Genealogical Research in Scotland

SEARCHING FOR SCOTTISH RECORDS

 

Scotland possibly has the most complete and best kept – and certainly the most comprehensively digitized – set of vital records, land registers and other documents on the planet..

By far the best access to bona fide Scottish records available on the Internet is ScotlandsPeople, the official source for searching government records and archives, which may be reached simply by keying in the name of the website or by going to https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

Clicking “Advance People Search, takes you to the Indexes page which covers five categories: (1) Statutory Registers, (2) Church Registers, (3) Census Returns, (4) Valuation Rolls, and (5) Legal Records. The Indexes may be searched free of charge. Once a document of interest is found, use pay-per-view to view and download digital images of the records you find.

 

(1) Statutory Registers.

Civil registration of births marriages, and deaths in Scotland began on 1 January 1855 when it replaced the old system of registration by the parish churches. All births were to be registered within 20 days, and include the names of the parents including the mother’s maiden surname (labeled “m.s.”). This makes it easier to search for all children of a particular couple, or for an illegitimate child where the child’s surname and mother’s name are the same.

Scottish marriages were of two types – regular and irregular or clandestine marriages. A regular marriage was preceded by the proclamation of banns in the parish churches on 3 consecutive Sundays. This was to make sure that the couple’s intent to marry was made public so that any reasons why they should not be married could be aired: such as underage without parental permission. Before 1929, boys could marry at 14 and girls at 12 provided they had parental consent. After 1929, boys were required to be 16. Marriages at that young age were rare, but they did happen.

Death records also give the names of both parents of the deceased which is especially helpful for generations born before 1855. Inclusion of the mother’s maiden names also makes their death records easier to find than their husbands.’

 

(2) Church Registers are helpful for the early records prior to 1855. The Old Parochial (Parish) Records, aka OPRs, contain the entries for baptisms (not births), marriages, and burials (not deaths) for parish members. The OPRs begin about 1650 with the establishment of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) at the Reformation and deal only with that church. Even burials were not considered important until after the time that the resurrection of the body became an issue. Before that, the location of the physical remains did not matter in the least except for royalty and anyone likely to achieve sainthood – and that was so that there would be a source from which to obtain relics and objects of veneration. As would be expected, the quality and even the existence of these records vary. It was estimated that by 1850 two-thirds of all Scots were not recorded in the OPRs at all. And of those that were recorded, many did not survive. Deciphering the handwriting is another challenge. ScotlandsPeople now includes records of other churches including non-conformist denominations and Catholics.

 

(3) Census records. Scotland’s censuses have been taken every ten years since 1801 (except 1941 because of the WWII). The early records were statistical only and included no names. Those of interest to genealogists are the 1841 - 1911 enumerations. Using census records is one of the best ways to locate ancestors at a given place and time. Be wary of ages given. In the 1841 census, ages of children under 16 were recorded precisely. But ages of those over 16 were rounded down to the nearest 5 years. An individual shown as 90 could have been any where between 90 to 94 and would have been born between 1747 and 1751. Precise ages were given in the later census records, provided the individual chose to tell the truth.

 

4) Valuation rolls, kept from 1643 onwards, were an aid to taxing people on the land they owned or occupied. These tax records are useful for learning about landowners whose estate records might provide names of tenants, but never sub-tenants. The rolls became more inclusive in 1855 omitting only those tenants paying less than £4 per year.

 

5) Legal records include wills and testaments. These were for people with something worth leaving, and therefore inheriting. The poor generally didn’t bother. Testaments were created in court after someone’s death, who was referred to as the umquhile. These documents are often disappointing to genealogists because they generally do not include names of the relatives. The laws of inheritance were so structured that names were unnecessary to know who gets what. A “will” is only one particular clause of the testament.

Scottish law stipulates two types of property: Heritable property (immovable property) consisting of land, buildings, minerals, and mining rights and these were passed to the eldest son (or daughter if there were no son) by law of primogeniture which was applied to heritage until 1964. Moveable property (clothes, money, household goods, tools, animals, etc.) were divided into three parts: the widow; the children, except the eldest, the deid’s part - the deceased could specify or “will” 1/3 of his moveable property to anyone he wished. So this would probably be the only person named in the testament.

 

OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION FOR SCOTTISH RESEARCH.

 

Campbell- specific printed sources. Thanks to many years of work by members of the Chiefly kin in Scotland during the 20th century, a fairly large volume of work has been published which mostly involve transcriptions of original documents.

Genealogist Herbert Campbell of the Duntroon family published extensive “Notes on Campbell Families of the Chiefly Kin.” These are to be found in typescript at the Lyon Office next to the Register House in Edinburgh. The CCS(NA) Library also has photocopies.

Campbell of Barcaldine employed The Rev. Henry Paton, to transcribe all entries relating to Campbells in the Sheriff Court Books of Inveraray, the Register of Sasines for Argyll (title deed lists) and the Hornings (notices for arrest) and other public records. Paton also transcribed those records for Perth and Ayr and entries from early newspapers in Edinburgh and London that were related directly to Campbells. Associated names were only transcribed where they interacted with Campbells. The several volumes published by Barcaldine are the largest body of transcriptions of Campbell related material. A complete set is in the CCS(NA) Library.

 

Archives and Repositories across Scotland hold important records, some of which may be accessed on line, but most require personal visits or the use of professional researchers.

 

The Argyll Archives at Cherry Park in Inveraray is the latest of the Campbell repositories to be developed by the Chief of Clan Campbell, Torquhil Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll, and the Friends of Argyll. Still in its early stages, the papers, maps, etc. are currently being catalogued and preserved by knowledgeable volunteers under the direction of qualified archivists.

The National Library of Scotland https://www.nls.uk/ in Edinburgh has a large collection of newspaper items ande-books, the full text of which are available on line.

 

National Records of Scotland (NRS) https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/ [formerly the Scottish Records Office (SRO)] was established on 1 April 2011, following the merger of the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) and the National Archives of Scotland (NAS), the purpose of which is to collect, preserve and produce information about Scotland's people and history and make it available to current and future generations. These, of course, are for the whole country and the entries of Campbell interest are not separated from the others. The largest body of Campbell-related papers in the NRS are the Breadalbane papers which, of course, relate mostly to Perthshire but also to Glenorchy, Kilchurn, Ardmaddy and Luing in Argyll.

 

Records to be found in the various repositories include:

(1) Kirk Session Records. The minutes of the meetings of the Kirk Sessions in each parish contain a great variety of information from additional information on regular and irregular marriages to pew rents, headstones, the poor, orphans and widows. Some of these may still be in the parishes.

(2) Synod Minutes. “The Minutes of the Synod of Argyll, 1639-1661,” and were transcribed by Duncan McTavish and published by the Scottish History Society in two volumes. These records are of interest where "heritors" or landowners responsibilities to the kirk are concerned. [Copies of both volumes are in the CCS(NA) library.]

(3) General Register of Sasines. Sasine in Scotland meant the act of transfer of land ownership by grant, inheritance or sale from one party to another and was long completed on the ground by the actual passing of a symbolic handful of earth. The Sasine Registers began to be kept in some areas in the 16th century. The language used is formal and full. Out of six pages you may only find two core paragraphs which carry the essence of the transaction involved. This means that it may be simpler to have a researcher transcribe what you want than to ask for a photocopy.

(4) Register of Hornings. People who had failed to pay a debt or to fulfill the requirement of a court of law might be "Put to the Horn" or given notice of arrest. The practice was mainly recorded in the 16th and 17th centuries.

(5) Sheriff Court Books. These are recordings of court proceedings and often give the names of witnesses and jury members besides those charged or accusing. [See reference to the Rev. Paton’s “Argyll Sheriff Court Books” above.]

(6) Justiciary Records of Argyll. The records of trials held in Argyll between 1664 and 1742 were transcribed by John Cameron, continued by John Imrie, and published by the Stair Society in 1969. They contain information similar to the Sheriff Court Books. [Copies located in CCS(NA) Library.]

(7) Hearth Tax List. The Hearth Tax was like a Poll Tax which was instituted by King William of Orange as a means to finance his European wars. They were only listed in one year in the late 17th century but give a fair population count for many communities and also indicate which families were more prosperous, having more than one hearth. The listing for Jura is very cursory but listings are full for most other parts of Argyll. [You can find these records in the Locality Search of the Family History Library under Scotland, [County] - Taxation.]

(8) Militia Lists. A list of those men in Argyll who came out as a militia for the 9th Earl of Argyll in 1685 and so were termed rebel was published as “The Commons of Argyll” by Duncan McTavish. {Copy in CCS(NA) Library.]However, the official government militia dates more from the Jacobite rising and the later Napoleonic wars. Lists may exist for some of these periods. Military records for Scottish regiments which are not at the museums of those regiments in Scotland may be found at the Kew Department of the PRO or Public Records Office in London.

(9) Maps and gazetteers. In many documents you will find references to place names. It can be difficult to find out exactly where an ancestor lived or worked. One of the first works to consult is the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, by Francis H. Groome. It gives details of all the major cities, towns, villages and areas of Scotland, and some of the major landed estates. Access on line from Electric Scotlland http://www.electricscotland.com/hiStory/gazetteer/index.htm. For most people, though, the farm or small holding you are looking for would not be listed here, so other works will have to be consulted. Included among these is a series of volumes called the Directory to Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Seats, Village, etc, in Scotland, 1843, 1852 and 1857; and continued as The County Directory of Scotland which does list the farms and houses. Ordnance survey maps available at the National Library on Scotland and accessed on-line https://www.nls.uk/ are also helpful.

(10) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Online has searchable versions of both the Old Statistical Account (1791-99) and the New Statistical Account (1834-45). These uniquely rich and detailed parish reports, written by Church of Scotland ministers, while not providing personal names, detail social conditions in Scotland and are an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Scottish history. Access at http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/home.

(11.) Coats-of Arms. The ScotlandsPeople ebsite also provides access to digital images of coats-of-arms from 1672 until 1907. These entries include a considerable amount of genealogical information. Please be aware that armorial bearings are granted to a certain individual are these are his personal property for his use only. Even the heir-apparent cannot bear the arms until he succeeds to his father’s position. In Scotland, “family name coats-of-arms” do not exist despite what some unscrupulous dealers would have you believe.

That is not to say that you cannot obtain your own coat-of-arms. If you have an ancestor who was born in Scotland, you can either re-matriculate his arms, appropriately differenced, or you can apply for a grant of your own in his memory. Be aware that both require thoroughly documented proof of uninterrupted male line descent and no small expense. Details for the Petitions for Arms may be acquired from The Court of the Lord Lyon, H.M. New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT or http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/228.html.

 

These are by no means all the sources to be investigated but will offer you the best known and easiest of access for a start. The Family History Library of the Church of the Latter Day Saints has microfilmed many of the Scottish documents found in Scottish libraries and archives. Search online at https://www.familysearch.org/catalog/search or contact the local church library before sending funds overseas for research.

 

Irish Ancestors. For those who have traced their ancestry to Ireland, if your family were Protestants they likely lived in Ulster. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is the official archives of Northern Ireland. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni. It holds both public and private records created by central and local government and various organizations. PRONI has indexed and digitized a range of significant archives to make them freely accessible to the public online including

(1) Freeholders Records, lists of people entitled to vote;

(2) Londonderry Corporation Records and Council Minutes include interesting facets about the city of Derry during the late 17th and 18th centuries;

(3) Street Directories (1819-1900) listing names or individuals and/or businesses;

(4) Name Search, an index to pre-1858 diocesan wills and administrative bonds, 1740 and 1766 religious census returns, and 1775 dissenters petitions;

(5) Historical Maps which cover the six counties of present-day Northern Ireland;

(6) The Ulster Covenant searches images of the original signatures of almost half a million men and women who signed the Ulster Covenant or women’s Declaration in opposition to Home Rule opn 18 September 1912;

(7) Valuation Revision Books 1864-1933

(8) Wills naming witnesses, beneficiaries, and executors of wills.

 

If your family were Catholic they may have lived in what is now the Republic of Ireland in which cases the records in Dublin were burned in the struggle for independence. IrishGenealogy.ie

https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ provides a search facility for digital genealogy records from a number of on-line sources including the historic Registers and Indexes to the Civil Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths, the Church Records, and others such as the 1901 and 1911 Census and Soldiers wills, to name but a few. Further information on how to research family history in Ireland is contained in the section at the website called “Research in Ireland.”