3 key 20th-century Scottish resources


15 November 2022
Chris Paton examines the 20th-century records that can help with Scottish research, to help pacify us as we await the forthcoming 1921 Census release...

Nails are being bitten, teeth are slowly chattering, and nerves are growing ever more frayed, as Scots around the world patiently await the release of the 1921 Census. All good things come to those who wait, but if pinning all of your hopes on breaking through a brick wall with the 1921 census, have you truly already consulted all of the additional resources currently available which might also help?

These three key resources are just some of the many 20th-century resources that could help you explore the lives of your more recent Scottish ancestors.

1. Wartime register

The National Identity Register for Scotland, compiled for wartime purposes as an impromptu census on 29 September 1939, can also be searched, via an application to the NRS. Extracts cost £15 per person, with the information returned including the name of an individual, a date of birth, an occupation and address only.

Whilst limited, it can still help with research – for example, a family story that my great-grandmother was evacuated to Inverness from Glasgow prior to the Second World War turned out not to be quite true, with the 1939 register noting her to still be based in Glasgow in the first month of the war.

In other cases, I have also found the dates of births of many Irish settlers in Scotland, for whom no birth or baptism record can be found in Ireland itself. Information on how to apply to the register for an extract can be found at National Records of Scotland.  

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2. Church records

Although ScotlandsPeople’s Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian parish records are available up to 1855 only, there are some Roman Catholic records that extend into the 20th century on the site. A much larger collection of these can be found on FindmyPast, with coverage for baptisms up to 1921, marriages up to 1946, and burials up to 1971.   

3. Early 20th-century census records

The 1921 census will be a wonderful resource when released, but prior to this there are two 20th century censuses already available online through the ScotlandsPeople site, for 1901 and 1911.

The 1911 census in particular can be very useful in identifying how many years a married woman has been so married, how many children she may have given birth to during her marriage, and how many of those were still alive. ScotlandsPeople is the only site providing access to the 1911 records, but incomplete transcriptions from the 1901 census can also be viewed on FindmyPast, Ancestry, MyHeritage and TheGenealogist.co.uk

Originally published July 2021. Reviewed November 2022.

About the author:

Chris Paton runs the Scotland’s Greatest Story research service and teaches online courses through Pharos Tutors.

Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry Through Church and State Records is available from Pen and Sword.

Read Chris’s Scottish GENES blog.