Are you one of the 50 million people across the globe who have Scottish ancestry? Just imagine during your visit to Stirling the thrill and emotion of walking in the footsteps of these ancestors and learning how they lived their lives. Tracing your ancestry and family history is one of the most popular past-times in the world. If you are interested in discovering more about your family history then there are a host of sources around Stirling that can help you trace your ancestor’s story. One of the best tips is to start preparing before you visit the Stirling area. That way the research can be done carefully and you can make the most of your time here.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
Check what you know already – names, dates, places
- What research can you do before you visit? Speak to older relatives to get stories of your ancestors or sketch out what you already know including dates and locations in Stirling and the surrounding area.
- Check out the ScotlandsPeople, the webpage for Scotland’s historical records where you can search, view and print your ancestor’s birth, marriage and death certificates as well as other historical documents about your ancestors including census and wills.
- Learn about the places your ancestors lived in the Stirling area whether in the historic town of Stirling or the many rural villages in the Trossachs area. Stirling, with all its history, was for many centuries one of the major towns of Scotland and in the 19th and 20th Century had many industries where your ancestor may have worked. The rural area meanwhile may have changed little but the size and location of many small villages and farms may be less clear – See Map. Some information on villages and towns in the area and their history can be found on the Genealogy website Genuki.
- Think about what you would like to find out or the places you would like to visit.
Consider hiring a local genealogist to do work for you.
- Researching your family history can be fun but also challenging, time consuming and full of pitfalls in identifying the correct family. Why not leave these challenges to a professional genealogist who is experienced in researching the records, knows the Stirling area well and can send you your ancestor’s story before you visit, or present it when you are here. That way you will have the names of places to visit during your stay in the area.
- A list of local trained and experienced professional genealogists are shown below and will be happy to assist you before, during and after your stay. The main advice is to ensure the best chance of getting the information you want about your ancestors by contacting them before your holiday begins.
- Remember, preparation is vital whether you are planning your research yourself or intend to use the services of a professional genealogist before you visit.
FAMILY HISTORY EXPERIENCES – WHAT A PROFESSIONAL GENEALOGIST CAN DO FOR YOU
An Ancestral Home Revisited
The email began “My dad’s side of the family originally came from the Stirling area, and I have always wanted to know more about them. I’m wondering if you might be able to help… There are some records that I have of my early ancestors (late 1700s and early 1800s), but I would like to know more about them such as: Where did they live? Where are they buried? What did they do with their lives? Would this be something you could help me with? “ Yes, definitely replied the genealogist.
Time was relatively short for this piece of research as the client was visiting Stirling in a few weeks! (It’s always best to allow a few months if possible.) Some of the records found yielded little information beyond names and dates but a baptism register showed the key family in the same area near Callander over a 20 year period and this was corroborated in a slightly later census which also gave information on occupations. A death record confirmed the name of a burial ground. The client was delighted:
“Thank you! Your work on this was fabulous. And I much appreciate that you were able to complete it so quickly. I’m already working on plans to visit some of the interesting places you identified later this month.”
And he did, with a local tour guide.
“Luck was with us and we were successful in finding the family farm where Robert and Mary Reid lived for 30 years, the area where Robert’s parents lived and the church where Robert and Mary were married at Kincardine in Menteith”
While it’s not always possible to see actual houses where your ancestors lived, simply visiting the area, seeing the views they would have seen, can be a very moving experience: this is home, these are where my roots lie.
From Alness to Alloa to Argentina
“I hope this finds you well. If all goes well I’ll be going to Alloa sometime on the week of August 29th to visit the town where my grandfather was born. It appears his parents are buried in Alloa’s Sunnyside Cemetery. My cousin was there a few months ago and he suggested I contact you. It would be nice if you can get any additional information that can make my trip to Alloa even more emotional”
A family from Argentina, whose family originated from Clackmannanshire, arrived at the Scotlands People Centre in Alloa hoping to find the gravestone of their great grandparents. With the help of a professional genealogist who happened to be working there that day he was able to identify the birth, census and ultimately death certificate details of their great grandparents. With the assistance of the Local History and Studies Centre in Alloa, they were able to visit the graveside at the Sunnyside Cemetery in Alloa.
After an emotional visit they returned to Argentina but a few months later, a cousin contacted the genealogist again with the intention of also visiting – not only the graveside – but any places where the family lived and to find out more about the life of the ancestors of his great grandfather.
The professional genealogist’s research showed that he had lived in a number of properties in Alloa and that his great grandfather had been born in Edinburgh before moving to Alloa as a young child in 1871.
The cousin was able to visit the house where his great grandparents lived and was fortunate enough to meet the lady who was living in the house at the time and showed him around the property.
This experience has whetted his appetite to go even further back now and the help of local professional knowledge will greatly assist him in his search.
For many people with Scottish ancestry the obvious evidence of that lineage is seen through the clan system. In reality the clan system is much more complex. Not everyone with a given surname belonged to that clan and the effectiveness of the Highland clan system began to diminish after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. More information can be found via Visit Scotland.
If you are looking for information on clans in the Stirling area check out the website scottishclans.com available via the Visit Scotland website for details about both your family surname and the clan that they were historically linked to.
Most clans in the Stirling area were concentrated in the Trossachs and Loch Lomond area. This included the famous Clan Gregor and its most famous son RobRoy McGregor whose grave can be seen at Balquhidder. The use of the name McGregor was banned by law for over 100 years meaning many McGregors adopted different names which they did not revert back to after the ban was lifted. Modern DNA is now revealing many of those hidden McGregors.
Another famous clan was the Clan Graham whose grounds are in West Stirlingshire near Drymen and Loch Lomond. Many Graham ancestors were involved in the governance of Scotland over the centuries including Sir John de Graham, William Wallace’s right hand man at The Battle of Falkirk and John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as Bonnie Dundee, who led Highland Clans to victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie in the first Jacobite rising but was killed on the battlefield.
Other famous clans in the Stirling area are the Clan MacLaren whose lands were located near Balquhidder and Clan McNab, covering the Killin area and whose ancient clan burial ground is located next to the beautiful Falls of Dochart in Killin.
Tartans are of course closely allied to clans but the reality is that the tartan’s of today bear little or no resemblance to the simple woven fabric or “plaid” that was used by clans in the highlands and in areas of rural Stirling.
The linking of tartans and clans began in 1822 when tartan, previously banned after The Battle of Culloden, became more fashionable after the visit of the future King George IV to Scotland in 1822 when he was dressed in full highland dress by the famous author, Sir Walter Scott. From this the link between a given clan and the colour and design of their tartan was established.
Stirling played a pivotal role in the development of the tartan industry and its weaving industry produced much of the tartan used in Scotland. After 1822 a local company, William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn became the first industrial producer of tartan in Scotland.
AFTER YOU HAVE ARRIVED
Local Archives and Records
You may wish to do some of your own ancestral research whilst you are in Stirling. The following is a list of local libraries, archives and groups who can assist with your research:-
- Scotland’s People Centre, Alloa – a satellite centre of the main ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.
- The University of Stirling holds a large number of archives and records including local estate papers and hospital & health board records. Contact the University in advance.
If you are unsure of using libraries and archives perhaps hire a local professional genealogist who can assist you and provide you with some advice.
Local Museums & Heritage Centres
These can be useful in telling you how your ancestor lived their lives and some may have actual records that mention your ancestor as well as collections of historical photographs. Check out their websites and make contact with them before your visit. The best experience will be had by visiting them while you are visiting the area.
The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum was founded in 1874 and functions as a art gallery, museum and cultural centre. Amongst the many things to do is the Stirling Story exhibition which tells the story of the town and area using a variety of real exhibits. Although it does not hold any specific family history records it is a great opportunity to learn how your ancestor may have lived and is a fun day out for all the family.
Other attractions include:-
- The Dunblane Museum which tells the story of the ancient city of Dunblane and its stunning cathedral. The Museum has a transcribed list of all legible gravestones which may help in your family research.
- Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum located at Stirling Castle records the stunning history of one of Scotland’s oldest regiments. Note that requests for research must be received in advance and requires payment. Alternatively consider employing a local genealogist [ link to page listing genealogists] who can help tell your ancestor’s military history.
- There are a number of local heritage and history groups who may be able to assist. These include:
Other Visitor Services
If you want to visit places associated with your family, you can hire a guide to take you round. Why not use the results from your own ancestral research or those from the professional genealogist you hired.
Other opportunities may include participating in guided walks such as the The Stirling Walking Tours and Ghost Walk which give you the opportunity to learn about the history and characters that lived in Stirling.
The history of Stirling and its surrounding area makes it an ideal place for people with historical links to the area to explore their family history. If you need any further help or assistance more information is available on the Visit Scotland website or by contacting a local professional genealogists listed below.