Thurso, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Parish # 41

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

History[edit | edit source]

THURSO, a burgh of barony, sea-port, and parish, in the county of Caithness; 20 miles (N. W. by W.) from Wick, and 55 (N. N. E.) from Dornoch. This place derives its name from its situation at the mouth of the river Thurso, or the river of "Thor." The church, erected in 1832, by the late Sir John Sinclair is an elegant structure in the later English style of architecture, with a tower and spire 140 feet high; and contains 1540 sittings. There are also places of worship for members of the Free Church, Original Seceders, and Independents.[1]

The name of this parish is taken from that of the river which runs through it. It is made up of the words Thor, the name of one of the great northern deities, and aa, which, in the Icelandic dialect, signifies a river; and so it means Thor’s river. It is bounded on the north, by the sea; on the west, south, and east, by the parishes of Reay, Halkirk, and Olrig.

The town Thurso is the only market-town in the parish.

With regard to the ancient history of Thurso, the town appears to have been a place of very considerable trade and consequence, many centuries ago. In the reign of Charles the First, it was visited by the Earl of Montrose; and in the spring of 1746, a band of rebels, under Lord M’Leod, marched into the county, but returned without doing more than obliging the landholders to pay them part of the land-tax, and were, on their return, attacked and worsted near Dunrobin Castle.

Of the eminent characters connected with the parish by birth or residence, the name of Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, author of the former Statistical Account, whose patriotic and indefatigable labors for the welfare and improvement of his country, and of his native county in particular, are so well know. Also, of worth mentioning are his three daughters; Miss Hannah Sinclair, the writer of a short but very admirable letter on the Principles of the Christian Faith; Lady Colquhoun, who has written two or three pious works of a plain and practical, but very attractive character; and Miss Catherine Sinclair, who has already given to the world several volumes of tales and travels, and has distinguished herself as a very elegant and lively, as well as instructive writer.

The chief land-owners in the parish, besides the Crown, which possesses the lands of Scrabster, are, Sir George Sinclair of Ulbster, the present excellent and accomplished Member for the county; James Sinclair, Esq. of Forss, and who is a resident; Sir John Gordon Sinclair of Murkle, and Sir Patrick Murray of Thriepland of Fingask.

In 1755, the population was 2963; and at the date of Sir John Sinclair’s Account in 1798, it was 3146. In 1831, the population was 4679.

The common breed of sheep, are the Leicester and Cheviot, and of cattle the Highland and Teeswater; and much attention is paid to the improvement of these. The most approved system of husbandry pursued is that called the five crop shift, being a rotation of turnips, bear, hay, pasture and oats. The principle fisheries carried on in the parish are, the herring, salmon, haddock, cod, and lobster.

The old church, which was used as a place of worship up until 1832, and which contained 900 sitters, was said to be upwards of 500 years old. A new parish church was built in 1832, and is situated in the town of Thurso, which, considering the number of people in the town, is manifestly the most convenient place for its erection. It is a distance of three miles from the eastern extremity of the parish, and six from the southern and western extremities. On the north it is within a quarter of a mile from the sea. It affords accommodation for 1540 persons, and there are 32 free-sittings set apart for the use of the poor. There is no place of worship in the parish attached to the Establishment, except the parish church. There is a meeting-house in the town belonging to the congregation of Original Seceders. There is also an Independent chapel. A small Baptist congregation assembles in a room in a private house. There is no Episcopalian or Roman Catholic chapel in the parish.

The parochial registers, including the Session records, extend to seven volumes, of about 600 folio pages each, and the first entry is in 1648.

This account was written October 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Thurso,Family History Library book 941 B4sa, series 2, vol. 15.

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 Thurso. 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 Thurso as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

Family History Library Film Number
Surname Indexes
6086538 ( 2 fiches )

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[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]

Record Type
Years Covered
Family History Library Film Number
1647-1718, 1721-1782

1671, 1831
Neglected Entries:
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.  The records may be indexed in the
Births: No entries exist for October 1648-August 1660, February-August 1663, August 1666October 1670, June 1696-November 1699, May 1706-Sep 1713, March 1718-May 1721, November 1725-May 1726, and August 1743-January 1744. Only two entries exist between March 1748 and November 1755.
Marriages: There are no entries between June 1675-June 1684, November 1695-December 1697, October 1704-October 1707, February 1713-February 1721, July 1733-April 1736, and July 1747-May 1782.
Deaths: All entries are contained on two pages.
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 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 1647-1648, 1655-1684, 1707-1750, 1782-1944
Collections and Disbursements 1670-1684
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/414.

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 theScotland Church Records Union Lists

Thurso Secession Congregation, Original Seceders[edit | edit source]

The Secession congregation began in 1772, and a church was built in 1777. In 1820 the congregation and minister protested the Union of the two branches of the Secession and did not join. Later they joined the Synod of Original Seceders, which split in 1852 when part of the congregation joined the Free Church. See the West Free Church below. An Original Seceder congregation was still active in 1882.
Source: Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, by Rev. William MacKelvie, D.D., pub. 1873. Film #477618. More details are given in the source. Other sources were also consulted.

The extent of the records is unknown.

Thurso First Free Church[edit | edit source]

In 1843, the minister and his large congregation adhered to the Free Church and erected a church soon after.
Membership: 1855, 1200 including adherents; 1900 352.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843-1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details are given in the source.

No known pre-1855 records exist.

Thurso West Free Church[edit | edit source]

This congregation, formerly Original Secession, joined the Free Church in 1852. After they lost in a lawsuit regarding the property, they erected a new church in 1860.
Membership: 1859, 400 including adherents; 1900, 132.

There are no known pre-1855 records.

Thurso Congregational Church[edit | edit source]

In 1799, this congregation began meeting in a newly built chapel close to the beach on Esplanade/Market Street. Later, in 1873, a new chapel was built on Castle Street.
Source: A History of Scottish Congregationalism, by Harry Escott, pub. 1960; Family History Library book 941 K2es. It includes lists of ministers.

The extent of the records is unknown. For information write to:
The United Reformed Church, Scottish Synod Office
PO Box 189
240 Cathedral Street
Glasgow G1 2BX

Thurso Baptist Church[edit | edit source]

A congregation was formed in 1805 and ceased after the death of its only minister in 1840. No further details are known.
Source: History of the Baptists in Scotland, by Rev. George Yuille, pub. 1926; Family History Library book 941 K2hi. It includes lists of ministers.

The extent of the records is unknown. For information write to:
The Baptist Union of Scotland
12 Aytoun Road
Glasgow G41 5RT

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]

Thurso was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Caithness until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Wick. 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 Caithness and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Caithness.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Caithness. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Caithness 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: 7 August 2014.

Return to Caithness parish list.