Family history

Those of us with Shetland ancestry are usually very proud of our heritage. For anyone who would like to explore their Shetland family history/genealogy further, we hope that you will find some helpful information here.

The Society is building a Family History Collection within the Library Collection, of items that can be borrowed by members. Click here to see what we have. It includes a full set of the publications currently available from the Shetland Family History Society.

Where to begin ...

"To start tracing your ancestry it is best to begin by brainstorming. Note down as much of your family tree as you know is fact, but keep note of links and connections requiring further investigation: places of birth, area of abode, schools attended, local community involvement, and so on. The most useful initial reference source is your close family, and relatives. Interview them on the history of your heritage, filling in any gaps you were unaware of. The picture you will build is a factual base for you to start your investigation, with query routes to analyse." [From: "Genealogy in Shetland" put out by Shetland Islands Tourism]

Recording your family tree ...

There are many computer programs available for recording your family tree and related information,  but when you are getting started, and maybe even in the long-term, it is useful to record your findings on paper copies of the Record of Ancestry charts and Family Group Sheets which are most commonly used.

The New Zealand Society of Genealogists has these charts available on their website. Click here for the link

First fill in as much as you can on the Record of Ancestry chart. Then if you create a Family Group Sheet for each couple on your Record of Ancestry chart, any other information you have, or find out, about that couple and their children can be filed with it, and this can be a useful way to organise your research findings.

Very soon you will want to start verifying the names, dates and places of events on your charts, and noting the sources of that information, eg birth, death and  marriage certificates. This becomes a useful, highly desirable good practice for all the other information you gather too, eg "Conversation with John Smith 25/01/2012".

It is up to you just how far you want to take your research. For some a Record of Ancestry chart going back as far as possible is the goal. For others "putting flesh on the bones" is equally important, so gathering all the little stories, memories, photos, anything that helps build a picture of that person, is treasured.

Shetland Forebears ... how to find them

At the Society's Family History Day on 1 November 2014 Jo Lewthwaite gave a presentation which was of great interest to those getting started with their family history as well as those already researching. Her presentation, which includes many links to useful websites is available for viewing and downloading by clicking on this link Shetland Forebears


Graeme Laurenson, a New Zealander of Shetland descent, published three books in the 1980s on his family and the Shetland Islands of his forebears.

With his family tree as its central core, he published "Burrafirth : the family of Graeme and Marjorie Laurenson" in 1982. Now his son Chris Laurenson has produced an electronic edition of "Burrafirth" and the Society is pleased to be able to make the 4th edition updated in 2019 available on the website by clicking the link Burrafirth (pdf 12Mb) .

Note - all three of Graeme Laurenson's books are held in the Society's Library Collection and are available on loan to Shetland Society of Wellington members.

Important links

Here are links to websites which contain significant sources of information that may help you with your research:

Shetland Family History Society - A useful website to check out, with hints for researching Shetland ancestors. You may want to join the Society, and receive their quarterly journal "Coontin Kin".

Shetland Museum and Archives - The website provides an introduction to aspects of Shetland life under the Museum Collections headings. Click on Archival Collections for information on the main types of records that are held, and for a link to the online catalogue of the Archival holdings. Don't miss the Photo Library link - over 60,000 photos from the 1880s to the present day.

Bayanne House - A facility and website aimed at helping people search for their Shetland ancestors, with a searchable database.

Scotlands People - Formerly the General Register Office for Scotland, this is the official site for the statutory registers of births, deaths and marriages in Scotland from 1855, Old Parish Registers (pre-1855), census records, and wills and testaments. There is a charge to search most of these records (£7 for 30 page credits). The website is a good place to learn about the official records of Scotland, which of course includes Shetland.

New Zealand Society of Genealogists - If your family have been in New Zealand for several generations, then you will find this website has some good information on the resources available to get you started on your New Zealand family history research.