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If you’re about to start a trace family tree exercise, then no country has a greater wealth of information and range of facilities to help you than Scotland. And Scotland’s story is one of emigration and innovation far beyond the homeland. It isn’t just about the Highland Clearances either. Terrible though these episodes of (nearly) ethnic cleansing were, the numbers represent quite a small proportion of the total who left to seek a better life.
It’s pretty obvious, but in this trace family tree exercise it’s always a good move to start with information from your own family sources. Older and more distant relatives can provide details of generations and family members unknown to you. However, they may also pass down old family stories which tend to get somewhat exaggerated. For example, my wife has Macdonald genes from her mother’s side. These also come with a tale that these Macdonalds were descended from the survivors of the infamous massacre of Glen Coe in 1692. Maybe every Macdonald lsays this about their ancestors. But some day, she’ll check it out.
Johanna knows that her great-grandfather, who was a MacDonald, is buried here, at Bunavullin, in Morvern, by the Sound of Mull. His grave is marked by a ringed cross, right of centre. Remember if you start this trace family tree exercise to note grave-stone inscriptions accurately. Wait a minute, I never noticed a black dog in the shot before (left). Where the heck did he come from? I'm sure we didn't take our dog.
For my own part, an old uncle once told me the Summers family were descended from fishermen who lived on a bare and exposed part of coastal Aberdeenshire. They were so poor that they had to snare rabbits in order to bait their lobster pots (or creels, as we would call them). They also took to wrecking, that is, shining a light from the coast at night, in order to misguide a ship in the hope it would run aground. Hmm, seems like I inherited the poor gene. (I've written the family tale about wreckers into my novel for Kindle, Dogskin Boy.)
Other sources of family lore are as basic as inscriptions in inherited books (or even Bibles), plus anything that could be called ‘family memorabilia’ – certificates, medals, newspaper cuttings and so on.
If you are in Scotland, or visiting, then your starting point to trace family tree could be General Register House and the adjacent New Register House in Edinburgh, at the east end of Princes Street. The records there are accessible via ScotlandsPeopleCentre, where the latest computer technology at 160 search places allow you to get on with the searching. (You can even hire staff by the hour to assist you in your genealogical research.)
At time of writing, you can access census returns 1841-1911. The Census with its ten-year cycle is useful as it allows the charting of expanding families. Trade and marital status of individuals are also recorded there. Then there are the old parish registers from 1553 (yes, in some places, that far back) to 1854. These record births, christenings, banns and marriages. (Banns are proclamations of marriage.)
Deaths and burials are also shortly to be made available. Other statutory registers an also be accessed – for example, deaths, marriages, divorces etc. Even recorded wills between 1513 and 1901 are here, plus a variety of other records, for example, war registers.
Follow this link for even more suggested resources to help you trace family tree.
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Scotland in Three Days