Researching family history

Where to begin

It's always better to work backwards from the known to the unknown. Start your family history search by talking to your oldest relatives and look at family records such as birth, marriage and death certificates, bibles and wills. You could consider joining a local family history society.

Once you have worked out the facts of a basic family tree with as many names, dates and places as possible, you can start to look at original records. These will allow you to check your information, flesh out the facts and lead you to earlier generations.

Much of the material in the University library relates particularly to St Andrews and North East Fife.

Special collections resources

Genealogical sources

  • Copies of the Census returns for Fife, 1841-1901 (held on microfilm).
  • Census returns for St Andrews, 1841-1871 (are transcribed and indexed).

Manuscript sources

Church records

The Church of Scotland Kirk Session records of the congregations of the former presbyteries of Cupar and St Andrews are held in the library’s collections. They contain:

  • communion rolls
  • lists of heads of families
  • details of illegitimate births
  • payments to the poor
  • records of baptism, marriage and burial.

The Library also holds Presbytery records and archive material from a number of secession and independent churches.

University Muniments

These include information on former staff and students of the institution from the 15th century onwards. The University's Biographical Register 1747-1897 is now available online, containing information about St Andrews alumni, officers and graduates.

Burgh Records for North East Fife

These can include lists of:

  • inhabitants
  • voters and the population
  • apprenticeships
  • burgess and property valuation rolls
  • craft and guildry records.

Other manuscript holdings relating to trades include volumes from St Andrews baxters, cordiners, fleshers, and hammermen (1548-1861). The burgh register of sasines for St Andrews (1673-1809) has also been microfilmed.

Family and estate papers

This could include, for example, rentals and tacks (leases) or genealogical compilations and family history notes. You will need to know the farm or estate on which your ancestor lived.

Printed sources

  • Valuation rolls
  • Trade and Post Office directories for St Andrews
  • Scottish newspapers – the library holds bound editions of papers, including: St Andrews Citizen (1870 to date), Fife News (1870-1937), Fife Herald (1822-1937) and Fifeshire Journal (1833-1892).
  • Fife Family History Society Publications 
  • Local lists and indexes, maps, and an extensive general reference collection.