Tracing Your Shetland Roots
Shetland has exported a range of famous products for centuries: wool, lamb and knitwear, fish, ponies and, in more recent years, oil. But by far the most important, but perhaps the least obvious of these, is people.
Over the centuries, people have left their homeland for many reasons. Many were effectively forced to emigrate because of poverty or during the Clearances. Others were tempted by the prospect of a new life, sometimes lured away by favourable reports from relatives overseas.
Today, the sons and daughters of Shetland can be found all over the world. There are large numbers in New Zealand and Australia, where they have formed groups known as Shetland Societies. Through these societies, very successful homecomings or 'Hamefarins' have been arranged, bringing hundreds of people with Shetland roots back to the islands in 1960, 1985, 2000 and 2010.
Tracing your family history, you may discover the tree is longer than you think...
Who Can Help?
If you are of Shetland family descent, tracing and investigating your family roots can be a reasonably straightforward process.
Several organisations can assist:
Shetland Family History Society now has members from all over the world. The Society collects copies of Church and Parish records, censuses and family trees. A list of all tombstones in Shetland has been recorded and is now available. The Society can provide information on all other local history groups for further research.
The Shetland Library has a section dedicated to Shetland literature, including historical material. The Shetland Museum provides an interesting insight into traditional Shetland life, and they have a large photographic library.
The Shetland Archives holds a vast collection of original documents vital to understanding Shetland's history, together with copies of crucial documents stored in other archives.
Where to Begin
Start tracing your family history with a brainstorming session, noting down all that you can remember about your family tree and clearly marking those areas where you are unsure, so that you can investigate them. Even if you do not know the exact dates when people were born or died, an approximate date will help as a starting point. Any other pieces of information you have may prove useful, for example schools attended or wedding dates and locations. The most useful initial reference resource is obviously your close family and relatives. Interview them to try to fill in the gaps. Once you have a few pieces of the jigsaw, others may begin to fall into place.
When you have a factual foundation, seeking advice is simple and straightforward. The initial contact should be the Shetland Family History Society. Dealing with similar requests every day, they can assist you with tracing your family tree, and advise what steps to take if you wish to search further. Bear in mind, too, that there are online resources that you can use, the most valuable of which is Scotland’s People, the official Scottish genealogy website; it has 80 million records going back to 1513.
Doing some of the preparation before you come to Shetland will help you make the most of your visit, enabling you to get out and about to explore old family crofts or visit the school your forebears attended. Our Visitor Information Centres are only too happy to help you plan your trip.
Shetland Family History Society
Mrs Elizabeth Angus
6 Hillhead, Lerwick,
Tel: 00 44 1595 692 276
Tel: 00 44 1595 693 868
Shetland Museum & Archives
Tel: 00 44 1595 695 057