Service of Heirs or Retours

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Services of Heirs

When lands were to be handed over to an heir, services of heirs documents were created through the following process:

  • A chancery court issued a brieve (document) to summon the local sheriffs to hold a jury trial.
  • The jury would determine whether the person was the legal heir.
  • The jury returned (retoured) their verdict to the chancery.
  • The chancery commissioned the sheriff to grant possession of the land to the heir and collect the fee payable to the crown.

Most people in Scotland did not own property, but the service of heirs records can be very useful if your ancestors owned their own land or houses. Some families can be traced for several generations through these records.

Inheritance land transactions should also appear in registers of sasines, especially after 1617.

"Special" services of heirs deal with specific land to be inherited. "General" services of heirs mention inheritances but not specific lands.

Availability of Records. The Scottish Record Office has the original service of heir records. The Family History Library has printed abstracts of services to heirs from 1544 to 1700:

Inquisition ad capellam domini regis refornatarum abbreviatio. [Scotland]: n.p., 1811-1816. (FHL book Q 941 A2i; film 908847.) These records are in Latin.

The library also has microfilm copies of original records from 1586 to 1901. Each volume is indexed. To find the microfilm numbers, look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:


Indexes. Annotated ten-year indexes are in print for service of heir records created between 1700 and 1860. After 1860, there are annual indexes. Both the Scottish Record Office and the Family History Library have these indexes.

From 1700 to 1959 the indexes are in book form (FHL book Q 941 R2ch). These indexes are very valuable because they give more information than just name and page. The information can help you decide if a certain service of heir is really the one you want. The actual records are difficult to read because they are in Latin. From 1700 to 1860, the indexes are on microfilm (FHL film 990340).

A list of indexes to service of heir records at the Family History Library is in:

Sasines, Services of Heirs, and Deeds Register. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library, 1981. (FHL book 941 R2ss; fiche 6054478.)

The following book will be of special interest for people in North America using Scottish service of heir records:

Dobson, David. Scottish American Heirs 1683-1883. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990. (FHL book 941 D2d.) This work names every Scot who is listed in the service of heirs records who has a North American tie.


<center>Time Period


Kept by














Summary & Index Retours  (1530-1700)

Printed Abstracts (in Latin) – called--

Inquisitionum an Capellum Regis Retornatarum Abbreviato



NAS; FHL British Q 941  A2i & film 908847







Retours (each volume indexed)

Indexes 1700-1959


NAS; FHL (1700-1901)

NAS; FHL British Q 941 R2ch




NAS; FHL film 990340



Abstract of Services

NAS; FHL film 1441082




Indexes 1860-1929

NAS; FHL fiche 6068606






Retours--Each volume indexed


NAS; FHL film 231260


Note: Also found in Sheriff Courts, Regality Courts and Burgh Courts.