Monday, 17 April 2017

Where did your Scottish Ancestors Live?

New Abbey Village
Once you have found your ancestor’s entry in the census you may decide to find out more about the house and the general area where they lived. Here are a few sources that could help you.

The National Library of Scotland has a great collection of Ordnance Survey maps available for free on their website. If your ancestors lived in a town the high detail 1:500 scale maps might even show trees in your family’s garden! 


The ScotlandsPlaces website can add another piece of the jigsaw. Available for free on their website are the ‘Ordnance Survey Name Books’. These volumes give information about placenames and building names on the first edition Ordnance Survey mapping which took place in the mid-19th century. They also give a description of each place. An example is East Lodge in Dumfriesshire, Volume 1, “A small cottage one story high slat[t]ed & in good repair. Occupied by Mary Dalziel who keeps the gate. It is the property of the Trustees of Hoddam Castle it being at the eastern entrance of Hoddam Demesne.” 


Scottish property records, called sasines, can also add more detail. Sasines are held by the National Records of Scotland and from 1781 there are indexed abridgements which can be searched by place or name. These give a description on the boundary of each property and often mention the neighbours in this description. Don’t expect to find plans though, or at least not in the older records. The extent of each property is usually described in words. 


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Dog Tax

For many households, dogs are very much part of the family, but they do not generally appear in official records. For a brief spell in the 18th century, however, a tax was levied on dog owners (this tax was on non-working dogs). The tax records for Scotland are available on the ScotlandsPlaces website (which is a free website), so you can easily search them to find out if your family had a (non-working) dog.

The Dog Tax rolls 1797-1798 are in two volumes, arranged by county with each parish being listed within that county. Let us know if you find a entry relating to your family.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Using Sasines to Research Your Scottish Family History

Dumfries High Street
Scottish Property Records or Sasines (pronounced 'say-zin') can be a great way to trace your family tree: if your ancestors had property.

When property was transferred through purchase or inheritance a legal document called a sasine was created. As well as telling you where the property or land was they also give the ‘designation’ of the old and new owners. If the transfer is between family members this is particularly useful but even if it’s between unrelated people the clues can help you piece together your family story.

The great thing is that from 1781 Scottish sasine records are indexed. The register begins in 1609 and some counties have indexes before 1780 (there are some records before 1609 but they are incomplete). With the exception of burgh registers the sasines have digitally imaged by the National Records of Scotland.

National Records of Scotland
Obviously until the 20st century most Scottish families did not own property so this is not a resource that is universally useful. If your family did own property though the sasines are definitely worth consulting. You can read more about sasines on the National Records of Scotland website or get in touch and we can search them for you.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Scottish Adoption Records

The National Records of Scotland
One of our Frequently Asked Questions is: How can I locate adoption records? It comes as a surprise to many people that until 1930 there was no formal adoption process in Scotland. Formal adoption records are closed for 100 years but if you are the child concerned you can access your own records. See the National Records of Scotland’s website for details.

In most cases people ask us about adoption records because they have been researching their family tree and discovered that their ancestor was orphaned at a young age, raised by someone and record these ‘adoptive’ parents as their parents on a marriage certificate or other record.

In many cases the arrangements for an orphaned child were done on a private basis, perhaps the child was taken in by a relative, friend or neighbour. In some cases children were ‘boarded out’. These are usually cases where a child would have been in the poorhouse but rather the parish arranged for a local woman to care for young children, what we would call foster care today. Of course some children did end up in the poorhouse if there was nobody to care for them.

If this has happened to your ancestor, you may well want to find out more about the situation. Poor records are often the place to start. You can find a comprehensive list here, click the link ‘Records_of_the_Scottish_Poor.pdf’. This list, created by Scottish genealogist Kirsty Wilkinson will tell you which records exist and where to find them.

If you need any help get in touch and we’ll see how we can help you.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Scottish Handwriting

We genealogists (amateur and professional) have all experienced the joy of finally locating the document we need. Whether it’s online or in an archive, that sense of joy and achievement can soon dissipate when you open the document to realise you cannot read a single page. You may even be sitting there wondering what language it is in! Never fear, help is at hand! is a free website to help you learn how to read Scottish handwriting from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The free tutorial you will find on this website will help you learn to read older documents. There are tests so that you can see how well you are doing and helpful background information so that you can understand what you are reading. Of course if you are still struggling, get in touch and we can help you out with sections of a document or make a full transcription for you:

Monday, 10 April 2017

Scottish Roman Catholic Parish Records

You can now access Scottish Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms, Marriages and Burials on FindMyPast. These have been available on ScotlandsPeople for a while but for those of us with the British subscription package to FindMyPast these Catholic records will be included in our existing package.

If you’re researching on a budget it’s worth asking if FindMyPast or other sites are available through your local library. One library they are available in is the National Library of Scotland. Also FindMyPast offer a free trial so this could be a great time to start tracing your Scottish family tree.

If you’ve been researching your family tree but you’re a little stuck, come to us and we can help you get over the brick wall and get your research back on track.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Scottish Kirk Sessions

The biggest problem I have in my work is that I am way too easily distracted! Here is an example. I was searching the Tongland Kirk Session Minutes (CH2/1244/2) in the National Records of Scotland the other day and found this very interesting entry from 2 September 1869:

Voluntarily compeared Ann Bird or Morton wife of Joseph Bird, Sailor who confessed that in the month of October last she gave birth to a child in uncleanness, she having been married in the month of July previous: On being admonished to be ingenuous and to speak the truth, she declared that Jonathan Turner was the partner of her guilt and the father of her child. Her husband Joseph Bird is known to bear testimony corroborative of the statement, and although disowning the paternity of the child has adopted it as his own. Having been solemnly admonished by the Moderator she was absolved from scandal.

Tongland Kirk
A search in the birth records found the birth certificate of the unnamed child. James Morton (or Bird) was born on 1 October 1865, and it is column 4 of his birth certificate which is the most interesting. Column 4 on a Scottish birth certificate gives the ‘Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession of Father, Name, and Maiden Surname of Mother And Date and Place of Marriage’. In this column on James’ birth certificate we read: “Ann Morton, married on 22nd July last to Joseph Baird, sailor who she declares is not the father of the child, & further that he was at sea for Months prior to 18 July 1868.”

A search in the census of 1871 shows that James (aged 2) was living with his maternal grandparents. I’ve not traced this family any further as I really should be doing research for clients but if you are related I would love to hear from you.

What do we learn from this? It is important to look at as many records as possible to get a full picture of what’s going on within a family, which can take effort. Historic Scottish birth certificates are available online but Kirk Session records are not (yet). For the time being you can access them in Edinburgh and various satellite locations around Scotland, including archives in Hawick, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. There are other archives who also have access to the digital images, it’s worth checking with the National Records of Scotland to see if an archive near you has access.

The fact that the Church of Scotland Kirk Sessions are digitised is a great help but there is as yet no index to most of these minutes. Having said that, I wouldn’t have found this entry if I had used an index, when you browse a volume interesting entries jump out at you. If your family is from a small to medium-sized parish in terms of population, and you have access to the digital images, I would recommend browsing the volumes; who knows what you will discover!