"The Orkney Islands. Lying off the northern coast of Scotland, Orkney consists of a group of almost treeless, gently rolling islands separated from the mainland by the Pentland Firth. The islands lie between the North Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and cover an area of 376 square miles. There are roughly 70 islands but only 17 are inhabited. Kirkwall, the county's main town, is on the largest island, The Mainland. The town is the site of the magnificent 12th century cathedral of St. Magnus and the ruins of the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces. The next largest islands are Hoy, Westray, Sanday, and Stronsay. Warm ocean currents give the islands the mild climate that makes them one of Scotland's most productive farming areas, with beef cattle being the main product. Fishing is also a highly significant industry but recently tourism has overtaken both it and farming in terms of earnings. The discovery of oil beneath the North Sea led to the construction of a pipeline terminal on Flotta, one of the islands that surround the sheltered harbour of Scapa Flow. A causeway links the southern islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay to the Mainland of Orkney.

Remains of prehistoric origin are to be found in abundance. They include burial chambers and rings of standing stones as well as the Stone Age village of Skara Brae which has been designated a World Heritage Site. Viking raiders arrived from Norway 1200 years ago and colonized the islands but they came under Scottish rule in 1472 when, along with Shetland, they were ceded to Scotland in lieu of a wedding dowry."

From "Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia", 1996.


Archives & Libraries

The Orkney Library and Archive
44 Junction Road,
Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1AG

Be sure to include return postage or international reply coupons when writing to the Archives.



The following are "popular" books and guides on Orkney which are currently "in print". Each addresses the local prehistory, history, topography and customs, and include at least one map.

  • The Orkney Book edited by Donald Omand: 306pp: Published by Birlinn in 2003.
    This recently published book covers not only Orkney's colourful history but also the geology, literature, industry, architecture, geography, customs, and folklore of the islands.
  • The Orkney Guide Book by Charles Tait. Published by the author 2001, update of 1997 edition. 254pp. The current, comprehensive and full-colour tourist guide book.
  • Orkney - A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham Jones.
    Published 1998 by Birlinn, Edinburgh. 236pp. A guide to 145 sites; good on archaeology.
  • Orkney by Patrick Bailey. Published 1971, 1974, 1984, 1995 by David and Charles as one of their "Island Series". 245pp. Possibly the most widely read book on Orkney.

See also a Bibliography of older Books and Guides on Orkney. More specialist bibliographies are listed on other pages of this site, including the individual pages for Orkney Parishes and Islands.

All these bibliographies list selections made by James Irvine from the numerous publications on various aspects of Orkney life and history. They are listed in reverse order of publication, to reflect the generally increasing difficulty in obtaining copies and lessening historical accuracy.

Most of the publications listed can be viewed in The Orkney Room of Kirkwall Library and in national libraries, and many in good city and university libraries.

The Orcadian Bookshop stocks a large selection of books about Orkney.

Amazon also offers a selection of books about Orkney.



Some of the cemeteries of Orkney have had their records extracted and made available in the Archives in Kirkwall. The cemetery records of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are available on this website from the Rousay page.

Orkney's Gravestones:
by James M. Irvine
Published: In Sib Folk News (magazine of the Orkney Family History Society) No. 17: Updated in SFN No. 19 and Trace Your Orkney Ancestors, Appendix N.
This is a record of where gravestone inscriptions, if recorded, are to be found.

The Orkney Family History Society has plans to research all of the tombstones in all of Orkney's cemeteries. Each parish has one or two so it will take a long time to complete. Those interested in helping should contact the Society.



  • The censuses for Orkney (1841-1901) can be accessed at the Orkney Archives, Kirkwall. 
    Print-outs are available.
  • The Orkney Family History Society has all the Orkney census returns on computer at their office at 44 Junction Rd, Kirkwall, Orkney. KW15 1AG, Scotland . For most parishes there are seven censuses, 1841-1901, but for Deerness, Orphir, St. Andrews, Sandwick, South Ronaldsay & Burray, and Stromness there is also a census taken in 1821. 
    Printed copies of the Orkney censuses are available for purchase from the Orkney Family History Society.
  • In Scotland, research can be done at the General Register Office for Scotland in New Register House, Edinburgh.
  • Census records for 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 are also available online on the Scotland's People website. 
    Images of the actual entries in the census books are included with the 1871, 1891 and 1901 censuses.
  • A project called FreeCEN is undertaking the transcription of all the 19th century censuses so that they can be made accessible online. This is a very worthy project which will be of great help to all genealogists. The Orkney part of this project needs your help. For further details please take a look at the website dealing with the Scottish part of the project.
  • Census records for the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 have been microfilmed and can be accessed at LDS Family History Centres around the world. 
    Note that on September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services. (The last day to order microfilm will be August 31, 2017.)
  • The 1881 census for Orkney is available on microfiche at LDS Family History Centres. It consists of computer-output microfiches produced as a joint project of the Federation of Family History Societies and the Genealogical Society of Utah. The term "strays" in the listing below refers to people born in one location but living in another at the time of the census. In the birthplace and census place indexes, entries with the same surname are arranged alphabetically by place.
    • Surname index, (2 fiches), Fiche #6086634
    • Birthplace [strays] index, (2 fiches), Fiche #6086635
    • Census Place Index, (2 fiches), Fiche #6086636
    • Census as enumerated, (2 fiches), Fiche #6086637
    • Miscellaneous notes, (1 fiche), Fiche #6086638
    • List of Institutions, (1 fiche), Fiche #6086639
  • Transcripts and indexes to some of the census records of Orkney are now available on microfiche, transcribed and edited by David Armstrong, a member of the Western Australian and Ontario Genealogy Societies, as well as the Orkney Family History Society. Available are:
  • 1821 census: Deerness, Orphir, St. Andrews, Sandwick, South Ronaldsay & Burray, Stromness. 
    1851 census: Birsay, Deerness, Eday & Pharay, Evie and Rendall, Firth and Stenness, Harray, Holm & Paplay, Hoy and Graemsay, Kirkwall & St. Ola, Orphir, St. Andrews, Sandwick, South Ronaldsay & Burray, Stromness, Walls and Flotta, Westray & Papa Westray.
  • The 1821 census returns for South Ronaldsay & Burray can be accessed online. This website includes a full index and access to scanned images of the census pages.
  • In addition to census returns, Orkney's inhabitants were listed in various other records.
    • Landowners and houseowners were listed in Valuation Rolls published annually since 1855.
    • Voters Rolls were published in Peace's Almanac from 1867-1916.
    • Landowners were listed in Land Tax returns published for 1653 by the Orcadian in July-Sept. 1888, and for 1771 by The Scottish Record Society in 1976.
    • Many landowners and tenants were listed in Estate Rentals (see Land and Ownership).
    • Communicants were listed in some 19th century Kirk Session records (see Church Records).
    • Copies of a list of the poor of 1801 are held by Orkney Archives and by the Orkney Family History Society.
    • Valuation Rolls, Voters' Rolls, Church records, and Peace's Almanacs can be accessed at the Orkney Library, Kirkwall.

Church History

  • The Eighteenth-Century Church in Orkney: by William P. L. Thomson. Published 1989 in Light in the North pp57-80.
    Background to Kirk Session Records.
  • Separations and Unions in the Church of Scotland: by Archibald MacWhirter. Published 1956 in Orkney Miscellany iii, pp26-33.
    Explains why Orkney had over 70 congregations at the end of the 19th century.
  • Fifteen Centuries of the Church in Orkney: by Rev Andrew J. Campbell. Published Kirkwall 1938. 113pp.
    A concise overview.
  • The Church in Orkney: by John Smith. Published Kirkwall 1907. 360pp.
    Biographical notes on all the Orcadian clergy, many with genealogical data as well.
  • Orkney Baptist Churches: by Rev Henry Harcus. Published 1898.
  • History of the Episcopal Church in Orkney 1688-1912: by Rev James B. Craven. Published 1912.
  • History of the Church in Orkney 1662-1688: by Rev James B. Craven. Published 1893.
  • History of the Church in Orkney 1558-1662: by Rev James B. Craven. Published 1897.
  • History of the Church in Orkney prior to 1588: by Rev James B. Craven. Published 1901
    The classic work, with references to individual parishioners.
  • Circle of Light: The Catholic Church in Orkney Since 1560: by Alison Gray. Published John Donald, Edinburgh, 2000

Church Records

A special page has been created to display information about Orkney Church Records.


Civil Registration

The Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths became compulsory by law in Orkney, as in all of Scotland, on 1st January 1855. These records are known as the Stautory Registers. Access to the information in the registers can be obtained by several methods:-

  • By arrangement with the relevant local Registrar for the parish who can also supply copies of entries in the registers. Contact details can be found at Registrars of births, deaths and marriages in Orkney.
  • Research can be done at the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) at New Register House in Edinburgh. In order to gain admittance on a particular day it is advisable to book in advance.
  • The registers at the General Register Office in Edinburgh can also be accessed online at General Register Office, Edinburgh. Although access to some features on this website is free of charge, this is mainly a fee-based service, but a very convenient one. Fees are payable by credit card.
    There are plans to put online images of all the records held by the General Register Office of Scotland.
    The accessible records on this website include:-
    • Births from 1855 to 1903, marriages from 1825 to 1928, and deaths from 1855 to 1953. To respect privacy of living people, internet access has been limited to birth records over 100 years old, marriage records over 75 years, and death records over 50 years. One additional year is added to indexes each year. Images of entries in the registers are also available for download.
    • The fully searchable GRO(S) index to births/baptisms and banns/marriages listed in the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) dating from 1553 till the end of 1854. See Orkney Church Records.
    • The indexes to the census taken in 1881, and indexed digital images to the censuses taken in 1891 and 1901.
  • Most LDS centres have microfiche copies of the indexes to civil registrations of births and marriages for the period 1855-1875 and for the year 1881.

Court Records

The Court Book of Orkney and Shetland, 1612-1613
Editor: Robert S. Barclay
Published: Kirkwall: Kirkwall Press, 1962, 103 p.
Available on microfilm at LDS Family History Centers, Film #0973253

The Court Book of Orkney and Shetland, 1614-1615
Editor: Robert S. Barclay
Published: Edinburgh: Scottish History Soc., 1967. (Scottish History Society, 4th series, volume 4), 146 p.

Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the The National Records of Scotland.


Description & Travel



  • Orkney (Exploring Scotland's Heritage series): Author: Anna Ritchie. Published by HMSO, Edinburgh.
    1996 (update of a 1985 edition on Orkney and Shetland). 163pp. In print.
    Descriptions of 85 historical sites, with illustrations and nine suggested tours.
  • Orkney: An Illustrated Architectural Guide: by Leslie Burgher. Published by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1991. 105pp. ISBN: 1-873190-02-6. In print.
    Part of the publisher's "Architectural Guides to Scotland" series. Well illustrated with photographs and contains short descriptions and historical notes on 92 buildings.
  • Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments of Scotland: 12th Report, Volume II: Inventory of Monuments in Orkney: Ed. D Rollo. Published 1946 by HMSO Edinburgh.
    Details of 1088 sites.

Emigration & Immigration



  • Sigurd Towrie's excellent website Orkneyjar has a well presented section on Orkney folklore.
  • The Mermaid Bride and other Orkney Folktales: by Tom Muir. Published Kirkwall 1998. 199pp. In print. A treasure trove of 63 abbreviated tales, with sources.
  • An Orkney Anthology - Selected Works of Ernest W Marwick: by John D. M. Robertson. Published Edinburgh 1991. 516pp.
    Includes 11 tales of lore and legend.
  • The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland: by Earnest W Marwick. Published B. T. Batsforsd 1975. 215pp.
    A classic. Read about hogboons, trows, and selkies, and about the customs and traditions of the islesfolk.
  • Peculiar People and other Orkney Tales: by J. T. Smith Leask. Published Kirkwall 1931.280pp.
    Tales of traditional remedies, match-making, press-gangs, smuggling, and witchcraft.
  • Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands: by G. F. Black, edited NW Thomas. Vol iii of County Folk-Lore Series. Published 1903, facsimile reprint 1994 by Llanerch Publishers. 289pp.
    Anthology including naming, wedding & funeral customs and trials of Orcadians for witch-craft.
  • Around the Orkney Peat Fires: by William R. Mackintosh. Published: c.1898, 9th edition 1999, by The Orcadian, Kirkwall. In print.
    Traditional tales of notable Orcadians, smuggling anecdotes, press-gangs and witchcraft.
  • Orkney Folklore and Sea Legends: by Walter Traill Dennison: edited by Tom Muir. Published Kirkwall 1995, 206pp.
    Anthology of 19 folk tales and old wedding and funeral customs written in late 19th century.




There are many organisations and individuals who are able and willing to help people to research their Orkney ancestry. Here is a list of some of them. Also listed are a number of written resources, online, which will be of help in family history research.

  • The Orkney Family History Society has a very helpful website for those researching their Orkney ancestry.
  • Bibliography of Orkney Family Genealogies
  • Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in Scotland on 1st January, 1855. Copies of all the resulting records are housed in New Register House in Edinburgh. To access these records see Civil Registration.
  • Useful genealogical information is available in the Census section.
  • Dave Higgins's website is designed to help those researching the history of the Norquay family.
  • James M. Irvine's book Trace your Orkney ancestors contains a wealth of information about the many resources, both in Orkney and elsewhere, which may be of use to people researching their Orkney ancestry.
  • There is a page providingsome information about Orcadians who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company.
  • A good introduction to Scottish Family History research can be found here.

Historical Geography



Orkney's pre-history, of the megalithic, bronze and Pictish ages, provides a colourful backdrop but has little genealogical relevance. In contrast, much of Orkney's recorded history, whether it concerns the earls, the clergy, lairds, townsfolk, udallers (see Land and its Ownership ), or tenants, is full of genealogical interest. The Norse arrived towards the end of the 8th century and the islands were ruled from Norway, and later Denmark, until 1468, when sovereignty passed to Scotland. Scots had started to settle in Orkney in the previous century, but it remained a semi-autonomous Earldom until 1614. The union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707 saw political control pass to London, but many powers were devolved back to Scotland in 1999 with the restoration of the Scottish Parliament.

Orkney is blessed with a wealth of records which are of use to both historians and genealogists.


Land & Property

Many documents dealing with Land and its Ownership , such as deeds, land registry records, and annual rentals of Orkney lands include the names of both owners and tenants, and consequently can be of considerable genealogical interest.

Many deeds, sasine (land registry) records, and annual rentals of Orkney lands survive. As these often include the names of both owners (heritors) and tenants, they can be of considerable genealogical interest. Two forms of land tenure co-existed in Orkney for many centuries. These were odal or udal tenure which was of Norse origin, and feudal tenure of Scottish origin.

In practice most of the culivated land (townland) was held in the run-rig system where small plots worked by different tenants were intermixed in a bewildering mosaic without formal boundaries. The sowing and the harvest were shared by the tenants in proportion to their holdings. In addition each tenant had rights to grazings and turf on the commonty (the common land) which was usually poorer quality hill land separated from the townland by an earthen dyke.

The decline of udal holdings and the consequent ascendancy of larger feudal estates was accelerated by the Stewart earls (1564-1614), the episcopalian bishops of the 17th century, and the merchant lairds of the 18th century. In the mid-19th century the run- rig system gave way to the present field layout, the bishopric lands were sold and much of the common land was enclosed. Early in the 20th century the Earldom estate and many of the large feudal estates were broken up and sold to their tenants, and most of Orkney's rural land reverted to small owner-occupied farms.

Annual rental records were kept for all the large estates. In 1614 the earldom and bishopric lands were rationalised so that henceforth the Bishopric Rentals include all rents and skat liabilities in the "Bishopric" parishes (Holm, Hoy, Orphir, Sandwick, Stromness, St. Ola, Shapinsay, and Walls) and the Earldom Rentals likewise in the remaining parishes.

The earliest surviving Earldom and Bishopric Rentals have been published - see "Lord Henry Sinclair's 1492 Rental of Orkney" (W.P.L. Thomson 1996. ISBN 0907618 42 1), " Rentals of Ancient Earldom and Bishoprick of Orkney" (A. Peterkin 1820), and "The Church in Orkney" (A.W. Johnston 1940). Some of the later rentals also survive in the archives in Edinburgh and Kirkwall: these may include both rents payable and paid by the occupier, and sometimes name the heritor, occupier, and/or sub-tenant.But they are not indexed or catalogued as a single series, so searching can be laborious.The complex units of land valuation and associated terms in these rentals are explained by Thomson in his 1996 book.


Language & Languages

Orkney Dictionary
Authors: Margaret Flaws and Gregor Lamb
Published Kirkwall 1996
ISBN 0 9529324 0 7

The Orkney Norn
Author: Hugh Marwick
Originally published in 1929, reprinted by Brinnovenn Publishing, 207 p., ISBN: 0-899851-02-X.
The Orkney Norn is the most authoritative work ever published on the Orcadian language. In addition to a dictionary of Norn words this book also contains a history of the Orkney Norn tracing its phonological development from Old Norse, fragments of old rhymes and riddles, an examination of the 12th-century Maeshow runes and printed specimens of Orkney Norn from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Orcadian Sketch Book:
Author: Walter T Dennison. Published 1880.
First publication in Orkney dialect, and an excellent authority on folklore and customs.



UK Ordnance Survey maps contain a vast wealth of information, showing position and place names for cities, towns, villages, hamlets, farms and even individual houses. Their "getamap" page provides online access to sections of their current Landranger (1:50,000) and Pathfiner (1:25,000) maps. The northern isles are covered in the Landranger 5 map, Mainland in Landranger 6, and the southern isles in Landranger 7. They are an invaluable aid for serious Orkney genealogists.

Caledonian Books has reprinted four Ordnance Survey maps of Orkney, dating from about 1890. These are available from Caledonian Books, Collieston, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, AB41 8RT, Scotland. Ask for sheets 117-120.

For an online gazetteer and the 1882 edition of Ordnance Survey see the Old Maps website.

For online copies of older maps of Orkney see the National Library of Scotland map images.

The online History of Orkney Maps by John K Chesters includes details of forty maps of Orkney dating from 1573 to 1883.

James Irvine's book The Orkneys and Schetland in Blaeu's Atlas Novus, 1654 looks at the fifth volume of Joanne Blaeu's Atlas Novus, the first comprehensive atlas of Scotland. Published in 1654, it contains the well-known map of Orkney and Shetland by Timothy Pont that includes more place-names than any subsequent map until the Ordnance Survey of the 19th century. This volume reproduces the map and the translated descriptions of Orkney and Shetland with editorial footnotes. The book (with colour illustrations and laminated case board cover) may be obtained direct from the editor at 11 Agates Lane, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 2NG. Cost: £14.95 + postage.


Names, Geographical

  • Orkney Farm-Names: by Hugh Marwick.. Published 1952 by W. R. Mackintosh.
    The seminal work on the origins of old farm names.
  • Selected Papers, volume 1: by Hugh Marwick. Published: Livingston, West Lothian: Brinnoven, 1995. 161pp, Illustrated. ISBN: 1-899851-01-1.
    Reprint of his earlier papers on place names and antiquarian notes.

Names, Personal

  • Who was Who in Orkney: by William S Hewison. Published 1998 by Bellavista, Kirkwall. 203pp. In print.
    Mini-biographies of over 700 Orcadians, with lists of MPs, Lord Lieutenants and Conveners of Orkney and provosts of Kirkwall and Stromness.
  • Orkney Surnames: by Gregor Lamb. Published Edinburgh 1981, errata Kirkwall a.1993. 128pp.
    Glossary, origin, frequency and distribution of most Orcadian surnames.
  • Orkney Family Names: by Gregor Lamb. Published in 2003. This is a reworking of Lamb's 1981 book.
  • The Surnames of Scotland: by George Black. Published New York 1946. 910pp.
  • Articles by J Storer Clouston on the origin and early records of Orkney surnames:
    • The Odal Families in Orkney: 1907-10 Old Lore Miscellany i,27-32 1909 ii,155-162,227-234 iii,136,201-202.
    • Townships and Surnames: 1909 Old Lore Miscellany ii,34-37 iv,66.
    • Orkney Surnames: 1912 Old Lore Miscellany v,28-33,63-67,153-154 vi,8,9 vii,l03.
    • The People and Surnames of Orkney: 1923 Proceedings of the Antiquaries of Scotland ii,31-37.


The Orcadian
Hell's Half Acre, Hatston, Kirkwall, Orkney
Published since 1854, this weekly newspaper contains news and advertisements of Orkney, as well as notices of births, marriages and deaths (infrequent in 19th.and early 20th. centuries), and a "Postbag" section that sometimes contains genealogical queries. Write to the Orcadian to have your letter printed.
The Orcadian Bookshop stocks a large selection of books about Orkney.

Another paper, The Orkney Herald, was published from 1860-1961. The Orkney Archives have a card index for this paper covering the period 1919-1933. They also have microfilms available of these two newspapers, and of The Orkney Blast (a newspaper for the Forces, 1941-1940), Orkney & Shetland American (1887-1895), The Northman (1875-1895), Orkney & Shetland Journal (1838-1839), The John O'Groats Journal (1836-1855) and Orkney and Zetland Chronicle (1824-1826). For a brief period there was also a newspaper entitled the Stromness News (29 Feb. - 1 Aug. 1884).



  • Sib Folk News
    Published quarterly since May 1997 by the Orkney Family History Society
  • Westray Roots
    This family history newsletter concerning the islands of Westray and Papa Westray is published three times a year since 1987 by Gavin Rendall. The above deal only with genealogical matters. The following often included genealogical articles:
  • The New Orkney Antiquarian Journal
    Published by the Orkney Heritage Society 1998, 2002, 2 volumes to date.
  • The Orkney View
    Published by Anne & Alastair Cormack every two months 1985 - February 2002, in 100 volumes.
  • Orkney Heritage
    Published by the Orkney Heritage Society 1981 - 1983, in 2 volumes.
  • Orkney Miscellany
    Published by the Orkney Antiquarian and Record Society 1953 - 1958, 1973, in 5 volumes.
  • Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society
    Published by the Society 1922 - 1939, in 15 volumes.
  • Old Lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland
    Published: London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1907-1946, in 10 volumes.
    Available at LDS Family History Centers, v.1-2 microfilm #0277729, v.3-4 #277730


1755 = 23,381 [Source: Webster; Kyd, Scottish Historical Society 1952, iii, pp65-66]
1790s = 23,555 [Source: Thomson, 1978]
1801 = 24,445 [Source: Census]
1811 = 23,238 [Source: Census]
1821 = 26,979 [Source: Census]
1831 = 28,847 [Source: Census]
1841 = 30,451 [Source: Census]
1851 = 31,318 [Source: Census]
1861 = 32,225 [Source: Census]
1871 = 31,256 [Source: Census]
1881 = 31,884 [Source: Census]
1891 = 30,244 [Source: Census]
1901 = 27,763 [Source: Census]
1911 = 25,791 [Source: Census]
1921 = 23,933 [Source: Census]
1931 = 21,993 [Source: Census]
1951 = 21,173 [Source: Census]
1961 = 18,747 [Source: Census]
1971 = 17,077 [Source: Census]
1981 = 19,039 [Source: Census]
1991 = 19,325 [Source: Census]
2001 = 19,222 [Source: Census]
2002 = 20,000 [Source: Orkney Islands Council website.]

The Population of Orkney 1755-1961: by Robert S Barclay. Published Kirkwall 1965. 28pp.
Includes population data for individual parishes and discusses reasons for trends.


Probate Records

  • The combined index to Registers of Scottish wills and testaments from 1500 (Orkney 1573) to 1901) is available online at the ScotlandsPeople website. There are over 520,000 names on the index, of which about 5,000 are for Orcadians. Digital images of the related documents are available for purchase online at a cost of £5.
  • An index of some 1,900 warrants of Orkney wills and testaments, many of which do not appear in the Registers, appears in the Members only pages of the Orkney Family History Society website.
  • The Commissariot Record of Orkney and Shetland. Registers of Testaments. Part I. Orkney, 1611-1684.
    Editor: Francis J. Grant
    Published: Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 1904.
  • Orkney testaments and inventories, 1573-1615
    Editor: Robert S. Barclay
    Published: Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 1977, 198 p.
    Available on microfiche at LDS Family History Centers, Fiche #6036317.
  • Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the The National Records of Scotland.

Public Records

A list of resources can be viewed on the Public Records page.



The Orkney Family History Society was formed in 1997.



"Statistical accounts" were written on nearly every parish in Scotland on three occasions - in the 1790s (the "Old Account"), in the 1840s (the "New Account") and in the 1950s (the "Third Account"). The author was usually the parish minister. They give fascinating insights into the local topography and history, social and economic conditions, and even the daily lives of people of those times. Published versions include:

The Old Statistical Account

  • The Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799 edited by Sir John Sinclair. Vol. 19: Orkney & Shetland.. With a new Introduction by WPL Thomson and JJ Graham. Published by EP Publishing, Wakefield 1978. pp 622.
  • The Orkney parishes: Containing the statistical account of Orkney, 1795-1798 by Sir John Sinclair, together with A General Introduction and Notices of Each Parish: by J. Storer Clouston. Published by W. R. Mackintosh, Kirkwall, 1927. 396pp.
    There is a condensed version: Topographical and Statistical Description of the British Isles; vis. Isle of Wight, Guernsey, Sark, The Orkneys, Jersey, Scilly, Hebrides, Alderney, Man, Shetland, etc., containing an Account of their Situation, Extent, Towns, Roads, Rivers, Minerals, Fisheries, Manufactures, Commerce, Agriculture, Markets, Curiosities, Antiquities, Biography, Natural History, Civil and Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions, etc. by George A. Cooke. Published by G. Brimmer, London c.1800. pp 102-110 pertain to Orkney.

The New Statistical Account

  • The Statistical Account of the Orkney Islands by The Ministers of the Respective Parishes. Published by Blackwood, Edinburgh 1842. 230pp; 1845, vol. xv. LDS microfiche 6026721.

The Third Statistical Account

  • The County of Orkney. Edited by Ronald Miller. Published by Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1985. 256pp.
    Please note that the Stenness and Papa Westray Accounts are missing.
  • The Orkney parishes in the Old and New Accounts can be viewed free at The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1799 and 1845. Fees are payable for more sophisticated services.

Page created by Dave Annal, Robert C. Marwick and Bill Teschek