S is for Statistical Accounts of Scotland

Keep reading! They are far more than numbers. NunbersThe Statistical Accounts are two fascinating sets of reports on each Scottish parish in the 1790s and the 1830s/40s.  They cover economic and social activities as well as natural resources.

What, when, who, how?

Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster sent out 171 queries to the ministers of each of the 938 parishes in Scotland in the 1790s. Their responses form the Old Statistical Account (OSA). In 1832, because of all the changes that had taken place in Scotland, a new survey was agreed. The responses are collectively known as the New Statistical Account (NSA). Find out more about the background.

How are the Statistical Accounts useful for family history?

  • Context for our ancestors’ lives. “The prejudices, entertained by the inhabitants of this parish, against inoculation [sic] were, for a long time, invincible. But the better sort, setting the example, the rest gradually followed… In one season 460 were inoculated, of whom only 3 died” (Kilmalie, Invernesshire, OSA, p409). Mortality by age group statistics (Glasgow, OSA p508).
  • Information on churches other than the established Church of Scotland. “There is in St Ninians a Relief meeting-house… there is another meeting-house in Ba-burn connected with the United Secession” (St Ninians, Stirlingshire, NSA p336).   Information on the state of the parish registers: “the fourth is a mere ragged fragment” (Wick Caithness, NSA p137).  These may explain why you can’t find a baptism and indicate other records to trace.
  • Names of landowners which could lead you to estate records. See Menteith, Perthshire, NSA p 108, for example.
  • Local history generally, development of industries, migration and so on. “What accounts for this [population] increase of 71 is the settlement of a colony of Highlanders, who had been forced to emigrate from Strathnaven [sic], where their farms had been converted into sheep pasture” (Walls, Orkney, OSA p313).
  • The minister’s view on his parishioners. This snip from the Dalziel, Lanarkshire, (Motherwell area) NSA p 454 is particularly rich:

DalzielParish New Statistical Accounts note about use of Scots and the hours people worked.

Statistical Accounts – summary

Topography, geology, botany, agriculture, weather, population statistics,diseases, the state of the church and manse, manufactures, occupations (see Inverness, OSA p 622 for a good table), wages, prisons, schools, language,history, antiquities, communications – and much more. Each account as individual as the minister who wrote it. You can find them all on on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland website. Free, with additional features available by subscription.

P is for parish

In family history research you will often have to search for records at parish level. Looking at the OPRs (old parish registers) on ScotlandsPeople, for example, you can narrow your search by county and then by parish.

Parishes in time

In many parts of western Europe, the parish was originally the area round a church. People living there paid tithes or teinds for the maintenance of the clergy. In Scotland, parishes developed in the lowlands from around the 12th century but much later in the Highlands. Over time, the parish became central to local administration for both church and civil purposes including taxation and education.

Scottish parishes varied hugely in size and population. In the West Highlands they were often very large with relatively small populations. In central Scotland rapid industrialisation and population growth led to new settlements which often dwarfed the original parish centres though the old names were kept. Wishaw and Airdrie were part of Cambusnethan and New Monkland parishes, for example. See ScotlandsPeople Guide to parishes and districts for more background.

Spits, mergers, name changes, separate development for ecclesiastical and civil purposes and even county changes. It can all be rather complicated. Then from 1855 there are registration districts which were set up for the start of civil registration. They are sometimes the same as parishes but not always.  Local government reform in 1929 and 1975 virtually ended the role of the parish.

Help

The key thing is to know about your own area. If you can’t find a baptism or marriage in one parish, could it have been in the neighbouring one? Check a map – where did your people live? Some counties are big: how likely is it that someone from Gairloch, west Ross & Cromarty, for example, married in Fearn, right over in the east of the county? Not impossible but perhaps less likely?

Parish maps and places

outline map showing name of each parish in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross & Cromarty

Other links

  • History of parishes and counties, see A Gazetteer of Scotland
  • The Statistical Accounts – reports on each Scottish parish from the 1790s and 1830s/40s. Written by local ministers topics include agriculture, education and religion.
  • Parishes listed in a different county for the 1861 census