Effective family research requires understanding the historic events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, local events, laws, migrations, settlement patterns, and economic or religious trends may help you understand family movements. These events may have led to the creation of records, such as poor law records or military records, that mention your family.
Your ancestors will be more interesting if you learn about the events that shaped their lives. For example, a history may tell you what events occurred in the year your ancestor married and how those events may have impacted their decisions.
Some key dates and events in Scottish history are:
843Kenneth MacAlpin becomes king of the Picts and Scots. This marks the first united kingdom in Scotland.
1174 William the Lion surrenders the independence of Scotland to Henry II in the Treaty of Falaise.
1306 Robert Bruce assumes leadership of a rebellion against English rule.
1314 Robert Bruce defeats the English in Battle of Bannockburn, maintaining Scottish independence.
1325 The English recognize Robert Bruce as King Robert of Scotland.
1514 The recording of testaments (wills) begins in Scotland.
1552The General Provincial Council orders each parish to keep a register of baptisms and banns of marriage.
1560Protestantism is established. The authority of the pope is abolished, and celebrating mass becomes illegal.
1592 The Presbyterian Church is formally established.
1600The calendar changes from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
1603The crowns of England and Scotland unite.
1608 The Plantation of Ulster in Ireland is established to prevent Irish revolts against English rule. By 1640 there were 40,000 Scots in northern Ireland.
1690The Presbyterian Church is permanently restored and becomes the Church of Scotland.
1707 The Act of Union is formed between Scotland and England, creating Great Britain.
1715 Thousands of Scots support James Edward Stuart, called "Old Pretender," as the king of Great Britain. This is called the first Jacobite rebellion.
1745 Many Scots support James’ son Charles Edward Stuart, also called Bonnie Prince Charlie and the "Young Pretender," as the king of Great Britain. This is called the second Jacobite rebellion.
1746The English defeat the forces of Charles Edward Stuart in the Battle of Culloden. After this battle, the English executed many clan chiefs and outlawed kilts and bagpipes. These restrictions were removed in 1782.
1779 The Industrial Revolution begins to affect Scotland.
1829 Roman Catholics are permitted by law to buy and inherit property and keep records.
1841 The first census of genealogical value is taken.
1855 Civil registration begins.
For dates and information concerning battles and wars, see the "Military Records" section of this outline. For key dates and information concerning church records, see the "Church History" section of this outline.
The following are a few of the available sources to help provide you with a perspective of the historical events. Major research libraries may have these books:
Cook, Chris, et. al. British Historical Facts. London, England: Macmillan Press, 1975-. (FHL book 942 H2ccb.) This source lists key dates, offices, and office holders in Scottish and English history.
Moody, David. Scottish Towns: A Guide for Local Historians. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1992. (FHL book 941 H27m.) This source describes the background and structure of Scottish towns, and discusses sources for researchers.
Sinclair, Cecil. Tracing Scottish Local History: A Guide to Local History Research in the Scottish Record Office. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Record Office, 1994. (FHL book 941 H27s.) This book describes local historical records available in the Scottish Record Office.
Smout, T.C. A History of the Scottish People 1560- 1830. London, England: Collins, 1969. (FHL book 941 H2sm.)
Smout, T.C. A Century of the Scottish People 1830- 1950. London, England: Collins, 1986. (FHL book 941 H2sma.)
Smout, T.C., and Wood, Sydney. Scottish Voices 1745-1960. London, England: Fontana Press, 1990. (FHL book 941 H2stc.)
Steel, Tom. Scotland’s Story: A New Perspective. London, England: Collins, 1984. (FHL book 941 H2ste.) This book gives a good general overview of Scottish history.
The Family History Library has many national, county, and parish histories for Scotland. There are also many other histories for specific time periods, groups, occupations, or places. You can find histories in the catalog under one of the following headings in the Family History Library Catalog:
SCOTLAND - HISTORY
GREAT BRITAIN - HISTORY
SCOTLAND, [COUNTY] - HISTORY
SCOTLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - HISTORY
Many bibliographies of history are also available. Look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under SCOTLAND - HISTORY - BIBLIOGRAPHY to find the ones available at the Family History Library.
A local history describes the following information about an area:
- Prominent families
- Founding of churches, hospitals, schools, and businesses
Even if a local history does not mention your ancestor, you may find important clues that suggest other records to search. Local histories also provide background information about your family’s lifestyle, community, and environment.
Many places have more than one history. There are numerous published histories about Scottish parishes and towns. Many are available at the Family History Library. Similar histories are often available at major public and university libraries and archives.
The following three works include histories for each individual parish. The histories were written in the late 1700s and early 1800s, usually by the minister of the parish:
Sinclair, John, ed. The Statistical Account of Scotland. Wakerfield, England: EP Publishing Limited, [197?]. (FHL book 941 B4sa; on 322 FHL fiche beginning with 6026527.)
The New Statistical Account of Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1845. (FHL 941 B4sa 2nd Series.)
Mather, Alexander S., ed. The Third Statistical Account of Scotland. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins of Glasgow, 1987. (FHL book 941 B4sa 3rd Series.)
You can find local histories listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under SCOTLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - HISTORY.
In 1600 Scotland changed from using the Julian calendar to using the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar began the calendar year on 25 March and ended the year on 24 March. The Gregorian calendar started the year on 1 January and ended the year on 31 December. Thus, before 1600, January, February, and the first twenty-four days of March came at the end of the previous year instead of at the beginning of the next year.
The year 1599 consisted only of nine months: January, February, and March (1-24) 1599 became January, February and March (1-24) 1600.
For calendar conversions, go to: