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Getting Started

Many people are interested to know where they came from and thanks to the Internet, researching your family history is now so much easier. To trace your Scottish ancestry and find out when, where and how your relatives lived, follow the advice below and enjoy this fast growing and increasingly popular hobby.

Success/failure - Determining Factors
How successful you are in researching your Scottish family history is determined by a number of factors, many of which are out with your control - the survival of records, how common your surname was, your family's mobility, their social status and level of literacy, and the possibility of transcription errors. However, success can also depend on your own tenacity, keeping an open mind and not taking anything for granted, being methodical, approaching a problem from more than one angle and corroborating any evidence you may find.

What Do You Want To Achieve?
Before you begin your family history research, it is a good idea to focus on what you want to achieve. Do you wish to pursue the paternal (male) line with its continuity of surname, or the maternal (female) line, or perhaps even verify a family legend? You may find that the decision is made for you, if the research proves difficult. If, however, you decide to pursue more than one line, always file the results separately to avoid confusion.

Family History Begins At Home
The golden rule in family history research is to try to work backwards from what you already know. As such, family history truly does begin at home and you may be surprised at how much you already know or have access to within your own extended family. It is not necessary to have a lot of detail to start, but it makes sense to log whatever information is readily available and to seek out further details from relatives.

Begin by recording your own details - date and place of birth, marriage, spouse, children - then the details of parents, grandparents and so on as you recall them.

Relatives and Anecdotal Evidence
Information from relatives can increase your knowledge of the family, but a patient and tactful approach is required. Family anecdotes can become distorted with the passage of time, but should still be noted for later verification.

Documents, photographs
Most families can lay their hands on old documents or photographs, which can be of use to the family historian. Examples of things you might find are:

Birth, marriage or death certificates, obituaries, family bible, school leaving certificates, apprenticeship papers, university/college graduation certificates and awards, military service records, business papers, immigration papers, diaries, address books, birthday books, letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings, memoirs.

Old photographs may jog the memory of an elderly relative, and it is important to ask them to identify as many faces as possible, so that this information is preserved.

Any information that can be gathered from within the family can help to establish a foundation on which to build your family history.

Read Up on Family History, Join a Society
Libraries and bookshops stock a range of material on family history. Look for books that concentrate on sources for Scottish research, which differs markedly from that in England. You may want to consider joining a family history society in your area. For a very small annual fee you will receive all the benefits of membership (magazine, research facilities, well-stocked libraries, research services, ready advice) and meet like-minded individuals. Consider also joining a society in the area in which you are conducting research. See www.safhs.org.uk for details of and links to Scottish family history societies.

Handwriting Guides
Handwriting guides are available here.

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