Unst, Shetland, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish #11

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


UNST, a parish and island, in the county of Orkney and Shetland, 43 miles (N. by E.) from Lerwick; containing the island of Uya. The island of Unst, of which this parish mainly consists, is the most northern part of the Shetland Isles, and of the British dominions in Europe. The church, which is situated nearly in the centre of the island, was built in 1827, near the site of the old church of Balliasta. It is a handsome and substantial edifice containing 1224 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, a small one built for Independents, and another for Wesleyans.[1]

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.

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

FHL Film Number
Surname Indexes
6086700 (2 fiche)

1804                               477622 Item 13

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.

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


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 twelve pages of irregular entries 1778–1832 at the end of the record for 1801.
Marriages: There are no entries February 1802–October 1811.
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 1720–1739, 1797–1800, 1824–1892 - with gaps
Young Communicants 1823–1832
Note: Available at the Shetland Archives, Lerwick, Scotland, record CH2/385.

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.

Unst Hillside Free Church

Dr. James Ingram, and John Ingram, his son and colleague, ministers of Unst, "came out" in 1843. That year the sheriff, on petition by the principal heritor in the island, granted interdict against Dr. Ingram in using the parish church for meetings. As a result, the parish church was left nearly empty. On a site gifted by Dr. Ingram a church was built and for about five months, until the building was ready, the congregation worshiped in a tent. Services were conducted on alternate Sabbaths during the winter at Uyeasound, in the Society School, and at Haroldwich, in the Independent Chapel. Immediately after the Disruption a church was built at Uyeasound.
Membership: 1848, 890; 1900, 377.
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.

Unst Norwick Congregational Church

History—   A church was formed here in 1824. One source states that it ceased to meet in 1863 while the other indicates 1884. Membership in 1841 was 15.
Sources: A History of Scottish Congregationalism, by Harry Escott, pub. 1960; FHL Book 941 K2es and The Scottish Congregational Ministry, by Rev. William D. McNaughton, pub. 1993. FHL Book 941 K2mwd. More details are given in the sources including ministers.

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

Unst Norwick, Methodist Society

A congregation was formed and a chapel built shortly before 1841, though they had no regular pastor. Membership at that time was 25.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to:
Methodist Archives and Research Centre
John Rylands University Library of Manchester
150 Deansgate
Manchester M3 3EH

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

Unst 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 Lerwick. 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 library catalog  for the 'Place-names' of Shetland 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 Shetland. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Shetland 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: 15 August 2014.

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