Thursday, 15 July 2010

What are the best Scottish genealogy books?

I was asked by someone what books I could recommend for Scottish genealogy, that can help those at a more advanced level with their research? The following are a few in my collection that instantly spring to mind...

By far and away, the best is Rosemary Bigwood's book The Scottish Family Tree Detective: Tracing Your Ancestors in Scotland (Manchester University Press, 2006). What makes it work is the combination of top insight into the world of Scottish genealogical records and a superb writing style - it's an academic book in some regards, but not written in an academic manner, and half the battle is making something readable in the first place! Very punchy, and directly to the point.

Another key resource I have is a golden oldie really - National Index of Parish Registers Vol XII: Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History, by D. J. Steel (Society of Genealogists, 1970). A real highlight are the sections on marriage and on the history of the different churches in Scotland, yet to be bettered in a genealogical guide - and immense kudos for identifying family history and genealogy as separate disciplines in the title! On the downside, it is a bit out of date in terms of describing the locations of records, but you will be under no doubt as to which records you need to pursue.

A faithful friend not usually far from me on the desk is Andrew Dewar Gibb's Student's Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms (W. Green & Son Ltd, Edinburgh, 1946). I stumbled on this on eBay, but it is packed with useful old legal definitions constantly referred to in records.

Diane Baptie has a series of guides published by SAFHS which can also be of use. Parish Registers in the Kirk Session Records of the Church of Scotland, The Parishes, Registers & Registrars of Scotland, and most usefully, Registers of the Secession Churches of Scotland. The information is actually online, but it makes one heck of a difference to be able to pick up a guide and instantly find what you are looking for! Inexpensive, and essential for your collection really. Bruce Durie's Scottish Genealogy (2009, History Press) is also handy for land records research, and has a useful legal glossary at the back.

Other handy ready reckoners include A Scottish Historian's Glossary by Lawrence R. Burness (SAFHS, 1997) and An Introduction to ... Occupations: A Preliminary List, 2nd ed by Joyce Culling (2003, FFHS), not mention the various Gibson Guides available from Family History Partnership (

I have dozens of books on Scottish research, and on other topics such as heraldry, handwriting and more, but these are some of the more useful for practical day to day research, and for researching what Billy Connolly calls us "ordinary people"...! I hope the list might help!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)


Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

This has nothing to do with this post. It’s just that there appears to be a problem with your new ‘torn paper’ background (which I can’t say I’m crazy about).

It is displaying alright in Google Chrome. In IE8 it’s alright except the ‘Home’ and ‘About Chris Paton’ tabs are detached from the main page. In Firefox I suspect that the main block of text at the top is nowhere near where you intended it to be. In addition, the ‘paper’ looks a bit as if it has been cut too short at the top, not to mention the bottom.

At least that’s how things are on my computer. I thought I’d better let you know.

All the best,

Chris Paton said...

Hi Anonymous,

Sorry you don't like the new look - I guess you can only please some of the people some of the time! I run the blog on both IE8 and Firefox, and they both seem fine to me. The image template does run short, but I'm afraid I can't do anything about that. But thanks for your comments!