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BI 2023 Scottish Course

Scottish Research: The Fundamentals and Beyond

Scottish laws, regulations and records are different than those for the rest of the British Isles, and certainly different than in the United States. Yet there are enough similarities to create confusion for the unwary. In this course, we will address the fundamentals of all the major record groups, examining where to find and how to search the indexes and exploring what is and is not available online. We will go beyond the basic record groups to learn how to find the records that are available to solve your research problems, covering the medieval period through to the present. Case studies will highlight the research and record evaluation processes to determine next steps.

Your Instructor

Paul Milner, FUGA, MDiv

Paul Milner, lives is Chicago, Illinois, but is originally from the coast of Cumberland (now Cumbria) in northwest England. Paul has specialized in British Isles genealogical research for over 35 years. He teaches week-long English and Scottish research tracks at the ISBGFH British Institute, Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR), and Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG).

Paul is a recipient of UGA Fellow Award (2018) and the David S. Vogels Jr Award from FGS (2019). He is the author of six publications providing how-to guidance for English and Scottish researchers.

Paul is currently the book review editor for the BIGWILL newsletter and retired review editor of the FGS FORUM. He is currently on the board of the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History (ISBGFH), the past president of the British Interest Group of Wisconsin and Illinois (BIGWILL), and a past board member of the APG, FGS and GSG. Paul focuses on British Isles resources and methodology on his blog at

Course Description:


Students will be expected to read a book (any book, really) on the History of Scotland between the time of registration and the beginning of class. This is to have Scottish history fresh in your mind for it provides the framework and context to which the significant genealogical dates and events are attached.

Scotland – Definitions, Sources, Repositories and Processes

This session provides an overview of the major archives, societies, and institutions for Scottish research. It also identifies the Scottish genealogical how-to-books with recommendations, and an outline of the process for the week.

Scottish Emigration to North America

We will examine the many migrations from Scotland to the US and Canada, looking at push and pull factors over time. See how information about migration routes and settlement patterns can provide clues as to origins in Scotland.

Finding the Correct Place: Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are necessary for research and should be sought for any area and time period of interest. We will examine the history of map making in Scotland, looking at their original purpose and emphasizing the importance of boundary changes and their records. We will explore how to use the many high-quality maps available online.

Civil Registration

Civil registration begins in Scotland on 1 January 1855 and since then all births, marriages and deaths have been recorded by governmental authorities. Learn what records are available online, in person, and why there may be omissions. Understand naming patterns, illegitimacy, regular and types of irregular marriages, along with the changing laws.

Making Sense of the Census

Learn the background for developing and implementing the Census. Understand what the physical process was for taking and recording the census. Learn how to access, search and understand the results with examples.

Church Records for B/M/D

In Scotland there was no separation of church and state, they were intimately entwined. Scotland had an official (established) church and people were expected to belong. However, the church was not static, groups broke away and later reunited. Learn the church history and its impact on record keeping, and what that means today in terms of what has survived, and why some but not all records are online. Learn search strategies and how to deal with uncooperative ancestors.

Kirk Session Records

The Kirk Session is the lowest of the courts in Scotland, first created in 1559, concerned with the moral life of parishioners. This means that many will be found in these records, regardless of social status. Many of the surviving records came online in 2021. We will examine the laws that created the records and explore how to use the records.

Scottish Poor Law and its records

This session addresses how poor relief was carried out and changed over time in Scotland, looking at how the system was funded, operated and what records it generated.  We will examine the implications and definitions of who were the poor – the deserving and undeserving. We see the impact of charities, institutions, and destitution boards.

Occupation Records

We will examine sources for identifying the occupation of our ancestors: trade and professional directories; apprenticeship; burgh, guild, and freeman records. Then look specifically at sources for information about the occupation or trade itself all with the aim of putting the ancestor into context.

Inheritance: Wills and Executries

We discuss the differences between wills and testaments, explaining how the process works in Scotland. The court system changed over time, but consolidation of records online has made research so much easier.

Inheritance: Transfer of Land and Buildings

We will explore the different types of Service of Heirs along with the accessible indexes all to determine who is the legal heir. Then look at the Sasines which recorded the transfer of land. Order of succession regarding property differs from succession under Scottish civil law and this will be explained. We conclude by discussing the Registers of Deeds and Scottish heraldry.

Burghs and their Records

The first recorded burghs appear in 1120 but developed by introducing the feudal system, establishing law and order, led to the reorganization of the church, and were used to promote local and foreign trade. We will discuss the types of burghs, their main features, characteristics, problems along with how they regulated trade and apprenticeships. They had their own separate courts. We learn about the multitude of records they created.

 Overlooked Sources – 17th and 18th Centuries

The obvious records have been explored, now what? We will examine a wealth of tax records, valuation and stent rolls, statistical accounts, agricultural reports, estate papers, records of parliaments, forfeited estates, and numerous lists.

Overlooked Sources – 19th and 20th Centuries

The obvious records have been explored, now what? More taxes, electoral registers, rolls of freeholders and voter rolls, valuation rolls, education records, agricultural reports, trade directories, landowners, newspapers, and lists.

Planning Your Trip to Scotland

The prior talks discussed how and what to research. Here we will discuss how to prepare for researching and traveling in Scotland, what to do while you are there, and options for the non-family history traveling partner.

Pricing: Please see this page for British Institute pricing and discounts.

Other available courses:

Once More into the Breach (England)

Irish Law and Government Documents