Find your Edinburgh ancestors for free: how-to guide

10 January 2023
Find your Edinburgh ancestors for free
Did your ancestors live or work in Edinburgh in years gone by? There are lots of resources for tracing your Edinburgh ancestors for free, both online and in the city itself.

These resources cover centuries of history, giving you access to thousands of Edinburgh folk at work, in their leisure time, at home and of course through births, deaths and marriage.

You can make a great start on discovering more about the city that your ancestors would have known – and hopefully you’ll get lucky and find records – and maybe photographs – of your ancestors.

1. Edinburgh Central Library

Edinburgh’s Central Library on George VI Bridge is home to a wealth of resources for family history and also offers library cardholders free of charge computer access to genealogy websites including FindMyPast, Scran and the British Newspaper Archive. The library catalogue can also be accessed online and this allows you to explore thousands of books for family history.

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There are also dozens of Edinburgh-related record collections to explore including:

  • Edinburgh street and trade directories from the 1750s to the 1970s
  • Newspaper collections from the 1650s onwards
  • Books of monumental inscriptions from Edinburgh graveyards
  • More than 2,000 printed histories of 540 family names, many of which are Edinburgh-related
  • Publications of the Scottish Record Society, including Edinburgh burgess and apprentice records

Edinburgh Central Library, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EG; tel: 0131 22 8070; website.

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2. The Scotsman Digital Archive

Visit Edinburgh Central Library (see above) for free of charge access to the digital archive of The Scotsman newspaper, with every page published between 1817 and 1950. Local events will include birth, marriage & death notices, court cases, business notices and maybe advertisements mentioning your ancestors.

3. Edinburgh City Archives

The free public search room at Edinburgh City Archives gives you access to a wealth of Edinburgh records including poorhouse, army, police, militia, school, church and taxation. Before your visit you can download general indexes of the main collections. These will tell you the titles, reference numbers and dates for these collections and will help you take the first steps in researching your chosen subject and if necessary, narrowing down the search.

The archives also have name indexes to help you find individuals within the collections. Each explains which records are included and what these might tell you.

Edinburgh City Archives, Level 1, City Chambers, 253 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ; tel: 0131 529 4616; website.

4. Our Town Stories

Our Town Stories tells the story of Edinburgh through stories, images and historical maps from the collections of Edinburgh Libraries. The ‘then and now’ feature allows you to click the orange pin on a particular point of a historical map to see how the area has changed. Capital Collections is the online home of historic Edinburgh images of streets, landmarks, people and events. You can browse these by map, area or date.

The stories section includes ‘women of achievement’ profiling Victorian women who pushed through the boundaries of their lives and times to help others.

5. Edinburgh Gazette

The Gazette website is the online home of what was once three publications: The Edinburgh Gazette, The Belfast Gazette and The London Gazette, which between them have been in publication for more than 350 years (The Edinburgh Gazette was first published in 1699). Here, you can browse 450 different types of notice, including those likely to be of most interest to family historians, such as business announcements, details of upcoming marriages and notices of births and deaths. Both national and local events were covered in the newspapers and you can search using filters including name, type of notice, location, publication date and Gazette edition.

6. Lothians Family History Society

Covering the genealogy of the Lothians area, Lothians Family History Society is a well-established society with a busy events and projects programmes. Although many of its resources are available only to paying members (UK membership is £14 per year) visitors are welcome to come along to one of the group’s meetings for help and advice from experienced family historians. The society’s website also has free information on parishes of the Lothians region, whilst members receive the newsletter and journal and can access the society’s research library.

7. National Library of Scotland

National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge has a wide range of family history and local history resources and anyone can apply for a library card to access this information. Among the useful information for anyone tracing Edinburgh’s history and past residents are trade and street directories, the moving image archive of historic films, voters rolls and family histories. Case studies and guides on the website will point you in the right direction before your visit.

National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh 0131 623 3700; website.