The society is unable to conduct research on behalf of members, but we recommend the following professional genealogists for those who would like research carried out on their behalf. All are respected specialists in Scottish records. Please contact them directly to discuss your requirements and their fees.
The technology available to us means that it is now very simple to initiate your own family history research. The Scottish Record Office’s website – www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk – will enable you to search many original records online, including statutory registration (ie, births, marriages and deaths after 1855,) parish registers, wills, inventories, census returns and some valuation rolls.
If you would like to take this route, Clan Hay archivist Alan Hay offers his Top Ten Dos and Don’ts which may help those who are new to this.
- Do start from what you know as a matter of certain fact. Conjecture and supposition are unhelpful and will ultimately prove frustrating if the research fails to bear it out.
- Don’t believe everything you hear. Whilst information gleaned from relatives from earlier generations can be invaluable, it nonetheless needs to be corroborated, as family stories have a tendency to become embroidered and take on a life of their own.
- Do ensure you work only from original records. The numerous ancestry websites that now exist can be useful for sharing information, but they are only as valuable as the information someone else has chosen to publish there. This varies enormously in its accuracy.
- Don’t be surprised if your research reveals something about your family that shocks or concerns you. We all have skeletons in our family closet and every family has its black sheep.
- Do ensure you allow plenty of time. Research in original records is slow and can become disheartening as you plough through documents that lead you nowhere. Persistence, however, always pays off.
- Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that someone of the same name as your ancestor is necessarily the same person. Great care must be taken to differentiate one ‘John Hay’ from another, especially when using parish registers in areas where the same family name was common (the fishing communities of north east Scotland, for example.)
- Do try to develop some local knowledge of your forebears’ home turf. This can be crucial in how effectively you interpret information, especially when dealing with early records where concrete proof is lacking and you need to make a judgement about how likely any particular scenario is. Time studying maps – both old and new – is well spent.
- Don’t read more into documents than they are literally telling you. For example, in census returns, a key source for 19th century family history, every individual in the household is defined by their relationship to the head of that household, usually the ‘man of the house.’ Imagine, for instance, a household consisting of a man, his wife and several sons and daughters. The census is saying that they are his sons and daughters, but not that they are hers. She may be the mother of some, all, or none of the children.
- Do allow room for error in the records you look at. For example, our ancestors were often rather vague about things like their age. So, when looking for the birth of someone aged 80 at the time of the 1851 census, you may need to search for five years or more on either side of 1771 to find a record of their birth (or, more likely, baptism.) Bear in mind also that birth and death certificates record information given by the ‘informant’ (the person who registered the event with the parish registrar) and consist only of what the informant knew, or believed to be the case. This has particular relevance for post-1855 death certificates: if the informant was the spouse or a child of the deceased, the information on the certificate is likely to be broadly accurate; if the informant was a neighbour, or a son in law, or a cousin, it may be incomplete or just plain wrong.
- Don’t ignore sources that seem unrelated to your ancestors’ births, marriages and deaths. There is a plethora of ancillary material that will tell you more about the detail of the lives they led and this will often enable you to resolve uncertainties or anomalies thrown up by the basic sources. Furthermore, these sources (sasines, Kirk Session minutes, heritors’ papers and much else) will become increasingly important as your search extends beyond the mid 18th century; earlier than this, births and deaths were rarely recorded, and genealogical information very often needs to be deduced from looking at documents that were principally concerned with recording something else.
© Alan Hay 2012