Ayrshire, Scotland Genealogy
Ayrshire, an extensive county on the western coast of Scotland, is bounded on the north by Refrewshire, on the east by the counties of Lanark and Dumfries, on the south by the stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the county of Wigton, and on the west by the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Channel. It is about sixty miles in length and nearly thirty in extreme breadth. It comprised an area of about 1600 square miles or 1,024,000 acres. It includes forty-six parishes and is divided into the districts of Carrick, Kyle, and Cunninghame. It contains the royal burghs of Ayr (the county town) and Irvine. There are thirteen towns and numerous large and populous villages.
The surface of the county is varied. The district of Cunninghame in the north is comparitively level. In Kyle, which is the central portion, it is hilly and uneven though containing some large tracts of fertile and well cultivated land. The district of Carrick in the south is wild and mountainous. The coast, particularly that of Carrick, is precipitous, rocky and dangerous, and possesses few good harbours. About one-third of the land is arable and in cultivation and the remainder, of which a very large portion is mountain waste, is chiefly meadow and pasture. The county is distinguished for its excellent breed of cattle and its fine produce. The moors abound with game and the rivers with salmon and trout. There is coal, which is abundant and worked, ironstone, lead and cooper ore, etc. There are also quarries for freestone and marble.
The manufactures are of wool, linen, cotton, thread, and muslin. There are tanneries and potteries, iron-foundries and iron-works. There are fisheries and salt-works and works for kelp and soda. The population in 1851 was 164,356.
(Source: Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 2nd ed., 1851. Family History Library book 941 E5L.)
Archives & Libraries
The Ayrshire Archives network consists of three offices:
- North Ayrshire -- Vennel Local and Family History Centre at Irvine.
- East Ayrshire -- Burns Monument Centre at Kilmarnock.
- South Ayrshire -- Ayrshire Archives Centre at Auchincruive near Ayr.
In addition, the following library holds valuable collections for Ayrshire family history research:
- The Scottish & Local History Library at Carnegie Library, Ayr.
Here is a list of the historic parishes of Ayrshire with their parish number. Click on the parish name to see information about records.
The Scottish government began taking censuses of its population in 1841, and every ten years thereafter. The records must be 100 years old before they are released to the public, so the most recent record available is for the 1901 census. Read more about Census Records.
Many census records have been indexed by surname. Some indexes cover one parish (and will be listed in the Wiki on the parish page) and some indexes are for the county as a whole. The Family History Library has county-wide indexes for Ayr for 1841 and 1881.
Click here to see an outline map of the parishes of Ayrshire.
Prior to 1845, the care of the poor was the joint responsibility of the kirk session and the heritors (local landowners). Beginning in 1845, parochial boards were responsible and they collected funds from property taxes rather than church collections and contributions from heritors. The New Poor Law system took a while to be fully accepted in all areas of the country, though in some areas civil responsibility was practiced from the 1830's. (For further information, see the Wiki article on Scotland Poorhouses, Poor Law, Etc.)
Quote from the website of the Ayrshire Archives:
"Parochial Boards and Parochial Councils were responsible for the provision of poor relief, cemetery administration, and civil registration. Parish records were inherited by the County Council and survive for most parishes in Ayrshire.
"The records consist of board minutes, registers of applications for relief, inspectors' letter books and accounts (1845-1929). There are also a number of records relating to Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse (1854-1930), Maybole Combination Poorhouse (1865-1910) and the Kyle Union Poorhouse (1860-1977) and include registers of inmates, minutes, letter books, plans and accounts.
"Many of the records give details of applicants’ health, financial and family difficulties and are a rich source for family and social historians." The records are closed for 75 years.
- An online index to the poor law records for northern Ayrshire parishes is available for free on the website of the Vennel Local and Family History Centre in Irvine. You must register to use the index. The centre also holds the original records for north Ayrshire.
- Poor law records for the parishes of east Ayrshire are held at the Burns Monument Centre at Kilmarnock.
- Poor law records for the parishes of south Ayrshire are held at the Ayrshire Archives Centre in the town of Auchincruive east of the city of Ayr.
[Return to Scotland county list.]