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Genealogy With - Gordon Johnson

Gordon Johnson Index Page

Family History

Researching your family history - The Basics.
Getting Started
by Gordon Johnson.

First thing to do: collect family birth, marriage and death certificates from relatives, or get photocopies of them. What follows assumes they are Scottish certificates (English and other countries have variations in content). 

Starting with yourself, examine your birth certificate. It tells where and when you were born, including the time, the names of your parents, and if they were married at the time, the date and place of the marriage. That enables you to move to your parents marriage certificate (if a copy is not held in the family, you can order a new copy from the Registrar-general in Edinburgh, or from the local registrar where the event was registered.) Registrar addresses are in the phone book under The marriage certificate gives the ages of the parties, addresses and other details, and the names of the parents of each. by simple arithmetic, you then know within a year or two when your parents were born, and knowing their parents, the birth certificates of each can be located in registers. These birth certificates then reveal the next set of parents names, etc., and you repeat the process back to 1855, which was when the system started in Scotland.

Before that date, you are into the less helpful church registers, but from 1891 back to 1841, you have another source, the UK census, which happened every ten years and is available on microfilm at many libraries - each with the ones for their own area. 

The 1881 census is the only one fully accessible for the whole UK, as it has been transcribed and put out on 26 cd-roms, thanks to a major family history project that took years with thousands of volunteers. I have a complete set in my research library, as it is not too expensive, produced through the Mormon organisation, they being the main organisers of the project.

I'll tell in more detail about the church records later, but before you get to that point, there are other records you may wish to use, and they will mainly be found in archives departments - the local one being the North Highland Archive at Wick, housed above Wick Library, opposite the hospital.

Local Authority archive departments often have educational records from local schools of a century and more ago, business records, records of town and county councils, records of local organisations of all kinds. You should check with the archive department to see what records might be useful with your family history, be it farming or fishing, a trade or business.

They also hold maps and plans, and often a set of the local census records where not held by the local library.

There is another archive that you should not forget, and that is all the papers and documents held by your relatives, plus family photos. We'll go over these another time.