A Day in the Scottish Record Office

Bill Shankland, Glasgow, Scotland

Today the SHANKLAND name is to be found all over the world. But so far as I know, all Shanklands can trace their forebears back either to the South-west of Scotland or to Northern Ireland. And it's strongly suspected that the Ulster Shanklands themselves came from Scotland in the 17th Century, when protestant families were encouraged to settle in Ireland, on land originally occupied by Irish Catholics.

So most people who are searching for their Shankland roots need to do so, at least in part, in Scotland.

When I first became interested in doing some research, beyond the bounds of my own family's collective memory, I was greatly encouraged by reading a book called "Scottish Roots" by Alwyn James. The first thing it told me, on the cover, was that "Scottish Genealogical records are among the best in the world for Family Tree research." I can certainly confirm, now, that these records are indeed superb. Not only that ... they are much more freely available to researchers than are equivalent records in, say, London, for English and Welsh researchers.

For Scottish researchers, then, your Mecca is New Register House in Edinburgh - tucked away in a corner, just off the famous Princes Street. Tear your eyes away from the famous silhouette of the Castle, Princes Street Gardens and the shops, and New Register House will provide you with a multitude of records to keep you happy for a day ... or for years if you wish.

The principal records for Family Tree research purposes are:

that is, Certificates of all births, marriages and deaths which have taken place since civil registration began in 1855.
Censuses have been taken every ten years since 1841 (except for 1941). However they are not made available to the general public until 100 years have elapsed, so only records for the censuses 1841 to 1901 can be accessed by researchers.
prior to 1855. These have been copied onto Microfilm, and consist of Births (or Baptisms), Deaths (or Burials), and Marriages (or Banns), and they can go back as far as 1553. However, these OPRs as they are known are far from complete, and they vary in condition from excellent to virtually unreadable.
These were the original Parish records, compiled by local churchmen. Even in their original state they varied greatly from parish to parish and from era to era, depending on the enthusiasm and standards of literacy of the Minister or the Session Clerk of the period. In addition, many records have suffered the ravages of time, and were in a sorry state when they were eventually microfilmed.

The dedicated researcher will find among this lot enough material to keep him going for a long time. But what about the beginner? Well, armed with only your own date of birth, and enjoying a minimal amount of luck, you should be able to trace your family back to 1855, or perhaps even a little beyond that, with only the Statutory Records to assist you.

Get there early (unless you've booked one of the small number of places bookable in advance). Make sure you are armed with a plentiful supply of paper and pencils (pens are not allowed!) Pay your search fee [currently 17] for a day's search of all records, and you'll be allocated a desk in one of the Search Rooms.

Nowadays almost all the Statutory Records are on Microfiche, for which Readers are available. To identify these records, you need first of all to go through the various Indices, which are all on computer, so again there are plenty of Visual Display Units (VDUs) available.

At the VDU you key in the following information:

  1. B, M, or D - to select the type of record you want, that is, Births, Marriages or Deaths.
  2. The year.
  3. M or F - for Male or Female
  4. Surname.
  5. Initial of Forename.

A list of ALL the names that meet these requirements will appear on the screen, with Parish Number and Record Number against each one. These Numbers allow you to identify the actual Certificate you wish to examine.

In my own case, my first entry to the VDU would be:

B / 1927 / M / SHANKLAND / W //

Fortunately Shankland is not too common a name, and there were only two names in response to this input, one of which showed:

SHANKLAND, WILLIAM. Glasgow Govanhill, Parish Ref. 644/16, Ref.No.794

This allowed me to go to the Microfiche cabinets and retrieve the one containing the copy of my own Birth Certificate. Since [Scottish] Birth Certificates give the date and place of your parents' marriage, I was now in a position to get details of their Marriage Certificate.

Back to the VDU, and the following entry to give me the Marriage reference

M / 1927 / M / SHANKLAND / R //.

Family Tree

There was one entry only, for Robert Shankland and Elizabeth McLean, which was the one I needed. Incidentally, the inclusion of the partner's name in the Marriage Index is a good guide if there are a number of entries in response to your input - though not required in this instance.

So the Parish Reference and Reference Number enabled me to retrieve and view my parents' Marriage Certificate. This Certificate, in turn, gives both partners' ages at marriage, so this means you can narrow down their year of birth to one of two years.

By following these processes of identifying Birth and Marriage references, I was able to trace back my family as follows:

As a result, therefore, of one day's research at New Register House, and using only the Statutory Records, I was able to trace back FOUR generations, and this enabled me to compile an outline Family Tree of SEVEN generations.

Later I was able to trace back a further TWO generations, making NINE in all, using the Old Parish Records. I was also able to widen my family horizons considerably by means of the Census Records. But these are subjects for further articles!!

Bill Shankland, May 1994