Finding your Scottish ancestors online thanks to technology

Tim Ellis, chief executive of the National Records of Scotland, browses files at Register House in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL
Tim Ellis, chief executive of the National Records of Scotland, browses files at Register House in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL
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It is one of the largest online sources of original genealogical information in the world, allowing the public detailed access to records dating back centuries.

ScotlandsPeople has attracted around one million unique users per year since it was launched in 2002 by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), making it one of the most popular publicly-funded websites in the country.

Census records from 1911, including information on the well-known Scots actor Alastair Sim, are among the thousands of documents that can be viewed through ScotlandsPeople. Picture: Neil Hanna

Census records from 1911, including information on the well-known Scots actor Alastair Sim, are among the thousands of documents that can be viewed through ScotlandsPeople. Picture: Neil Hanna

The platform has become the first stop for anyone around the world with Scottish ancestry, eager to piece together their family tree.

Staff at Register House, the Edinburgh base of the NRS, believe technological advances have helped fuel a growing interest in genealogy.

The website was relaunched in September and the improved service allows users to search statutory record indexes - including births, deaths and marriages - for free.

Users are only charged if they wish to view or download a record image.

The upgrade also features an improved web design which allows customers to access Scotland’s People across digital devices, and an enhanced search function which allows them to locate and view records with greater ease.

Additional records are to be made available in 2017, including further old parish records, and from January customers will be able to view statutory birth records for 1916, marriage records for 1941 and death records for 1966.

The NRS is hopeful the new-look site will encourage more customers from around the world to take advantage of this unique resource.

READ MORE: The Scottish diaspora: How Scots spread across the globe

Currently, 67 per cent of traffic to ScotlandsPeople comes from the UK, with 11 per cent from the US, a further 11 per cent from Australia, and seven per cent from Canada.

“ScotlandsPeople is internationally recognised as the place to begin research into Scottish ancestry,” said Tim Ellis, chief executive of NRS.

“There’s no doubt that as technology has progressed, the number of people researching their family history has continued to rise.

“The genealogy community is a hugely collaborative one and it is satisfying to know that sites like Scotland’s People bring people together from across the world.

“Scotland is one of the few countries that has such an accessible service and we’re proud to offer people the opportunity to embark on, what is for most people, a hugely personal journey to understand who they are and where they come from.”

There is certainly no lack of potential customers around the world.

In 2009, then First Minister Alex Salmond invited “the 100 million-strong Scottish family” to return home for a year of cultural celebration.

The figure is a generous estimate and is largely made up of those who claim indirect Scottish ancestry.

When more distant Scots are included, estimates of the size of the diaspora increase, a 2014 report by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory found.

“But while there may be much debate over the size or correct definition of the Scottish diaspora, it seems clear that a strong and enduring sense of ‘Scottish’ identity is important enough to be a fundamental part of the personal identity of many descendants of Scottish emigrants,” the report said.

“It is this sense of identity, in particular, that affects elements of modern Scotland’s economy.”