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How to plan a family history research trip to Scotland

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Christine Woodcock shares top tips for planning a genealogy research trip to Scotland, and making the most of your time in your ancestral homeland.

Each year, I accompany groups of family history researchers in Edinburgh. These researchers come from across North America and Australia. They come to find their Scottish ancestors, and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

I am honoured and humbled to be able to witness first hand the genealogical gems that await them in the archives and libraries in Scotland.

They find the births, marriages, deaths and census records at the ScotlandsPeople Centre. They can add to their understanding of their ancestor's life circumstances by perusing the Kirk Session Records as well. At the National Library of Scotland, the researchers might find their ancestors in company and trade magazines, in local newspapers, and in published or unpublished family histories. Some have found local farms and estates by viewing the maps. Others have been disheartened to find their ancestors on the removal lists in Estate Papers.

      MORE: Find your Scottish ancestors for free on Ancestry

I witness the emotion when the researchers tell me about finding their ancestor's home, hear how they were welcomed at church service in their ancestor's church, and share in their delight at finding some missing piece of their ancestor's story.

Plan your genealogy research trip

But these incredible experiences don't happen in isolation. They are the result of months of pre-tour preparation. For months ahead of their time in Scotland, tour participants learn about the records that are available, where to find the records, what genealogical gems might be contained within those records and how to access them.  Planning ahead really is the key to a successful genealogy trip to your ancestral homeland.

 Here's a pre-tour checklist for ensuring a successful genealogy research trip to Scotland:

  • Make sure that your family tree is up to date. Make it portable. Have it on a laptop, iPad, or tablet so that you can access the information in Scotland. Wifi is non-existent in the archives.
  • Create a research plan. Make a list of all of the documents you already have copies or originals of. This will prevent you wasting time searching for information you already have. Write out your brick walls and think about what you want to find out to help break those down. Do you need to look at parish records, voters rolls, apprentice records, maps, directories, newspapers? This will help to focus and guide your research time.
  • Know what each repository has in its collections to assist you further with your research.
  • Pack extra batteries, camera cards and other accessories that you might need for those pictures of old homesteads, churches, schools, village signs or headstones.
  •  Purchase adapters for the change in electrical voltage in Scotland.
  •  Pack power cords. Note that while you can purchase camera cards, USB drives and power adapters in Scotland you cannot replace your power cord. The voltage in North America is 110, while in the UK it is 220. You will fry your laptop by using one of the cords purchased in the UK
  • Pack pencils. Pens are not allowed in the repositories.

Plan ahead. Be Prepared. Enjoy your time in your ancestral homeland. You will experience a level of connection that is beyond description. In researching your roots,  you will discover your own heritage.

Christine Woodcock runs Genealogy Tours of Scotland, a Canadian-based genealogy company which takes family history enthusiasts to Scotland, visiting archives, seeing the places where their ancestors lived and worked, and immersing themselves in their Scottish ancestry. She is a board member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and newsletter editor of the International Society of British Isles History and Genealogy.

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