OTHER SCOTCLANS SITES
14 October 1788 - Today in 1788 the first steamboat experiment was held on Dalswinton Loch. Robert Burns was farming at Ellisland, just outside Dumfries, when he was invited by his landlord, Patrick Miller, to go out in a small experimental steamboat. The boat, which was fitted with an engine designed by William Symington, was the first paddle-propelled steamboat in the world, and Robert Burns was one of its first passengers »
Digging Up Your Scottish Roots
Everybody has roots, irrespective of whether you’re descended from a humble farm labourer or a member of the aristocracy. Digging them up has become, arguably, the fastest growing leisure activity in the Western World. It is not altogether clear why this should be, although increased leisure time and improved research facilities are contributory factors. There is perhaps a more subtle reason. As life becomes ever more hectic and reliant on machines and computers, so people increasingly strive to discover their ‘identity’. There is a school of thought that a knowledge of one’s forebears represents a significant part of one’s identity.
The term ancestral research embraces the two related topics of genealogy and family history. The former is all about finding out who your ancestors were, whereas the latter relates to what sort of people they were and what kind of lives they lived. A genealogical search is the essential first step, as this enables a basic framework to be established.
Although in Scotland we have the benefit of really excellent archival resources, there are some steps which should first be undertaken before jumping in at the deep end. For example, collect together all the birth, marriage and death certificates in your possession. You will need a precise name, date and place of birth in Scotland before you can begin. Note the main details and start a rough family tree. Supplement this from memory in terms of long-lost uncles and aunts, etc. Look for other snippets from diaries, photographs, inscriptions, family bibles, etc. Broadcast your interest to other members of the family who will doubtless be able to tell you things that you would never get from an archival source!
You are now ready to trace your family tree. There are four main ways of doing this:
1. New Registers House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT
This is the main record office in Edinburgh, and it costs £17.49 per day but is worth every penny. This building houses millions of documents, primarily all Statutory birth/marriage/death certificates (1855 onwards), Census Returns (1841-1901) and Parish Registers (pre-1855). However, this may be a little daunting for beginners, though there are members of staff who will show you the ropes. It is advisable to make a reservation as it can get busy (0131-334 0380). Try to avoid holiday periods when the limited space is quickly taken up by hordes of overseas visitors desperate to discover details of their Scottish ancestry – and bring a pencil!
This is the official pay-per-view website, providing a searchable index of births/marriages/deaths from 1855 to 1904 (births), 1929 (marriages) 1954 (deaths). The census returns of 1871, 1891 and 1901 are also available online though you may require a specific address. For a fee of £6.49 the user is entitled to 30 page “credits”.
Again this may be quite daunting (and costly) to the uninitiated.
3. Professional researchers
Although fees may seem costly in comparison to the above, you will be assured that a professional researcher should do the whole job for you - without mistakes! Expect to pay around £200.95 for a good researcher, and try and use one with at least 10 years experience of using the records at New Register House.
Scottish Roots Ancestral Research Service have been tracing family trees for over 21 years. They charge £195.95 for a Standard Search and can be contacted at:
Scottish Roots, 16 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3LH
This is the official Visit Scotland website, containing useful information on local libraries, archive centres, museums and family history societies. They stress the emotional importance of “walking in the footsteps of your ancestors”, and encourage people to revisit ancestral homelands.
It is not a good idea to attempt too many lines at the same time. Although most people tend to concentrate on the male line, it is just as easy to follow the female side and of course in this case the data found would be more reliable. The name of the ‘father’ given on a birth certificate should be treated with some scepticism, and remember, DNA testing wasn’t available in those days!
Having produced a family tree, the way is clear to make a start on the never-ending task of researching the history. But be warned, once you experience the thrill of the chase it can take over your social life! Space just does not allow of a description of all the various sources which can provide the basis of a family history. To give just a few examples: arrange to get copies of old large-scale maps to enable you to pinpoint where the families lived; use the appropriate library to see if the local newspapers have carried obituaries of any members of the family; Kirk Session papers can provide all sorts of insights into family life, including of course castigations aimed at those who gave birth out of wedlock. If you have an enquiring mind you will inevitably soon find yourself asking about the economic and social conditions of the time to help you to put your forebears into some sort of context.
Ancestral research really is great fun. Good hunting!
Tony Reid is a partner in Scottish Roots, the ancestral research organisation.
Scottish Roots, 16 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3LH
Tel: 0131-477 8214