Scotland was divided into geographic subdivisions (called counties or shires) during the Middle Ages. Originally, these counties were established for juridical purposes but beginning in the 17th century, they started to be used for local administration purposes. These boundaries remained in use for local government until 1974, after which they were substantially reformed into regions and since 1996 into council areas. Genealogical contexts use the old pre-1974 boundaries.
Long before the 1974 reorganization, some counties had alternate names by which they were at times known. These include: Edinburghshire or Midlothian, Elginshire or Moray, Forfarshire or Angus, Haddingtonshire or East Lothian, and Linlithgowshire or West Lothian.
Use of the suffix 'shire'
'Shire' is an old Anglo-Saxon word designating a county or district, which was integrated into Scotland by the English. A shire was policed by a 'shire reeve' or sheriff.
The word 'shire' is usually used on the end of a county name when there is a parish or city (burgh) of the same name within the county, such as the city or burgh of Aberdeen in Aberdeenshire. When referring to 'the county of Aberdeen', you do not use 'shire' on the end of the name as that would be redundant.
One exception worth noting is that of Fife, which has never actually been a county in the true sense of the word, but anciently was a kingdom. It is still referred to as "the Kingdom of Fife" and should not at any time be given the -shire suffix.
There were significant changes to Scotland counties in 1974 and 1996.
In 1974 the British government reorganized the counties of Scotland. Twelve areas called regions were created from the original thirty-three counties.
In 1996 the regions were replaced by 32 Council Areas. Often their names and boundaries are similiar to the original Counties, but not exactly the same.
These changes should not seriously affect genealogical research, but be aware of the following issues:
- Current maps show the new boundaries.
- Current addresses are located in the new counties. The addresses use the current county structure.
- If you are looking for a parish, city, or regional office that houses records, you will need to know the current address and the areas covered by the repository..
- Ordnance Survey Scottish town plans, 1847-1895 (62 towns, including 1900 sheets of detailed maps)
Here is a list of the historic counties with the new (post-1974) county or counties they are primarily a part of. Click on an old county name to see a list of historic parishes with further links to information on parish records. (The codes are the standard 'Chapman Code' abbreviations for the historic counties.)
|Historic County||Code||Post-1974 County|
|Angus (or Forfarshire)||ANS||Tayside|
|Dumfriesshire||DFS||Dumfries & Galloway|
|East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire)||ELN||Lothian|
|Edinburghshire (see Midlothian)||---||---|
|Elginshire (see Moray)||---||---|
|Fife (Kingdom of)||FIF||Fife|
|Forfarshire (see Angus)||---||---|
|Haddingtonshire (see East Lothian)||---||---|
|Kirkcudbrightshire||KKD||Dumfries & Galloway|
|Linlithgowshire (see West Lothian)||---||---|
|Midlothian (or Edinburghshire)||MLN||Lothian|
|Moray (or Elginshire)||MOR||Grampian|
|Ross & Cromarty||ROC||Highland|
|Shetland (or Zetland) Islands||SHI||Shetland|
|West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire)||WLN||Lothian|
|Wigtonshire||WIG||Dumfries & Galloway|
Parishes in each county
The Parish List for Scotland shows all of the parishes in alphabetical order, giving the parish number, county in which it is situated, and the date when the Old Parochial Records (Presbyterian Church records) began. You may also see maps of Scotland through this link.
- Wiki contributors, "Shires of Scotland," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shires_of_Scotland, accessed 30 August 2018.