Scotland’s People Centre

During my recent trip to Scotland, I got to spend 3 1/2 days researching at the Scotland’s People Centre/Register House. For those of us researching Scottish roots, this place is invaluable. Scotland’s vital record keeping is among the world’s best. Lots of what’s available at Scotland’s People in person is also available online through their excellent website, but definitely not all. And  there are great advantages to being on site, even with the records that are available from home.

First of all, the building is lovely.

In the lobby, you check in and pay your fee, and there’s a useful shop of family history books and other bits and pieces. As with most archives, you’re not allowed to take bags, coats, or pens through, so there’s a locker room to leave them in. If you’re going, take one of the old pound coins instead of the new two-tone ones, for the time being at least, to pay for the refundable locker charge. I’m sure this will change over time, but as of May, 2017, it still has to be one of the old ones.

On the way from there to the research room, you pass through the amazing domed room pictured here. The books you can see are registers from hundreds of years ago until near the present day, filling two full stories of this round space from floor to ceiling. These ones are they’re on the high second storey (by Canadian standards, first by British) of the domed room. It’s gorgeous.

Once through there, you enter a room full of computers. Once upon a time – until fairly recently – you could download the documents you found onto a thumb drive. And then they got shut down by a virus from one of them, so now you have to print (at 30p a page) anything you want copies of. At the beginning of the day, you simply put money on your account and chip away at it as you go along until it runs out or you run out of time, at which point they refund anything left over.

These computers are mostly about the vital and census records: births, deaths, marriages, and all the census records are digitized here, including all the available church records from before 1855 when statutory registration came into effect.

When you search at home, you pay six credits (a pound eighty) to look at a record and download it onto your own computer. Really reasonable, as genealogical records go. But when you’re there, you pay a flat 15 pound fee for the day, and then you only pay for the records you print. This has HUGE benefits. In one case, I was able to find a long-lost, mis-indexed census record by looking at every single page (about 50) of the census records from a particular area in a particular year. This only took me about 20 minutes, because I knew what village would be on the heading and could quickly flip past those that didn’t match. But at home, I’d never have found that record, because 50 pages at about 3 bucks a page adds up fast.

In the two-and-a-half days I spent in this particular part of the place, I spent about sixty pounds on records I actually found and printed. The stack of paper’s more than two inches tall, and I learned a tonne of new stuff about my family, including branches I hadn’t yet investigated very deeply.

And I loved being there. The staff are wonderful, friendly and helpful. If a record is badly scanned or too hard to read, they’ll have it re-scanned while you’re there, usually in about an hour. They’re quick to fix printer glitches and to help with problems. They make it easy. I can’t wait to go back!

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