Hints for Researching Shetland Ancestors.
The premises on the Hillhead are open for research:
Every afternoon (Monday to Saturday inclusive) from 14:00 until 16:00
Monday and Thursday Evenings from 19:00 until 21:00
It may be possible to open the premises outwith these hours.
Please contact the Secretary if you wish to visit and are unable to come during the normal opening hours.
WHERE DO I START?
As with all research write down what you do know, show this to your
oldest surviving relatives and see what gaps they can fill in. This will
give you a head start.
Decide which branch of the family you are going to trace first - trying
to do them all at once leads to confusion especially when there is a
common surname between different branches.
I HAVE ESTABLISHED A SHETLAND CONNECTION
Do come and visit if you can and make sure you have plenty of time. In
the meantime join the Society.
[End of advert!]
Seriously, try to get hold of the birth, marriage and death certificates
of the relative for whom you have the earliest information. This will give
you the names of that person's parents and take you one generation further
WHERE DO I FIND RECORDS?
Statutory registration of births, marriages and deaths started in
Scotland in 1855 and all records are held by the Registrar General in
Edinburgh. Shetland records are also held by the local Registrars in
Shetland. Note that Scottish Death Certificates usually give the names of
Prior to statutory registration, registers of births, marriages and
deaths were kept by the Established Church of Scotland i.e. the Old Parish
Registers (OPRs). These are far from complete but the originals are held
in Edinburgh with micro-film copies held by the society here in Shetland.
Another source for pre-1855 records is the International Genealogical
Index (IGI) compiled by the Mormons from various records. This is not
complete but it is a good place to start. Microfiches of the parts of the
Index relating to Shetland and to some other parts of the United Kingdom
are held by the Society.
WHAT OTHER RECORDS ARE OF USE?
The National Census Record is an excellent source of information - as
long as you know approximately where your family were living. The records
for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 1891 and 1901 are open to the public and
microfilm copies of the Shetland Censuses are held by the Society.
Within Shetland there are other miscellaneous records surviving such as
rentals, private census records, newspapers (see below) and Presbytery Minutes from
which snippets of information might be gleaned. In addition to which the
many of the collective gleanings of members have been collated by the
Society into their own Shetland database. This can be very useful to
members trying to fill in gaps in their information.
The Birth, Marriage & Death Notices from the Shetland Times for the years 1873 to 1900 have now been transcribed in full by Janice Halcrow and are available at Shetland Newspaper Transcriptions
CAVEATS WHEN RESEARCHING SHETLAND ANCESTORS
- Until the 19th Century the use of patronyms was still widespread in
Shetland. Be prepared for the family surname to change with each
generation as you go back.
i.e. Laurence Garthson b. abt 1695
had a son Gairth
Laurenson b. abt 1715,
who had a son Theodore Garthson b. abt 1851 in Yell d. October 1821 in Norwick, Unst,
who had a son William Magnus Theodoreson b. 29 April 1798 in Unst. -
you can see how things soon become complicated!
- The I.G.I does not take account of patronyms so Gairth Robertson the son on Robert Gairthson, baptised 19th August 1738 in Mid and South Yell, Shetland is shown on the I.G.I as Gairth Gairthson.
- Until this century a woman rarely changed her surname on marriage.
Her death may therefore have been recorded under her maiden name. i.e. Ursula Murray who died in Norwick, Unst on 18th December 1854
was the wife of Theodore Garthson (and, to continue the first point above, some of their children used the patronym Theodoreson and others the surname Garthson!).
- Parish groupings changed over time so your ancestors may not have
moved even though records seem to indicate that they have. i.e. the
island of Burra was at one time part of the United Parish of Bressay,
Burra and Quarff. Some indexes such as the IGI may show a birth or baptism record
for Bressay when the birth or baptism actually took place in Burra - see the
Parish Map for the relative positions of these
three places! i.e. John Inskster b. Houll, Burra on 27th October 1828 is shown on the I.G.I. as being born in Bressay, Shetland, Scotland.