Scotland is one of the friendliest countries for online family tree climbers—due in large part to ScotlandsPeople. This official government source for Scottish genealogical data represents the motherlode: 50 million records spanning the 1500s to 1900s.
Those include civil registrations (which started in 1855; birth records are restricted for 100 years, marriage records for 75 years and death records for 50), old parish registers (documenting births, baptisms and marriages from the mid-1500s until 1854), census records (every 10 years from 1841 to 1901), and wills and testaments covering 1513 to 1901. The site is a joint venture of Scotland’s three main record agencies: the national archives, General Register Office and Court of the Lord Lyon (heraldry).
You’ll have to pay to access most of the content, except for the free wills and testaments search. (Don’t bother with the free surname search unless you’re looking for a rare name: It tells you only how many times a surname pops up in each record group—for example, the 1841 census database includes 29,811 McDonalds.)
Index searching and record viewing involves a somewhat complicated pay-per-view system: You buy 30 “page credits” for 6 pounds (about $12) good for 90 days. For each page of index results you view, you’ll use one page credit; viewing a record image costs five credits. US researchers used to free government Web sites might bristle at the fees, but it’s no more expensive than ordering films from the Family History Library, and you get instant gratification.
Before shelling out any money, take time to review the excellent FAQ section, which answers questions about what to expect in any set of records, and what notations in record margins might indicate.