Realistic expectations - ancestors
You may choose either to follow:
- It should not necessarily be expected that the birth record of the original Scottish-born ancestor will turn up automatically, even if the descendants have provided a name with approximate date and place. Many emigrants take the opportunity to change their name, age, occupation, etc. Many people born in the same area at about the same time are given the same name. The ease with which the first birth certificate can be found depends on the accuracy, as well as the fullness, of the information provided.
- It is usually a simple matter to trace from a post-1855 birth certificate back (however many generations) to ancestors who were alive in 1855, even allowing for variations in spelling of the surname.
- Before 1855, there was no compulsory registration of births, marriages and deaths. If your ancestors did not bother, there may be no earlier records, apart from the scanty information on the 1841 & 1851 census returns and post-1855 death certificates.
- The death certificates of the people who were alive in 1855 may be time-consuming to find (especially for common surnames), but this may give useful information about their parents. (Which may be the only information available, if their birth registration can't be identified). Scottish death certificates give far more information than English ones regarding the parents and spouses of the deceased.
- It may be possible to find the birth and marriage registations of the parents of the older generation of 1855. This may take you back as far as the late 1700s, if some of your family died of old age after 1855.
- Earlier than that, it is a matter of chance whether anything was recorded at all, and it was not usual for the marriage records to contain enough information to identify the grandparents of the children of the marriage, even if they did use the child-naming traditions. Unless there is some other source of information (newspaper announcements, marriage contracts, wills, property transfers, informative and well-preserved gravestones, etc.), that may be the end of the line. Only affluent families tended to have these.
- Education only became compulsory in 1872, and before that many working class families could not afford to have their children educated (i.e. not earning while at school). Illiterate people do not announce their births, marrriages and deaths in the local newspaper, or record them in a Family Bible. They may also not see any need to have them recorded in the Parish Register, especially if they live in a small village some way from the town where the Parish records are kept.
Note that some lines may be traceable back much further than others. Owing the the amount of intermarriage that went on, you might find that your maternal ancestors lead back to some prominent person with the same surname as you, even if your paternal ones do not.
- Your paternal line - i.e. your father's father's father's father's father's ... only.
- Your bloodline ancestors - 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great ...
- The gaps in the research that you have already done
Having gone back as far as possible on the provable evidence, (including marriage contracts, wills and newspaper BMD announcements as well as the official registers) there are then two choices available:
- Stop there and give up.
- Work further back on the basis of probability, bearing in mind that you may be following the wrong people (who might well be cousins of the right people).
Note that if the marriage record gives no clue as to the parents of the couple, and only one person of that name exists in the birth records of the previous generation for the appropriate location, that does not prove that you have found the right person.
There were many more children born than registered, and it was very common for there to be several cousins of approximately the same age with exactly the same name. (As can be seen from the Census returns).
Also, spelling of surnames was a matter of arbitrary chance, and some first names were interchangeable (e.g. Janet and Jessie, Jane and Jean, John and Iain, James and Hamish).
However, several more generations may be traced back on this principle, as long as it is clearly understood by the client that there is no reason to believe that these are necessarily the right people.
Realistic expectations - living cousins
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- Finding siblings of ancestors born before 1855 is easy - assuming that a family who had one child registered did so for all of them. However, their descendants would be VERY distant cousins of yours.
- Siblings of ancestors born after 1855 but before 1901 may be indicated by the Census returns, making it quite easy to trace their births. This is only possible if the family have already been positively identified on the Census.
- Finding birth certificates of siblings born to the same parents after 1855, and particularly after 1901, is simple but time-consuming, especially for common surnames. The post-1855 birth records are not indexed by the parents' names, so it is a simple matter of looking at the birth certificates of every child of that surname. (The parents' names are only on the certificates, not in the index). The Census Returns help, in showing whether the families moved to a different area, and how many children there were on the Census dates. However, Census returns are only available up to 1901. After that, it is a simple but time-consuming matter of examining each certificate. Remember that I charge by the hour of searching, not by the number of right ones found.
- This method will not turn up the children of unmarried parents who were registered under the surname of their other parent. It is a matter of chance whether these will be found at all.
- It may be that several days of searching reveals only descendants who died childless, or who disappear from the records on account of having emigrated or died abroad. There is no guarantee that you actually have any cousins living in Scotland. You pay by the hour of searching, not by the number of cousins found.
- In any event, I can only find (at most) the birth and marraige certificates of living cousins, not their current addresses. People moved home a lot more often during the 20th Century than they did previously. Unless your cousins have had a recent birth, marriage or death with a current address on the certificate, you won't find them.
- I would not recommend this unless there are very uncommon surnames involved. It is probably enough to stick with the siblings and cousins who your ancestor actually knew. (I did once find the living descendants of a Victorian John Smith - but only because they lived at the same address for many decades).
- Actually, the best way to find living cousins is to search the web for the names of your ancestors, hoping that a living cousin is doing the same thing. (I found a previously-unknown third cousin living in Germany because she had put my great-grandparents on a web page, and another in a different branch of the family who was looking for our mutual ancestors in a surname discussion forum).