Scotland (; Scots: ; ) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain. It shares a border with England to the south, and is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the south-west. In addition to the mainland, the country is made up of more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.
Edinburgh, the country's capital and second-largest city, was the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, which transformed Scotland into one of the commercial, intellectual, and industrial powerhouses of Europe. Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, was once one of the world's leading industrial cities and now lies at the centre of the Greater Glasgow conurbation. Scottish waters consist of a large sector of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, containing the largest oil reserves in the European Union. This has given Aberdeen, the third-largest city in Scotland, the title of Europe's oil capital.
The Kingdom of Scotland emerged as an independent sovereign state in the Early Middle Ages and continued to exist until 1707. By inheritance in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland, thus forming a personal union of the three kingdoms. Scotland subsequently entered into a political union with England on 1 May 1707 to create the new Kingdom of Great Britain. The union also created a new Parliament of Great Britain, which succeeded both the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England. The Treaty of Union was agreed in 1706 and enacted by the twin Acts of Union 1707 passed by the Parliaments of both countries, despite some popular opposition and anti-union riots in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and elsewhere. Great Britain itself subsequently entered into a political union with Ireland on 1 January 1801 to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Scotland's legal system has remained separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and private law. The continued existence of legal, educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since the 1707 union. In 1999, a devolved legislature, the Scottish Parliament, was reconvened with authority over many areas of home affairs following a referendum in 1997. The Scottish National Party, which supports Scottish independence, won an overall majority in the 2011 general election. An independence referendum was held on 18 September 2014, with independence being rejected by a majority of 55% to 45% on an 85% voter turnout.
A thumbnail timeline of Scottish history:
For more detail, see the Wikipedia article on Scottish history.
Organization of Places
The organization of Scottish places is a complicated amalgam of civil and parochial systems, both of which have suffered revisions. In particular, the civil system has been significantly revised several times since the 1960s, which can cause much confusion to the genealogist or historian looking to understand historical geography. For this reason, WeRelate uses the traditional systems as its primary means of organizing place information in Scotland, as this will correspond more directly with the vast majority of records of genealogical interest.
The primary jurisdictions of interest to the genealogist are the "traditional county" and the "parish". Scotland comprises 33 traditional counties and slightly over 900 parishes. You will see the 33 counties listed in the box to the right (under "Contained places"), and if you click into a county page, you will see its contained parishes similarly listed. If you click into a parish page, there you will see its contained towns, villages, and inhabited places. The parishes, being a church jurisdiction, actually fall into a hierarchy of presbyteries (the next level above parish) and synods (a level roughly equivalent to counties). Once you've located an ancestral place, it will be useful to explore the related places that place contains or is contained in. For example, if an ancestor came from a particular village, there may be sources and records of interest associated with the parish, the county, the presbytery, the synod, etc. Specific place pages may also contain useful information about historical jurisdiction changes. (For instance, it may be useful to know that a village used to be in a different parish or county, but boundaries were changed.)
Except for the very largest cities, most Scottish place pages are named in the form "Village, County, Scotland", for example, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. For the smaller places, or those whose names are not unique within their county, the parish may also be included in the page name, for example, Finzean, Birse, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In some cases, you may see "(village)" added after a village name. This is typically to distinguish it from a parish of the same name.
See organization of Scottish places for further information, including all the messy details.
Lieutenancy areas of Scotland
Map and Gazetteer resources
All places in Scotland
Here is a brief list of the most significant Scottish records at a national level. More place-specific sources are listed on the county and parish pages, and further information about Scottish genealogical resources can be found in the Scotland Research Guide.
The online repository Scotlands People allows anyone to search the records in the Old Parish Registers, the statutory registers, the census and in wills and testaments without going to Register House in Edinburgh to do so. Registers of the Catholic Church are also available. It is a paid website, best accessed on a pay-as-you-go basis, by debit or credit card. The basic charge is £7(GBP) for 30 credits. Viewing an index costs 1 credit, viewing a register or census page costs 5 credits. Converting currency is done automatically. The user is kept continuously aware of the cost of their search. Topping up credits in the middle of a session is a simple procedure.
Registering with the website allows free reference to a number of geographic databases and a first check on the positive availability of a surname. Search results are held onsite for users so that they can be re-inspected at a later date at no extra charge. Indexes to the statutory registers are available to 2011, but the original record images are not available to view beyond 1911 in the case of births, 1936 in the case of marriages and 1962 in the case of deaths. These dates move forward as years go on.
Note: The Family History Libraries of the Church of Latter Day Saints have microfilms of the Old Parish Registers and of the Censuses (1841-1891). These can be viewed at local Family History Centers/Centres. The censuses for 1901 and 1911 and statutory vital records are only available through ScotlandsPeople or at the General Register Office in Edinburgh.
This section is a stub. We need a brief summary (with links to detail) of land ownership, what people did for living, etc.
This section is a stub. We need a brief summary (with links to more detail) of the church, clans, the peerage, education, etc.
Immigration and Emigration
This section is a stub. We need a brief summary of significant Scottish immigration/emigration movements.
Burial Grounds in Scotland
A list of Burial Grounds in Scotland is now available on the SAFHS website (the Scottish Association of Family History Societies).