Welcome to Scottish Genealogy Tips And Tidbits

A wee bit of info to help you in your journey to discover your Scottish Ancestors and maybe even crack a brick wall or two!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Has Ancestry Dot Com Made Us Lazy As Researchers?

In the last two weeks I have heard so many stories about incorrect information on public family trees and that because the information gets shared exponentially, it makes the  mistakes that much more widespread.

In the past week, I have also held two online webinar/workshops to assist people to become more efficient at Using the ScotlandsPeople website. It takes a completely different tack to use this website because it is NOT a subscription website. However, it is also the only website where you can view original images of the Scottish registers and see all of the information that was gathered at the time of the event. And Scottish documents are some of, if not THE best for providing genealogical data.

It occurs to me that part of the issue that ties these two things together is that subscription sites like Ancestry Dot Com have created a slew of lazy genealogy researchers. Part of the joy in genealogy is the thrill of the hunt. We tune into, hone and cultivate our inner detective. But the subscription websites like Ancestry Dot Com take the need for these skills away. We upload a tree. Shaky leaf appears. Click. New document. Click and attach. No thought, no detective skills. It doesn't even matter that this might not be YOUR ancestor. The website has become more of a computer game than a tool to enhance our genealogical skills. And that, in turn, leads to all sorts of false information being spread all over the 'net.

I see a leaf, click. Oh, this tree says my gt gt grandfather died in Ohio. If I haven't learned to hone my inner detective, I might take this with a "thank you for all of the work you have saved me" and incorporate this information into MY tree. Except my gt gt grandfather never left Scotland. In fact two couples and one single man were the only ancestors I have that emigrated to the US. No matter how many shaky leaves I get, that fact is not going to change. My personal frustration with Ancestry is that despite the fact that my tree details that my ancestors were all in Scotland, I get matched with records that are 5000 miles from the land of my ancestors. My professional frustration with Ancestry is that it requires no detective skills, and is raising a generation of lazy genealogy researchers.

Let's look at what skills are REALLY needed to be able to be successful as a genealogist. You will note that neither clicking a mouse nor copy and pasting make the list.

Know how to find information
Yes, Ancestry Dot Com is a rich database. They host a wealth of records. I can remember how hard genealogy research was before Ancestry Dot Com made records from other states and other countries available. They have enriched our experience as researchers and our opportunities to access the information we crave. Use them as a database and be grateful that your subscription gives you unlimited access to the records they hold.

Other online databases are also fantastic resources. As are libraries, local, state, provincial or county archives, genealogy societies and family history centres. Don't limit yourself to just one point of research.

Cultivate an eye for detail
Look at every piece of information on that document. Look again. Put it aside for a day or two and then look at it again. You will be surprised at what you see that you didn't see the first time. Remember those posters that have words written backwards, numbers interspersed with letters and yet we can read what the poster says? Our brains read without paying attention to details. But to be a good genealogist, we need to pay attention to the details on the documents. To do that, we need to look at every detail. Put the document aside and then look at it with fresh eyes a few days later.

Develop your reasoning skills
Being able to think through a problem without making illogical leaps will help you resolve conflicting information. And it will help you to understand what caused the conflict in the first place.

Pay attention
This isn't the same as cultivating an eye for detail. Pay attention to what the information is telling you. Is this really your gt gt grandfather? If you pay attention to dates of events, you will know that he can't possibly be because that would have made him 8 when your gt grandma was born. Same name. Same location. Same father's name. But the dates are terribly wrong. Therefore, he can't be YOUR gt gt grandfather. He may be your ancestor so don't discard the document. Just don't ignore the information that shows he isn't the ancestor you think he is.

Keep notes
Notes are important. Keep notes on who you have received information from. Where you have checked for documents. What you have learned and what you still need to find out. Notes will keep your research focused and will help you to make better sense of the documents you find and who the information should be attached to in order to be correct. It will also help you know who also knows a particular ancestor so that you can go back and re-visit what they know that you don't and vice versa.

Critical Thinking
Simply stated, use your noggin. Piece the parts of the puzzle together and know why the flat sided pieces don't fit in the middle of the picture.

Active Learning

As with any activity you are passionate about, keep learning. Listen to webinars. Go to conferences. Attend talks and workshops. Read blogs. It's important to keep up to date with what is new, what others find useful, new record sets that have been released. It will make you a better genealogy researcher and will really help you hone your inner detective. 

Free Access to Find My Past This Weekend

Find My Past announces that from 7am on Friday, March 6th (EST) to 7am Monday, March 9th (EST) their records will be free to view.

Note that EST is GMT -5:00

Here's the link to get you started on your weekend of genealogical discoveries:


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Everything I Need to Know to Be Successful in the Genealogy Community, I Learned in Kindergarten

Why is it that when it comes to researching our family histories, we all seem to lose our sensibilities? Whatever happened to the basic rules of sociability that we all learned in Kindergarten? Remember these?

1.) Play Fair - there's plenty of room in the sandbox for everyone. There's no need to throw mud at others who are also trying to make a living in genealogy. While there might be some who are better known in a particular field, it doesn't mean others can't also be good in that same sector or niche. It's not ok to talk badly about others just because they, too, understand the same things you do and want to help others know them too.

2.) Share - when you learn something new, show others. When you are successful by using a new tool or new technique, show others. When new opportunities arise, show others. It won't take away from your success. It will make the genealogy community a better place.

3.) Don't take things that aren't yours - sharing and stealing are not the same thing. If you don't have permission to take it or use it, it is considered stealing. If you didn't research to find that document, it isn't yours to claim. If you didn't create that family tree by hard work and good detective work, it isn't yours. If you didn't write that book, then the look-ups you offer to others, aren't yours to share. If you didn't research that talk, the slides aren't yours to share. The fact that the big boys in the database world turn a blind eye to stealing in the name of profit doesn't make it right either. If you don't have permission to take it or use it, it is considered STEALING. Don't take things that aren't yours.

4.) Don't hit people - when a new comer is just learning and says or writes something inaccurately, don't hit them where it hurts. Don't publicly shame them. Be nice. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Be gentle, considerate and respectful. Help them. Don't hit them.

5.) Clean up your mess - when you can't follow the other rules and play fair in the sandbox, clean up your mess. How? Easy.....

6.) Say "sorry" - and mean it

Saturday, 14 February 2015

WEBINAR: From Family Tree to Family Treasure

Next webinar:

Saturday Mar 7, 7:30 pm EST (GMT -5:00)
Fee: $7.95

From Family Tree to Family Treasure
Beginner/Intermediate Level

Now that we have those research documents, bits of scrap paper, newspaper clippings, photos, obits, e-mails and other assorted bits of “research”, how do we preserve them for future generations?

Make the most for your research by creating and presenting a family treasure that will ensure that your family stories won’t be forgotten.

  • How to start
  • Various Formats for Preserving Your Family's History
  • Who to include
  • Prompts for telling the stories
  • Learn about adding photos, maps, newspaper articles, certificates, recipes and other items to round out your names, dates and pedigree charts
  • Learn how to find out more about the social history of your ancestors for inclusion in your family book so that you can put context to your research
  • Dealing with the skeletons and scandals

To register:

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Scot's A Scot Even to the Twentieth Generation

Few words have more truth. No matter how many Scots I meet, whether born and raised, first generation or ten generations removed, Scots have a fierce and proud claim on their heritage. Not a chest-pounding machismo sort of pride. But a calm, deeply entrenched sense of belonging. 

It is this inherent sense of who they are that gives the Scot descendant, who visits Scotland for the first time, the sense that they have returned home. A calm, comfortable knowledge that they belong here. THIS is where their roots started.

Is there such a thing as the memories of our ancestors being passed along in our DNA? Hard to know for certain. But something in our genes, our culture makes us KNOW where we came from and to whom we belong. 

One of the best parts of working and interacting with the Scots diaspora on a daily basis is their quickness to indulge in their heritage and all things Scottish. The symbolism, the celebrations, the traditions, the music. Photographs, food, memories evoke a depth of response that, for many cultures, is beyond understanding. 

Genetically and biologically, I belong to a huge family. My maternal grandfather fathered 21 children. All but one survived to adulthood. My paternal grandparents had 9 children. 8 of them survived to adulthood. A feat in and of itself. 

At a young age, my parents and I left our home and family behind for a better life in Canada. Mum had 2 sisters and a niece here. But in many ways, my upbringing was likely more Scottish than that of my cousins in Scotland. Every summer, all summer, Scotland came to us. The family arrived in pairs, or in packs, but they always arrived. 

In addition, all of my parent's friends were Scottish. We celebrated every tradition and holiday known to Scots. My parents regularly had a ceilidh, as had been the tradition in my dad's home when he was growing up. Of course, my dad was the only one that was musically inclined, but the others were always up for a get together. 

Our house was the focus of the neighbourhood and friendship circle every Hogmanay. The cleaning, the cooking, the food, the Auld Lang Syne circle and of course the First Footer. And then there were the Burns Nights. Not that we called them that. And not that they always occurred in January. But there were times when the haggis was made, paraded out on a platter and aptly addressed by my mum as she recited, from heart, Rabbie's immortal words. 

I find that now that most of my parents' generation have passed on, I crave those moments more with each passing day. This past couple of weeks, however, has provided some wonderful opportunities to re-connect with those traditions. I enjoyed sharing my heritage with friends at a Burns Night sponsored by Clan Donald Southern Ontario and then 5 days later, was able to enjoy the Scottish Tattoo at the Sony Centre where I also manned a booth for the Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada. 

People flocked to the table to see what their tartan looked like. Some were clearly moved when they touched the swatch of material. Lots of memories were shared and lots of humour shared. And a deep sense of knowing that in our heritage, we belonged to each other and to our ancestral homeland. 

Saturday, 31 January 2015


Two new quick guides to assist you in your Scottish research:

The first is Preparing for a Genealogy Research Trip to Scotland

This guide is essential for you to be successful as you prepare for a research trip to Scotland. Planning ahead is the key to a successful research trip. 

Learn where to research, how to prepare and who to contact for a personalized trip to the area of Scotland where YOUR ancestors lived. 

There is also a workbook to accompany this quick guide:

The second quick guide is a great resource in understanding some of the reasons that your ancestors may have emigrated to North America. This will assist you in understanding the historical events that led to mass migration, passenger lists and re-created passenger lists and the Passenger Vessels Acts that regulated the passage of emigrants. 

Here's the link to the e-store:


Making Effective Use of The ScotlandsPeople Website
Monday Feb 27 @ 7 pm
MAR 2 @ 7:30 pm EST (GMT -5.00)

This workshop will help you to understand why using this website is critical for Scottish Genealogy Research. You will learn how to have more success in your searches and how to reduce wasting credits. You will learn various aspects of the website to assist you in becoming more comfortable with using this very valuable resource.

The workshop will NOT be available later as a recording, so if you are unable to attend, you will not be able to access it later.  Handouts will not be available so you will need to be able to take notes.