Friday, 4 August 2017

Press Release - 40,000 ‘Lunatics’ - Scottish Genealogy Website Enables People to Discover the True Lives of their Ancestors

Logo with words purple 10cm 72dpi.jpg

40,000 ‘Lunatics’ - Scottish Genealogy Website Enables People to Discover the True Lives of their Ancestors

4 August 2017

Glasgow, Scotland – Today Scottish genealogy website move another step closer to their goal of indexing all historical Scottish mental health records from 1858 to 1915. This release means the index now has 40,000 entries from across Scotland and includes people from every walk of life.

Admission forms for John Rae Thomson MC2_1 No. 3503 image 3 section _ Facts indicated by others_ the boys called him “daft feck”.jpg
John Rae Thomson - Facts Indicated by Others - “His mother states...that the boys hooted & ran after him in the street crying “daft Jock”. (More images available in the press kit)

These historic mental health records give the story behind the facts. A census record may tell you that your great-grandmother was in an asylum, but not why she was there and that’s what we really want to know. This project, lead by Scottish Indexes, is supported by a growing team of volunteers.

Emma Maxwell, genealogist at Scottish Indexes says, “Our mission is to help people not only research their Scottish family tree, but also understand the lives of their ancestors.”
MC2_3 No. 4105 page 2 _ Question 13_ Supposed cause _  A fall on his head as a child.jpg
George Patrick Baillie - Supposed cause -  A fall on his head as a child (More images available in the press kit)

The records being indexed by Scottish Indexes are held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh. Without an index they are hugely time-consuming to search and access to the records would usually mean a trip to Edinburgh. These records contain not just names, dates and places but personal information. For example the admission form of John Rae Thomson tells us that the supposed cause of his mental health problems was ‘Premature Birth’. The same record gives his mother’s account of how boys tormented this poor 26 year-old.

Viv from Scotland says, "Although I knew that some of my relatives were in mental health institutions, the indexes at Scottish Indexes and linked original records have allowed me to find out far more about their stories. I feel that I know so much more about these people, and the information is invaluable."

Ailsa from Australia says, “I have been using Scottish Indexes for quite some time now and found many references to my own family within them. They are great for me to use from Australia.”


For further information please contact:
Emma Maxwell, Genealogist, Scottish Indexes,

Notes to the Editor

  • We have prepared a press kit containing 15 images which can be used across all media platforms (download here: These show full pages of the records and we have selected certain interesting sections of each page which we thought would be of particular interest to your readers. Each is embedded with a copyright statement (approved by the NRS) for your convenience. The examples given can be found in our index: MC7/1 p. 168  - John Rae Thomson and MC7/1 p. 173 - George Patrick Baillie

  • is run by Scottish genealogists Graham and Emma Maxwell, a husband and wife team based in East Kilbride, Glasgow, Scotland. Indexes are created by Graham and Emma with the help of a team of volunteers. All indexes are free to view and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) reference is given so users can either access the documents without charge at the NRS, or purchase the service from Scottish Indexes.

40,000 Scottish Mental Health Records

We have been working along with a very hard working team of volunteers and we have now reached a milestone in our project to index Scottish mental health records. We have indexed the first 40,000 entries.

If you have not used these records before you will be amazed by them. Sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes reassuring, but there are so many stories to tell. For example here is an excerpt from the entry of Jean McTavish or McAlpine. Jean was aged 60 and a widow, it seems that the ‘supposed cause’ of her health problem was intemperance. Below is an account of what a doctor observed. It seems she imagined herself to be only 26 years of age, and that she was a bird.

Reading these records makes the people come to life in our minds, I can almost picture poor Jean in front of the official, looking rather older than her 60 years perhaps, but all the while believing she was only 26. Granted, this record does not answer all our questions, but it makes Jean real. It tells us more than the basic records and it preserves the memory of poor Jean for her descendants.

Friday, 14 July 2017

For the Love of Genealogy - One Client’s Story

A client came to us recently with a birth certificate form 1855. On the document there is a correction to say that the Sheriff Court had reached a decree and named the father. Our client would like to find more information on this case: who wouldn't?

The problem is that the case was heard in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, the volumes of extracted decrees for Aberdeen Sheriff Court are largely missing (we have indexed the few remaining volumes which are held by the National Records of Scotland). The processes, a type of court document, do survive and they can contain very interesting information, we have even found love letters. The problem is that it can take hours of work to find the entry you need.

The NRS catalogue states about the Aberdeen Processes, “Some processes have been filed under dates other than year of Interlocutor (sometimes through misreading of the figures), but most will be found in the two years before or after that date.”

Our client decided she wanted to search for the 1857 processes. We began our search some months ago. As you can imagine, even in the 1850s, Aberdeen Sheriff Court was busy so there are a lot of boxes (you can see a photo of a box of processes on our website).

There are 10 boxes for 1857, to search 2 years either side (as is suggested in the NRS catalogue) would mean searching 55 boxes!

We have now searched 15 boxes, all the 1857 boxes and some either side. We have found 167 cases… but none of them are the case we are looking for.

The good news is that by making this search we have noted all these other cases so that you can now search these entries on We want to say a huge thank you to the client who has helped us add these cases, and let you know that if you had an illegitimate ancestor in Aberdeen it may be worth searching our website to see what you can find. If you do find a case which helps with your research, take a moment to think about our lovely client who can’t find her case.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Genealogy Beyond the Internet

Every week more records are added to the hundreds of genealogy websites. Find My Past release new records every Friday. We add records as we index them and sites like Ancestry add their own records and index records from a large collection of other websites. Never has it been easier to research your family tree online.

The reality is however that what is online is just a drop in the ocean of the records that are available. In fact, the records that are not online are often the more interesting records.

We have indexed a small proportion of Scottish prison records but there is a lot more work to do! The National Records of Scotland hold some fascinating records, such as property records and deeds which can hold the key to unlocking your family history.

Sometimes though, in the records we have available, we have a clue. If we stop and think about the records we have easy access to we can open up a world of further possibilities.

Here’s an example. A client came to us recently because she noticed from the 1871 census that two of her relatives were in the Mossbank Industrial School. This was a tantalising piece of information, why were the boys there? How long where they at the school for? So many questions.

We were able to tell her that the records of the Mossbank Industrial School are held by the Glasgow City Archives at the Mitchell Library. Sadly there is no online catalogue but their website states that they have got records of pupils.

We were commissioned to go and investigate. We found that very detailed records survive for the school. The two lads were admitted in 1870 and are described as ‘Destitute’. We located another volume of records, this time discharge records and these were the most fascinating. On leaving the Industrial School regular information was sent back and recorded in the register. Here are a couple of entries I liked. “Doing Well, is employed in Mills. Stays with Father at Innerleithen. Had a letter on 23rd January 1874.” “Still doing well. Heard from him on the 31 March 1876”.*

I just love these wee piece of information. From the lads being released on licence in November 1873 right through to 1876 we can see that they did well; where else could we find these details?

The next time you are researching think about what the census is telling you, ask questions and try to find the records to answer them. If you need some help just get in touch and we can help. The above research was done for just £25. Hiring professionals doesn’t have to break the bank but could help you break down a brick wall. 

*This information is taken from items D-ED7/146/5/2 and D-ED7/146/3/1 both of which are held by the Glasgow City Archives.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Register of Emigrants from the Western Isles to Ontario

Kisimul Castle, Castle Bay, Barra

Chris Lawson emailed to let us know about a new publication of special interest to people researching their family from Uist and Barra in the Western Isles of Scotland. We thought this was a great opportunity to share some of our photographs from Barra.

Barra is a breathtaking island and well worth the journey. The reality is that as beautiful as the island is, many people have left over the years. Bill Lawson Publications have just published a 'Register of Emigrants from the Western Isles to Ontario' Volume 2.

This volume covers the main area of emigration from North and South Uist and Barra to Ontario and gives details of over 300 emigrant families from these areas. This new volume is priced at £15 and is available from along with volume 1 which is priced at £12.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Where did your Scottish Ancestors Live?

New Abbey Village
Once you have found your ancestor’s entry in the census you may decide to find out more about the house and the general area where they lived. Here are a few sources that could help you.

The National Library of Scotland has a great collection of Ordnance Survey maps available for free on their website. If your ancestors lived in a town the high detail 1:500 scale maps might even show trees in your family’s garden! 


The ScotlandsPlaces website can add another piece of the jigsaw. Available for free on their website are the ‘Ordnance Survey Name Books’. These volumes give information about placenames and building names on the first edition Ordnance Survey mapping which took place in the mid-19th century. They also give a description of each place. An example is East Lodge in Dumfriesshire, Volume 1, “A small cottage one story high slat[t]ed & in good repair. Occupied by Mary Dalziel who keeps the gate. It is the property of the Trustees of Hoddam Castle it being at the eastern entrance of Hoddam Demesne.” 


Scottish property records, called sasines, can also add more detail. Sasines are held by the National Records of Scotland and from 1781 there are indexed abridgements which can be searched by place or name. These give a description on the boundary of each property and often mention the neighbours in this description. Don’t expect to find plans though, or at least not in the older records. The extent of each property is usually described in words. 


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Dog Tax

For many households, dogs are very much part of the family, but they do not generally appear in official records. For a brief spell in the 18th century, however, a tax was levied on dog owners (this tax was on non-working dogs). The tax records for Scotland are available on the ScotlandsPlaces website (which is a free website), so you can easily search them to find out if your family had a (non-working) dog.

The Dog Tax rolls 1797-1798 are in two volumes, arranged by county with each parish being listed within that county. Let us know if you find a entry relating to your family.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Using Sasines to Research Your Scottish Family History

Dumfries High Street
Scottish Property Records or Sasines (pronounced 'say-zin') can be a great way to trace your family tree: if your ancestors had property.

When property was transferred through purchase or inheritance a legal document called a sasine was created. As well as telling you where the property or land was they also give the ‘designation’ of the old and new owners. If the transfer is between family members this is particularly useful but even if it’s between unrelated people the clues can help you piece together your family story.

The great thing is that from 1781 Scottish sasine records are indexed. The register begins in 1609 and some counties have indexes before 1780 (there are some records before 1609 but they are incomplete). With the exception of burgh registers the sasines have digitally imaged by the National Records of Scotland.

National Records of Scotland
Obviously until the 20st century most Scottish families did not own property so this is not a resource that is universally useful. If your family did own property though the sasines are definitely worth consulting. You can read more about sasines on the National Records of Scotland website or get in touch and we can search them for you.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Scottish Adoption Records

The National Records of Scotland
One of our Frequently Asked Questions is: How can I locate adoption records? It comes as a surprise to many people that until 1930 there was no formal adoption process in Scotland. Formal adoption records are closed for 100 years but if you are the child concerned you can access your own records. See the National Records of Scotland’s website for details.

In most cases people ask us about adoption records because they have been researching their family tree and discovered that their ancestor was orphaned at a young age, raised by someone and record these ‘adoptive’ parents as their parents on a marriage certificate or other record.

In many cases the arrangements for an orphaned child were done on a private basis, perhaps the child was taken in by a relative, friend or neighbour. In some cases children were ‘boarded out’. These are usually cases where a child would have been in the poorhouse but rather the parish arranged for a local woman to care for young children, what we would call foster care today. Of course some children did end up in the poorhouse if there was nobody to care for them.

If this has happened to your ancestor, you may well want to find out more about the situation. Poor records are often the place to start. You can find a comprehensive list here, click the link ‘Records_of_the_Scottish_Poor.pdf’. This list, created by Scottish genealogist Kirsty Wilkinson will tell you which records exist and where to find them.

If you need any help get in touch and we’ll see how we can help you.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Scottish Handwriting

We genealogists (amateur and professional) have all experienced the joy of finally locating the document we need. Whether it’s online or in an archive, that sense of joy and achievement can soon dissipate when you open the document to realise you cannot read a single page. You may even be sitting there wondering what language it is in!

Never fear, help is at hand! is a free website to help you learn how to read Scottish handwriting from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The free tutorial you will find on this website will help you learn to read older documents. There are tests so that you can see how well you are doing and helpful background information so that you can understand what you are reading. 

Of course if you are still struggling, get in touch and we can help you out with sections of a document or make a full transcription for you:

Monday, 10 April 2017

Scottish Roman Catholic Parish Records

You can now access Scottish Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms, Marriages and Burials on FindMyPast. These have been available on ScotlandsPeople for a while but for those of us with the British subscription package to FindMyPast these Catholic records will be included in our existing package.

If you’re researching on a budget it’s worth asking if FindMyPast or other sites are available through your local library. One library they are available in is the National Library of Scotland. Also FindMyPast offer a free trial so this could be a great time to start tracing your Scottish family tree.

If you’ve been researching your family tree but you’re a little stuck, come to us and we can help you get over the brick wall and get your research back on track.