Sunday, 16 May 2021

David Dobson’s Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond

Recently, I received an unsolicited and complimentary copy of Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by David Dobson. The Genealogical Publishing Company have previously asked me to review a publication on Irish genealogy, and I expect their intention is for me to do the same again here too. I should point out, I have little to no experience with Scottish research. Nevertheless, I have numerous DNA matches hailing from Scotland, and having now read Dr Dobson’s book, I am hoping to make use of it someday very soon. All opinions are my own.
Chapter 1: Getting Started introduces the basic sources for Scottish genealogical research, and the official government website ScotlandsPeople, where they can be accessed. It also introduces Scottish surnames and provides a list of the main Scottish archives and libraries, their addresses and web addresses.

Chapter 2: Major Record Sources provides further details on each of the basic record sources in Scotland, i.e., the post-1854 statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths, decennial census returns, being full household returns, from 1841 to 1911, and Old Parish Registers (OPRs) for the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (the Kirk) that included most of the population. Other providers of these records are also noted. You just gotta love Scottish genealogy! With these records, it should be possible to build a pedigree chart, with names and dates, back to the later-eighteenth century, and if the parish records survive, maybe even back to the mid-sixteenth century. And all without leaving home.

Chapter 3: Church and Other Religious Records Of course, many church records are not available online. In this chapter, Dr Dobson provides an extensive list of publications and archival records addressing some of the gaps in OPRs, and covering break-away Presbyterian churches, as well as the Methodist Church, the Congregational Church, the Baptist Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Quakers, Freemasonry and Judaism, among others.

Chapter 4: Secondary Sources Over half the book–81 pages–covers what Dr Dobson refers to as ‘secondary sources.’ By this, he means sources other than the 'major record sources' previously discussed. Dr Dobson's fifty years' experience comes across in this comprehensive list of publications and manuscript sources and where to find them, including in many cases URLs. There is something for everyone - gravestone inscriptions, records of Scottish taxes through the centuries, Sasines and land transaction registers, court records, wills, maritime records, burgh records (i.e., of semi-autonomous towns or ports, for example), school records, records of guilds and apprenticeships, poor law records, and many, many more. These amazing pre-1850 sources should almost certainly enable everyone advance their research well beyond mere names and dates. It makes you hanker for what might have been, had the Public Records Office of Ireland not burned to the ground in 1922!

Chapter 5: Emigration Dr Dobson discusses Scottish emigration over the centuries, identifying publications for further reading, to: Scandinavia, several Mainland European countries, Russia, Ireland, Australasia, Latin America, Africa, Asia, North America, and the West Indies. Seemingly, the Scottish Diaspora rivals only the Irish!

The inclusion of an Index, and a Surname Index to the numerous names mentioned in excerpts from selected sample publications and manuscripts, is a bonus.

Dr David Dobson is a highly regarded Scottish historian and genealogist. He is a recognized authority on the Scottish Diaspora, and the author of over 200 books. This 158-page guide to Scottish genealogy, first published in 2021, may be aimed at the beginner, however, with its extensive lists of other, less well-known early source material relevant to Scottish research, more experienced researchers will undoubtedly find it indispensable too. I would dearly love to have someone to start researching now!

Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by David Dobson, may be purchased on the publisher's website,, for US$25.95, or from the Book Depositary, for €25.88, with free delivery worldwide (ISBN: 9780808321134).


  1. I have at least ONE solid Scottish ancestor - John Frazier. If I thought he could take me to Jamie Fraser, I'd buy that book because you have written a review that seems thorough and helpful. While there were many Fraziers in colonial Virginia, I cannot prove MY Frazier line before 1800.

  2. Good for you Dara! I have one line from Scotland The surname is Galloway. I've traced them back to George Galloway who was born in the late 1700's in Massachusetts/Vermont USA, then a dead end. I have no idea how to go further since I don't know George's father's name or even if he was an immigrant. I'm lucky my Irish came over much later when records were better.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!