Common problems when tracing your ancestors with the ScotlandsPeople Index
The GROS index used by ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk does not give sufficient information to do the job completely. You can't be sure whether you have the right person before buying the certificate.
For example, the index to the birth records after 1855 does not give the names of the child's parents (although these are on the certificates).
In any case, there is always more information on the actual certificate than there is in the index.
The index cuts off at 1904 for births, 1929 for marriages, and 1954 for deaths. Later records are only available inside New Register House.
However, if you want to search for marriage or death certificates for people with common names, or for any records after the cut-off date of the index, then you still need somebody to go there in person and copy it down by hand from the microfiche (in pencil - no ink allowed).
As many users of ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk have found, there are some problems in trying to trace your ancestors using the index, or even by buying £10 certificates one at a time from New Register House's web site.
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- Many images are missing, mismatched or illegible. You do not find this out until after you have paid. This is not a problem at NRH, as the originals are kept there.
- There are many parts of the country where one particular name is very common, and there may have been quite a number of people born in the same place in the same year who were given exactly the same name. As the index to the birth records (after 1855) does not give the names of the parents, you are stuck.
- It is not economically feasible to search for common names on any type of pay-per-view system.
- Before 1855, marriage records did not generally state the names of the parents of the couple. Even the phrase "of this parish" does not necessarily mean "born there". It is sometimes possible to find the couple's parents using other information given in the Parish Register which is not on the Index.
- There are often 2 birth records for the same child (birth and baptism). There are many cases where the parents' surnames were spelt differently on each record.
- There are often 2 marriage records for the same couple. This may be because they came from different parishes and had to have the marriage registered in each one. Sometimes one record is the banns and one the ceremony. The names may be spelt differently on each one.
- People who did not belong to the established church may have had separate civil and religious weddings, which may have been on different dates and places. (They may have regarded marriage in the Parish Church as a civil marrriage). Or they may have had their religious wedding registered in the civil records at a later date. It was very common in some remote places to leave the church wedding until the first christening was due (when the Priest insisted on it).
- The parents' marriage date as stated on a child's birth certificate does not always correspond with the actual marriage record. (How many husbands can ever remember their wedding anniversary). There are cases where the parents of a large family have given a different date and place of their marriage on each child's birth certificate. Many people can't remember their wedding anniversaries.
- There are also many cases where a newly-bereaved widow or widower did not get the names of their long-deceased parents-in-law correct when registering the death of a spouse - or even the deceased's birthplace or age. This is even more the case where the death is registered by a stranger, who probably did not even know the correct age, let alone anything else.
- Many people believe that they were born in the town where they grew up - and then give that wrong information as their birthplace on later certificates.
- Many people said that they were born "here" because they were afraid of being deported if they admitted to being from somewhere else.
- Many people are known by a nickname other than the one they were born with. Sometimes certificates list this nickname instead. (The Censuses frequently do).
- The online index cuts off at 1904 (or 1954 for deaths). You have to know of an ancestor born before that before you can start looking. You can't trace cousins of your own generation that way. It is necessary to be present in the building to access the later records for unknown cousins.
- There are always some people who run away from home and change their names. Emmigrants often take the opportunity to make a fresh start. Typing in the name by which the person was known to his/her descendants does not always get you very far. (You can run up a huge bill and still not find them).
- The civil authorities only introduced compulsory birth, marriage and death registration in 1855. Before that, it was up to each individual parish - which usually only included their own parishioners. If your ancestors were not Church of Scotland, they may not always have been listed. It should be possible to trace some of the Church of Scotland lines back to 1600, but not all the registers survived.
- The registers of other denominations are also kept in Edinburgh, but are not indexed by GROS and are not available from ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk. It is necessary to be there to search them.
- Before 1855, many records are simply missing - whether because the registers did not survive, or because the people did not have the events registered at the time.