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Top 5 Offline Sources for Genealogy Research

Don’t get me wrong – the internet is a wonderful thing. It’s revolutionised how we all do genealogy, and gone are the days where the only option was to spend hours in your local records office, painstakingly going through the paper registers recording births, deaths or marriages. Nowadays we can log into any one of a number of genealogy sites from home, and see everything from passenger lists to census returns at the click of a mouse.

The fact that it’s so easy to research online makes it easy to overlook other records which have yet to be digitised. It is really worth seeking out this hard-copy information, or asking a local researcher to access it for you. It can add real flavour and colour to your research, and take you beyond the basics of born, married, died and census. Here’s my top 5 favourite “off-line” records which you should consider looking at.

School Records and your Genealogy Research

Some admissions registers have been digitised, but many are languishing in archives just waiting to be consulted. Admissions registers like the one in the image contain genealogical information about the family, their address, sometimes the occupation of the breadwinner. Knowing when a family moved into an area and out again can help you put together a solid timeline showing where they were, and when.

Poor Law Records        


Another huge group of records which are not online is the poor law registers. Many have been indexed but that’s not the same thing; all the index will tell you is that the name you are looking for is in the records somewhere. It’s up to you to dig out the record, and see what information you find. Many poor law records give detailed information about a family’s circumstances, housing and number of children, and the reasons why they are in financial hardship. Subsequent applications are listed on the same forms.

Adoption Records

Before 1930 in Scotland, adoptions were not legally monitored and were organised by a multitude of charities, privately, or by the local poor law board. Children may have been “boarded out” in a type of fostering arrangement, and local authorities may have kept records of this. Although access to this sort of file is restricted until 100 years after the birth of the child concerned, most pre-1930 information can be accessed.

Hospital and Medical Records

Many health boards in Scotland have their own archives, others have stored records in large library collections. Lothian Health Services archive for example, covering Edinburgh, is part of the university of Edinburgh and might be able to help you access patient records, or employment records for former doctors or nurses. Privacy laws apply, but the level of detail contained in some of these records can add a whole new dimension to your research.

Directories and Phone Books

Some street directories for Scotland are available on the National Library of Scotland’s website, but a local archive will have much more detailed information. Track your ancestor’s address year by year, and how their occupation changed between the directories.

Accessing information in archives and libraries can be expensive and awkward if you live a long way away. It’s often far more cost effective to speak to a professional genealogist and ask them to go into the archives for you, than it is to travel and try to do it yourself. In the last few weeks I’ve helped clients look at shipping records, school records and poor law records, none of which are online. Please get in touch if you’re interested in similar research – I’d be delighted to help.


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