Guide to
British Isles Research

      Compiled and annotated by Linda Jonas


Many Scottish materials are available online and from the Family History Library through Family History Centers worldwide.

The resources listed in "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:



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

Irvine, Sherry. Your Scottish Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans.

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

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

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.

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.



George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History



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.  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.



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.

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




Bartholomew, John. Philip's Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland is on film #0423175.

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

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:

Place Names

Microfiche Number

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.)

Parish Maps of Scotland Showing Overall Dates of Old Parochial Registers held in Edinburgh and Available Worldwide on Microfilm (15maps) 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. Also on microfiche numbers #020421 - 6020422.

Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland is on FHL microfilm numbers 0599357 - 0599358.

Wilson, Rev. John. The Gazetteer of Scotland is a reprint of an 1882 gazetteer. It is book 941 E5j. Also on FHL 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 on the Web as scanned images.

For an online map see County Map of Scotland.



Ferguson, Joan P.S. Scottish Family Histories.

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.



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,

Civil Registration Indexes

 Type of Record

Microfilm Numbers

Birth Indexes 0103244 - 0103341
Marriage Indexes 0103539 - 0103584
Death Indexes 0103395 - 0103475


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. FHL Film #0233820

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



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 #0104115. 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 #0599787. 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 #0104116 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 #0104117. 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 

Census Year Family History Library holdings FHLC First film Number*
1841 Complete set on microfilm (Two filmings) 1042647 and 0101786
1851 Complete set on microfilm (Two filmings) 0103625 and 1041485
1861 Complete set on microfilm 0103776
1871 Complete set on microfilm 0343029
1881 Complete index/transcript on microfiche 0103924
1891 Partial set on microfilm 0208607

*  N.B.: The census records are on several rolls of microfilm.  Only the first film number of the series is given.  Search the Family History Library Catalog to find the entire series.


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 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 computer version called "Scottish Church Records." It is found in Family History Centers in the DOS version of FamilySearch. This was  the same pre-1855 database that is available on the ScotlandsPeople website for a fee, but the ScotlandsPeople website has some additional records. However, you can use the "Scottish Church Records" at Family History Centers for no charge. The database contains not only the OPRs, but some non-conformist records as well. 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. It lists the original registers held in Edinburgh, the condition of the registers, and the FHL film numbers of registers on microfilm.

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).



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. 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 #0231259 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 on microfiche:

Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories

Years Covered

Microfiche Numbers

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



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 in the following:

Index and abstracts of Services of Heirs 1530-1699 (in Latin) are on film number 0908847.

Decennial indexes to Services of Heirs 1700-1859 are on film number 0990340.

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 FHL films 0231260 - 0231566. The Abstracts of Services of Heirs 1855 - 1955 on FHL microfilm 1441082 - 1441099.


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 FHL film numbers: 0217006; 0217010; 0217023; 0896586 - 0896606; and 0990068. 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 #0216980 to #0217085.

After you have checked the appropriate Particular Register, check also the General Register. The Index to General Register of Sasines 1617-1700 is on film numbers 0216970 - 0216976 and the Index to General Register of Sasines 1701-1720 is on film number 0874420.

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 film numbers 0216977 - 0216979.

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 Index to Persons to Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1868, arranged by county, is on FHL film numbers 0217026 - 0217074; the Place Name Index to Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1830 is on FHL film numbers 0217075 - 0217087; and the Abridgements of Sasines 1781-1868 is on films #0217088 - #0217141.

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 #0896584 - #0896606. There are also manuscript indexes for 1770-1851 on films #0231807 - #0231817. The Repertory to the Register of Deeds is on film #0231790.



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.

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

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

Where to Begin / General British Isles / England and Wales / Ireland and Northern Ireland / Scotland / Channel Islands / Isle of Man /

Copyright 1998-2006 Linda Jonas. All rights reserved.