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Burntisland, Fife, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish #411

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

History[edit | edit source]

BURNTISLAND, a parish, burgh, and sea-port town, in the district of Kirkcaldy, county of Fife, 4½ miles (S. W. by W.) from Kirkcaldy, and 9 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh; containing the village of Kirkton. This place, once called Bertyland, is said, but erroneously, to have derived its present appellation from a small island in the harbour, originally inhabited by a colony of fishermen, whose dwellings were destroyed by fire. The parish is bounded on the south by the Frith. The church, a substantial edifice, with a low square tower, and situated near the shore of the Frith, was erected by the inhabitants, in 1592; it is adapted for a congregation of 900 persons. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and United Secession Church.[1]

The name of this parish was anciently Wester Kinghorn.  But a town (long destroyed) on a small island, which forms part of the west side of the harbour, was anciently called Bartland or Bertiland, which has passed through various forms into Burntisland.  It is probably Gaelic.  The surface of the parish is varied and uneven, and hilly.  There are few streams in the parish.  There are various stone quarries in the south-east part of the parish.

The inhabitants of Burtisland were zealous Covenanters.  In 1638 many of them signified their adherence to the National Covenant, and the minister, who did not, was deposed the following year.  The town was occupied by Cromwell's troups during the Civil War, and again in 1715 by the English troops of the Earl of Mar, due to the advantageous harbour.  The town was at one time fortified and on the south-east side of the harbour is part of the walls of a fort.  On an eminence overhanging the harbour stands Rossend Castle, erected in the fifteenth century.  It is surrounded by plantations and garden ground and forms a fine object in the foreground of the rich and extensive view commanded by the environs of the town.

There are 2900 acres in the parish of which about 500 are in pasture and about 90 are covered with wood. There are two corn-mills in the parish. There is an extensive distillery at Grange. About 700 head of cattle are annually fed in connection with the distillery. The herring fishery commenced about 1793 and until 1805 was carried on only in the winter season. At its most flourishing period, as many as 500 vessels might be seen at once in the harbour. The trade has now grealy declined, there having been no winter fishing for the last five years. Now about 75 boats go out in July for two months, and employ about 400 men. A whale fishing company commenced operations in 1830 and sends out two vessels, each carrying 50 men.

The town of Burntisland stands on a peninsula which projects a considerable way in the Frith, and is very picturesque in appearance. Prior to 1541, the town belonged to the Abbey of Dunfermline. It was proclaimed a royal burgh in 1568. In the 17th century it was a busy sea-port, and it is still a sea-port for steam-vessels and sailing-boats carrying goods. At Starly-burn is a small harbour where limestone is shipped.

The population in 1811 was 2000 and in 1831 was 2399. Of the latter, 1842 resided in the town and 189 in the village of Kirktoun. The number of families was 537. In 1836 the population was 2100 with 500 families, and this decrease must chiefly be attributed to the great failure in the herring fishery during the last five years. The average number of births for the last seven years is 65, of marriages 18, and of deaths 34. The number of illegitimate births in the last three years is 6.

At the village of Kirktoun are the ruins of the original parish church, surrounded by a small burying-ground. The date of its erection is unknown, but it bears the marks of great antiquity. In the north-west part of the parish are the ruins of a small fort or castle called Knockdavie. The parish church stands on the ridge which rises from the sea. It was built in 1592 and is in a good state of repair. It affords accommodation for 900 or upwards. It once held within its walls between 3000 and 4000 Hessians who were lying encamped near the town in 1746. There is a chapel for the United Secession Synod. Of about 500 families, around 330 belong to the Established Church. There are three or four Catholics.

The nearest market-town is at Kirkcaldy, six miles distant. There is a post-office. There are seven schools in the parish, one of which is the burgh school, but there is no parochial school. The average number attending all the schools is about 300. There is a subscription library and a parish library. There is no savings bank in the parish. There are 2 respectable inns and 15 or 16 alehouses which, as in most other places, have an injurious effect on the morals of the people. A fair is annually held in the town in July. The chief fuel is coal. The chief game is golf. A golf club has been in existence upwards of forty years.

The above extract was taken from the account written in December 1836.

Source:  The New Statistical Account of Scotland, for Fife. FHL book 941 B4sa, 2nd series, vol. 9;

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 you are interested in. 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 Burntisland as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

Year FHL Film Number Surname Indexes
1841      1042699 book 941.33 X22s; films 1145982-3; CD-ROM no. 1075
1851 1042253 941.33 X22f
1861 0103825 CD-ROM no. 2524
1871 0103987 None
1881 0203517 6086574 (8 fiche)
1891 0208749 None

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 indexes through the library.

Church Records[edit | edit source]

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]

Event Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Births: 1672-1686 1040150 item 4
1701-1854 1040151 items 1-4
Marriages: 1672-1680 1040150 item 4
1680-1686, 1701-1854 1040151 item 4
Deaths: 1734-1743, 1806-1818 1040151 items 1-4
1825-1828, 1838-1854 1040151 items 1-4

Condition of Original Registers[edit | edit source]

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.
Births: There are no entries July 1686–May 1701. Prior to 1733 the entries are tabulated. There are only five entries December 1743–January 1747. Records are not very carefully kept 1782–1806.
Marriages: There are contracts and proclamations prior to 1686. No entries are recorded May 1686–June 1701, December 1702–July 1705, and January 1743–April 1744. Contracts and proclamations are recorded about 1770–1777. There are no marriages after 1762 except a few contracts and proclamations about 1770–1777.
Deaths: Deaths prior to 1743. No entries May 1743–April 1806, after which date they are generally deaths and burials. Only nine entries for 1806–1818, inclusive, then there are none until 1825. There are only five entries 1825–1828, inclusive. No entries 1828–1838. The records are very incomplete to the end of the record being 1848.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. FHL 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 he 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 1602–1670, 1693–1711, 1719–1735, 1743–1748, 1769–1949
Accounts 1834–1871
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/523.

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 Lists.

Burntisland United Presbyterian Church[edit | edit source]

This congregation originated in the secession of the minister of the parish, and the majority of the parishioners, to the Associate Seceders Presbytery in 1738. A church was built in 1740 and altered in 1846. At the Breach in 1747, this congregation apparently aligned itself with the General Associate Anti-burger Synod, but eventually became united in 1820.
Membership: In 1836 there were about 160 families New Statistical Account of Scotland.
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 including a list of ministers.

The extent of pre-1855 records is unknown.

Burntisland Free Church[edit | edit source]

The minister of Burntisland came out at the Disruption. Through the liberality of a friend he was able at once to erect a place of worship. A new church was built in 1861. The congregation profited by the shale works at Binnend, which employed 800 men. The opening of the Forth Bridge and the failure of the shale works the same year, told heavily against Burntisland, which until then had been a railway terminus. The development of the coal export trade somewhat improved conditions again.
Membership: 1848, 380; 1900, 441.
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 a list of ministers.

Minutes 1843–1929
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/695.

Civil Registration Records[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

Burntisland was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of St. Andrews until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Fife at Cupar. 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' of Fife and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Fife. 

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Fife. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place' of Fife 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. 151-163. Adapted. Date accessed: 24 April 2014.

[Return to the Fife parish list.]