Starting Your Scott Family Tree

First Steps

A good way to begin is to note down all you know, all you can glean from parents , aunts, uncles.  All the family stories you have heard about the family. Lots of those will be incorrect but many have a semblance of truth and will be worth recording and checking up on. Getting copies of birth, marriage or death certificates can be extremely helpful but even recollections of names and places can put some of the jig-saw into place. From this starting point you can build  up an initial tree to add to as you find out more.


If you are tracing your ancestors for members who resided outside  the UK the initial difficulty is tracing the route back to this country. There are various  ways of doing this and local genealogical societies can sometimes help.  Finding  ports of entries used and shipping lines from UK ports which might have passengers list online can provide starting points. A search for "passenger lists" on the Web produces a large array of sites dedicated to that subject - see the "Passenger Lists and Migration Records" section further down this page.

family_tree1677 new_register_house1929c

Genealogical Records

Once you land in the UK you will find that Scottish records are generally more informative than English/ Welsh or Irish  ones.   From 1855 to the present there is a lot of information one can obtain  in each entry.   Before that,  Old Parish Records contain information  but how much depends on what was written down at the time.   First of all you are having to rely on records kept by local church ministers - and some were more assiduous than others! And there were no laws before 1854 forcing people to record their births, marriages and deaths. But as most people in Scotland in those earlier centuries were almost invariably members of a church, they would usually do so.


Do remember, however, that researching Scottish family trees often hits a "wall" in the 17th century. During the Civil War Oliver Cromwell became the "Lord Protector" of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in 1653.  He removed all the Scottish records (including the church records) to London. After the restoration of the monarchy, the records were sent back to Scotland. But unfortunately one of the two ships carrying the archives sank with the loss of all the papers and parchments on board that ship! So only 50% survived. However, many of the main clans and families have their own genealogical records. If you can find a connection to one of them you may be able to go back about 1,000 years in some cases.


The important thing to remember is that all useful records have been centralised in the General Register Office of Scotland. (In England lots of the records are still in county records offices, making life a lot more difficult for genealogists!). New Register House (pictured on the right) holds all the "hatches, matches and despatches" for the whole of Scotland.  The births, marriages and deaths are on a computerised database and copies of all the church parish records have been microfilmed and are available for research.  A fully searchable on-line index of these records is available at


Scotland's people

The records available are the indexes of all surviving Old Parish Registers of births/baptisms and banns/marriages from 1553 to 1902, indexes to the Statutory Registers of births from 1553-1902, and marriages from 1553 to 1854, indexes to the Statutory Registers of deaths for 1855 to 1925 and an index to census records for 1881, 1891 and 1901 (with images of actual pages for 1891 and 1901). One additional year of births/deaths/marriage index data is added per annum. The information on the births and marriages prior to 1855 is based on the "Old Parish Records" (OPR) as is the "International Genealogical Index" or IGI (see below).


If you get the opportunity to visit Edinburgh and New Register House you can access all these records if you obtain a "day ticket". Don't worry if you don't know where to start or how to use the records and the local PC database - the staff there are extremely helpful. But do remember that New Register House gets VERY busy in summer and space is limited - on a first come, first served basis.


Other Major Sources of Scottish Genealogy Information

GenUKi Scotland


This is part of the UK and Ireland Genealogy project, and there is a vast amount of information including an extensive description of (non-Web) genealogical archives and bibliography of publications on Scottish family history, plus libraries, cemeteries, census information, gazetteers, maps, newspapers etc. Each of the Scottish counties (as structured before the 1975 local government reorganisation destroyed centuries of the traditional counties) is looked after by an expert in that area; the information held is therefore not identical but reflects what is available in a given area.


When you have found an individual it is also possible to concentrate on records a local level and most  Scottish counties have a genealogical Society or Family History Societies which can be found online.


Once you have traced some family tree members it is sometimes worth looking to see if they had left a will. Many will not have thought it worthwhile but if you do find one it will provide a fascinating insight into their lives!


I would suggest trying to get a copy of a  book on genealogy research. Try some of the on-line book stores if you cannot get one locally.  "Tracing your Scottish Ancestors" by Cecil Sinclair or "Scottish Roots" by Alwyn James are both good.


You can find more explanations on researching your family tree from various Web sites. However, I would particularly recommend those in our "Genealogical Links" pages.


Census records can be very useful for finding members of a family and finding out more about them such as occupations and all the people living in a particular location on a given date. In Scotland there has been a census every 10 years since the first one in 1841. Records may only be inspected after 100 years, so the census returns presently available for public scrutiny are 1841-1911. These are online as well and each census will give details of the questions asked at that time but again be warned - all that is written on a census is what was told to the writer on census day and not necessarily accurate.  The same applies to all written records and mistakes are found especially on death records.  My own experience on registering the death of an old Aunt showed me how little I actually knew of the lady and I was unable to answer some of the questions asked.The questions asked and therefore the information available also changes over the years.


These days, most people record their findings on their family trees in a computer program which will allow you to record a wealth of information - modern genealogy software usually allows you to include photos and other media (video and sound recordings). They will usually allow you to print out the results in famly tree chart format or as lists and save your tree in a standardised "GEDCOM" format which can be read by most family tree software - useful for passing on to others.


We don't recommend particular programs as these are often influenced by personal preferences, but a search for "Best genealogical software" on the Internet will produce a lot of ideas! A lot of this type software is of the "try before you buy" category, or at least a free 30 day trial.

The "International Genealogical Index" or IGI was produced initially on microfiche by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons, but often referred to in genealogy pages as "LDS"). They list all the births and marriages, by Scottish county and was created from all the available old parish records so entries go back to the 16th century (though with lots of gaps, depending on the records surviving - and how good the minister of the day was at keeping the records up to date!) This is available online and at the Family History Centres in the USA and main libraries in Scotland.

family_search-igi_logo computer_boy9g

Links for more Information

Don't forget the helpful list of links to other pages on the web that will aid you in the research for your own family tree.

Click here : Clan Scott Scotland Genealogy Links


DNA Research and Genealogy



If you wish to find out in more general terms where your prehistoric ancestors originated from and how  your line evolved this  is a very  interesting read.  The Seven Daughters of Eve is a book by Bryan Sykes that presents the theory of human mitochondrial genetics to a general audience. Sykes explains the principles of genetics and human evolution, the particularities of mitochondrial DNA, and analyses of ancient DNA to genetically link modern humans to prehistoric ancestors.


There are several firms doing tests which are used for genealogy      However  remember that you have to have a test and in order to find any relatives they too must have been tested.  You cannot find a match without both being tested - this seems obvious but it is often overlooked


An interesting illustration of the value of DNA is the DNA of the Duke of Buccleuch which was found to have an exact match of a descendant of Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, who fought at Culloden, both men descended from Alan, the Seneschal of Dol, a Breton aristocrat. His family came to Britain in 1066 with William the Conqueror and then made its way to Scotland to found the Stewart line.


If you wish to pursue DNA research for Genealogy see


For the some initial results from the Scott DNA project see




DNA study is becoming useful in family tree study but is still very much in its infancy.  Various types of DNA testing are available in today's market but they all serve different functions   Y-DNA  is useful for male line descent and is like a family tree which uses the male name as its line. (Illustration of DNA is via Wikimedia Commons).


Mitochondrial DNA is useful for female Line descent as it passes down the femaile line only.


The most useful for researching family trees is Autosomal DNA


Passenger Lists and Migration Records

Ships and Passenger Lists from Olive Tree Genealogy 

You can search for Your Immigrant Ancestor in Ports of Arrival in U.S.A., Canada, Australia & New Zealand, South Africa; Find Ancestors on Ships Passenger Lists Outbound from USA & Canada; Find Ancestors on Ships Passenger Lists by Year of Arrival, 5-Step Search for Your Immigrant Ancestor in North America includes searching for your immigrant ancestor in the five major ports of arrival - New York New York, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Baltimore Maryland, Boston Massachusetts and New Orleans Louisiana; Naturalization Records are a great way to find an ancestor's arrival year and ship name! Step 2: If you don't find your immigrant ancestor in a large port city, try smaller ports of arrival - Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maine, Rhode Island, Florida, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Michigan, Alaska, California, Hawaii and Washington.


Cyndi's List Shipping

Ships & Passenger Lists in a wide range of categories


Vessels arriving in Sydney 1837 – 1925

This Guide highlights the key records and available indexes, relating to passengers arriving in New South Wales, 1788-1922. While most of the records relate to passengers disembarking in Sydney, records of arrivals in other ports are also included. Records relating to departures are also listed.


The Passenger Lists held by Archives New Zealand

Images and index of the ship passenger lists from Archives New Zealand. There are various types of lists including both outbound and inbound passengers at the various port of New Zealand. The earliest outbound lists are from minor ports (ports other than Auckland or Wellington) and begin in 1886. The inbound passenger lists also include airplane arrivals in Auckland beginning in 1939 and continuing through 1965. Additional records will be added in the future. The original records are located in the Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand.


New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973

Images and index of the ship passenger lists from Archives New Zealand. There are various types of lists including both outbound and inbound passengers at the various port of New Zealand. The earliest outbound lists are from minor ports (ports other than Auckland or Wellington) and begin in 1886. The inbound passenger lists also include airplane arrivals in Auckland beginning in 1939 and continuing through 1965. Additional records will be added in the future. The original records are located in the Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand.


Ships List

Very large list of resources  on immigration, naturalization, passenger Lists & Immigration Databases,  Ship Pictures, Miscellaneous Maritime libraries, maps, newspapers, Census links and Email Discussion Lists.


Passenger Lists of Ships leaving Scotland 

Some of the principal internet sources for searching for Scottish emigrants, and also a year-on-year compilation of ships known to have left a Scottish port, or holding Scottish passengers, from 1680 to 1910.



New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891

Passenger lists for over 13 million immigrants arriving in New York City from 1820 through 1891. NARA publication M237: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. This collection is being published as records become available.


Travel & Migration

Moving around the world was just as common in the time of your ancestors as it is today. Between 1836 and 1914 millions of Europeans migrated to the United States in search of jobs and a better life. Others travelled to Australia and other parts of the world. Trace the whereabouts of your emigrant ancestors in these migration records and passenger lists.


Ellis Island Passenger Lists

51 million passengers and ships' crews came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York - many of them Scots. You can search passenger records and even see original manifests with passenger names.