Scottish family history: the best resources for tracing your Scottish ancestors

24 February 2022
Are you one of the millions of people around the world with Scottish roots? Discover the best Scottish genealogy records with History Scotland's family history guide.

Scottish genealogy records

Scotland's census

Scotland's census, as for that of England and Wales, was taken every ten years from 1841. The most recent census available to view at the time of writing is the 1911 Census, with the 1921 Census due for release in the second half of 2022. 

National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh has census records for all of Scotland, which are available via the Scotland’s People website and at the ScotlandsPeople centre in Edinburgh. Some libraries and record offices (for, example The Glasgow Mitchell) also offer online access to ScotlandsPeople.

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Births, marriages and deaths for Scotland

Before the introduction of civil registration in 1855, churches were responsible for keeping a record of baptisms, marriages and burials. ScotlandsPeople have online and onsite access to digital version of church registers, in which such events were recorded.

After this date, civil registration came into being and statutory registers replaced those of the church. Again, these can be accessed via ScotlandsPeople. Find out more about searching these records in their statutory registers guide.

QUICK LINK: 7 reasons you can't find your ancestor on the census

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Online Scottish genealogy records


Ancestry has millions of Scottish records, including:

  • Baptisms 1564 onwards
  • Census & electoral rolls
  • Marriages, death & burials
  • Emigration records


FindMyPast has millions of Scottish records, including census and employment records, as well as in its birth, marriage, and death records. Learn if your ancestor was in the military with the military service and conflict records.

National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland collections include: 

  • registers of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, civil partnerships, dissolutions and adoptions
  • Scottish government records from the 12th century to the present day
  • records created by courts of law, churches, businesses, landed estates and other corporate bodies
  • Scottish census enumeration books
  • the National Health Service Central Register

Use the research guides to help you determine which records you need.

NLS Maps

National Library of Scotland has an unrivalled collection of online Scottish maps, including Ordnance Survey maps, County maps, military surveys, and historic maps produced by some of the country's finest mapmakers. Browse the estate and town maps for a window into the places where your ancestors lived and use the side-by-side viewer to compare maps across the years.

National Library of Scotland Directories

Scottish Post Office Directories covers the years 1773 to 1911, with more than 700 directories to explores. These indexed and digitised directories show where and when a person was working and how he or she earned a living.


A free online collection that comprises thousands of records including

  • Maps
  • Photographs
  • Tax rolls
  • Ordnance Survey name books
  • Archaeological records 

Scottish Archive Network

Although no longer an active project, Scottish Archive Network is nonetheless a valuable online archive and is still maintained as a record of a project that aimed to 'revolutionise access to Scotland's archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives'.

The online catalogue allows you to access information relating to more than 20,000 collections from 52 archives.

Scottish Handwriting

Offering online tuition to anyone who uses historic documents, Scottish Handwriting is perfect for anyone who's traced their family back beyond the age of civil registration. Try the paleography poser and problem solver to put your new-found skills to the test.

Scottish Indexes

This free to use website is run by genealogists Emma and Graham Maxwell, who also run free online conferences featuring family historians from around Scotland and further afield.

Scottish Indexes includes an index of thousands of family history records, with regular additions to the database. There are currently 14 record sets, each of which has its own learning zone, with a total of 1 million records featured, including mental health records, a criminal record database and the register of sasines.

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland is an online service run by the University of Edinburgh that allows online access to what has been described by Rosalind Mitchison as 'the most frequently quoted of all Scottish historical sources', covering the years 1791 to 1845.

The printed sets of the First and Second Statistical Accounts are among the most widely consulted sources in library collections both in Scotland and elsewhere, yet printed sets are not widely available. The accounts cover parish reports for the whole of Scotland, with topics including agriculture, education, trades, religion and social customs.

Where to find records for the Scottish counties

This helpful guide at ScotlandsPeople explains how the country was divided up, with 34 counties before 1889. National Library of Scotland also has a useful history of Scotland's counties, as well as the burgh system.

Societies and associations

Anglo Scots Family History Society 

Anglo Scots Family History Society is based in Manchester, England and exists to help members in Scotland to find their ancestral family in Manchester and to help its members in Manchester to trace their ancestors back to Scotland. It runs regular events and issues a quarterly journal.

Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives

ASGRA is the only accrediting body for professional genealogists in Scotland. Its members undertake research for family and local historians, authors, business organisations and legal firms. You can use its website to find a genealogist to carry out research on your behalf.

Federation of Family History Societies

The Federation has been representing family historians since 1984 and is a hub for more than 160 member organisations. Its Find A Society section allows you to search for your area of interest,

Scottish Genealogy Society

The Scottish Genealogy Society has Edinburgh headquarters which are open to the public, and runs a series of classes and visits to archives. Members are welcome to visits its library and from here, can also access the databases of subscription sites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast.

Scottish Record Society

The Scottish Record Society is one of Scotland's oldest historical societies, and is dedicated to publishing calendars, indexes and texts of historical records. 

The Scottish Association of Family History Societies

SAFHS is your gateway to dozens of member family history societies across Scotland, as well as national and regional societies. See all its member societies here.

Genealogy resources at archives and libraries

FamilySearch centres

The worldwide FamilySearch organisation has a network of Family History Centers around the world where people can trace their roots - and Scotland is home to a number of these. Type your location into 'find a Family History Center' at FamilySearch for your nearest one.

National Library of Scotland

Located on George IV Bridge in central Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland. Although the library is not a main location for original records, they do have a wealth of relevant material for both online and on-site researchers. The Introduction to Scottish Family History page summarises the many helpful collections and explains what each can be used for.

National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW

National Records of Scotland

The holdings at National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh include:

  • registers of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, civil partnerships, dissolutions and adoptions
  • Scottish government records from the 12th century to the present day
  • records created by courts of law, churches, businesses, landed estates and other corporate bodies
  • Scottish census enumeration books
  • the National Health Service Central Register

Browse the research guides before your visit and explore the family history hub page for a gateway into the on-site and online resources available. You can book a seat to research at the ScotlandsPeopleCentre or Historical Search Room here (Covid-19 restrictions permitting) and National Records of Scotland also has family history research centres at Kilmarnock, Alloa, Hawick, Inverness and Glasgow.

National Records of Scotland, General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY

Scottish Genealogy Society Library & Research Centre

The Scottish Genealogy Society Library is run by volunteers and welcomes both members and visitors. Highlights include the largest monumental inscription collection in Scotland, over 4,000 family history books, and journals from all major Scottish family history societies.

Scottish Genealogy Society, 15 Victoria Street, Edinburgh EH1 2JL

Private, clan, and museum archives

See this directory of archives across the Scotland, on the Scottish Archive Network. This includes city, county, private, clan and museum archives.

For lots more family history tips, download our Scottish census guide for just £1.99