Sources

The main sources for Scottish family history research include:

Statutory registration

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths (known as statutory registration) began on 1 January 1855 in Scotland. Registration was compulsory and free but there were financial penalties for late registration. 1027 registration districts were set up in 1855. By 2002 these had been reduced to the current 319. Copies of all these records for the whole of Scotland are held in West Register House in Edinburgh. 

Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates provide far more information than their English equivalents.

Birth certificates


Birth Certificates give:
- the child’s name and date, time and place of birth.
- the child’s parents’ names (including mother’s maiden name) and father’s occupation.
- the parents’ usual address (if this is different from the place of birth).
- date and place of parents’ marriage (except for the years 1856 – 1860).
- the name of the person registering the birth (the Informant), who was normally a parent.
Certificates for the year 1855 give even more detail including the number and sex of any children born before 1855 and whether they were still alive.

Marriage certificates


Marriage Certificates provide: 
- the date of marriage, where celebrated and under which denomination.
- the names of bridegroom and bride, whether single or previously married, ages and occupations of bridegroom and bride and their addresses before marriage.
- the names of both parents (including maiden name of mother), if they were alive or dead and occupation of the fathers.
- the names of witnesses (often family members), and name of clergyman officiating.
1855 certificates also include where and when the bride and bridegroom were born.

Death certificates

Death Certificates provide:
- the person’s age, occupation, marital status and name of spouse (if any).
- the date and place of death and usual address if different from place of death.
- the names of both parents, mother’s maiden name, father’s occupation and whether parents were still alive.
- the cause of death. 
- the name of the person registering the death (the Informant). Informant’s relationship to the deceased and (sometimes) the Informant’s address.
1855 certificates also include the names and ages, or ages at death, of any children. Certificates from 1855 – 1860 give the burial place and name of undertaker.

Census records


Censuses have been taken every ten years from 1801, and copies of these decennial censuses for Scotland from 1841 – 1901 inclusive are held in West Register House. The censuses of 1801 – 1831 only survive as statistical returns, and it is only from 1841 that names are always given. Census records are closed for a period of 100 years. Therefore the only census returns currently available to the public are those for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901.

1841 The 1841 Census contains the least information. It gives details of names of occupants of houses, their ages (though for those over 15 this was rounded down to the nearest 5 years – so age 30 could mean from 30 to 34 years of age), occupation (often very generalised), place of birth (though only stating if the person was born in that particular county – if not an indication is given if the person was born in England or Ireland).
1851 The 1851 Census is much more detailed, and therefore much more useful. It lists: the names of all people in each household; their relationship to the head of the household; their age; whether married or unmarried, widow or widower; occupation; parish and county of birth; whether born blind, deaf or dumb.
1861, 1871 and 1881 The 1861.1871 and 1881 censuses are similar, though the number of children at school and the number of rooms with one or more windows are also given.
1891 & 1901 The 1891 & 1901 censuses added details about whether the family spoke Gaelic, or Gaelic and English.

Old Parish Registers


Before Statutory Registration began in 1855 registration of births, marriages and deaths was not compulsory and many of these events were not therefore recorded. The Church of Scotland was responsible for recording the births, marriages and deaths in each parish so many ministers only recorded those events for their own congregation and ignored people who belonged to different churches. Records have also been lost for some parishes. In practice it was usually baptisms (rather than births), proclamations of marriage (rather than the actual ceremony itself) and burials (rather than deaths) which were recorded. Entries vary considerably from one parish to another, since there was no standard way of keeping these records. Some give a good deal of information, others give much less.

Birth/baptism Baptism/birth records may include: the name of father only or names of both parents, sometimes with the mother’s maiden name; place of birth or residence of the family ; father’s occupation; witnesses to the christening (often relatives).
Marriage/banns Proclamation/marriage records are normally the proclamation of the marriage banns (notice given by a couple of their intention to marry), unless marriage is specifically mentioned, and may include: the names of the groom and bride; the parish where each lived; names of witnesses.
Death/burial Burial/death records are the least common, and many parishes did not keep any such records. Where they exist, very little detail is usually given, but this may include: the person’s name; the fee for use of the mortcloth; their age, occupation and cause of death (less frequently).


There is, therefore, the possibility of a wealth of information being found among these records. The earliest OPR dates from 1553 and is for Errol in Perthshire. Most OPRs begin much later, however, and many have gaps in their records. 

These are the main records available for searching in New Register House, however there is an enormous range of other sources to be found elsewhere.