Scotland Occupations

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Knowing an ancestor’s occupation can help you distinguish him from other individuals with the same name. The records associated with your ancestor’s occupation could provide information about his or her life and family.

In Scotland, the cities and towns, or burghs, were often established by royal charter, in which case they were called royal burghs. Craftsmen and tradesmen who lived and worked within the burghs were called burgesses. The burgesses would often band together into guilds to regulate trade and to protect their members’ interests. A person could become a member of a guild of burgesses by completing an apprenticeship, by being the son of a burgess, or by marrying the daughter of a burgess. The guilds could monopolize business in the burgh and they kept careful records of their members. Records of tradesmen and craftsmen living outside of the burghs generally were not kept.

The Scottish Record Society has published lists of burgesses and guild brethren for Edinburgh, Canongate, Glasgow, and Dumbarton as well as the apprentices for Edinburgh (Family History Library book 941 B4sr). Burgh records are held by the Scottish Record Office and by local record offices, but most are not indexed.

In addition to burgess and guild records, the Scottish Record Office also has records of doctors, lawyers, architects, railway men, schoolmasters, coal miners, and other occupations. A guide to the holdings of the Scottish Record Office is found in:

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.)

The Family History Library has no original occupational records but has many works and indexes relating to occupational records. Look in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Look also in Smith’s Inventory of Genealogical Sources Scotland. This is a subject index to items found in selected periodicals, books, films, and so forth in the Family History Library’s collection.

A useful source in helping to locate occupational records is:

Raymond, Stuart. Occupational Sources for Genealogists: A Bibliography. 2nd ed. Exeter, Devon, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1996. (Family History Library book 942 U23rs 1996.)