Scotland Probate Records

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Scotland Wiki Topics
Flag of Scotland.jpg
Beginning Research
Record Types
Scotland Background
Cultural Groups
Local Research Resources

Scotland has no 'probate' records - the term is 'confirmation.' The primary document is called a 'testament.'

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

To learn more about Scottish probate records:

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Testaments are court records dealing with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. These records can be very helpful because they were recorded long before statutory birth, marriage, and death registration began in 1855. Testaments were made primarily by the middle and upper classes, most of whom were:

  • Nobility
  • Gentry
  • Merchants
  • Tradesmen.

However, they are a very valuable source not to be overlooked regardless of the social standing of your ancestors.

Information recorded in testaments may include:

  • Death dates
  • Names of Heirs and Guardian
  • Relationships
  • Residences
  • Inventories of the estate (including household goods)
  • Names of witnesses.

On the other hand, as there were very strict rules about the distribution of moveable property, there was no need to name a widow/widower or children, and often they are not named at all.

Essentially, a surviving spouse had to inherit a third, the children one third and the deceased could dispose of the last third (the deid's part) by a latterwill or legacie. There were further rules to complicate matters, but that's the essentials of it.

Movable Property Only[edit | edit source]

In Scotland before 1868, it was not possible to leave immoveable property (land, buildings, titles or other heritables) to a person by means of a will. It was only possible to give personal property, known as moveable property, by means of a testament.

There are two types of testaments:

  • If a person died leaving a testament that named an executor, the document confirming that executorship and the attached testament is called a testament testamentar. This will include a latterwill or legacie expressing the deceased's wishes.
  • If a person died without leaving a testament and the court appointed an executor to administer the estate, then the confirming document is called a testament dative.
  • Both of these will also contain an inventar (inventory of moveable property)

Immovable Property[edit | edit source]

To inherit immovable property such as land, heirs had to prove to an Inquisition (essentially a jury of local people) their right to inherit. The records granting these rights are called retours or services of heirs. Records of actual transfers of land are called sasines. You will find more information about these records in the Land and Property section of the Wiki.

Determining Court Jurisdictions[edit | edit source]

Before the Scottish Reformation and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in 1592, confirmation of testaments was the prerogative of Episcopal (bishop’s) courts. Their subordinates, called official or commissariat courts actually carried out the probate function.

After the reformation in 1560, fifteen (eventually 22) commissariats were established by royal authority. The principal commissariat court was in Edinburgh, and it had both local and general jurisdiction. The territorial extent of the commissariat courts paid little attention to county boundaries. This system stayed in force until the end of 1823.

To help you determine which commissariat court had jurisdiction over which parishes and counties, go to the ScotlandsPeople County Guides for a list of each county's court jurisdictions. (Scroll down to the heading County Guides to find the links to each county page). The County guides will be the most beneficial in finding the correct court. You can then search the wills and testaments index on ScotlandsPeople for that court's records or the whole index at once.

Also available:

  • Testaments and commissariot courts of Scotland, 1972. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972. (FHL call no. 941 P2gs.)
  • Cecil Sinclair. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Scottish Record Office. Edinburgh, Scotland: Her Magesty’s Stationery Office, 1990. (FHL call no. 941 D27s). Identifies court(s) by county along with ending dates for Commissariot and beginning dates for Sheriffs Court, which often overlap.
  • Kathleen Cory. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors, Third Edition. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2004. Appendix III provides a table listing all parishes, among other things identifying Commissariot(s) which included that parish, and date of first testament or inventory for the parish.

But bear in mind there was no compulsion to have a testament confirmed in any particular commissariat, and many chose to use the Edinburgh court (as the premier one). So it may be necessary to search them all.

After 1823 (the system took a few years to fully evolve), testaments were confirmed by commissariat departments within the sheriff courts. The boundaries of these courts’ jurisdictions are the same as the county boundaries, but the names of the courts are not necessarily the same as the names of the counties.

To determine a court after 1823 you need only know in which county your ancestor lived. You can then use the records of the sheriff court for that county. Lists of the counties and their sheriff courts are found on the website and in the guides mentioned above. This list comes from the National Records of Scotland research guide to sheriff courts:

Sheriff Court Records by County[edit | edit source]

  • Aberdeenshire - Aberdeen SC1 and Peterhead SC4
  • Angus (Forfarshire ) - Arbroath SC43, Dundee SC45 and Forfar SC47
  • Argyll - Campbeltown SC50, Dunoon SC51, Fort William (Argyll) SC52 (closed 1938), Inveraray SC54 (closed 1903), Oban SC57 and Tobermory SC59 (closed 1905)
  • Ayrshire - Ayr SC6 and Kilmarnock SC7
  • Banffshire - Banff SC2
  • Berwickshire - Duns SC60
  • Buteshire - Rothesay SC8
  • Caithness - Wick SC14
  • Clackmannanshire - Alloa SC64
  • Dumfriesshire - Dumfries SC15
  • Dunbartonshire - Dumbarton SC65
  • East Lothian (Haddingtonshire) - Haddington SC40
  • Edinburgh City - Edinburgh SC39 and Leith SC69 (closed 1920)
  • Fife - Cupar SC20, Dunfermline SC21 and Kirkcaldy SC23
  • Glasgow City - Glasgow SC36 and Paisley SC58
  • Inverness-shire - Fort William (Inverness-shire) SC28, Inverness SC29, Lochmaddy SC30 and Portree SC32
  • Kincardineshire - Stonehaven SC5
  • Kinross-shire - Kinross SC22 (closed 1975)
  • Kirkcudbrightshire - Dumfries (Kirkcudbright) SC17 (closed 1941) and Kirkcudbright SC16 (1623-1961)
  • Lanarkshire - Airdrie SC35, Glasgow SC36, Hamilton SC37 and Lanark SC38
  • Midlothian (Edinburghshire) - Edinburgh SC39
  • Moray (Elginshire) - Elgin SC26
  • Nairnshire - Nairn SC31 (closed 1977)
  • Orkney - Kirkwall SC11 (held in Kirkwall) and Orkney & Shetland SC10 (17th century only)
  • Peebleshire - Peebles SC42
  • Perthshire - Dunblane SC44 (closed 1975) and Perth SC49
  • Renfrewshire - Greenock SC53 and Paisley SC58&
  • Ross and Cromarty -Cromarty SC24 (closed 1934), Dingwall SC25, Stornoway SC33 and Tain SC34
  • Roxburghshire - Hawick SC61 and Jedburgh SC62
  • Selkirkshire - Selkirk SC63
  • Shetland - Lerwick SC12 (held in Lerwick) and Orkney & Shetland SC10 (17th century only)
  • Stirlingshire - Falkirk SC66 and Stirling SC67
  • Sutherland - Dornoch SC9
  • West Lothian (Linlithgowshire) - Linlithgow SC41
  • Wigtownshire - Stranraer SC18 and Wigtown SC19 (closed 1975)

In 1876 the commissariats were absorbed by the sheriff courts, which now handle executory matters.

Finding Testamentary Records[edit | edit source]

The original records of the commissariat and sheriff courts are housed at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the commissariat court records to 1823 and some sheriff court records. To find these records, look in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:

  • Scotland -- Probate records
  • Scotland, [County] -- Probate records

You may also access testamentary records online through the ScotlandsPeople web site (see Indexes below).

Indexes to Testamentary Records[edit | edit source]

To find a record of interest, you should first search an index. Scottish testamentary records, for 1513-1925, are indexed online on the ScotlandsPeople website. You must register to use the website then it is free to search the index. Once you have found a probate of interest in the index, you may pay to view a copy of the records if you wish, then you can print and/or save it to your computer.

Other printed and microfilmed indexes are available through FamilySearch. To find them listed in the FamilySearch Catalog, do a Place search for:

  • Scotland -- Probate records--Indexes
  • Scotland, [County] -- Probate records--Indexes

For the years 1876-1936, the FHL has bound volumes and microfilms of the Calendars of Confirmations and Inventories. You can obtain information from the Confirmations such as name of deceased, where living at time of death, when and where died, occupation, and the person or persons named as executors or administrators.

Difficulties in Finding a Testament[edit | edit source]

If you have difficulty locating a testament, keep these points in mind:

  • Only a small percentage of the population of Scotland left testaments.
  • A person’s pre-1823 testament could have been proved in the Commissary Court of Edinburgh, or any other commissariat, even though he or she lived elsewhere in the country.
  • A person’s post-1823 testament could have been proved in the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh even though he or she lived elsewhere in the country.
  • A person who died outside of Scotland but who owned property within Scotland would have his or her testament proved in an Edinburgh court and sometimes also in an English court, such as the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (available by searching the The National Archives
  • Testaments for women may be under their maiden name.

Books to Help Understanding Testaments[edit | edit source]

  • Burness, Lawrence. A Scottish Genealogist’s Glossary. Aberdeen: Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History Society, c1990. (FHL call no. 941 D27bL)
  • Burness, Lawrence. A Scottish Historian’s Glossary. [Scotland]: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, c1997. (FHL call no. 941 H26b)
  • Encyclopedia of the Laws of Scotland. 16 vols and 2 supps. Edinburgh: W. Green & Son, Ltd., 1926. (FHL call no. 941 P36e) Note: Vol. 11 is available at
  • Gibb, Andrew Dewar. Student’s Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms. Edinburgh: W. Green & Son, Ltd., 1946 (FHL call no. 941 P36g)
  • Gouldesbrough, Peter. Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents. Vol. 36 Edinburgh: The Stair Society, 1985. (FHL call no. 941 B4st v. 36)