Trace Your Scottish Ancestors

WARNING: The Pursuit of Your Ancestors is Highly Addictive!!

For me, this is a bit of an understatement, as I have found myself getting way off the main trunk of my family tree and involved with following so many teeny, tiny “branches.” It is very time consuming, but also so much fun! The one piece of advice that always holds true while searching for your ancestors is to start with yourself, then work back through your “proven” relationships. If someone in your family told you that you are of Scottish descent, or are related to Bonnie Prince Charlie or even William Wallace, you must start with yourself and work your way back to prove the connection. Or, in my case, while hiking the West Highland Way in my youth, I phoned home and my great-grandmother told me “did you know that your 3rd great-grandmother was born in Scotland?” That was news to me, but years later as my affinity for Scotland grew, I researched my GGG-grandmother and her family, along with many other ancestors with diverse origins and very interesting stories.

Today’s pursuit of the people from your family tree looks very different from the search that Claire, Brianna, and Roger set out on to find a record of Jamie after Culloden. The days of having to go from local county records offices to parish churches, then to local libraries and various archives is no longer a necessity. You can now find many resources through any electronic device via the internet, from any location. Keep in mind that not all public records have been digitized, but thank goodness today’s technology has provided us with so many online databases that we can utilize from home; many of which are FREE!

Here are some of my favorites:

Access to worldwide genealogical records. FamilySearch contains the “largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world.” There are also over 4,000 FamilySearch Centers that can be visited worldwide.

Chronicling America

Search America's historic newspaper pages from 1789-1963. Jointly sponsored by the National Endowment for Humanities and the Library of Congress. 


Ellis Island

American immigration records. There is a fee to download copies.

Fulton History

Historical newspapers from the US and Canada.

The National Archives (UK) online collections

Link to the research guides for searching the 5% of records that have been digitized thus far.

National Archives (US) online collections

Link to the US National Archives genealogy resources webpage, with links to a variety of records.

Scotland’s People

A website of the National Records of Scotland.


A webpage of fantastic guides and suggestions on researching your ancestors in Scotland.



A wonderful webpage of resources for Scottish ancestry research.

Library and Archives Canada: Ancestors Search

Births, Marriages and Deaths Recorded in Canada.

Also check with your local libraries to see which databases/resources they may have available for genealogy research.  These may be available for use at your local public library, or from home utilizing a remote login provided by your library. They may include access to:

American Ancestors

Ancestry (library edition)

Heritage Quest


World Vital Records

Many public and private libraries also have genealogy specialists who are available to assist you with your research in their collections. Some even have the names of independent genealogists who will do research for a fee.

Obviously, these are not all of the databases that are available for genealogy research online, but they are some of the best that I have found that are free. They will hopefully get you started in your search and lead you to other relevant sources on your ancestors. I recommend that you exhaust them as much as possible before turning to pay or subscription services. Keep in mind that these databases are usually constantly updated, so return frequently to see if new information has been added.

If you have done your research from home and have managed to locate an ancestor’s place of origin, you may want to contact the local records office or parish church to see what they may have available for you to take your research further. It may, or may not, require that you travel to that location to search their collection of records. Don’t forget to include military and court records in your searches, many times they can provide you with more information than you might imagine. As Roger found during his search for Jamie, precious nuggets of information may show up in the most surprising places.

If you never find your ancestral connection to Scotland, don’t be disappointed, you have a Scottish heart! I guarantee you will certainly find some interesting stories, along with a few surprises. Remember that we are all related to each other, and our genealogy is interwoven like the Outlander tartan we wear to show our love of Jamie, Claire, and all things Outlander. Have fun unraveling the unique story that led to the creation of you!


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