Research Your Scottish Ancestry

The Search Begins at Home

Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

Some of you may have the good fortune of being Scottish, or know that your parent or a grandparent came from Scotland. However, that should not stop you from learning more and delving deeper into your Scottish ancestry. Meanwhile, for those of us who were not fortunate enough to be born in Scotland, or to know directly of our Scottish ancestry, learning about our possible Scottish heritage is an additional and exciting way of being a part of the history and culture of Scotland. The aim of this column is to provide to everyone, Scottish or American, the technique to search for your Scottish or Celtic heritage.

Often, when I talk to people about researching their family history, they feel that they have no information with which to begin the search. I believe that everyone is a genealogist whether they know it or not. You will find that you have a great deal of information right within your own home. You keep track of births and anniversaries of family members. You have a photo album; great for jogging the memory about people, places and events. Perhaps a parent or grandparent kept a journal, a scrapbook, or an old family bible; filled with family data. Perhaps you have birth, marriage and death certificates of your parents or grandparents. Maybe you have the Naturalization Record of your Scottish grandparent. The list of materials within your home which can provide information to begin the search for family history is endless. The collection of these sources can provide you with dates and places of births, education, marriages, residence, deaths and burials, which will be most helpful in beginning your in-depth research.

The next and most important thing that you want to do, before all else, is to interview, whether in person, by phone or by letter, your older family members. Just as you know the names and events of your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, they in turn will know the information of their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Interviews of older family members could take you back one or two more generations, as well as give you additional dates and places of events; including mabe a town or county in Scotland and when your ancestor came to America.

As you gather this material, from around the house and interviews, it is necessary to make special note of the approximate, if not exact, dates of births, education, marriages, residence and deaths. It is also important to identify the exact names of towns, townships, or at least the counties where the family member was born, lived, married and died here in America. In America, our ancestors were required to keep records at the county level, usually in a county court house. In the case of the big cities, the records were usually kept at the city level. Meanwhile, in Scotland, knowing only the county that your family came from will be of little help. You must at least know the name of the town. Scotland’s Counties were divided into Civil Parishes where the records were kept. Once you know the town, then you can identify the Civil Parish. If you cannot identify the name of a town in Scotland from information within your home, in future columns I will show you how American County, State and Federal records can help you with this. Meanwhile, it is important for you to understand that when gathering the information from interviews and records in your possession, you need to have a time and place associated with your family before you can begin the research process at a library.

While collecting dates and places is important for the research process, I do not want you to think that other materials and information that you may find is of little or no importance. You may find materials which provide information that does not give specific dates and places of events, but it does add to your knowledge about your ancestor. Some examples might be an old report card or diploma, business papers, a lock of hair, a favorite poem or book, and other such family heirlooms. From these you will learn how your ancestors lived, loved and endured. These records will give your ancestor personality and character, and give you a greater understanding about them and about yourself.

So get up and get started in learning about your Scottish heritage. And once you have begun to gather your information from what you know and what you have, contact me to help you get organized and begin your research.

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