BIFHS-USA | Guide to British Isles Research

BIFHS–USA  |  Guide to British Isles Research

V. Scotland

See also Scottish Study Group   

The British Isles Family History Society - U.S.A. maintains a large research collection at the Los Angeles Regional Family History Center. This section is a guide to the Scotland portion of that collection, however many of the materials listed are available from the Family History Library through Family History Centers worldwide.

The resources listed in this "Scotland" section are to be used in addition to the resources in the "General British Isles" section.

The following items are only a select list of materials. These items are in the process of annotation.

A. How to Do Scottish Research

Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of Scottish Ancestry is book number 941 D27ham. This book gives excellent coverage to a wide variety of Scottish records.

Irvine, Sherry. Your Scottish Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans. Book number 941.1 D27i.

James, Alwyn. Scottish Roots is a good book for beginning Scottish Researchers, book number 941 D27j.

Jonas, Linda and Paul Milner.  A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage.  This book provides step-by-step instructions to the most important records for Scottish research.

Moody, David. Scottish Local History is book #941 D27m

Scottish Record Office, Guide to the National Archives of Scotland is the official guide to Scottish Records held in the National Archives of Scotland. The name of the archive was changed from the "Scottish Record Office" to "National Archives of Scotland" in 1999.

Cecil Sinclair, Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors in the Scottish Record Office is a wonderful book on Scottish Records that focuses on records of interest to family historians. It is particularly useful if you plan to visit the National Archives of Scotland (formerly called Scottish Record Office). After you read about a record in this book, use the Family History Library Catalog to see if the material you want has been microfilmed. Book number 941 D27s.

Donald J Steel, Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History is part of the National Index of Parish registers, volume 12. This book is particularly strong on non-conformist records. Book number 942 V26ste V12.

B. Finding Aids

Frank Smith's Inventories: This is probably the single most valuable finding aid to British Isles sources held in the Family History Library collection. Smith's Inventory of Genealogical Sources was compiled by Frank Smith and a team of researchers who indexed items in periodicals, books, and microfilms which are not specifically listed in the Family History Library Catalog. Nancy Bier included a description of Smith's Inventory in the 1996 BIFHS-USA Genealogical Research Seminar Syllabus, pages 9-14. There are inventories for England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. All serious researchers must use both the FHLC and Frank Smith's Inventories. The inventory for Scotland is on fiche #6110528.

C. General Reference

Peter Gouldesbrough, Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents. Because legal documents are often written in unfamiliar script and unfamiliar language but in a standard format, this book is an essential reference tool. It contains the standard format of Scottish legal documents in the original language and with English translations. Book 941 B4st.

Robinson, Maire, ed. The Concise Scots Dictionary. This book contains words that have unique meanings in Scotland. Book number 491.63321 M224c.

D. Finding Places: Maps, Gazetteers, and Statistical Accounts

Bartholomew's Half-Inch Map Series [England, Scotland, and Wales] was originally on 63 large pages. They have been bound into a large black binder in the map area, book number 912.42 B282-1.

Bartholomew, John. Philip's Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland is on film #423,175.

Findlay, James. A Directory of Gentlemen's Seats, Villages, &c. in Scotland: Giving the counties in which they are situated, the post-towns to which each is attached, and the name of the resident, to which is added a table showing the despatch and arrival of the mails at the head and sub-offices throughout Scotland, also every information respecting the transmission of letters in all foreign parts. This directory is on fiche 6026392.

Gardner, Harland, & Smith's Genealogical Atlas of Scotland is 941.1 E7g.

Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical, and Historical. (6 vols.) [1883-1886] The best gazetteer of Scotland. All Scottish places in the Family History Library Catalog are cataloged according to the listings in this gazetteer. On microfiche:

A - Auc 6020391
Auch - Bot 6020392
Both - Col 6020393
Cold - Dor 6020394
Dorm - Ear 6020395
Earl - Edr 6020396
Edra - For 6020397
Fort - Gla 6020398
Glas - Ham 6020399
Hamil - Jed 6020400
Jedb - Kir 6020401
Kirk - Lin   6020402
Linl - Mon 6020403
Moni - Ork 6020404
Orkn - Raa 6020405
Raas - Sel 6020406
Selk - Tai 6020407
Tain - Z 6020408
General Survey 6020409
General Survey & Maps 6020410
Maps 6020411

Lewis, Samuel. A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (2 vols.) is book 941 E5L.

Parish Maps of Scotland Showing Overall Dates of Old Parochial Registers held in Edinburgh and Available Worldwide on Microfilm (15maps) have been laminated and are in Map Case 4, Drawer 1. Parish maps are also available on fiche #6026409.

Smith, Frank. A Genealogical Gazetteer of Scotland is a shortened version of Lewis's Gazetteer that adds the date of commencement of registers for each parish and the name of the parish to which the place belonged for all other entries. Book 914.94 S56. Also on microfiche #6020421 - #6020422.

Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland is on films #599,357 - #599,358.

Wilson, Rev. John. The Gazetteer of Scotland is a reprint of an 1882 gazetteer. It is book 941 E5j. Also on microfiche 6026374.

Sinclair, Sir John, ed. The Statistical Account of Scotland - John Sinclair commissioned a study of the parishes of Scotland in 1790. The 21 volumes are known as the "Old Statistical Account" because a New Statistical Account was done in 1845. The descriptions of the parishes were usually done by the ministers. The account may list important details about life in the parish including who the major landowners were and how much laborers were paid. Vols. 1 and 3-20 of the Old Statistical Account are organized by county and are on 161 microfiche #6026527 - #6026545

The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, contains economic, historical, physical, and social descriptions of the parishes of Scotland. It was published in 15 volumes and is available on microfiche. The New Statistical Account for each county is cataloged in the Family History Library Catalog under SCOTLAND, [COUNTY] - HISTORY - STATISTICS.

Both the Old and the New Statistical Accounts are available for free on the Web as scanned images.

For an online map see County Map of Scotland.

E. Biographical Sketches and Family Histories

Ferguson, Joan P.S. Scottish Family Histories. Book 941 D23f.

Stuart, Margaret. Scottish Family History: A Guide to Works of Reference on the History and Genealogy of Scottish Families is an alphabetical listing of surnames. Each entry has sources for the family history of that surname. Book 941 A3s. 

F. Civil Registration

Civil registration began in Scotland on 1 January 1855. The indexes to births, marriages, and deaths are arranged by year for the entire country and are available on microfilm from 1855 to 1949/1955 in the LA FHC.

Civil Registration Indexes

Birth Indexes #103,244 - #103,341
Marriage Indexes #103,539 - #103,584
Death Indexes #103,395 - #103,475

The Scottish certificates of births, marriages, and deaths were filmed years ago, but only for the years 1855 to 1875 plus those for the census years of 1881 and 1891.

Selected examples of other materials on microfiche and film:

Index to Registration Offices of Scotland, 1855 - 1955. Film #233,820

Index to Parishes in Scotland - Fiche #6035795, Item 2.

G. Census

To find microfilm numbers for censuses of Scotland, consult the Scottish Census Register, 1841-1891 on microfiche #6035795. This fiche is organized by census year, then by county. The parishes are then listed alphabetically and the microfilm number for that census year is given.

From Civil Registration Certificates, you may have a street address of your ancestor. There are street address indexes for the following censuses:

Street indexes for the 1841 census are on film #104,115. They include the parishes of Edinburgh: North Leith, South Leith, Canongate, and St. Cuthbert's; and the parishes of Glasgow: Barony, Govan, and Gorbals.

Street indexes for the 1851 census are on film #599,787. They include the
parishes of Edinburgh: North Leith, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Urquhart, Inveresk, Musselburgh, Fisherrow, New Monkland, Airdrie, Newton Braes, Coatbridge, Dundee, parishes of Greenock: East, Middle, and West; and parishes of Paisley: Middle, Abbey, High and Middle Low.

Street indexes for the 1861 census are on film #104,116 and include Edinburgh, Leith, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Greenock, Paisley, Abbey, Perth, Kilmarnock, Airdrie, Arbroath and St. Vigeans, Ayr, St. Quivox and Newton-on-Ayr, Brechin, Dumfries, Hamilton, Kirkcaldy, Abbotshall, Dysart, Lanark, and Old Monkland.

Street indexes for the 1871 census are on film #104,117. The film includes the cities of Edinburgh, Leith, Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Old Monkland, Greenock, Paisley, Perth, Kilmarnock, Stirling, Kirkcaldy, Arbroath, Ayr, St. Quivox, Montrose, Cambusnethan, Rutherglen, Dumfries, Peterhead, Rothesay, Hawick & Wilton, Falkirk, Inverness, Dunfermline, Bothwell & Holytown, New Monkland (Airdrie), Stornoway, Forfar, Lesmahagow, Campbelltown, Dalry (Ayr), Brechin, Calderhead, Cadder, Hamilton, Montrose, and Shotts.

Census Returns for Scotland 

1841 Complete set on microfilm (Two filmings) 0199389 and 0342179
1851 Complete set on microfilm (Two filmings) 0342975 and 0181044
1861 Complete set on microfilm 0342585
1871 Complete set on microfilm 0343029
1881 Complete index/transcript on microfiche
1891 Partial set on microfilm 0343507

* N.B.: "Computer Number" is not the same as "Film Number."  The ability to search by computer number is currently not available on the online version of the Family History Library Catalog.

H. Church Records

Scottish Church Records are a very important source for Scottish research. All of the pre-1855 christening and marriage entries for the Church of Scotland parish registers have been indexed. These are called the OPR (Old Parochial Records) indexes. There are four sets of indexes on microfiche for each county in Scotland: Surname Index to Christenings, Surname Index to Marriages, Given Name Index to Christenings, and Given Name Index to Marriages. The Los Angeles Regional Family History Center has all of these. The format is similar to the microfiche version of the International Genealogical Index (IGI). The counties are in alphabetical order on fiche #6025611 - #6025742.

In addition, there is also a CD-ROM version called "Scottish Church Records." This is the same pre-1855 database that is available on the Scots-Origins website, but you can use it at Family History Centers for no charge. The CD-ROM contains not only the OPRs, but some non-conformist records as well. The CD-ROM is similar to the CD-ROM version of the International Genealogical Index. Researchers should use all three indexes to search for Scottish church records: IGI, OPRs on microfiche, and Scottish Church Records on CD-ROM.

After you have found your ancestor in one of the indexes see Ben Bloxham, Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland. This book is in a blue binder in the map area, book number 941 B623. It lists the original registers held in Edinburgh, the condition of the registers, and the FHL film numbers of registers on microfilm. The Los Angeles Regional Family History Center has many of the microfilmed Scottish parish registers.

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae is a list of the ministers of the Church of Scotland. The Fasti contain such information as the date of ordination and where served. This source can also tell you the birth, marriage, and death dates of the minister as well as his wife and children, their occupations and places of residence. Volumes 1-10 are on microfiche #6026402 (75 fiche).

I. Probate Records

There are two primary types of probate records in Scotland. Because land had to descend according to law and could not be bequeathed by will until 1868, Testaments leave moveable property and Services of Heirs are records determining heirship of heritable property (land and buildings). Services of Heirs will be discussed in the section on Land Records.

What are Testaments?

In legal terms, a "Last Will and Testament" involves two types of transactions. The "will" is the instrument that designates how the testator wants his real property to be distributed after his death; a "testament" involves the distribution of moveable property. As mentioned above, land could not be bequeathed by will in Scotland until 1868. Testaments are very valuable documents that can indicate family relationships and financial status.

There are two types of testaments: a testament testamentar was written by the person before his death and a testament dative was created by the court when the person died without leaving a written testament.

For more details, see Chapter VI "Testaments" in Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry. For step-by-step instructions see Linda Jonas and Paul Milner, A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage.

Testaments to 1823

Until 1823, the testaments were proved in the local commissary court. Each commissary court handled the testaments within its own area. The Commissary Court of Edinburgh could confirm testaments for the whole of Scotland, and for those who had died outside of Scotland.

The pre-1823 registers of testaments are catalogued in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the commissary court. The Commissary Courts of Scotland were Aberdeen, Argyll, Brechin, Caithness, Dumfries, Dunblane, Dunkeld, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton & Campsie, Inverness, The Isles, Kirkcudbright, Lanark, Lauder, Moray, Orkney & Shetland, Peebles, Ross, St. Andrews, Stirling, and Wigtown. To determine the appropriate commissariot, look up the name of your ancestor's parish in the table Pre-1801 Testament Indexes of Scotland. You can see the approximate commissariot boundaries in the maps of Scotland in Cecil Humphery-Smith ed., The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (1995). The maps show all of the parishes and the commissariots to which they belonged. There is also a list of each parish in Scotland and its commissariot in Appendix D of Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry. There are also maps of jurisdictions and a list of FHL film holdings on fiche #6054479.

There are printed indexes to testaments covering the years 1514 to 1823. They are arranged by Commissary Court and are available on microfilm and microfiche at the LA FHC. The microfiche indexes are on fiche #6068611 - #6068631. The courts are in alphabetical order. The index gives the name and designation of the deceased and the date of confirmation. Married women are listed under the maiden name, with the husband's name cross-referenced. If your ancestor is not found in the nearest court to his place of residence, then check the Edinburgh court which covered all of Scotland. The post-1800 indexes are slightly different from the earlier index. The ones covering 1801-1823 are all on microfilm #231,259 and give the name and designation of the deceased, the date of confirmation, the commissariot, and the volume and folio numbers or warrant numbers of the testament.

Indexes to Scottish testaments are also available on the Internet at, and they are even easier to use because all courts are in one index.

Once you find your ancestor in the index, you can see his complete testament.  See Scottish Testaments for a list of film numbers or you can order an online image at

Testaments after 1823

After 1823, the Sheriff's Courts were responsible for recording testaments. Sheriff Courts did not use a standard format; each had its own way of organizing its records. From 1824-1875 only the years 1846-1867 are indexed on microfilm for all courts. The index is called Index to the Inventories of the Personal Estates of Defuncts and is available on microfilm #1,368,215 - #1,368,217. Here is an example of an index entry: "F 713 Brough, Edward, china-merchant, Crieff. 54. P. 11.2.54." This means that Edward Brough's inventory was recorded in 1854 [54] in the County of Perth [P], and he died 11 February 1854 [11.2.54]. Click here to see a transcript of Edward Brough's inventory.

The Testaments from 1824 to 1876 have not been microfilmed except for the counties of Argyll, East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian, Perth, Renfrew, Ross & Cromarty, Stirling, West Lothian, and Wigtown. Most of the testaments are at the National Archives of Scotland (formerly called Scottish Record Office). The testaments have been indexed at and online images are available.

The Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories 1876 to 1936 covers testaments for all of Scotland and is arranged by year, then alphabetically by surname. Each entry gives the name and designation of the deceased, the date and place of death, whether testate or intestate, name of court where confirmation was granted, date of confirmation, the names and designations of the executors, and the value of the estate. If the deceased was testate, the date of the will is given along with when and where it was recorded. Testaments after 1876 have not been microfilmed, but the Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories is available in the LA FHC on microfiche:

Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories on Microfiche

1876 - 1922 #6068884 - #6068930
1923 - 1927 #6069735 - #6069738
1928 - 1936 #6070135 - #6070143

J. Land Records

Services of Heirs (Also called Retours)

Services of Heirs are part of the Chancery records. When a landowner died, an inquest was held to determine the legal heir. Services of heirs list the name of the deceased, the name of the heir, and the relationship of the heir to the deceased. For more information see Chapter VIII "Service of Heirs" in Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry.

Services of Heirs were in Latin until 1847, but were written in a standard format. See Chapter 13 "Succession to Heritable Property" in Gouldesbrough's Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents for a Latin-English translation of the standard format.

Services of Heirs are indexed. The LARFHC has the following indexes:

Index and abstracts of Services of Heirs 1530-1699 (in Latin) are on film #908,847.

Decennial indexes to Services of Heirs 1700-1859 are on film #990,340.

Annual Indexes to Services of Heirs 1860-1929 are part of the National Inventory of Documentary Sources. Unfortunately, the titles on the fiche do not show the years covered on each fiche. The surname indexes are on fiche #6068606 (102 fiche).

Once you have found your ancestor in the index, the Service of Heirs 1586 to 1900 (in Latin until 1847) can be ordered on films #231,260 - #231,566. The Los Angeles Regional Family History Center has Abstracts of Services of Heirs 1855 - 1955 on microfilm #1,441,082 - #1,441,099.


When land was transferred in Scotland, the transaction was recorded in the Registers of Sasines. There was the Secretary's Register from 1599 to 1609. From 1617 to 1868 there was a General Register of Sasines for property anywhere in Scotland, and Particular Registers of Sasines for the lands belonging to each district. See Chapter VII "The Sasine Register" in Gerald Hamilton-Edwards In Search of Scottish Ancestry for more details.

You will want to check the Particular Registers of Sasines first. The indexes are on various film numbers: #217,006; #217,010; #217,023; #896,586 - #896,606; #990,068. Although the actual sasines have not been microfilmed, you can see abstracts arranged chronologically in the Minute Books of Particular Registers of Sasines on films #216,980 to #217085.

After you have checked the appropriate Particular Register, check also the General Register. The Index to General Register of Sasines 1617-1700 is on films #216,970 - #216,976 and the Index to General Register of Sasines 1701-1720 is on film #874,420.

There is no index from 1720 to 1781 to the General Register of Sasines, so the minute books must be used. They are in chronological order and contain abstracts of the sasines. Minute books to the General Register of Sasines for the years 1717-1782 are on films #216,977 - #216,979.

If your ancestor lived in a royal burgh, you will want to also check the Burgh Registers of Sasines. There are Burgh Registers of Sasines at the Family History Library. To find out what's at the National Archives of Scotland, use the Repertory of Burgh Records on FHL fiche #6029991.

From 1781 there are printed Abridgements of Sasines in one series for the Particular Registers and the General Register. They include all of the significant information found on the original sasine records. The LA FHC has the Index to Persons to Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1868, arranged by county, on films #217,026 - #217,074, the Place Name Index to Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1830 on films #217,075 - #217,087 and the Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1868 on films #217,088 - #217,141.

Register of Deeds

In Scotland, the Register of Deeds contains a wide variety of documents. It can be called a "Register of Contracts." The register contains marriage contracts, apprenticeships, building contracts, testamentary settlements, and many other types of documents. See Chapter IX "Registers of Deeds" in Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry for a description of these records. The printed index to grantors for the years 1661-1696 of the Court of Sessions is on 22 rolls of film #896,584 - #896,606. There are also manuscript indexes for 1770-1851 on films #231,807 - #231,817. The Repertory to the Register of Deeds is on film #231,790.

K. Other Sources

Ferguson, Joan P.S. Directory of Scottish Newspapers is a list of newspapers arranged alphabetically by the name of the newspaper. After the name of each newspaper, the names of the repositories are given that hold copies of the paper along with which issues are held. There is also a section arranged by locality listing the names newspapers from that area. Book 941 B3

Glasgow City Directories 1787 to 1886 are on microfiche #6340933 - #6341018

Steel, D. J. Court Records as Sources for Family History in Scotland is on microfiche #6085756

Also see the listings for General British Isles

Go to: Where to Begin | General British Isles | England and Wales | Ireland and Northern Ireland | Scotland | Channel Islands | Isle of Man | What's New?

The BIFHS–USA Guide to British Isles Research has been compiled and annotated by Linda Jonas.
Copyright © 1998-2002 Linda Jonas. All rights reserved.

Last edit: Monday, 10-Sep-2018 15:58:21 MDT