Happy Haggis will help you trace your Scottish family tree.

Getting Started

HappyHaggis can help you through the puzzle.

A press release article on Credit crunch genealogy, writted by HappyHaggis, can be found at www.happyhaggis.co.uk/creditcrunch.htm.

Many people love to turn back the clock and take a step back in time to find out about their family history. While tracing your family tree can be fascinating and rewarding, it can also be a daunting experience. It is often difficult to know what is available and you can spend hours trying to figure out where to begin, so HappyHaggis would like to help you.

Genealogy is like a puzzle - you gather bits of information piece by piece. Be prepared to work patiently in stages using information in such resources as Electoral rolls; Naturalisation Records; Births, Marriages & Death information and Passenger Lists. Be aware that family histories often take years to complete, so do not be disheartened with the amount of time it takes to get results.

Basic rules of genealogy

  • Start with yourself and work backwards through each previous generation. Work from the known to the unknown. Our best advice at this stage is to download a FREE FREE FAMILY TREE CHART, with the compliments of 'Your Family Tree Magazine'. Record everything you curently know about your family members.
  • Interview your relatives. Write or talk to your family members. Ask them about family names, where they lived and where they came from. Some records may already be in the homes of your family: e.g. letters, wills, photographs, birth, marriage and death certificates.
  • Write down what you find and where you found it. What institution? Which collection of records? What volume and page number? Which microfilm reel? Time distorts memories, so write details and dates down as soon as you can.
  • Always record the sources you've searched, even if the results are negative, as this may prevent future duplication and time-wasting.
  • Search every possible surname spelling, including phonetic and typographic errors. You may be rechecking some of your already located information, but note that clerical errors creep into documents & dates may have been entered incorrectly.

    Births & baptisms
    Official state records in Scotland didn't commence until 1855. Before this date, the best 'single' source is the Old Parochial Registers (OPRs), compiled from the Church of Scotland parish books, and the index can be found as part of the International Genealogical Index. There are now a range of ways of accessing this information and which you select is likely to depend on the stage of your research and cost.

    When beginning, the simplest access for this is via the free Church of the Latter Day Saints Family History Search Service at www.familysearch.org. It isn't comprehensive, but it's a very good place to start. You can either just rely on the index, or go one step further to view the actual register (which does contain more information such as witnesses).

    Viewing the registers:
    Online access via www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk is the official government source of genealogical data for Scotland as the General Register Office of Scotland site. Use this site to access details of records from 1855 to 1907, but it also contains the OPRs to provide complete coverage. Most of the OPR information appears as digital images. Birth certificates are available beyond 1907 from this sute, but they charge ?10.00 per certificate. It will be cheaper if you check the local council website and follow their instructions on ordering certificates.

    It will cost you ?6.00 to search for 30 credits. Credits are valid for 90 consecutive days. Any unused credits after this time remain in your account and to re activate these, you would need to purchase further credits. From the search results you may view, save and print images. To view an image costs five credits. TIP: Charging is based on the number of pages actually displayed, not on the number of records retrieved. Each time you do a search, you are told how many records have been found. Before displaying the records, you have the opportunity to re-define, and narrow the search, without displaying the results. By juggling search parameters e.g. date, do consider re-defining the searches, to maximise what can be determined without downloading spurious results needlessly.


    Census Information
    From 1841 there were national censuses every ten years - 1851, 1861 etc. There were isolated pockets of earlier censuses, but usually these were counts rather than detailed dwelling and individual records of these years. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk now includes 1901 Census information.

    Treat ages given in the census cautiously, particularly in the earlier ones. Both the occupants and/or the officials had a tendency to round ages up or down, seemingly without any reason other than that was 'close enough'. TIP: Although it is by no means complete, a free census record site is available at FreeCEN. More records are being uploaded by volunteers regularly. Standard search options are available.

    Deaths, monumental inscriptions & wills
    For actual death records after 1855, see www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk which includes up to 1952. Deaths are more rarely recorded in the Old Parochial Registers. A more common source is the cemetery records, usually referred to MIs, or monumental inscriptions. These are for sale very cheaply from the Scottish Genealogy Society Online Shop. Some societies have excellent indexes that you can try before buying, though. In addition, historians and genealogical society volunteers have spent much energy transcribing many cemeteries and many are available directly on the internet - so its also worthwhile doing a general internet search for your parish or district. Just put keyword details e.g. Rousay cemeteries, into a search engine like Google or Yahoo or check the relevant county pages with us at www.HappyHaggis.co.uk.

    Wills are also available via the Family Search Service of the Church of the Latter Days Saints, but increasingly are available from Scottish Documents Online. They offer free access to a fully searchable index of over 350,000 Scottish wills and testaments dating from 1500 to 1901) with a copy for sale at ?5.00 per document. They also hold many other court records.

    Marriages can be searched for in the same way as births, as above - via the OPRs (IGI) until 1855. Historically, although monogamy and marriage was vital, the actual 'wedding' in Scotland has never been afforded the lofty sacramental status as elsewhere, even if performed in the Kirk. For example, it was common to be married at home (by the minister), with a separate Kirk service at another time. Moreover women often retained their "maiden name".

    In the parochial registers you may find several stages or just one of the following recorded in the Register of Marriages :
    1. The "Consignation of Pledges" - pledge by the couple that (a) they would definitely marry, and (b) that they would abstain from sexual relations until that marriage. This practice had largely died out by the start of the 19th century.
    2,3,4 The "Proclamations". (similar to the banns) Sometimes more than one is recorded on the same date - if there was a risk that a child might be born before 9 months had elapsed, the Kirk might be persuaded to make more than one on the same day (for a fee, of course).
    5 The marriage itself. Sometimes there can be two dates recorded for one "marriage" if the bride and groom were from different parishes.

    Scottish marriages from 1855 to 1932 are available online from www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. Beyond this date it would be necessary to check the current council website and see how such certificate copies can be obtained.

    The UK National Archives holds discharge papers for soldiers who were discharged to pension from 1760-1913. They are held in the WO 97 series (where WO stands for War Office). You can search the catalogue online at www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Use the form to order the actual records if you wish, although there may be sufficient information in the index as it lists place of birth, age at discharge, regiment, and dates of service. Some War memorials are available online. Check the relevant county pages with us at www.HappyHaggis.co.uk.

    Scottish naming patterns
    This was usually not followed slavishly, as there are a lot of exceptions, but it can be a very useful tool in working back through the generations. For example, when you have found a family in a Census (so you know the names of the children), but you can't at first distinguish the birth records of the parents, because there is a choice in the IGI. The ones sharing the children's names are more probably the ones.

    1st daughter = mother's mother
    1st son = father's father
    2nd daughter = father's mother
    2nd son = mother's father
    3rd daughter = mother
    3rd son = father

    From this point often the pattern is to go in turn through parent's brothers and sisters in order of age (i.e. 4th son is usually father's oldest brother). However, it is common for the pattern to break down from the fourth child onwards. The naming pattern is also one reason that there may be more than one child with the same name, particularly if the earlier child died. The second child is not likely to be named after the earlier child, but to keep the grandparent's name pattern intact. Also, what we might regard as variants of the same name may occur within the one family if the grandmothers/mother also share the one name.

    Another common naming practice was for the mother's family name to be given to all the children in addition to the above e.g. Annie Mackie Fyfe, Susan Mackie Fyfe.

    As long as this is treated as a series of clues (which need to be verified) then the naming pattern can save a lot of time.

    Other Useful Links

  • BBC History Magazine - researching family history is a hot topic, but sometimes amateur genealogists need a little help. BBC History Magazine article.
  • Open University - article on starting your family tree.
  • BBC Record sheets - the pedigree chart is a good first step.
  • BBC Scotland - do you have Scottish ancestors? - did your family leave Scotland for further afield? Are you convinced that you have a Scottish heritage? Whether you're from Scotland or returning to search for your roots, this site provides you with much information.
  • GenealogyGuide.org.uk - a useful guide for those wishing to learn more about their family history and provides useful advice regarding tracing their family trees.

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