An In-Depth Look at Researching Scottish Ancestors 1

In order to be successful researching your Scottish ancestors, you need to know where in Scotland your ancestors were from. Once you know that, you are ready to actually research. The essential website for Scottish research is the ScotlandsPeople website. This is the website for the records of the General Register's Office and is the online repository for all official documents: birth, marriage, death, census, wills and testaments. This is the  only place where you can view the original images online. Other online databases only have transcriptions or indices.

ScotlandsPeople is a pay-per-view site. You can purchase 30 credits for £7.50 ($12.60 cdn/$9.40usd). The index of search results is free to view. But to view the actual image, it will cost you five credits. Once you access the image, you can download or print for your own records and you can view it again as many times as you want for no additional cost. Credits are purchased in bundles of 30 , 40 (£10), 80 (£20) or 160 (£40) and are good for one year from the date of purchase.

Civil Registration in Scotland didn’t start until 1855. Before that date, you need to look at the Old Parish Registers (OPRs). In most instances, you will get very little information from the OPRs. OPRs include: 

  • Baptisms
  • Banns
  • Burials

Civil Records are far more detailed. ScotlandsPeople hosts:

  • Birth records
  • Marriage Records
  • Death Records
  • Census Records
  • Catholic Parish Registers
  • Wills and Testaments
  • Soldiers wills
  • Valuation Rolls

Navigating the ScotlandsPeople Website 

Likely the number one user complaint about the ScotlandsPeople website is how easy it is to waste credits and how expensive the credits are. It certainly is easy to plow through the credits, especially when you are on a roll and the finds start pouring across your screen. However, not wasting credits really comes down to using your genealogy detective skills.

It takes a completely different mindset to use this website because it is not a subscription website. However, it is also the only website where you can view original images of the Scottish registers and see all of the information that was gathered at the time of the event.

Part of the joy in genealogy is the thrill of the hunt. When we tune into, hone and cultivate our inner detective skills, we waste far fewer credits and manage more successful results.

Citing Your Sources

Here are the basics for citing your sources in Scottish research. When you download a document from ScotlandsPeople's website, the website auto-generates the source citation for you:

SURNAME, FIRST NAME (record collection GRO number)

©Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland. Image was generated on (date and time stamp) 

It's really that simple. The GRO number contains the volume or register number/the page number/the entry number, which allows others to find the same document.  The University of Strathclyde has a great guide for citing just about every source you can imagine. Here is the link to it:



About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland ( and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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