Birsay, Orkney, Scotland Genealogy
This is a guide to the history and major genealogical records of Scotland as they pertain to the parish of Birsay. To learn more about how to use these records to search for your ancestors, go to the Scotland: Research Strategies
- 1 History
- 2 Census Records
- 3 Church Records
- 4 Civil Registration Records
- 5 Probate Records
- 6 References
BIRSAY and HARRAY, a parish, in the county of Orkney. These two ancient parishes, which were united under the earls of Orkney, originally constituted a province or district called "Bergisherard," signifying, in the Norwegian language, lands appropriated to the diversion of hunting. The church of Birsay is an ancient building, enlarged in 1760, and containing 565 sittings; the church of Harray, a neat plain building, erected in 1836, contains 400 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the Original Seceding Congregation, and Independents.
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 http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for your parish of interest. Also available at the Family History Library.
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 Birsay as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:
|| Family History Library Film Number
|| Surname Indexes|
|| 6393841 ( 2 fiche)|
|| 1067737 Item 3
|| 6086634 (2 fiche)|
The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on www.scotlandspeople.gov.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.
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
|| Family History Library Film Number |
|| No entries
Condition of Original Registers—
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: There are no entries April 1648–June 1654, February 1666–June 1669, and May 1673–July 1681. There are incomplete records 1742, 1756–1758, and 1763–1768.
Marriages: There are no marriage entries January 1666–November 1669, December 1669–November 1670, January 1673–November 1681, December 1699–December 1701, and only one entry from June 1763–March 1769. There are incomplete 1755–1758, inclusive. There are records of contracts of marriage, 1654–1672, and no entries 1664–1669.
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:
Minutes 1747–1847, 1853–1868
Note: Available on Film at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/1083.
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.
Birsay, later Twatt Free Church
Almost the whole congregation "came out" in 1843, with the minister and only one of the elders remaining behind. John Garson, former assistant to the minister, was appointed to supply. A church was built and opened in November 1843, and the manse in 1845. A new church was built in 1874. The Original Secession congregation in the parish united with the Free Church in 1852, but, owing to a dispute as to the property, the minister found it necessary to resign, and the congregation was dissolved in 1854.
Membership: 1848, 341; 1900, 407.
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.
There are no known pre–1855 records.
Birsay Anti-burgher Church, Original Secession
No history is available. The congregation was formed about 1801.
Minutes 1828, 2 pp
Communion Roll 1836
Seat Rents 1801, 1833–1856
Other Post–1855 records
Note: Available on Film at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/1088.
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.
Birsay 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 www.scotlandspeople.gov.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 librarycatalog for the 'Place' 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' of Orkney and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'
Read more about Scotland Probate Records.
- Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 499-514. Adapted. Date accessed: 7 August 2014.
Return to Orkney parish list.