Barvas, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland

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Ross and Cromarty

Parish # 86a

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


BARVAS, a parish, in the island of Lewis, county of Ross and Cromarty, 10 miles (N. W. by N.) from Stornoway; containing the late quoad sacra district of Cross. The name of this place, like that of many others in the neighbourhood, is supposed to be of Norwegian derivation; but its signification is altogether unknown. The church, built in the nineteenth century, is a long narrow building, and contains 300 sittings.[1]

The name of this parish is thought to be Norwegian, in common with that of many other places in the Hebrides; but its signification is not known. The parish of Barvas is situated in the northern extremity of the Island of Lewis, extending from south-west to north-east, along the shore of the Atlantic. It is bounded on the west, by the parish of Lochs; on the south, by the parishes of Stornoway and Lochs; on the east, by the parish of Cross; and on the north, by the Atlantic ocean.

There are no towns in this parish, nor any market in the country, by which the people may be benefited, but the annually one held at Stornoway in July.

Southward of Bragar, on the border of a loch, are the ruins of a circular tower (dun) or Danish fort, well adapted for defense, built solely of large stones, three stories high, tapering towards the summit, with a double wall, bound by large flags, which at the same time form a winding staircase in the interior of the wall, by which one may go around the building.

In a plain of moss between Barvas and Shadir, there in an immense stone 18 feet high, and nearly the same in circumference, standing almost perpendicular, and no other stone nearer than the shore a half mile away. Unless it was placed there by some mechanical power, there can be no better proof that there were “giants in those days”. Some suppose it was erected in memory of a native chief who fell there. The tradition of a bloody battle between the native tribes having been fought in its immediate vicinity might seem to confirm this opinion.

The church is located in the center of the parish, about five to seven miles distant from the inhabited parts of the parish. There are no dissenters in the parish, nor any other chapels or churches. About 180 families, and from 400 to 500 individuals, are in the habit of attending public worship, when weather permits.

The earliest record of a population count was in 1755 when the population was numbered at 1995. In 1831 it amounted to 3011.

The only parochial register that exists in this parish, dates its earliest entry from the year 1810, since which time, baptisms, marriages, and distribution of poor funds have been regularly registered. Almost every populous village in the parish had formerly a small Popish Chapel attached to it, and adjoining the church, a burying ground, which still serve their original purpose. The names applied to these were, St. Bridget in Borve, St. Peter’s in Lower Shadir, St. Mary’s in Barvas, and St. John’s in Bragar.

This account was written September 1836.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Barvas, FHL book 941 B4sa, series 2, vol. 14.

 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 Edina account UK. Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish you are interested in. Also available at the Family History Library.

Census Records

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 Barvas as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

FHL Film Number
Surname Indexes
6037266 (6 fiche)
6086658 (4 fiche)

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on Scotlands people Government UK. 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

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

Record Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Birth: 1810-1854 0990662 item 1
Marriage: 1810-1854 0990662 item 1
Death: No entries none


Condition of Original Registers—

Index: 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.
These records appear to have been regularly kept.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records

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:

The extent of records is unknown. None are deposited at the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh.

Nonconformist Church Records

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

Barvas Free Church

At the instance of the adherents of the Free Church a congregation was formed here and a Kirk session was appointed. The charge was sanctioned in 1845, the understanding being that Barvas and Back should be served together by one minister and one catechist. Almost the whole population, numbering about 2000, then belonged to the Free Church. The church was built about 1850 and the manse a few years later.
Membership:1859, 550; 1900, 920.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

The extent of records is unknown.

Back Free Church

In answer to a petition from the people, a catechist was stationed here in 1843. In 1845, when 1700 adherents were reported, the charge was sanctioned, it being understood that in the meantime there should be only one minister and one catechist taking charge of both Back and Barvas. Disharmony arose among the people and backwardness in supporting the Sustentation Fund delayed the settlement of a minister until 1859. The manse was built in 1858. The majority of the people did not enter the Union in 1900.
Membership: 1859, 300; 1900, 1169.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

The extent of records is unknown.

Cross or Ness Free Church

The minister and congregation of the Parliamentary Church at Cross all ––"came out" at the Disruption. From 1843 to 1846 they worshiped in the open air. In the latter year the church and manse were built at South Dell. In those days much driftwood was cast ashore. The Marquis of Breadalbane bought it to help in building the church. With the growth of the population the congregation greatly increased and a new church was built in 1891. The first minister would baptize none but children of Church members in full communion. Many of the young were un–baptized when the second minister was ordained in 1844.
Membership: 1855, 680; 1900, 1453.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

The extent of records is unknown.

Civil Registration Records

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

Barvas was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Ross until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff Court of Ross & Cromarty. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at Scotlands people Government UK 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 Ross Cromarty and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Ross.

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

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.


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

Return to Ross & Cromarty parish list.