British nobility has a well-defined order. The highest noblemen are peers, which include the titles (in descending rank) duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron. This is followed by the gentry, whose titles are baronet, knight, esquire, and gentleman. Both peers and gentry are entitled to bear coats of arms.
The noble class forms less than five percent of Scotland’s population. Scotland limited the growth of the noble class. The eldest son inherits the father’s title, and younger sons may or may not have lesser titles. When a nobleman dies without sons, the title lapses unless the crown awards the title to a daughter’s husband.
Most family traditions of having a noble ancestor are not true since most noblemen did not emigrate. Contrary to popular belief, few nobles were disowned by family members for unacceptable behavior. Thus, most traditions of an ancestor being "erased" or "eliminated" from all records are unfounded.
Illegitimate children were not entitled to noble status and are often not shown in family pedigrees. They may, however, have been granted a title and variation of the father’s coat of arms.
Younger sons had the right to use the father’s coat of arms altered with cadency, a mark showing birth order.
The records of peerage creations and related documents are kept at the Lyon Office (see the "Heraldry" section of this outline).
There are many original records for noble families. These documents often are not available to the public, but you can accomplish most nobility research in secondary sources.
Noblemen were anxious to preserve their identity. Therefore, many kept records of their ancestry, some of which have been published. A number of published family histories also contain information about Scottish nobility. Use the Surname Search of the Family History Library Catalog to find references to family histories at the Family History Library.
A good source for information on Scottish families is:
Paul, Sir James Balfour, ed.The Scots Peerage, 9 vols. Edinburgh, Scotland: David Douglas 1904. (Family History Library book 941 D22p).
The Family History Library has many records of noble families other than family histories listed in the Locality Search of the catalog under:
SCOTLAND - NOBILITY
SCOTLAND, [COUNTY] - NOBILITY
SCOTLAND - GENEALOGY
GREAT BRITAIN - NOBILITY
There are many other books which deal with noble families of Great Britain. Burke’s Peerage Limited has published many such books. To find Family History Library film numbers, look in the Author/Title Search of the catalog on microfiche under:
BURKE, SIR JOHN BERNARD.
- Paul, Sir James Balfour, ed.The Scots Peerage:http://www.abyznewslinks.com/ukingsc.htm
- Directory of Royal Genealogical Data