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Tracing Your Ancestors
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Tracing your ancestors

This is very time-consuming business if you are going to do it yourself, but very rewarding. Many helpful books have been published on the subject. If you cannot do it yourself, you can employ a professional researcher or firm of researchers to do it for you. But you do have to be able to provide your researcher with a certain amount of basic information, otherwise he/she will not be able to help you, and you will be wasting your money. It is also a very expensive way of doing it. For an idea of what sort of information you need, base 7 of Scottish Roots by Alwyn James, is helpful. The following may be helpful:-


Tracing your Scottish Ancestry, by Kathleen B. Cory, pub. Polygon.

Scottish Roots, by Alwyn James, pub. Macdonald Publishers, Loanhead, Midlothian.

Debrett's Guide to Tracing Your Ancestry, by Noel Currer-Briggs and Royston Gambier, introduction by Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Bt., forward by Lord Teviot, publiahed by Papermac, 4 Little Essex St., London WC2R 3LF.

How to Trace Your Ancestors, by Meda Mander, published by Granada, London Toronto Sydney New York.

In Search of Scottish Ancestry, by Donald Whyte

Scottish Family History, by Margaret Stuart & James Balfour Paul, published by Oliver & Boyd, 1930

Scottish Family Histories, by Joan P.S. Ferguson, published by Scottish Central Library, 1960

The Genealogist's Internet, by Peter Christian, published by The National Archives, 2001

Ancestral Trails, by Mark Herber, from Sutton Publishing, 1997.

Website Links

For those considering a trip to Scotland in search of their ancestors, may be helpful.

There are quite a number of organisations offering to do ancestral research at a price. Some are far from reputable, and have been known to tell people a load of rubbish and charge the earth for it. A list of reputable researchers may also be obtained from:- The Lord Lyon King of Arms, The New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT, TEL:- 031-556-7255, FAX:-0131-557-2148. They have a good website at  This web-site contains many useful links which I have not given here, as there is no point in duplicating them

Readers may also find Electric Scotland's website of interest at

It is now possible to view the 1901 census on line at http//   Also a list of registry URLS will be found on the following website:   The General Register Office for Scotland has a website: http//   Both it and the Census website involve payment.

If you come to a dead end, try the Mormons ( Church of the Latter Day Saints ), Salt Lake City, before giving up. They have innumerable genealogies on computer, and their web address is:

Other helpful links could be:

English records may sometimes be helpful. Useful links could be:

Thoughts on comissioning research

Before commissioning research into your ancestry from a reputable researcher, you really need to ask yourself what you want her (most are women!) to find, and try to answer the question honestly. Are you hoping that you will turn out to be descended from a long line of Kings or Noblemen, or do you really, genuinely want to know who your ancestors were, even if they turn out to be miners, farm labourers or cattle thieves? (Not that noblemen never stole cattle!). Because if you are going to be unhappy should the latter turn out to be the case, as it so often does, you would probably be better to save your money and live with your dreams! Of course there are disreputable and dishonest researchers who will cook up a distinguished descent for you for a fat fee, or whose work is so ill-informed and unprofessional that it consists of scarcely more than guesswork.

When you commission some manufactured goods or artwork, you are "paying the piper", and if you do not like the design, you are entitled to say so and insist it be changed according to your wishes, or go to another designer. But when you commission research from a reputable researcher, you are buying history, facts, the truth, which cannot be changed to suit your requirements. It is no longer a case of "you pays your money and you takes your choice". You pay your money and you get the truth, whether you like it or not! And rest assured that you will be paying quite a lot of money, so if you are not going to be happy with the result, you'd better forget it..

Having said all that, if you decide to go ahead, you are embarking on one of the most fascinating quests in the world. It is amazing what you discover if you look beneath the surface. It's quite a lottery. Scratch a really pompous Peer deep enough, by which I mean investigate his antecedents on all sides for a few generations back, and the probability is that very soon you will get stuck because you are back to miners, farm labourers and cattle thieves, of whose families there may be no records. Equally, I have employed a housekeeper who told me that that her great-great grandmother was the daughter of a Lord, who had fallen in love with and married a farm labourer and been disowned by her family. I saw no reason to disbelieve her, but unfortunately she could not remember the name of the Lord, so research was difficult. I remember a fisherman in Fraserburgh, who was descended from well known lairds in Aberdeenshire and accepted as kin by the then head of the family.

I really recommend the introduction to Debrett's "Guide to Tracing Your Ancestry" by the late Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, possibly the finest genealogist and herald of my lifetime. Two things he says in that introduction are, to me, of enormous importance. One is that, if you go back 30 generations (800-1000 years?) you have, theoretically, 1,073,741,904 ancestors. But, 30 generations ago, there were not that number of people in the whole world, let alone in Scotland or the British Isles, so it follows that all native Scots must be related in some degree, and probably many times, for their forebears must have married cousins, probably over and over again. The other thing he says is that if one single one of your ancestors or ancestresses had married someone else, you would not be you, you would be someone quite different - the genes and the DNA would not be the same. So your ancestry is of very real importance because who you are and what you are depends on it.

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