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National Genealogical Society Quarterly Endorses Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by David Dobson

Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond Review

The June 2022 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) features a long review of Dr. David Dobson’s 2021 book, Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond. Norman D. Nicol, Ph.D., the writer of the review and an expert on Scottish family history himself, assesses each chapter of the book, often adding a suggestion here or a caveat there.  In the end, however, he concludes, “Anyone with a keen and abiding interest in Scottish genealogy should have this title on the shelf. It will not gather dust.” Here is the review in its entirety.  View Book Details

Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond. By David Dobson. Published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.; 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 229; Baltimore, MD 21211-1953;; 2021. ISBN 978-0-8063-2113-4. xiv, 157 pp. Appendix, illustrations, indexes. Paperback. $27.95

“Hardly a year goes by without a new publication about Scottish family history and genealogy. At least a dozen or so such titles are on this reviewer’s shelf, varying mainly in emphasis of types of records for the family historian and how to access them. The standard sources are usually covered, from parish registers to civil registration to censuses, with a few other categories. Each is useful in its own way. However, David Dobson’s latest offering is aptly described in the second part of the subtitle, “and Beyond.” Despite the book’s narrow physical dimensions, the author has managed to pack in a lot of useful and timely information.

The author dives right in from the first chapter, introducing the reader to the basic sources for conducting research in Scottish genealogy and the primary online conduit for accessing these records—ScotlandsPeople ( Next follows a detailed list of the principal national, county, and city archives and libraries. In the surnames discussion, the example for Skea (p.4) surprisingly finds it only existing in Angus and Aberdeenshire. Dobson cites the 19th Century Surname Atlas based on the 1881 British census. Skea, one of this reviewer’s ancestral surnames, originates on the island of Sanday and occurs there in 1881 for a number of families, calling into question the thoroughness of the cited reference.

The second chapter, Major Record Sources, begins the discussion with civil registration (vital records). One sentence in the first paragraph (p.9) implies that births over one hundred years old, marriages over seventy-five years, and deaths over fifty years are restricted. The likely correct interpretation is those younger than the cut-off years cannot be accessed. The remainder of the chapter deals ably with the censuses, the parish registers of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church of Scotland. 

From the third chapter onward the subject matter sets this book apart from others of similar purpose. Chapter 3 expands on Church and Other Religious Records, which researchers should consult after working with parish registers. Among the sources are Church of Scotland records in the hierarchy above the parish level, mainly those of the Presbyteries. Kirk Session records are an important, but underutilized source. Records of the various churches that broke with the Church of Scotland, as well as other Protestant denominations are included. To the list of Episcopal titles (p. 29) should be added the compilations by A. Strath-Maxell, found in larger libraries and societies of northeast Scotland. The chapter lists many published works on specific topics and sources.

Chapter 4 on Secondary Sources is the lengthiest segment. The author’s message about the dearth of burials in most parish registers emphasizes the importance of published monumental inscriptions. But burials do exist in some registers of Kincardineshire and are quite extensive for the two largest Aberdeen churches’ records. The First and Second Statistical Accounts of Scotland are useful for background information about all parishes of the country. However, one should not overlook the Third Statistical Account, as it advances by a century the material presented in the second iteration. Heritors records and tax records can be helpful in filling in ancestors’ lives and sometimes predate the earliest parish registers. 

Other subjects include services of heirs, barony and other court books, wills and testaments, maritime records, burgh records, occupational records, and others. Estate papers of both large and small land-owning families are invaluable. Family papers are useful not only because they often contain records of the family’s daily activities, but also include information relating to the tenants not found elsewhere.  Many such muniments have been deposited in the National Records of Scotland, regional archives, and university special collections, but some are retained by the still-active families. Military records are well-covered by Dr. Dobson, as are the records associated with the several Jacobite rebellions. The chapter is rounded out with records of education, the Privy County, crime and prisoners, and mental health.

Chapter 5’s subject is the author’s forte—emigration Over decades Dr. Dobson has produced an extraordinary corpus of publications about Scots’ emigration to every conceivable destination. To be sure, other writers have dealt with where Scots went when they left home. The bibliographic references reflect the extent of the literature. To the titles regarding Germany (p. 129) can be added The Scots in Franconia (Mark Dilworth, Edinburgh, 1974). For Scots in Latin American (p. 134), researchers might see Scots in Argentina and Patagonia Austral, 1800-1950 (Arnold Morrison, Stirling, 2004). The already excellent list of books and articles for Scots in North America could be supplemented with Imperial Immigration: Scottish Settlers in the Upper Ottawa Valley, 1815-1840 (Michael E. Vance, Toronto, 2012), reviewed in NGSQ volume 104 (March 2014).

The book concludes with an appendix listing family history societies in Scotland along with subject and surname indexes. Dr. Dobson illustrates the text throughout with appropriate images of objects and documents, as well as extracted examples from his own publications and others. The book packs in more usable and accessible information than others twice its size. Anyone with a keen and abiding interest in Scottish genealogy should have this title on the shelf. It will not gather dust.”

Norman D. Nicol, Ph.D.
Harvey’s Lake, Pennsylvania