Counties were administrative areas in Scotland
from later medieval times until 1975. Initially the unit was a judicial
one, the sheriffdom. Sheriffs were local judges and crown officials
appointed from the 12th century until the present day. A sheriffdom
consisted of a group of parishes over which the sheriff had jurisdiction.
In the mid-nineteenth century the boundaries of some counties and
sheriffdoms were to diverge. Many important series of records in
Scotland are arranged by county. For information about another administrative
unit, the stewartry, see the FAQ opposite.
Scotland has been divided into parishes since
early medieval times, but there have been many boundary changes,
amalgamations, changes of name and abolitions. It is important to
distinguish between civil parishes and ecclesiastical parishes.
Initially parishes were areas of land, whose inhabitants were compelled
to pay a proportion of their produce or income (in Scotland called
teinds) to support the Church. These were ecclesiastical
parishes. By the seventeenth century the crown divided the country
into burghs and sheriffdoms (or counties) and into parishes for
the purposes of taxation. Between 1845 and 1860 elected parochial
boards were formed in most parishes. These were known as civil parishes.
The boundaries of many civil parishes and ecclesiastical parishes
diverged after 1845. The civil parish was a unit of local government
between 1845 and 1975. Many classes of historical record are arranged
by parish, including valuation rolls, tax records, church records,
poor relief records and education records.
County and parish government
Until 1975 the county was the largest unit
of local government in Scotland. The most important local authorities
and other bodies which functioned on a county wide basis are listed
below (click on one for more detail):
of the Peace
authorities under Contagious Diseases Acts
Officers of Health and Sanitary Inspectors
Committees/Standing Joint Committees
Councils and Parochial Boards
lunacy boards/District boards of control
hospital boards/fever hospitals etc
drainage, water supply, lighting and scavenging districts
Ann E Whetstone, Scottish County Government
in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Edinburgh, 1981);
Cecil Sinclair, Exploring Scottish Local History (Edinburgh,
What was a stewartry?
Are kirk session minutes indexed?
Where can I find kirk session records for a parish?
Where can I find heritors' records for a parish?
Where can I find parochial board, parish council and poor relief
records for a parish?
Why might the information in a register of the poor contradict information
in other records?
Where should I look for information on poorhouses for a school project?
I have seen the term 'General Register of the Poor' used. Does this
refer to a central register of the poor, kept nationally for the
whole of Scotland?
If poor relief registers do not survive for a parish, is it worthwhile
looking in parochial board/parish council minutes for information
on a pauper?
How can school board minutes help me trace the title to a school
Do parochial board/parish council minutes contain information about
How can valuation rolls help me prove I was a council tenant for
a number of years (for example, to claim a discount when purchasing
a council house)?
To find out which parish and county an island
belonged to, enter the Gazetteer.