Doing Scottish genealogy is one of the more satisfying aspects of my research - both personal and professional. Not only can you trace your ancestors back through amazing historical times, but the sources are excellent and easy to obtain. To understand the simplicity of doing Scottish genealogy, you need to know that Church of Scotland parish boundaries also serve as boundaries for censuses and civil registration.
Censuses are a gold-mine of information when doing Scottish genealogy. Because Scotland was ruled by the British government, censuses were taken on the "ones" starting with 1841, as were the English censuses. Scottish genealogy is benefited greatly by these early and continuous censuses. In 1841, enumerators were required to round ages down to the nearest five so that a person age 29, for example, would appear as age 25. Children age 15 and under were given exact ages. In 1841, Scottish enumerators very often gave the maiden name of the wife instead of her married name. When you find your family, look at their neighbors to see what economic circumstances they were in. Early enumerators often gave more detail about farmers such as the amount of land they owned, how many laborers they hired etc. Censuses are indexed and available up to 1901 at www.ancestry.co.uk for a subscription fee or you can access them via microfilm. Make sure you follow your family through all relevant census years.
Civil registration began on 1 Jan 1855 and the amount of information given on these birth, marriage and death certificates is amazing! Not only do you get the parents' names but also the place of birth of the person or couple involved. From 1856 to 1861 registrars backed off considerably on the amount of information requested but then they decided they could better than minimum; however, they did not go back to 1855 standards. If your Scottish genealogy takes you to this time period, and you do not have someone who was born, married or died in 1855, try to find a sibling, cousin or parent who did. They have the same ancestors as you! Indexes are available on microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and the Scottish government even allowed the filming of actual certificates registered in 1855-1875, 1881 and 1891. Finding the certificate on microfilm can save you time and money that you would otherwise spend ordering it.
Of unparalleled benefit to Scottish genealogy is the access we have to the parochial registers of the Church of Scotland. All existing registers for every parish from when they began writing down christenings, marriages and burials have been indexed and microfilmed, and are available from the Family History Library. The index to christenings and marriages is called the Scottish Church Records (SCR) and is available only as a DOS program at most Family History Centers. There currently is no index to burials although I have heard that that is in progress. As a whole, burials were less well kept than christenings or marriages. SCR is based on the Soundex system of surnames and allows you to narrow your search by time period. Once you find an interesting entry, you can get the parish, date and reference to the original by hitting . Remember that this is only an index; you should always search for the original entry which may give you witnesses' names, occupations, address etc. The Old Parochial Registers is another index but available only on microfiche. You will work with church records for events prior to 31 December 1854, then switch to civil registration for subsequent events. Of note is the fact that some events were registered much later than occurred because of taxation or other event.
The Church of Scotland was not the only church in Scotland but it was the "established church". Other churches kept records and many of them are at the General Register Office in Edinburgh. This building also houses probates, maps, land records, military and emigration records.
Whatever time period you search for your Scottish genealogy, please read about the events that were happening at that time. Your ancestors lived through some exciting times!