Getting Started with your Family History

We receive many enquiries about tracing family members, and have some good records - our database runs to some 4,000 names. It primarily consists of the main lines of the Lauderdale and Galloway Maitlands, but extends to other branches, some of which have origins which we have not been able to link with the main line. See Maitland Pedigrees for more information.

We have three articles on family research. Colin Maitland Dougall, who did a lot of this work for us, wrote the "The first stage lies in your own immediate family". Gregory Lauder Frost, a professional genealogist, gives a few hints on Scottish records in Getting Started on Family History. If you really get stuck, Gregory can help, but he charges a fee! Finally, Carole Maitland, who has just started in this exercise, wrote "Who was Granny?"

Our own database for Lauderdale and Galloway is good up to the 18th century, and we have some 19th century records, but the population exploded then, and we have not been able to keep up with the expansion of the family. If you can get back to the late 18th or early 19th century, we may have records to help you go further back.

Remember that recording was patchy before 1870, and spellings were pretty freeform and often phonetic. The Duke of Lauderdale, a highly educated man, literate in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and French used different forms of his own name - both Lauderdale and Lauderdaill are seen! Lauderdaill is the Latin form of Lauderdale. Remember how Mautalent changed to Maitland. See Mautalent to Maitland.

Remember your Maitland heritage makes you kin, even if you can't find the records!

The first stage lies in your own immediate family

Ask your parents and grandparents for all they know. Go to your other elderly relatives. They will be a mine of information. Remember that family traditions about origins are often correct. The Deputy Chief validated some years ago a tradition of French origin of our family which was first written down 600 years after the family reached Scotland about 1130, and was 850 years old when finally proved correct in 1984. A member of the American Lauderdale family found us recently and discovered that her family tradition of Maitland origin was correct after being handed down through her family for nearly 300 years.

Go to the census records, the birth, marriage and death registrations, and also the military records. Try the web sites like Rootsweb for connections. Scots records can be searched at, This is a Scottish Government maintained web site which contains all the parish and civil registration records in Scotland, where record keeping began around 1550.

Remember that spellings can and do change. Search for every possible variant of the name spelling. Mautalent changed to Maitland in Scotland. Maitland has changed to Maitlen and Maizlen, as well as Medlin in the USA. A Maitland emigrant changed his name to Lauderdale. Often an emigrant Scot registered himself or his land with someone who did not understand his accent, and perhaps did not speak good English, and so the spelling variations arose. In general, during the 18th and 19th centuries in America, names were written phonetically and did not continue the spelling customary in the old country. When searching for variant spellings remember that the consonants generally remain fairly stable, though Maizlen and Medlin show that this is not always the case. Only the "M" and the "L" survived in these cases.

Other migrants were keen to cut off all links with the old country - perhaps because they were unhappy there, or because they were in trouble with the law. Maitlands in Holland are almost certainly descended from Maitlands who supported he Jacobites in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, and had to go into exile. Others, like James Maitland, the son of William Maitland of Lethington, and Richard Maitland the 4th Earl, left Scotland because of their religion.

Registration and records may well end with a blank at some stage. However, remember that if you are a Maitland, you have almost certainly inherited the name, and your forebears did as well, so we are all part of one family, and all related.

For those of you who want to do further research in the Scottish records, Gregory Lauder-Frost gives a few pointers.

Gregory Lauder-Frost is the historian of the Lauder family, and specialises in research over this period. You can find him on:

Getting Started on Family History

Your own Scottish genealogy is vitally important not just to you but also to those who come after you. This small guide may assist those who simply have no idea where to begin.

Your immediate family is the best commencing point: your parents. Civil registration of Births Deaths and Marriages commenced in Scotland in 1855 [General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT] and generally these are very thorough and better than their counterparts in England and Wales. Scottish birth certificates have the full name of the new-born child, the full names and address of the parents, occupations, and, importantly, where and when they were married.

The marriage certificate will contain a wealth of genealogical information including the names of the parties betrothed, their status (bachelor, spinster &c), age, and addresses at the time of marriage, their parents (and whether deceased), and their occupations. In addition it relates full details of the place of the marriage and if not in a church it will slate who conducted the service and under what authority (i.e.: Rites of the Free Church of Scotland).

Death certificates are also important, but sometimes harder to find, given that there is often no clear date of death available to the researcher. These will provide the name of the deceased, age, occupation, marital status at the time of death, address where death took place and, if different, usual residence. Cause of death will be given and on some earlier certificates the place of burial is shown. Importantly, the names and occupations of the deceased parents are given. One note of caution: de­pending on who the informant is will depend on the accuracy of this information. Some grandchildren will not ever have known their grandparents and may be guessing at their names, based upon some conversation heard in the household when they were children. If they are seriously distressed when giving die information to the Registrar it will not help their memories.

Once you reach the limits of Civil Registration (i.e.: you discover that the marriage or birth you now seek is prior to 1855) things become difficult, but not impossible. In 1855 all Church of Scotland Old Parish Registers were called in to the Registrar-General and these may assist you if you have some idea of which parish the event took place in. If you do not, then the Census records may assist you further. Clearly you need an address or at least the hamlet or town before starting this research. The principal United Kingdom Census Returns were taken from 1841 and every ten years thereafter (with the exception of 1941) and are currently available to the public up to and including the 1901 Census. From 1851 onwards the Census should provide you with, particularly, the place of birth of the individual(s) concerned.

If he/she is living at home then you will discover greater detail at the same time on siblings and their parents: ages, occupations, whether still at school, and whether blind deaf or dumb, and, of course, their place of birth. The 1841 Census simply asked whether the individual was born in the county the census was taken, and so simply says 'Yes' or 'No'.

The Scots were very legalistic people and there is a vast range of other sources for you to consider once you exhaust the above, but that should get you started. The one thing I would urge all not to neglect are the Testaments. (In England they are called Wills.) Many very poor people left testaments, sometimes containing nothing other than a trinket, such as a ring or watch, or a bed and some linen. But they are very important and are currently being scanned and put on-line, so that regardless of where you live, you can access them at


Keep a note of the source of every record - you may well need to refer to it again. The Deputy Chief bitterly regrets failing to do so in the past.

Dates - write dates out in full - 3 September 1898.

Is 3/9/98 actually 3 September 1998 or 1898, or is it 9 March 1798?

Other web-sites which you should consult are:

Who was granny? Carole Maitland writes:

I am not a professional genealogist, but have had some guidance from a friend who is; sometimes someone from outside can see a bit more clearly than you who are so close to the story. This is my story of how I researched my family, starting quite a few years ago. I have ploughed through piles of papers, documents, certificates, phone calls, disappointments, discoveries and still there is much to be done. I think it should always be called a work in progress. I guess the most important tool for me is my computer. I can access web addresses, contact those who are looking for the same family but different branches, contact members of my family that I have never met and find my relatives on several web sites. You may not want to use a computer, which is fine because most libraries now have access to historical records for genealogists and also have the use of a computer.

There are written histories, and stories, and folk lore regarding your family but do not discount the oral history as well. Many members of your family will have handed down bits and pieces of information that have no tangible evidence of being true, yet, many times these pieces are truth. You have to remember that in ancestral times, reading and writing was not a priority for some, the art of survival was of paramount importance.

Because it is always difficult to know where to start with family research, start with yourself and your oldest living relative. You are the person you know the most about so get your full birth certificate which will have a great deal of information regarding your parents. You then get their certificates, birth, marriage, death and work backwards from there. Your oldest living relative will tell you about their family and in my own case a great-aunt was able to give me a great deal of information about her siblings, one of which was my grandmother who I never knew, and my maternal great-grandparents.

When speaking to older relatives, bear in mind that there could be family skeletons that they feel the need to continue to cover up, accept the information they give you, add it to your pile and later on you can do more research yourself to confirm the information as being correct. Convicts were considered a scandal, but today it seems to be a bit of a novelty and I am quite pleased to have found several in my family background, not much scandalises me since my research began.

Information can be gleaned from close and distant relatives, but it is always wise to double check as memories are different for people and information is sometimes covered up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is interesting to compare the same stories from different relatives and the facts will lie somewhere in between the two.

When researching my own family I found that most people were never called by their first or given names. We have no idea why this happened but it was a common occurrence so, instead of looking for Uncle William, he could well have been George William or Henry William or some other first name, the same applied for the women. My grandmother was only ever known as May, even to her siblings, but her name was Henrietta May. My grandfather was known as Francis Gilbert, although called Frank. When researching him I discovered that his name was actually Frank, not Francis and not even my mother knew.

Another thing to remember is that people in the distant past were uneducated a lot of the time and so couldn’t spell. This is why it is important to look at every way a name could be spelt. In my own instance, my maiden name is “herd” but when I looked into my fathers’ family, after many false starts and certificates from members of another family, I discovered that my surname is actually “heard” and the mistake was as late as the transcribing of my fathers details onto his birth certificate.

Also, names just seemed to evolve such as with my mothers’ maternal family which is today Honnery and Hornery and started out on the third fleet to Australia as Omery. Something to remember also with surnames is that people migrating from Great Britain have certain accents. Someone from Scotland will not sound the same as someone from Yorkshire or Lancashire or indeed the east end of London. So, in the case of those who came to Australia, surnames were written as they sounded to the one doing the writing, it was not always correct but that is how they evolved. One Irish family left Ireland as Dolan and is now known as Doolan simply because of their Irish accent.

Another thing I found was that, if a child died, another child born was given the same name. Obviously there was not the plethora of names that there is today and that can create its own set of problems. You will notice that the same names occur in each generation, common names such as John, George, William, May, Daisy to name just a few but which survive today which is interesting and can also help you discover your own family. If there is a particularly different name it sometimes occurs through generations and can also be of help in locating your relatives.
I have struck a bit of a pot-hole in researching my great-grandmother. According to my mother she was born in Lancashire and her maiden name was Whatmore. Seemed straight forward to me, I then acquired great-granny’s death certificate. It had a great deal of information on it including her parents’ names and where she was born. Her maiden name was Mather and according to the death certificate she was born in a place called Bedfordluth which I have not been able to locate. I have also not been able to locate her birth certificate and it appears that the so-called maiden name of Whatmore was in actual fact Whatinough and was the surname of her first husband. I think granny was a bit of a dark horse but an interesting woman just the same. So, I have put her aside for the time being and concentrated on other parts of the family which seem easier. I will return to granny though, I am determined to “find” her.

You may find yourself stuck, as I have been. I found that it is so frustrating to continue along that line that the thought occurs of giving up totally. It is easier to go to another line and start someone new. There are always relatives to be found.

I also found that it is easier to do a direct line research. If you go into the families of aunts and uncles and cousins you become bogged down in their families and so neglect your own. Although, you may need to follow a cousin or uncle in order to get more information. If you are having difficulty finding records for your ancestor, try looking for a sibling born later when records may have been more complete. I found it easier to go in a direct line, firstly with my mother and her family then I began on my father and his family. Try to do what is easier first until you are more proficient with your searches then move on to those that require more intense research.

It is also useful to go to the web and look at family web sites. The Latter Day Saints have an excellent site with millions of names on it and it is really useful to give you a start in finding where your family came from. Remember to always put in all versions of all names. Here in Australia I have been able to research my family by simply going to the births, deaths and marriages for New South Wales. Luckily a lot of my family members were born in New South Wales, or were transported into New South Wales, and it has made things a whole lot easier for me. I have been able to research my maternal grand-father on the web by searching the Latter Day Saints site, I have also found out where his family is buried in Scotland from the same site and eventually I will acquire their certificates and visit their grave sites.

There are also sites where you can register your name and who you are looking for because there is a strong possibility that there is someone else researching a branch of your family. Some people will not exchange information because they have paid for certificates but I think that is a narrow view to take and information should be shared wherever possible. Of course it is always nice if there is a sharing of costs as well.

Contact as many members of your family as possible, start with those you know really well and work outwards from there. Let them know what you are doing and ask them for help. Some will refuse, don’t be disappointed, not everyone is interested in where they came from.

It may be that you wish to keep an oral history of your family. You could “interview” members of your family on tape then transcribe them onto paper. How lovely for future generations to have granny’s voice on a tape.

It is not always necessary to get certificates but I like to have them as concrete evidence of my family’s major life events.

Of course, when you start gathering your information you have to have somewhere to put it other than spread all over the dining room table/floor.

I like to use ring binders with plastic sleeves to hold all of my family information. Each branch of the family has its own binder and I use a large binder, which I call the master file, to hold all family members. I also have a folder for each of my children which I update as new information comes to hand. They will thank me for this when they are “old”. All of my certificates are in protective sleeves and it is worthwhile having a special photograph album for each family branch. I have to confess to not having done this yet, but my photographs are all gathered together. When it comes to photographs, it is important to have photos of family members but I also have photos of places my family went to school, houses where they lived, hospitals where they were born, towns and cities where they lived or worked, remember that it is all part of your family history. I also like to have photographs of their graves, or the cemetery where they were buried if the graves cannot be identified.

I use a standard genealogy form to record each family member and I also have a computer programme which is simplicity itself to use but it is an adjunct to the hard copies of documentation, not the only record. It is wise to have several copies of everything, just in case of accidents or fires.

I always use a blue or black ink pen, plain biro fades after a time as do photocopies of documents. You need to remember that all of your work is a historical document for generations to come and it is important to have it preserved. It is also possible, once you have gathered up your research, to have a family web page established for everyone to add to and to use for their own research purposes.

One branch of my family, the Hornery/Honnery family which came from Peter Omery, the villain on the third fleet, is a web site on the family roots site. You may wish to put your own family on the site for the interest of other family branches.

Try not to get too frustrated or disheartened when doing this research; it should be fun so try to keep it that way. Remember, everything starts with you so that is your first task then go on from there, gradually working backwards. Always get the full certificate because extracts don’t have any information of help to you, they just state the name and birth details.

The one thing that I regret about doing this research is that I am now of what I delicately call my “mature years”, and I wish I had been interested earlier when more of the older members of my family were still alive. We should work to ensure our younger family members are aware of the family research and asked to participate or at the very least not roll their eyes every time great-granny is mentioned. They are the family’s future and need to know the family stories and background.

I think it is also important to write the “story” of your family. Write what you know about; yourself, husband, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, these are all people you know a great deal about. Write of your daily doings, where births took place, why families moved to a different town, or state or even a different country. Write of the good times and the bad, they all make up the fabric of your family. Just imagine the joy such stories would bring if your forbears had have done the same thing .Always write with a view to passing on information to coming generations. It is also important to pass on any health problems that could be genetic through the family for example, in my family, diabetes is prevalent so we try to make members aware of this. Also, on a lighter note, women members of our family seem to have a distinctive mole on their face, around their chin area. I think they are ways of identifying family members when writing a history and doing descriptions of people.

With the Maitland family, it is interesting to visit Waterloo in Belgium where Sir Peregrine Maitland lead a charge against Napoleon. I was able to purchase a book about the battle there in which Peregrine is mentioned although, according to Ian, our deputy chief, not mentioned enough. But, it is still part of family history and is worth having in your library. And if you are lucky enough, Ian will sign it for you.

It is always possible that your forbears were mentioned in books or leaflets, maybe not the lofty heights of Sir Peregrine, but it is always worth looking in archives of newspapers. At the very least there should be birth, death or marriage notices for them and could be obituaries. I found that a couple of my forbears were mentioned in court documents. They were found guilty of stealing cattle, called duffing in Australia, and appeared in the Maitland court, New South Wales. Such occurrences were common in early Australia and I believe that the practice still goes on today.

I have recently discovered that the town of Singleton in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales was named after one of my family members, up until then I had only heard the loud clank of chains so it was nice to find someone “legitimate”. He actually explored the route to the Hunter Valley from Sydney so one of our earlier pioneers. For those who don’t know, the Hunter Valley is where a great many of our premium wines come from and is a just a few hours north of Sydney.

Something else that I discovered on my trip through time was that people were not always “divorced” or “married”. In the case of convicts, they were allowed by law to marry a woman in the colony even though they may have left a family behind in the British Isles. One of the good things about having convict ancestors is that there is plenty of information about them. The ships they arrived on, their court appearances, freedom and land grants given to them and permission by the governor to marry. There are also many web sites which have convict information. One side of my family came here as immigrants in the early 1900’s. They are proving difficult for me to find yet I have been able to locate several convicts from earlier years.

Another place to look for family links is with the defence forces. If you know that your family member was in the forces there are several good sites to check records and even if you have no idea, you can still check if they were involved in a war somewhere. If they were killed overseas in the world wars, it is also possible to find their burial places on the web sites, and the information includes any medals and citations given in the war in which they were involved.

So, the main points to remember when beginning your research are:

  • Talk to your oldest living relatives.
  • Get your own full birth certificate.
  • Don’t believe every bit of information as the truth, always do your own checking but don’t discard it out of hand either.
  • Older members are a bit more inclined to cover up “scandals” so check dates yourself.
  • Ask other member of the family to help purchase certificates or allot certain certificates to each member to buy.
  • Get as many photographs as you can, copy them and share them around the family.
  • Get family members to gather up family stories. They are part of your family history.
  • Check newspapers for information, obituaries etc.
  • Always check all variations of spelling.
  • Check web sites such as the Latter Day Saints site.