South Ronaldshay & Burray, Orkney, Scotland Genealogy

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South Ronaldshay & Burray

Parish #29 (South Ronaldshay is divided into northern and southern divisions, apart from Burray).

This is a guide to the history and major genealogical records of Scotland as they pertain to the parish of South Ronaldshay & Burray.  To learn more about how to use these records to search for your ancestors, go to the Scotland: Research Strategies.

History[edit | edit source]

RONALDSHAY, SOUTH, a parish, in the county of Orkney. This parish includes the old parish of St. Peter in the northern, and the old parish of St. Mary in the southern, portion of the island of South Ronaldshay, with the isles of Swona and the two Skerries in the Pentland Frith, of which the former and one of the latter are inhabited; it also includes the old parish and island of BURRAY, with the isles of Hunda and Glemsholm in the bay of Holm Sound. The church of St. Mary, in the south, is situated near the western shore; and that of St. Peter, in the north portion of the parish, within a few yards of the sea, on the eastern coast. They are both ancient buildings, and were repaired in 1802. The church of Burray has been in ruins nearly from the commencement of the present century. There is a place of worship for members of the United Secession.[1]

The New Statistical Account of Scotland (pub. 1834-45) offers uniquely rich and detailed parish reports for the whole of Scotland, covering a vast range of topics including history, agriculture, education, trades, religion and social customs. The reports, written by the parish ministers, are available online at Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for your parish of interest. Also available at the Family History Library.

Census Records[edit | edit source]

A census is a count and description of the population, taken by the government, arranged by locality and by household. Read more about census records.

Here is a list of the Family History Library microfilm numbers for the census records of South Ronaldshay & Burray as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:



FHL Film Number


Surname Indexes

6393839 (2 fiche)

6393850 (3 fiche)
6086634 (2 fiche)

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on To use it, you must register and pay a small access fee. All available censuses, 1841-1901, are indexed on this website. It may be easier for you to pay to use the website rather than access the separate indexes through the library.

Church Records
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The Established Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. Read more about church records.
Here are the pre-1855 records that exist for this parish.

Established Church—Old Parochial Registers[edit | edit source]

Record Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Births: Both parishes 1657-1669 0990512

South parish 1765-1820 0990512

North parish 1749-1819 0990512

Both parishes 1820-1854 0990513
Marriages: Both parishes 1657-1669 0990512

South parish 1779-1819 0990512

North parish 1784-1819 0990512
Deaths: Both parishes 1832-1854 0990513
 Condition of Original Registers—
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Indexed: For an index to these records, see Scotland’s People website, a pay-for-view website. The Scottish Church Records Index is also still available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Some records may also be indexed in other FamilySearch collections for Scotland.
Births: North Parish has only two entries, 1760–1772; registers are very irregular 1772–1781. South Parish has three pages of irregular entries 1763–1797 after February 1794.
Marriages: North Parish has no entries 1786–1787 and South Parish has no entries for 1780–1808.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records[edit | edit source]

The Kirk session was the court of the parish. The session was made up of the minister and the land owners and business men of the parish, chosen to serve on the session. The Kirk session dealt with moral issues, minor criminal cases, matters of the poor and education, matters of discipline, and the general concerns of the parish. Kirk session records may also mention births, marriages, and deaths.

Here is a list of the surviving Kirk session records for this parish:

North Parish, St. Peter's - Minutes 1735–1747, 1786–1866
Minutes - discipline 1830–1843
Cash Book 1830–1841, 1837–1895
Note: Available on Film at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/1101.

Nonconformist Church Records[edit | edit source]

A nonconformist church is any church that is not the Established church. Read more about nonconformity in Scotland in the article on the Scotland Church Records Union List.

South Ronaldshay United Associate Congregation[edit | edit source]

South Ronaldshay is situated near the mainland of Scotland and nearly 3000 souls live within its 18 miles. Supply of sermon was afforded to this place by the United Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1826. A congregation was organized and a place of worship containing 342 sittings was built the same year. A new church was built in 1856 seating 315.
Source: Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, by Rev. William MacKelvie, D.D., pub. 1873. Film #477618. More details may be given in the source.

Minutes 1843–1864
Baptisms 1854–1856
Communion Roll 1843–1854
Deaths 1854–1856
Communion Roll 1844–1959
Note: Available on Film at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/1112.

Burray Baptist Church[edit | edit source]

In 1802 Alexander Kennedy, a native of the Island of Stroma, went to reside in Burray, at which time he was a member of the Independent Church. Shortly after his arrival he opened a meeting in his own house for worship, which was kept regularly every Sunday for a number of years. In 1811 he was baptized by Mr. A. M’Beath, one of the brethren from Thurso. Preachers came to visit and others were baptized. In 1840 the meeting was removed from Mr. Kennedy’s house to the public schoolroom, where the brethren continued to meet regularly until they entered their present place of worship. It was opened on the 14th of June 1848, the number of church members being 18. In 1849 the number was 55, and in 1850 it stood at 69. Up to this time the church had no regular pastor. In 1857 Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair, from St. Margaret’s Hope, were baptized and received into the church. Afterwards Mr. Sinclair became the leader. In 1862 a manse was built and Mr. Sinclair was called to be the pastor. In 1874 the membership stood at 81. A decline in the fishing industry affected the area and the Burray pastorate came to an end in 1941. The church was finally closed in 1966.
Source: History of the Baptists in Scotland, by Rev. George Yuille, pub. 1926, FHL British Book 941 K2hi, it contains a list of ministers.

The extent of records is unknown. For more information write to:
The Baptist Union of Scotland, Baptist Church House
14 Aytoun Road
Glasgow, G41 5RT

Civil Registration Records
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Government or civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (also called statutory records) began on January 1, 1855 in Scotland. Each parish has a registrar's office and large cities have several. The records are created by the registrars and copies are sent to the General Register Office in Edinburgh. Annual indexes are then created for the records for the whole country.
See the article on Scotland Civil Registration for more information and to access the records.

Probate Records
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South Ronaldshay & Burray was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Orkney & Shetland until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Kirkwall. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at You must register on the website but use of the index to probate records, called 'Wills & Testaments,' is free. You may then purchase a copy of the document or, if the document is before 1823, it will be on microfilm at the Family History Library. To find the microfilm numbers, search in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Orkney and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Orkney & Shetland.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Orkney. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Orkney and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 499-514. Adapted. Date accessed: 15 August 2014.

Return to Orkney parish list.