"SHETLAND, insular county of Scotland, 50 miles NE. of Orkney, 352,876 ac., pop. 29,705; Mainland, pop. 20,821; it consists of about 100 islands, 29 of which are inhabited -Mainland, Yell, Unst, Fetlar, Whalsay, and Bressay being the largest. Mainland, comprising more than half the area of the whole group, extends N. and S. for 54 miles, and has an extreme breadth of 21 miles, but the coast-line is so irregular and deeply indented that no spot is more than 4 miles from the sea. The surface of Shetland is generally bleak and moorish, and rises to a maximum alt. of 1475 ft., but only in a few places higher than 500 ft. The rock scenery around the coasts is exceedingly grand and interesting. The climate is humid and comparatively mild, but severe storms are frequent. Large numbers of cattle and sheep of native breeds are reared, and the small Shetland ponies are remarkable for their strength and hardiness. Barley, oats, turnips, and potatoes are grown. The fisheries, especially the herring fishery, are of the greatest importance, and afford the chief employment. The knitting of woollen articles is also a great industry. Shetland comprises 12 pars., and the police burgh of Lerwick. It unites with Orkney in returning 1 member to Parl.

[Bartholemew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887]


Archives & Libraries

Shetland Museum and Archives

Hay's Dock

Tel: 01595 695057
Fax: 01595 696729
Email: info[at]shetlandmuseumandarchives.org[dot]uk

Shetland Library

Lower Hillhead

Tel: 01595 693868

Other Museums

  • The Crofthouse Museum is situated in Dunrossness and represents the sights and smells of a typical thatched cottage from around 1890. The Croft House Museum is a mid-nineteenth century Shetland croft, which was lived in until the late 1960’s.
  • The Böd of Gremista situated on the outskirts of Lerwick is a typical 18th century fishing booth. The Böd is an 18th century restored fishing station, and is particularly special as the birthplace of Arthur Anderson, a Shetlander famous as one of the founders of the P & O Shipping company.
  • Scalloway Museum Scalloway’s first museum was opened in 1985 by the Scalloway History Group and ran successfully for 20 years.  Having outgrown its premises, a new museum was opened in 2012 by the Prime Minister of Norway and has proved a very popular attraction for visitors from all over the world.

Information on national archives and links to lists of local archives and libraries can be found on our Scotland Archives and Libraries page.



  • List of books and pamphlets relating to Orkney and Shetland
    Compiled by James W Cursiter
    Published 1894, Kirkwall.
  • List of Orkney & Shetland documents [in the National Archives of Scotland]
    Published 1983 by the National Archives of Scotland
    [Pt 1. Gifts and deposits -- pt. 2. Maps, charts and plans"


General advice on census records and indexes can be found on our Scotland Census page.


Church Records

General advice on parish registers throughout Scotland can be found on our Scotland Church Records page. For information on records for a particular parish, please see that parish's page (where available). Copies of many parish registers may be consulted around the world in LDS Family History Centres.


Civil Registration

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For details of these records and indexes to them, see our GRO tutorial and our Scotland Civil Registration page.


Court Records

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

See also:

  • The Court Book of Orkney and Shetland, 1612-1613
    Transcribed and edited by Robert S Barclay
    Published 1962, Kirkwall.
  • The Court Book of Orkney and Shetland, 1614-1615
    Transcribed and edited by Robert S Barclay
    Published 1967, Edinburgh (Scottish History Society, 4th series, volume 4).

Description & Travel

  • Orkney and Shetland: an historical, geographical, social and scenic survey
    Eric Linklater
    Published 1965, London.


A history of Shetland from the National Gazetteer 1868.



  • Shetland life and trade, 1550-1914
    Hance D Smith
    Published 1984, Edinburgh.
  • The northern and western islands of Scotland: their economy and society in the seventeenth century
    Frances J Shaw
    Published c1980, Edinburgh.
  • Exploring Scotland's heritage: Orkney and Shetland
    Anna Ritchie
    Published 1985, Edinburgh (H.M.S.O.).

Language & Languages

  • The Shetland dictionary
    John J Graham
    Published 1979, Stornoway.

Names, Geographical

See The place-names of Shetland by Jakob Jakobsen, published in 1936.



The Shetland Family History Society covers this county.



For a social and economic record of the parishes of Shetland, together with masses of statistical material, see Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland which was compiled in the 1790s. The account was reprinted in facsimile form in 1978 by EP Publishing Limited of Wakefield, England and volume 19 deals with Orkney and Shetland.

Follow-up works to this were the New Statistical Account (also known as the Second Statistical Account) which was prepared in the 1830s and 1840s; and more recently the Third Statistical Account which has been prepared since the Second World War.