relating to death and burial in Scottish archives are used by a wide
variety of researchers, including genealogists, social historians,
demographers, and medical historians. Registration of death by civil
authorities began in Scotland in 1855. From then until the present,
it has been mandatory for deaths of individuals to be registered with
civil registrars. Prior to 1855, apart from the Church, very few corporate
bodies were interested in recording deaths per se, and records of
burials or some other aspect of death, such as succession to property
after death, are more common. The Scottish system of investigating
sudden deaths differs from the system of coroner's inquests in England
and Wales. Sudden deaths in Scotland are investigated by procurators
fiscal (local state-funded prosecutors). Since 1895 sheriff courts
have carried out Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAI) in certain cases.
of the dead
From medieval times until the mid-19th century
the disposal of the dead was carried out almost exclusively by burial
in churchyards. In the 18th century, secession churches and other
sects (such as Quakers), particularly in larger burghs, opened their
own burial grounds. In some towns there were separate burial grounds
for the Town’s Hospital (or poorhouse), and for certain burgh organisations,
such as merchants or trade incorporations. By the mid-19th century
many churchyards were full, and burial had become a public health
concern, especially following outbreaks of smallpox, typhus and
cholera. The problem of overcrowding was partly solved by the emergence
of commercial cemeteries; the first being the Necropolis in Glasgow,
opened in 1833. In the second half of the 19th century many municipal
cemeteries were opened by burghs and civil parishes. Responsibility
for burial grounds (including churchyards) was placed on parish
councils under the 1894 Local Government (Scotland) Act, and on
the districts of county councils under the 1929 Local Government
(Scotland) Act. Scotland’s first crematorium was built in Glasgow’s
Western Necropolis in 1895. Others opened in the late-1930s in Dundee,
Aberdeen, Paisley, and Leith. In the 1950s and 60s municipal crematoria
were built in many parts of Scotland. For further information about
click here. Body-snatching was a relatively
brief phenomenon in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries,
effectively stamped out by the Anatomy Act of 1832.
Succession to property after death
Property in Scotland is divided into heritable
property (land, buildings etc) and movable property (cash, clothing,
goods etc). Succession to (and disposal of) heritable and movable
property in Scotland was quite strictly controlled until fairly
recent times times. For further information see the Knowledge Base
entry on Property Records. For further information on Wills and
Testaments go to the Scottish
Other related SCAN entries
Death and Burial
Burke and Hare
Dane Love, Scottish Kirkyards (Robert
Hale Ltd, London, 1989); Anne Gordon, Death is for the Living
(Edinburgh, 1984); Andrew Martin (compiler), Scottish Endings:
writings on death (Edinburgh, 1996); Margaret Bennet, Scottish
Customs from Cradle to Grave (Edinburgh, 1992); Michael T R
B Turnbull, The Edinburgh Graveyard Guide (Edinburgh, 1991);
Jimmy Black, The Glasgow Graveyard Guide (Edinburgh, 1992);
Norman Adams, Dead and Buried: The Horrible History of Body Snatching
(Aberdeen University Press, 1972); Cecil Sinclair, Jock Tamsons
Bairns: a history of the records of the GROS (Edinburgh, 2000).
There are illustrations of many types of
gravestones, mortsafes on the website of the Royal
Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland
What was a mortcloth?
Where should I look for information about, or records of, mortcloths?
What was a mortsafe?
What was a morthouse?
What was a watch box?
Where should I look for information about, or records of, mortsafes,
morthouses or watch boxes?
Where should I look for information about, or records of, churchyard
Do records of coroners’ inquests survive in Scotland?
What is a bill of mortality?
Image of a gravestone in the Howff, a burial
ground in Dundee (image courtesy of Dundee City Libraries). A searchable
index of the Howff's burial records can be found on the website
of the Friends
of Dundee City Archives.