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Trace Your Ancestors in Scotland

(Courtesy of Glasgow City Archives)

Certificates of Birth, Marriage and Death
The first rule for any genealogical search is to start with yourself and work backwards in time. Your own birth certificate gives your parents' names and the date of their marriage. The marriage certificate gives stated ages which should lead to birth certificates and so on, back to the beginning of compulsory registration in 1855.

These certificates are available in statutory registers for the whole of Scotland in New Register House, Edinburgh , and for local areas in local registry offices. The local registrar also provides a Genealogy Centre at 22 Park Circus, Glasgow , with microfiche of the statutory registers for the area of the former Strathclyde Region, a national computer index covering the period since 1855, an index to the 1891 census and other source material.

Census Returns
1841-1891. They are arranged by addresses within civil parishes. Each entry gives the name, relationship to head of household, age, marital status, occupation and parish of birth. (The 1841 census is not as full as the others.) This enables an approach to be made to the parish registers.

Parish Registers
For members of the Church of Scotland, church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials survive, often from the 17th or 18th centuries. Adherents of the various Scottish secession churches are seldom included in these registers. See A Detailed List of the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland (1872), FH 941 LIS, History and Glasgow Room (HG)

Since its opening in 1877 the Mitchell Library has made a point of collecting local material - books, illustrations, maps, photographs and newspapers relating to Glasgow. It has also specialised in Scottish topography and history, particularly clan and family history. In a library the size of the Mitchell there are obviously many books on peripheral areas of study which will be useful to individual searchers. These, along with the sources described in detail, are available to all visitors without formality in the History and Glasgow Room (HG) during the library's opening hours which are:- Monday to Thursday 9.00 a.m. till 8.00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 9.00 a.m. till 5.00 p.m. Much of the family history material has been gathered together in a separate room adjacent to the History and Glasgow Room. There are a number of microfilm readers available on a 'first come first served' basis.

The City Archives are also housed in the Mitchell Library. In addition to the records of the former Glasgow Corporation, they contain those of the county councils and parish authorities within the former Strathclyde Region except for Argyllshire and Ayrshire, whose records are in Lochgilphead and Ayr respectively. Burgh records are normally in local libraries. The records of various families and estates in the Glasgow area and a large number of businesses, including firms of solicitors, are also held. Records of particular interest to genealogists include:- the records of the Glasgow incorporations of trades, including membership lists; poor law records, including detailed applications for poor relief to the parishes of Glasgow (from 1851), Barony (from 1861) and Govan (from 1876), and a number of other parishes from various dates until 1948; the burgess rolls for Glasgow (printed to 1846, but continuing in manuscript thereafter, with indexes); records of hundreds of schools, often including admission registers, in a few cases dating from the 1860s; estate records with information about tenants; registers of some local government employees, notably the police; business records, in some cases including information about employees; and kirk session records for churches in Glasgow presbytery. There is a general card index of persons, places and subjects, but it is in progress and many collections are not yet included. An indexed textbase is available for the deposited collections. Applications for poor relief to the Glasgow and Lanarkshire poor law authorities have been indexed to 1900 and other similar indexes are in progress. Opening hours are:- Monday to Thursday 9.30 a.m. till 4.45 p.m., Friday 9.30 a.m. till 4.00 p.m. and at other times by prior arrangement.


Early Parish Registers
Microfilm copies of the registers for Glasgow and for the parishes in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire are available in HG. There are some transcripts for Glasgow (HG and GCA). For Argyll and Bute microfilm copies are in GCA.

Parish Registers after 1855
The kirk session records of the Church of Scotland for Glasgow presbytery are in GCA. Many include registers of baptisms, marriages and burials which supplement the civil registers. A list is available.

Family Search
Genealogical database made up of three parts :-

  1. International Genealogical Index , 1993 edition for the world on 33 CDs. The work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) it is largely confined to births and marriages before 1875 and can be searched by name, parent or spouse's name, event or place.
  2. The Ancestral File a database of pedigrees, the completed genealogical work of individuals who have sent their work to the LDS in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  3. Family History Catalogue of the LDS Genealogical Library at Salt Lake City. For access to the items themselves, visitors must contact an LDS Centre. However, the points of search are so flexible as to make it a very useful bibliography. Access to Family Search must be booked in advance. This can be done by letter or telephone call to the History and Glasgow Room (0141 287 2938), or by application at the counter. It can be booked for a one-hour period from Monday to Friday 9 am till 5 pm and from 6.30 pm till 8.30 pm. On Saturdays the booking times are 9.30 am till 4.30 pm. Please bring with you some form of identification which confirms your address. There are no facilities at present for transfer on to floppy disk. Paper copies may be made at 10 pence per print. Earlier editions of the International Genealogical Index for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales are available on microfiche.

Index to Old Parish Registers
The Index to Old Parish Registers (the County Index) is a surnames index to marriages and christenings in the 900 or so parishes within Scotland. Dates range from 1553 to 1854 depending on the parish. Indexes to all counties in Scotland are held in HG.

Cemetery Registers
HG holds the records of some twenty Glasgow cemeteries covering the period from the 18th century to the 1950s; there are a few also in GCA, as well as lair plans and registers of burials in intra-mural burial grounds, 1870-1950. The arrangement is chronological within each cemetery and there are no indexes. A comprehensive listing, including location of registers and monumental inscriptions can be found in:-

  • Willing, J. and Fairie, J.S., Burial Grounds in Glasgow: a brief guide for the genealogist (Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society, 1986 - 1993 reprint).

Additional cemetery registers for Glasgow, along with more recent records, are kept by the Cemeteries and Crematoria Section of the City of Glasgow Council Parks Department, 2 Port Dundas Place, Glasgow G2 3LB (tel. 0141-333 0800)

Monumental Inscriptions
Parish registers of burials are particularly defective in Scotland and gravestones are often the only surviving death record before compulsory registration began in 1855. Little transcription of gravestones has been done in Glasgow. The Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society has published a complete index to St David's Ramshorn Burial Ground. ML holds lists for many other graveyards in Scotland. A full catalogue is available in HG.

Census Returns
Microfilm copies of the returns for Ayrshire, Lanarkshire (including Glasgow), Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 are available in HG. GCA have the returns for Argyll and Bute for 1841-1891. Also available in HG is a list of microfilm holdings of census returns and parish registers in other public libraries in Scotland, and a microfiche index to the 1891 census for the whole of Scotland.


The first Glasgow directory was published in 1783 and was followed by others in 1787, 1789, 1790, 1792 and annually from 1792 to 1978. HG holds the complete set except for 1792, 1800 and 1802. A less complete set is available in GCA. The early volumes only have alphabetical lists of residents, but an alphabetical trades section was added in 1833 and an alphabetical streets section in 1845. It is worth noting, however, that in the main directory entries are restricted to merchants, manufacturers, traders and shopkeepers. Directories before 1886 are available in HG and GCA only on microfiche.

Directories for many other Scottish towns, including an almost complete set for Edinburgh are also held. General directories for Scotland include:-

  • Pigot's/Slater's Directories for 1821-1915 (incomplete)
  • County Directory of Scotland for 1862-1912 (incomplete)
  • MacDonald's Scottish Directory for 1884-1973 (incomplete) all in HG.

Obituaries and Death Notices
ML has a large collection of newspapers and periodicals, many of which contain obituaries and death notices, but they are largely unindexed. Noteworthy because of the early period covered is The Scots Magazine, 1739-1833 (X30, 727). Each individual volume (100 in total) contains an index of births, marriages and deaths. Registers of deceased seamen, 1886-1952, are held in HG.

Voters' Rolls
ML holds a series of voters' rolls for Glasgow only. Dates covered are 1832, 1840, 1846 to 1914, 1918 to 1939 and 1945 to date. 'Glasgow' as represented in the early rolls is not the large area it is today. For example Govan was only included in the series after its annexation in 1912. Another important restriction in the early rolls is the limited group which actually possessed the franchise.

GCA has a series of rolls for Glasgow similar to that in ML, with an additional four rolls in the period 1832-54, alphabetically arranged, but with a gap from 1880 to 1920, and a large number of rolls for other parts of the region. Unlike valuation rolls (see below), there was no statutory requirement to retain voters' rolls permanently and many survive only in local libraries or not at all.

The Glasgow rolls give name, address and occupation (up to 1914). The 1832 roll is in fact a printed poll book, recording beside the name of each voter the candidates voted for. Most other rolls before 1873 and all of those in the period 1885-1894 are alphabetical within wards. Later rolls share the disadvantage of the census returns in being arranged by address.

Valuation Rolls
A record of property, its owners, occupiers and rateable value. The earliest 'stent book' for Glasgow dates from 1697 and a large number are available for parts of the city in the early 19th century (in GCA). A valuation roll for expenditure on measures against the 1832 cholera epidemic in Glasgow, with computer index, is in HG. In Scotland annual rolls have been compiled since 1855 and there has been a statutory requirement to deposit copies in the Scottish Record Office, which consequently has a complete set for the whole of Scotland from that date. Rolls for Glasgow from 1913 to 1989 are available in HG and GCA, with surname indexes for 1861, 1881 and 1911.

Outwith Glasgow, county valuation rolls survive from before 1855, and in some counties from the 17th century. Some idea of their contents can be obtained from:-

  • Timperley, Loretta (ed.), A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland c1770 (Scottish Record Society, NS 5) which prints a roll for each county from around that date (18th century rolls were not compiled annually). Most of these rolls are in the Scottish Record Office but there are some also in GCA.

A miscellaneous collection of later county valuation rolls is held in HG. Most fall within the period 1880 to 1950. Lanarkshire and other parts of the west of Scotland are poorly covered, but Argyll is complete from 1886 to 1952, Ayrshire from 1891 to 1941, Dunbartonshire from 1890 to 1951 and Renfrewshire from 1897 to 1953 (full list in HG). Others are in GCA (list available)

Biographies, Individual Family Histories, Guides
ML has very many published histories of well-known Scottish families. A complete listing is given in Scottish Family Histories in the Mitchell Library (in HG). The Library holds all the standard biographical works along with sets of Burke and Debrett. Several reference books have been published which assist in tracking down individual pedigrees:-

  • STEEL, Donald J.
    Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History (Phillimore, 1970)
  • CORY, Kathleen B.
    Tracing your Scottish Ancestry (Polygon, 1990)
  • FERGUSON, Joan P.S.
    Scottish Family Histories held in Scottish Libraries (National Library of Scotland, 1986)
  • MILLER, Susan
    Strathclyde Sources (Glasgow & West of Scotland Family History Society, 2nd ed., 1995)

Land and Property
Apart from the sources already mentioned, and titles to land found in collections of family papers and elsewhere, there are four important types of records dealing with land and personal property in Scotland - wills, retours, sasines and registered deeds. These are discussed in detail in Steel, 154- 65.

Indexes to all surviving registers of wills and testaments before 1801 have been published by the Scottish Record Society. An annual Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories has been prepared by the Commissary Clerk of Edinburgh since 1876. The printed volumes for 1876-1936 and indexes before 1801 are available in ML (all in Family History Room, HG). Enquiries about indexes outwith these periods, or about the wills themselves, should be made to the Scottish Record Office.

The record of retours (entries of heirs to land) from 1544 is in the Scottish Record Office. Printed abridgements until 1699 are available (HG and GCA) and there are indexes covering 1700-1969. The indexes are useful in themselves, since they give not only the names of the deceased and their heirs, but also their relationships (Family History Room, HG).

Since 1617 the registration of sasines (transfers of land rights) has been compulsory outwith royal burghs. The original registers are in the Scottish Record Office, but for the early period there are various indexes of persons and places (some available in the Family History Room, HG). From 1781 there are printed abridgements with indexes of persons and places (available for counties in Strathclyde in GCA). A separate register for the burgh of Glasgow was kept from 1694 to 1927 (GCA).

Registers of Deeds
Deeds other than titles to land were often registered in courts of law (see Steel, 162-5). These registers date from the 16th century and there are various published indexes (index to the second series available in Family History Room, HG). The register of deeds kept by Glasgow burgh court is in GCA and begins in 1625.

Useful Addresses

Scottish Record Office , H.M. General Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY.

General Register Office for Scotland , New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT.

Scots Ancestry Research Society , 29B Albany Street, Edinburgh EH1 3QN. Non-profit-making organisation which traces Scottish ancestry for clients on a professional basis.

Glasgow & West of Scotland Family History Society , Unit 15, 32 Mansfield Street, Glasgow G11 5QP. Tel 0141-339 8303.

The Society aims to promote the study of family history and holds monthly meetings to hear speakers on related topics. Members are mainly amateurs and are involved in various genealogical projects. Limited and specific research is undertaken for distant members only. Further information is available from the Society.

  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints , Julian Avenue, Glasgow G12.
  • Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages , 1 Martha Street, Glasgow G1 1JJ.
  • Genealogy Centre , 22 Park Circus, Glasgow G3 6BR. Tel 0141-287 8364.
  • The Mitchell Library , Glasgow District Libraries, North Street, Glasgow G3 7DN. Tel 0141-287 2937.
  • Glasgow City Archives , The Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow G3 7DN. Tel 0141-287 2913.

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