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The Scottish Genealogy Society
Article and photographs contributed by Brian Orr
Member of The Guild of One Name Studies

Narrow passageway between old high rise tenement buildings near SGS, click for larger view Going to Edinburgh is always a delightful experience and I know before I arrive that there will probably not be enough time to do all I would wish. I venture to suggest that is particularly so for anyone intent on tracing their ancestors in Scotland.

You will surely be torn between visiting the many ancient and historical sites; visiting the General Records Office to look up births, marriages and deaths; and visiting the National Library of Scotland to read that book that cannot be found anywhere else.

Of all the wonderful places to visit however, the Scottish Genealogy Society and its splendid resources is a must.

Who and where are they?

Entrance to the SGS, click for larger view Founded in 1953, the Society is a registered charity and aims to promote research into Scottish family history. It is, however, an academic and consultative society and does not undertake professional research (although a list of members who are professional researchers can be supplied).

The Society has its premises and the all important library and Family History Centre at 15 Victoria Terrace which is in the centre of the Old Town, close by George IV Bridge, the National Library of Scotland and the Edinburgh Central Library - a veritable wonderland for the researcher and all within five minutes walk.

If you have a long suffering spouse who would rather be doing something else, well the Castle, churches, museums, galleries and shops in Princes' Street are a short distance away. You can always arrange to meet for lunch in the crypt cafeteria at St. Giles Cathedral where excellent fresh food is available at a reasonable price.

The Society premises are a little out of the way, in that you need to be aware that Victoria Terrace is literally a suspended walkway that goes round the side of the towering old buildings and above Victoria Street. Victoria Terrace Walkway near SGS, click for larger view On the way along the terrace take the opportunity to look at the buildings and the very narrow space between them which is so typical of the old tenament blocks.

Will they have the information I seek?

There are a number of computers, fiche readers and a high quality copier to use with many fiche, including a major part of the Old Parish Registers of Scotland (with index of births and marriages), the 1881 Census for all the UK; the Latter Day Saints IGI for the UK, and Glasgow directories.

The Society is justly proud of having the largest collection of Scottish gravestone inscriptions in the world. So if you know the Parish and kirk where your kin are buried there may be a record here. Published inscriptions are available for purchase and copies of unpublished lists are available.

Racks of SGS books and files, click for larger view The Library itself contains several thousand books, many of them rare and out of print or limited editions, on a wide range of subjects. Apart from the usual directories, family histories and biographies there are works about the trades in which our ancestors engaged, old trade directories; school and university rolls; and military rolls of honour, casualty and pensioners lists. There is too a long run of "The Scotsman" magazine which is a treasure trove for researchers. Understandably these books are available only at the Centre and cannot be loaned out.

How many times have we stumbled when trying to find the ship on which our ancestor sailed to the far shores of America, Canada or Australia?

Of particular interest to visitors from abroad will be a range of books relating to families in other countries, from Ireland and the Commonwealth countries that have been donated to the library.

My personal "gold mine" was the cabinet of miscellaneous research papers donated to the Society which have not otherwise been bound. It was exhilerating to find notes from Kirk Session records in the 1600s, and large family trees that must have taken many years to get together. And on the shelves there are several hundred bound works that must be looked at, in the hope that someone has already worked on your line.

A researcher hard at work at the SGS, click for larger view Can I make enquiries by post or E-Mail?

Unfortunately the Society does not undertake research for enquiriers and only has a limited service for members where the information is readily available in the Library. As a voluntary association the Centre is staffed by volunteers, usually two at a time, and they simply do not have the time for research work. If you do enquire of the Society please be patient, your enquiry will be dealt with as quickly as possible. If writing to the Society please remember a self addressed stamped envelope (UK) or include two International Reply Coupons if from abroad.

The contact details of the Centre are:

Telephone or fax (+44) 0131.220.3677;


When can I visit and how much does it cost?

The Centre is open (except on Holidays) :

Tuesday 10.30 am - 5.30 pm,
Wednesday 10.30 am - 8.30 pm
Thursdays 10.30 am - 5.30 pm, and
Saturdays 10.00 am - 5.00pm.

The cost to non-members is 5 UK per day subject to space being available.

The premises are rather crowded and the Society is actively looking for larger premises, so a phone call can be helpful before visiting.

SGS Researchers use microfiche readers, click for larger view What can I buy?

There is a wide range of publications for sale - over 300 titles. A full list of items, order form and credit card payment facility is at the Society's web site where you will also find details for applying for membership of the Society.

Preparing to visit, OR:
How you can help the staff help you to get the best from your visit

So far as you can, make a note of the location, county, parish and kirk relevant to your ancestors, as well as any dates or approximate dates for significant events such as birth, marriage and death. What sort of job did the ancestor have? Did they own or rent land? Was their a will leaving estate to another relative? Are there any family stories which mention Scottish places? This will help to focus on the location, the correct registration district and enumeration district for your ancestor in such as the Census records, and make the best use of the resources that are available.

Don't forget that the Society collects printed books, manuscripts, periodicals, journals, mictofilm, microfiche, CDs and welcomes gifts and genealogical collections. If you haven't thought about it before, you may care to remember the Society as a home for your Scottish family history. Someone, sometime will be grateful to you.

Two researchers at the SGS, click for larger view Summary

You may have seen the look of wonderment on a child's face when she opens up that birthday or Christmas present. It was my actual birthday the day following my visit but when I saw the wide range of resources available in the Centre I felt as if I had had all my birthdays at once. I just wanted to sit down there and then read, read, read.

So be warned, there probably will not be enough time to read or examine all you want in a short visit; a half a day possibly. But 5UK for a full day is extraordinarily good value and you should take advantage of it.

I would add my thanks to Ainslie Crawford who kindly showed me round on my visit and the Council of the Society for permission to take photos and write about the Scottish GenealogySociety.

Article and photographs contributed by Brian Orr

Guild of One Name Studies
Researching Orr worldwide
Information exchanges always welcome.


Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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