties in Scotland from 1855 onwards.

  • Legal records: Search wills and testaments, coats of arms, soldiers' and airmen's wills and the records of military service appeals tribunals.

  • Poor relief and migration records: Search the records for the emigration society, set up to relieve Highland destitution 1852-57

  • Prison registers: Search registers of people admitted to Scottish prisons to 1921. Currently, registers for Perth Prison are available.

  • Kirk sessions: Kirk session and other church court records can be found in Virtual Volumes

If you know exactly which database you need, you can research the entire National Records of Scotland (NRS). The NRS also offers research guides that cover all areas of the national archive collections. Learn more at the Family History section. You can view some documents, request copies remotely or plan visits to the facilities.


In-Person Research


If you cannot find specific information or if you are eager to see that actual document, you can visit family heritage centers throughout Scotland. In Edinburgh, your search should start at the ScotlandsPeople Centre. The Centre is located at National Records of Scotland, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh. Family history records are in one place, in magnificent surroundings and with expert staff on hand to help. You will need to register with ScotlandsPeople and make your booking in advance for your seat. For more information, see the NRS "Visit Us" webpage

Several Scottish communities also offer local "family history centers:"

Share Your Story!


Help your fellow Clan Forbes Society members by sharing your Family Story online! Send your story with photographs to Thanks!

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