Research Tips and Resources
Step One: Collect Background Information
Do your homework! Nothing is more disappointing than to come to the Hebrides looking for ancestors and relatives, only to find that necessary information is lacking - and available at home!
Before you turn to research resources in the Hebrides, try to establish for a fact that your ancestors came from the islands. The obvious requirement is to know the name of the original emigrant (your ancestor that was born in the Hebrides but emigrated from the islands to the mainland or overseas.) If this is John MacDonald or Donald MacLeod, it is not very helpful - there are far so many people of these names on the islands! If the emigrant was married before leaving the Hebrides, a note of the spouse’s name makes success in identification much more likely. It can also be helpful to have the names of the first generation of children, in order to try to establish a family naming pattern.
It can be very useful to know where the emigrant settled first after leaving the Hebrides. There are definite patterns in emigration, so in Cape Breton, for example, settlement in Mira or Gabarus suggests a North Uist origin, while settlement in Iona or Christmas Island makes a Barra origin almost certain.
Dates can also be useful, even if only approximate - dates of birth, or marriage, or of emigration can all help to isolate a particular person among others of the same name. Church allegiance, if known, can also be useful, since Lewis, Harris and North Uist were Protestant and South Uist and Barra Roman Catholic.
Step Two: Make Use of Research Resources in Scotland and in the Islands
Having amassed as much background information as possible, what should you do next? You may like to call in to General Register House in Edinburgh, or visit theorigins.net site on the Web, or perhaps browse through the microfiche IGI (International Genealogical Index) compiled by the Church of Latter Day Saints. However, there is a problem with island families - all these sources are compilations of information from written registers - Civil Registers post-1855 and Old Parochial Registers (OPR) prior to that date - but in the Hebrides the OPR can be very late in commencing and poor in coverage. The fact that there is only one John Morrison recorded in a given year does not mean that there were not many more unrecorded!
The census returns post-1851 give full information on households and the parish of birth of members, but it has to be remembered that this information is only as accurate as the information given to the census-taker, and can be very approximate, especially with regard to ages. There is an earlier census in 1841, but it gives much less information, and is more useful as a check than as a source.
Of course, if there are birth, marriage or death certificates available, these are the most useful data of all, though even these can be wrong in a surprising number of cases, especially in the earlier years!
For more recent emigrants, a note of the village of origin, or even better, a croft address, will make identification almost certain.