Almost all Scottish
records which have survived are legal. It follows therefore that their
wording is very important, so as to ensure that there are no loopholes
and that they cannot be misinterpreted.
Even a baptism
recorded in a parish register is a legal document. It is dated, gives
the names of the parties involved, states whether the child being
baptised is 'lawful' or not and is often witnessed.
What to look out for
in a legal document:
The title. What is
the document called? A Will or a Marriage Contract are
self-explanatory, but what about a Factory, an Indenture or an
Be aware of the
fact that documents were seldom recorded on the day they were drawn
up. Registration took place days, weeks, months and very often years
later. The date at the beginning of the document is the date of
recording. Look at the end of the document to find out where and
when it was actually made.
Note the names of
the main parties involved. Is any additional information given about
them, such as an occupation, place of residence, relationship to
Look at the names
of the witnesses at the end. They can often be relatives.
Movable and Immovable
Most people are
interested in whether their forebears left a will or owned property.
Testaments, Wills and
Inventories (Movable Property)
can also be called Deeds of Settlement, Trust Dispositions, Mutual
Dispositions and Bonds of Provision, for example. These types of
documents are generally found in the Registers of Deeds of the
Commissary Courts; Sheriff Courts and Books of Council and Session (all
held at the National Archives of Scotland).
Testaments were recorded in the Commissary Courts. Here Testament does
not mean Will. If there is a will, it is called a Testament Testamentar.
If not, it is called a Testament Dative and will only consist of an
Up until the middle of
the 19th century, only movable goods, i.e. possessions and money could
be bequeathed (see Sasines below).
The widow is called
If the deceased left
children, they will be named in order of birth.
If he or she had
children by more than one wife, this is usually indicated.
After 1823, Wills and
Inventories were recorded either separately or together in Registers of
the Sheriff Courts of each county.
All Testaments, Wills
and Inventories and their relevant Indexes, apart from those of Orkney
and Shetland Sheriff Courts (held at the Archives at Kirkwall and
Lerwick respectively) are housed in the National Archives of Scotland.
The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) has recently begun a million pound
programme to create a single index of Scottish wills up to 1876 which
will ultimately appear on the Internet.
Property Records - Sasines (Immovable Property)
Scotland was and still is feudal, i.e. there was an overlord or superior
and his vassal. Each time land changed hands, permission had to be
obtained from the superior in the form of a 'precept' (letter). The
letter was then shown to the 'bailie' (official) of the particular lands
who then gave title to the new owner. This took place on the actual
property, where the new owner was given a handful of earth and stone or
if in a burgh, took hold of the handle of the door and thereby became 'infeft'
or 'seised' in the property. An Instrument of Sasine was then recorded
in the Register of the county in which the land lay.
begin in 1617. There is a Particular Register for each county and a
General Register for the whole country.
Up to the middle of
the 19th century, land could not be bequeathed, but descended according
to fixed rules. The eldest son inherited, whom failing his eldest son
and so on. If there were no male heirs, then a female could inherit.
It must be remembered
that land belonged to a very small proportion of the population - the
landowners. There are two little words which make it easy to tell
whether someone owned land or not. They are 'of' and 'in'. A landowner
was always recorded as 'of' a particular property. Someone who lived on
that land, but did not own it, was always designed as 'in' that
While a landowner was
alive, his heir was known as 'younger of' or 'fiar of' the land - 'fiar'
meaning that he was due to inherit the property in 'fee' (forever). The
widow would get the 'liferent' (use of the property for life).
Indexes to the Sasines
prior to 1781 vary. After 1781, there are Abridgements with Person and
Places Indexes which make for a much shorter search.
Royal Burghs, such as
Edinburgh and Stirling, among many others, had to right to keep their
own Registers of Sasines in which property transactions within the
boundaries of the burgh were recorded.
There are other
sources of Property, such as Valuation Rolls from 1855, Services of
Heirs (for land held directly from the Crown); the Register of the Great
Seal and the Privy Seal (charters); Notarial Protocol Books which
predate the Registers of Sasines, to name the main ones.
All the above records,
apart from a few of the Burgh Sasines are housed at the National
Archives of Scotland.
families have deposited their family papers in the National Archives of
Scotland, National Library of Scotland or Local Archives. A useful
source for finding out whether and where papers have been deposited is
through the National Archives
While the papers deal
mainly with the affairs of the family, they can also be useful for
finding people who were 'in' a particular place. This information can be
found in Rentals which list the tenants who leased land from the
landowner and Tacks which record those leases.
Some other hints:
records, a woman always retains her maiden surname.
'Mr' or 'Master'
indicates that the person was a graduate of a University.
Brother or sister
'german' means a true brother or sister, i.e. from the same seed.
Brother or sister
'consanguine' means a half brother or sister, i.e. from the same
A 'natural' child
is a child born out of wedlock.
Only son or
daughter 'in life' means that all the other children of the family
Always try to seek out
original sources. There is nothing more thrilling than finding an
original document with your forebear's name on it. Don't rely solely on
printed sources, especially if no original sources are given. Many
authors are lazy and just copy from one another. Quite often, they copy
incorrectly. It should also be realised that there is a lot of unindexed
material and so much is still hidden.