Scotland Land and Property

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Land records can help you determine where and when your family lived in a specific place. Sometimes these records will be based on inheritance, and such records will often mention two or more generations of a family. In Scotland the land system had feudal roots in which the crown owned all of the land.


Many courts were involved in actions regarding land. Some of the most important courts were:

  • Chancery Courts
  • Court of Session
  • Sheriff Courts
  • Burgh Courts
  • Commissary Courts
  • Regality Courts

In general, there are three types of Scottish land records:

Estate Papers

Most of our Scottish ancestors never owned land but rather lived and farmed land belonging to someone else. The Estate owner kept management records of their lands, estates and tenants. Some of these records have survived and reside either in the hands of the current estate owner or are at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) as a Gift and Depost (GD). Some large estates have their own archives on-sight. The types of papers in an estate could be:

  • Rentals or leases called a 'tack'
  • Lists of tenants
  • Records of tenants who may have been in some trouble

In order to search estate records you need to know who owned the estate.  To find this information search these sources available either online or at the FHL:

  • Parish histories and gazetteers
  • The Old & New Statistical Accounts of Scotland at the FHL and online at for a fee.
  • Findlay, James. Directory of Gentlemen’s’ Seats, villages, &c. in Scotland… [1843] (FHL book Ref 941 E4d; film 599347 item 3; fiche 6026392) online at
  • Register of the Great Seal 1306-1668, 11 vols. (FHL book 941 N2sc): 1306-1651 are available on Ancestry
  • Statistics of the annexed estates, 1755-1756: from the records of the forfeited estates preserved in the Scottish Record Office [NAS]. FHL Q book 941 R2sa. Lists tenants on the estates forfeited as a result of the 1745 Rebellion.
  • Index of Place Names to the Abridgements of Sasines (see that section)
  • Timperley, Loretta R. Directory of Landownership in Scotland circa 1770. (FHL book 941 B4sr n.s. v. 5)
  • Return of Owners of Land and Heritages in Scotland 1872-73 (FHL Q book 941 R25i)
  • National Register of Archives (searchable online)

Once the name of the land owner has been determined, search the NAS' catalog for their name or the property name along with references of E,GD or RH. The FHL catalog should also be searched under the county where the property was located and look under the topic of "Land and Property".

Valuation Rolls

Taxes were determined by the value of the land. These records are called 'valuation rolls' and exist sporadically before 1855. The book entitled "Directory of Landownership in Scotland circa 1770" is based in part on the valuation rolls for that year. The FHL has only a few of these records and most are listed in the NAS online catalog with the reference of VR. To learn more about these records go to

Ultimus Haeres

If a person died 'intestate' (without leaving a document for probate) and had no known heirs, the Crown was the 'last heir' or 'ultimus haeres.' There is no succession to or through the mother for either heritable or moveable property. If the deceased has only relatives on his mother's side of the family, including half-brothers and sisters, they could not directly inherit. However, relatives could petition the Crown to inherit a portion of an estate. Location of these petitions are handled as follows:

  • Grants of petitions for moveable property before 1834 were recorded under the Privy Seal. Indexes survive in various forms including minute books. 
  • Grants of petitions for heritable property before 1834 are sporadic and unindexed.
  • Records since 1834 are more consistent and complete and are indexed by the name of the deceased.
  • The petitions are part of the collection of the Exchequer (NAS online catalogue reference E).
  • The Family History Library does not have the petitions on microfilm.

For More Information

For more information about sasine, service of heir, deeds, and other Scottish land and property records, see the following website and books:

National Archives of Scotland [1] Look at the "Guides to Records".

Dobson, David. Scottish-American Heirs 1683-1883. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990. (Family History Librarybook 941 D2d.)

Encyclopedia of the Laws of Scotland. 16 vols and 2 supps. Edinburgh, Scotland: W. Green & Son, Limited, 1926. (Family History Library book 941 P36e.)

Gibb, Andrew Dewar. Students’ Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms. Edinburgh, Scotland: W. Green & Son, Ltd., 1946. (Family History Library book 941 P36g.)

Gouldesbrough, Peter. Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents. Vol. 36. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Stair Society, 1985. (Family History Library book 941 B4st v.36.)

An Introductory Survey of the Sources and Literature of Scots Law. Vol. 1. The Stair Society. Edinburgh, Scotland: Robert Maclehose & Co., Ltd. for The Stair Society, 1936. (Family History Librarybook 941 B4st; film 1426033.)

Sinclair, Cecil. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Scottish Record Office. Edinburgh, Scotland: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1990. (Family History Library book 941 D27s.)