By Bridget M. Sunderlin of Be Rooted Genealogy
If you are lucky enough to be from Scotland, or are of Scottish descent, then you will love the plethora of records just waiting to be researched here (tha thu fortanach, gu dearbh). Scotland, with its majestic green mountains veiled by waves of mist, is such a wondrous place to behold! Let this guide to her online historical records lead you back in time to the land of your Highland or Lowland ancestors.
Note that some free sites listed below may require a fee for copies of mailed or emailed records or for access to some areas of their site.
1. The National Library of Scotland Newspapers – PAID and FREE
The National Library holds a voluminous collection of newspapers. Some can be viewed online. Others are only available in the reading room. Paid subscriptions are needed to access some, while others have free access. One of the highlights is called “Word on the Street.” These “broadsides” were the forerunners of tabloid publications. Did I mention that they are searchable? The Gazette, a combination of the Edinburgh Gazette, Belfast Gazette and London Gazette is another invaluable resource. These publications are newspapers of record, which ran legal notices throughout history. The London Gazette is over 350 years old!
2. National Records of Scotland – FREE
Established in 2011, the goal of this organization is to collect and preserve information about Scotland’s people and history. You can certainly start your search here within this research guide, and still discover sites like ScotlandsPeople mentioned below, but you will also find Scotland’s Census and ScotlandsPlaces. The Research Guide A-Z is incredibly comprehensive. One of the site’s highlights is the Scottish Register of Tartans. Simply amazing!
3. The National Archives of Scotland – FREE
The archives, located in three buildings in central Edinburgh includes the General Register House, the New Register House and the West Register House. Visiting the search rooms at the General Register House is an awesome experience, but you can also search remotely. Court, government, and local authority records are held in this repository. They have a wonderful education department that supports the national curriculum.
4. The National Library of Scotland – FREE
The National Library of Scotland is much like a research vortex. Once you open its website, you may not be seen by another human being for days and days. It’s just that chock-full of every resource imaginable! The eResources alone will keep you busy for hours. Their Collection is one of the best gems so prepare yourself to be awed! Right now, they are featuring Electronic Enlightenment, an online collection of over 70,000 letters and correspondence from 1609 to 1900.
5. The National Library of Scotland Maps – FREE
Maps are such an important resource for the genealogist. They offer insight to the place your ancestors came from. You can use them to identify the places that surrounded their lives and identify people who may have been in their FAN Club (family, associates and neighbors). Be careful, this website might draw you in and before you know it, the evening is gone!
6. ScotlandsPeople (National Records of Scotland) – PAID
Searches will reap an endless array of census, church, court, valuation and vital records. Some previews are free. Purchase credits to view and download certificates and images. This is also the place to book your search-room seat before you visit the ScotlandsPeople Centre mentioned at the end of this article.
7. The Scottish Genealogy Society – PAID and FREE
Of course, you are going to want to visit, but are definitely going to want to join, once you see the many wonders held in their library. They have a Family History Index and will photocopy them for a small fee. They even have free downloads! Yes, free! When you travel to Scotland, it is always wonderful to have friends to visit. These are truly kindred spirits. The Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA) certifies professional genealogists in Scotland. This organization will assist in your search to hire a local researcher. It is also vital that you become acquainted with one of the oldest historical societies in Scotland, the Scottish Record Society. Purchasing some of their publications will serve you well as a researcher. And once you’ve written your own Scottish family history you can submit it here for publication.
8. Scotland’s Land and Property Registers – FREE
This is your resource for land registers. When you visit this site you will find 20 public registers including the Land Register of Scotland and the General Register of Sasines, which is the “oldest national public land register in the world.” There are registers for landlords, judgments, letting agents, deeds, protests, sheriff’s commissions and crown grants. ‘Tis a wonderful resource.
9. FindMyPast – PAID and FREE
Your searches at FindMyPast are always free, but they also have an abundance of free records to view. I bet you can find some of your Scottish ancestors within the 1881 Scotland Census.
10. Genuki – FREE
Genuki is every genealogist’s best friend and is on Family History Daily’s list of best free genealogy sites. Created by amazing volunteers, you will find every genealogical resource you will ever need for the entire UK and Ireland. You may wish to start here first each and every time you research the British Isles.
Finally, if you are ever in Edinburgh, you simply must visit the ScotlandsPeople Centre. It is the go-to place for all archived records. Prepare before you go, but also bring along Pound Sterling to pay for the many certificates you will find. They accept credit and debits cards too.
Coats of Arms are a personal favorite to research. Don’t forget to bring your list of surnames to crosscheck against their Public Register of all Arms and Bearings in Scotland 1672-1910. You will also want to stop by the Edinburgh City Archives, whose search room is open Tuesday through Thursday.
Slàinte is toileachas!
You may also like:
- The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Researching Your Ancestors in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland
- 12 Genealogy Sites You Must Search If You Have UK Ancestors
- The Collections You Need to Know for Irish Genealogy Research
- More Genealogy Guides to Locations Around the Globe
Image: “The Royal Mile” in Edinburgh, Scotland. October 2017. Bridget Sunderlin.
Bridget M. Sunderlin practices in Maryland. As a self-proclaimed career changer, she has been a graphic designer, art teacher and now, professional genealogist. She has been actively researching her Irish roots for well over 30 years. Her family hails from all of the countries within the British Isles.
3 thoughts on “The 10 Best (Mostly Free) Scottish Genealogy Sites for Finding Your Ancestors”
Thank you for your kind words, Beverley! Scotland is truly a wonderful place to research. Enjoy every minute!
I’ve been researching for about 20 years and this site has told me of sites I never knew existed.
Thank you from New Zealand.