Effective family research requires understanding the historic events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, local events, laws, migrations, settlement patterns, and economic or religious trends may help you understand family movements. These events may have led to the creation of records, such as poor law records or military records, that mention your family.
Your ancestors will be more interesting if you learn about the events that shaped their lives. For example, a history may tell you what events occurred in the year your ancestor married and how those events may have impacted their decisions.
Some key dates and events in Scottish history are:
83 or 84 Battle of Mons Graupius Romans reportedly defeat the Caledonians although there is some debate about the actual outcome of the battle.
685 Battle of Dunnichen Picts defeat Northumbrians at Dunnichen in Angus
843 Kenneth MacAlpin becomes king of the Picts and Scots. This marks the first united kingdom in Scotlland.
1174 William the Lion surrenders the independence of Scotland to Henry II in the Treaty of Falaise.
1306 Robert Bruce assumes leadership of a rebellion against English rule.
1314 Robert Bruce defeats the English in Battle of Bannockburn, maintaining Scottish independence.
1325 The English recognise Robert Bruce as King Robert of Scots
1514 The recording of testaments (wills) begins in Scotland.
1552 The General Provincial Council orders each parish to keep a register of baptisms and banns of marriage.
1560 Protestantism is established. The authority of the pope is abolished, and celebrating mass becomes illegal.
1592 The Presbyterian Church is formally established.
1600 Scotland adopts January 1 as New Year's Day.
1603 The crowns of England and Scotland unite.
1608 The Plantation of Ulster in Ireland is established to prevent Irish revolts against English rule. By 1640 there were 40,000 Scots in northern Ireland.
1690 The Presbyterian Church is permanently restored and becomes the Church of Scotland.
1707 The Act of Union is formed between Scotland and England, creating Great Britain.
1715 Thousands of Scots support James Edward Stuart, called "Old Pretender," as the king of Great Britain. This is called the first Jacobite rising.
1745 Many Scots support James’ son Charles Edward Stuart, also called Bonnie Prince Charlie and the "Young Pretender," as the king of Great Britain. This is called the second Jacobite rising.
1746 The Government forces defeat the forces of Charles Edward Stuart in the Battle of Culloden. After this battle, the English executed many clansmen and outlawed kilts,tartan,bagpipes and carrying of weapons. These restrictions were removed in 1782.
1752 The calendar changes from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
1779 The Industrial Revolution begins to affect Scotland.
1829 Roman Catholics are permitted by law to buy and inherit property and keep records.
1841 The first census of genealogical value is taken.
1855 Civil registration begins.
The following are a few of the available sources to help provide you with a perspective of the historical events. Major research libraries may have these books:
Cook, Chris, et. al. British Historical Facts. London, England: Macmillan Press, 1975-. (Family History Library book 942 H2ccb.) This source lists key dates, offices, and office holders in Scottish and English history.
Moody, David. Scottish Towns: A Guide for Local Historians. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1992. (Family History Library book 941 H27m.) This source describes the background and structure of Scottish towns, and discusses sources for researchers.
Sinclair, Cecil. Tracing Scottish Local History: A Guide to Local History Research in the Scottish Record Office. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Record Office, 1994. (Family History LIBRARY book 941 H27s.) This book describes local historical records available in the Scottish Record Office.
Smout, T.C. A History of the Scottish People 1560- 1830. London, England: Collins, 1969. (Family History Library book 941 H2sm.)
Smout, T.C. A Century of the Scottish People 1830- 1950. London, England: Collins, 1986. (Family History Library book 941 H2sma.)
Smout, T.C., and Wood, Sydney. Scottish Voices 1745-1960. London, England: Fontana Press, 1990. (Family History Library book 941 H2stc.)
Steel, Tom. Scotland’s Story: A New Perspective. London, England: Collins, 1984. (Family History Library book 941 H2ste.) This book gives a good general overview of Scottish history.
The Family History Library has many national, county, and parish histories for Scotland. There are also many other histories for specific time periods, groups, occupations, or places. You can find histories in the catalog under one of the following headings in the Family History Library Catalog:
SCOTLAND - HISTORY
GREAT BRITAIN - HISTORY
SCOTLAND, [COUNTY] - HISTORY
SCOTLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - HISTORY
Many bibliographies of history are also available. Look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under SCOTLAND - HISTORY - BIBLIOGRAPHY to find the ones available at the Family History Library.
A local history describes the following information about an area:
- Prominent families
- Founding of churches, hospitals, schools, and businesses
Even if a local history does not mention your ancestor, you may find important clues that suggest other records to search. Local histories also provide background information about your family’s lifestyle, community, and environment.
Many places have more than one history. There are numerous published histories about Scottish parishes and towns. Many are available at the Family History Library. Similar histories are often available at major public and university libraries and archives.
The following three works include histories for each individual parish. The histories were written in the 1790s and early 1800s, usually by the minister of the parish:
- Sinclair, John, ed. The Statistical Account of Scotland. Wakerfield, England: EP Publishing Limited, [197?]. (Family History Library book 941 B4sa; on 322 Family History Library fiche beginning with 6026527.)
- The New Statistical Account of Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1845. (Family History Library 941 B4sa 2nd Series.)
- Mather, Alexander S., ed. The Third Statistical Account of Scotland. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins of Glasgow, 1987. (Family Hisotry Library book 941 B4sa 3rd Series.)
The first and the new statistical accounts are also available online at http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. Under 'For non-subscribers,' click on 'Browse scanned pages.' Search for a place of interest in the parish pages then select either the first or the new statistical report.
You can find local histories listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under SCOTLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - HISTORY.
In 1600 Scotland adopted January 1 as New Years Day, however the Gregorian calendar was not used until 1752. The Julian calendar began the calendar year on 25 March and ended the year on 24 March. The Gregorian calendar started the year on 1 January and ended the year on 31 December. Thus, before 1600, January, February, and the first twenty-four days of March came at the end of the previous year instead of at the beginning of the next year. 
The year 1599 consisted only of nine months: January, February, and March (1-24) 1599 became January, February and March (1-24) 1600.
When Catholic Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, ten days were dropped from the month of October. Although Scotland adopted January 1 as New Years Day it did not adopt the Gregorian calendar so it remained 10 days out of sync with much of Europe, as evidenced by legal records. By the time Scotland and the rest of Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, a total of eleven days had to be dropped.
- Further information: Julian and Gregorian Calendars
For calendar conversions, go to:
- Old Style and New Style Dates and the change to the Gregorian Calendar: A summary for genealogists, Mike Spathaky
- Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, United Kingdom Parliament