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Genealogy is one of the fastest growing interests on the internet. If you are interested in Scottish roots, you can access some of the world’s best sites for family history as well as some of the earliest and most comprehensive sets of records available anywhere.

Smith, Brown & Wilson

If that sounds like a rather genteel and old fashioned firm of solicitors, it's not surprising, as these three surnames have regularly topped the Scottish surname charts for the last 140 years. Which is just one of the challenges you'll face if you're tracing your ancestry. But persevere.

Ancestral home

Robert Louis Stevenson said of the Scot, "there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation."

It is estimated that there are more than 25 million people world-wide who claim Scottish descent. Some estimates put the figure as high as 40 million. Whichever, we are talking about a lot of people – a lot more than the 5.1 million people who actually live in Scotland today. And as Stevenson's words so aptly sum up, Scots bloodlines have a marked tendency to uphold and cherish their roots.

Tracing your Scots ancestry and finding out more about those who have gone before bearing your family or clan name is an activity that these days is well supported by the world wide web. Some links to start you off on your search are listed below, but probably the best place of all to start, if you're in or visiting Scotland, is The National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh,

Armed with a reader's ticket you can check out the Library's range of directories and lists to help establish the existence of an ancestor at a specific address or to clarify his or her position within a profession. The Library houses family histories and individual biographies, trade and street directories, professional directories, army and navy lists, matriculation and graduation rolls as well as emigrant lists.

Official registration began in Scotland in 1855. All records since then are maintained by the General Register Office The National Library has a number of publications dealing with earlier data including: the International Genealogical Index (IGI) with some records going back to the Middle Ages; Old Parochial Records (OPR); Monumental Inscriptions; and Census Information. The National Archives of Scotland has family, business and church records, testaments, registers of property and records of the government of Scotland: Other sources include: (Scottish Archive Network) and

The Scottish Genealogy Society

The Society was established in Edinburgh in 1953 to promote research into Scottish Family history and to advance and encourage the collection, exchange and publication of material relating to Scottish genealogy and family history. The Society's Library and Family History Centre is situated at 15 Victoria Terrace in the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh and non-members can buy a day-pass. For more information phone +44 (0) 131 220 3677 or email The web address is

which is both a fascinating site in itself and carries many interesting genealogy and Scottish interest links that could set you off on many hours of delving into the past.

Other links that might help get you started on your search are: the dedicated genealogy site from and with its innovative search engine is also worth a visit.

A new 1.6 million Scottish Family History Centre is based at the East End of Princes Street in Edinburgh. It will bring together services currently provided by the General Register Office for Scotland, National Archives of Scotland and the Court of Lord Lyon.

Is it the real McCoy?

A word of warning though. Tracing your Scottish ancestry is fascinating but there are quite likely challenges and difficulties ahead. For instance, having the same surname does not necessarily mean you are from the same family, as surnames originated from only four main sources: from place, by profession, via patronymic (son of) and nickname. Also there was a rather limited use of first names in centuries past, governed by naming after forbears who tended to have the same names and so on and so forth. The result is that records tend to be filled with Roberts and Williams and Johns and Margarets, Marys and Agneses (if not Sengas). And the reason why you will come across so many nicknames is that it was sometimes the only way to differentiate between two, three or more people with not only the same surname but also the same first name!

Add to this factors such as Scottish women not always changing their surnames when they married and, that until about two and a half centuries ago, the spelling of proper names (as with many other words) was quite arbitrary and you begin to appreciate that it is not all straightforward. A little help from friends at organisations like the Scottish Genealogical Society can be invaluable here, to sift the Smiths from the Smiths, bundle or break up the Browns, and weed out the rogue Wilsons from the right Wilsons.

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