Records in the National Archives of Scotland

Records in the National Archives of Scotland

Diane Baptie, Professional Genealogist and Historical Researcher

On the 1 April 2011 the National Archives of Scotland merged with the General Register Office of Scotland (ScotlandsPeople Centre) to form the National Registers of Scotland). The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) does not hold records of Births, Marriages and Deaths which were recorded from 1855 in Scotland nor does it hold the census returns (1841-1901) and parish registers of the Church of Scotland which became the established church in the 1690s. These records are held in the General Register Office which houses the ScotlandsPeople Centre and can also be viewed on their pay-to-view site - However, there are a few runs of parish registers to be found among the kirk session minutes in the NAS which are missing from the registers in New Register House (see below).

Church Records

Church of Scotland

Kirk Session, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly papers:

The Kirk Session Minutes contain records of fornication, poor rolls, mortcloth accounts (good for finding deaths); some baptisms and marriages not engrossed in the Old Parish Registers - see Parish Register in the Kirk Session Minutes of the Church of Scotland by Diane Baptie published by the Scottish Association of Family History Societies. There are also some earlier censuses, communion rolls and lists of heads of families.

The Presbytery Minutes are valuable for finding out about ministers, schoolmaster, divinity students and the church buildings as well as transgressors who were referred to them by the kirk sessions.

The General Assembly papers contain some interesting items, such as lists of Roman Catholics in the early 18th century.

Secession Churches

The minutes of these churches contain baptisms, marriages and deaths/ burials - see Registers of the Secession Churches in Scotland by Diane Baptie published by SAFHS. They also contain the same sort of material as is found in the kirk session minutes of the Church of Scotland.

They also had Presbyteries and Synods.

Independent Churches

The NAS holds photocopies of Roman Catholic Registers. These do not go all that far back. The earliest is that of Huntly in Aberdeenshire, which starts in the 1740s.

They also hold a fair number of Episcopal Registers.

There are also some records of other denominations, such as the Congregational, Methodist, Unitarian churches, as well as records of Quakers.

Testaments, Wills and Inventories

These were recorded in the Commissary Courts until 1824, after which the Sheriff Courts took over - see

If nothing is found in the Indexes, there is always the possibility that there will be something in the Registers of Deeds.

Registers of Deeds

Deeds contain trust dispositions (like wills), marriage contracts, apprenticeship records, bonds of provision and many more.

There are 4 sources for Deeds:

  1. Registers of Deeds of the Sheriff Courts - Many of the registers date from the early 1600s.
  2. Registers of Deeds of the Commissary Courts up to 1824.
  3. Registers of Deeds of the Royal Burghs.
  4. Registers of Deeds of the Court of Session (Books of Council and Session) which start in the early 16th century.

Property Records

Up to 1868, heritable property, i.e. land could not be bequeathed but descended to the eldest son, although after 1868 when someone died intestate, the laws of primogeniture still applied, if that person owned property.

Sources for people who owned property:


Prior to 1617 - Register of the Great Seal (printed to 1660, thereafter typescript indexes exist); Protocol Books (records kept by notaries which predate the Sasine Registers - see below); Register of the Privy Seal (printed to 1584); Calendar of Charters; papers of landowners.


From 1617, there are Registers of Sasines for all counties, including a General Register, which covered the whole of Scotland (abolished in 1868). There are sporadic indexes, some counties having complete indexes, while others not. After 1781, there are Abridgements with Persons and Places Indexes for all counties.

Royal Burghs kept their own Registers and so if someone owned property within the bounds of a Royal Burgh then the Registers of the Burgh would record this.

Landholding was feudal up until this year, when feudal holding was finally abolished in Scotland. The Registers of Sasine have been replaced by a Land Register

Valuation Rolls

Before 1855, they are sporadic, but after 1855, there is a continuous run. These name the owners of the land, their tenants and occupiers.

Retours and Services of Heirs

Records of heirs succeeding to property: Retours exist from 1545-1699 and Services of Heirs from 1700 onwards.


Sources for finding tenants are to be found in rentals and tacks (leases). These are to be found in the papers of landowners, which have been deposited in the National Archives, local archives or in the Manuscript Department of the National Library.

Many tacks (leases) were recorded in the Registers of Deeds.

Forfeited Estate papers

The outcome of the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745 was that several landowners who were involved had their lands forfeited. There are lists of tenants on those estates from 1745 to the 1770s in the Exchequer Records.


Civil cases

These are to be found in the records of the Sheriff Courts and the Court of Session. The Court of Session dealt with bankruptcy and divorce in the 19th century - see the NAS's prototype electronic catalogue on

A separate class of records are the Diligence records - horning and inhibitions, which involve debt.

Criminal records

Less serious cases were heard in the Sheriff Courts, whereas the more serious ones were tried in the High Court of Justiciary. This court went on circuit. These records are held at West Register House an annexe of the NAS. There is an index to Precognitions for the 19th century (few have survived before then) now to be found on the NAS site (see above) These are reports by the Procurator Fiscal to the Lord Advocates Department. The latter would then decide whether a case could be brought. They are full of detail, as are the subsequent Processes of the actual Court Cases.

Other Courts:

  • Franchise Courts
  • Burgh Courts
  • Justice of the Peace Courts
  • Admiralty Courts

There are also records of several prisons for the mid to late 19th century, with the exception of Edinburgh Tolbooth which begin in 1657.


  • Hearth Tax (late 17th century)
  • Poll Tax (late 17th century)

Not all the country is covered though.

Taxes in the latter part of the 18th century:

  • Window Tax
  • Farm Horse Tax
  • Cart Tax
  • Shop tax
  • Carriage Tax
  • Dog Tax
  • Clock and Watch tax
  • Male and Female Servant Tax

Papers of Landowners

These have been gifted to the NAS and NLS and contain much valuable material. Some are large collections while others are limited to just a few documents.


The NAS has a section entitled Miscellaneous Accessions, which consists of a large number of individual item and small collections, some of which are extremely useful (see The National Library (Manuscripts Department) also has a large collection of individual items, but also holds many large collections of papers of landowners, families, businesses etc. (see

Some other miscellaneous records held in the National Archives of Scotland are:

  • Records of Customs and Excise (until the early 19th century)
  • Trade and Guild records for several burghs
  • Some Poor Relief Records
  • Whale and Herring Bounties for the 18th century, which name the crews of whalers and fishing boats
  • Records of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge
  • Highland and Island Emigration Society (1852-57)
  • Records of emigrants to Canada (1886-89)
  • Militia records

Diane Baptie is a Scottish genealogical and historical researcher. Please visit her web page for additional information about her services.


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