The heart of genealogical research is the Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMDs). For Scottish civil records, there is, at the moment, only one website which offers access to these, the official Scottish Government website, Scotland's People. The pages of the Registrars' books have been digitized and uploaded, while observing the 100 year rule for the sake of privacy. That is, the assumption that someone's personal details should be protected, and that they might live for 100 years.
To access the information at www.Scotlandspeople.gov.uk: Register and choose a username and password. The site operates a Pay As You Go system - credits are purchased in advance. They are then 'spent' on searching for and viewing pages. The site 'saves' searches and page views, which can be revisited without charge. Once the visitor is certain the document refers to their ancestor, they can save it to their 'Timeline'.
Civil Registration started in Scotland on 1 January 1855. At the time of writing, this means that birth records are available for 1 January 1855 to 31 December 1911; marriage records to 31 December 1936; and death records to 31 Dec 1961. For dates later than these, a certificate has to be ordered, and will be posted out.
On buying the document, the family historian will see the page written by the Registrar on the day the event was recorded (and usually, another two events on the same page). This means that, for Scottish family history, there is rarely a need to buy the official certificate: the pages can be stored on, and printed from, your computer. It makes discoveries faster, and cheaper, assuming the name you are looking for does not appear too often in the index! And because the entire page is available to the visitor, it may mean, for instance, the discovery of a previously unknown twin on a birth entry.
Having access to the Registrars' pages means you can see all the information provided at the time, including who gave the information. Birth and death certificates will show the informant's relationship to the child or the deceased; marriage records will often show the names of the witnesses and clergyman who were present.
Until the 18th century, Scottish women kept their own name on marriage, and this leads me to another advantage of these records - they always show a woman's maiden name!
A birth entry will show the father's and the mother's given names, and the date and place of their marriage.
A marriage entry will show the names, addresses and ages of both parties; the names of both sets of parents, including both mothers' maiden names, and will show if any of the four parents were dead. In the case of a widowed mother remarrying, it will also give her current married name. Taken with the names of the witnesses, this means locating the correct marriage entry has the potential to give a lot of information!
A death certificate will give the name, age and address of the deceased; the names of his or her parents (including mother's maiden name), indicating if the parents are alive or dead; and the names of any spouses, alive or dead. In the case of a man who has died, his spouse(s) maiden name(s) will be given. The name and address of the informant will also be given, and their relationship to the deceased.
It is, of course, important to remember that the records are only as good as the details given by the informant; on the death of an elderly person with no family, this can be inaccurate, or missing altogether. If facts were potentially embarrassing, they may have been altered or ignored. In other cases, fathers are promoted from Agricultural Labourer to Farmer, or from Factory Labourer to Foreman, and sailors are posthumously given the title Captain!
There are also transcripts of Scottish birth and marriage records on the LDS website familysearch.org although these cover only the years 1855-1875, and may not be complete. It can, however, be useful to access a free website and check for possible entries if a search falls within this period. This website uses soundex, which is a useful feature when there are a variety of ways to spell a name.
As useful as this is, however, Scotland's People offers the only online primary records available at the moment.
I intend to return to the topic of information sources for Scottish family historians.