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Pete Cummings on Tracing Your Ancestors

Pete Cummings, the late Clan Sinclair Genealogist, posted the following on the Sinclair discussion list, 22 March 1998. —jsq
Your inquiry suggests that you would like to find an easy way to trace your ancestors. I'm sorry to say, it is very unlikely that you will be that lucky unless you find a close relative who has already done the work.

My suggestion is to start with yourself and work backwards as far as you can. Write down dates and places of birth, marriage, & death. As you go back, you will get to some unknown data. Go then to that location and look at the certificates of birth, marriage, or death to get other data listed on that record. Expect to pay $5 per certificate. Use them to trace earlier records.

Check again with me to see if I have your earliest ancestor in our Clan Sinclair Archives. If I do, then I can give your a great deal of earlier data.

If I do not have your ancestors in our records, then you have to dig further. If you get to ancestors in Scotland, then you can pursue the following route.

Scotland is a good place to seek information about your ancestors and your family history because the country made the central registration of births, marriages, and deaths compulsory in 1855, much earlier than in many other lands. Even before 1855, parishes under the predominant Church of Scotland were just as meticulous, some keeping records as far back as the 16th century. In general, records in the south and east of Scotland started in the 17th century, followed by the northern and western parishes during the 18th century The far-flung Gaelic-speaking islands took up the practice during the 19th century. Though mold, mice, fire, and even floods have damaged or destroyed some parish records, the details from the bulk of them are now all safely listed in Edinburgh at the Scots Ancestry Research Society.

Tom Johnston, then Secretary of State for Scotland, established the society in 1945. The society has access to many sources, such as the nearby Official Central Records Office, plus census, property and similar records, old newspapers, local history archives, and information from graveyard researchers.

Using a library of information collected during the past 50 years, the society's researchers can eliminate much of the time-consuming groundwork that tracing your ancestry requires. This nonprofit organization charges an initial minimum fee of $60 to conduct a preliminary search, which largely reveals if it is worth searching further. After that, customers pay as they go; the society never undertakes more research until a user gives the word. The cost of tracing one's family line typically averages between $150 and $250. Rarely do successful searches exceed $420.

Many visitors find it useful to commission the Society's initial help before they come to Scotland, taking their own part in it once they arrive. The society can also, on request from any client outside Scotland, undertake the entire search. The final report it prepares provides an amazing amount of detail, including accurate quotations from the original records, plus names occupations, addresses, in formation from gravestones, and even maps. It can also suggest relevant back ground reading and other helpful hints.

Many have described the thrilling moment when, at the search's end, they stood in a church graveyard and saw their family's name engraved there. The moment I learned of the society, I rushed to find out the details that its staff would need from my own family which, though I am a Scot in Scotland, I know of only the past two generations. Like many others, I now cannot wait for the moment when I find myself contacting a family member I did not know existed or visit a place connected with my family's past.

The Scots Ancestry Research Society is located at
Scots Ancestry Research Society
Mrs Margaret D. Anderson
18 South Learmonth Gardens
Scotland, UK
Tel: +44 131 332 7565
Tel: +44 1324 622 429
Another approach you could take is to employ the services of a professional researcher, such as
John MacInnes
Highland Heritage
5 Chapelton Place
Muir of Ord, Rossshire IV6 7TG
phone 44 01463-871125
fax 01463-715586
Such persons are registered and are familiar with the repositories of data. Typically, they charge about $100 per day plus expenses. Terms should be quoted before you engage them.

Best wishes!

H. S. "Pete" Cummings, Jr.
Clan Sinclair Genealogist

Last changed: 99/11/21 14:37:35 [Clan Sinclair]