Thursday, 5 February 2015

Sasines records access at NRS now painless

I've just spent the day up in Edinburgh researching a client's ancestral history, which was based on the north shore of Loch Ness. As such I finally got a chance to play with something that was implemented not too long ago in the Historic Search Room of the National Records of Scotland ( - an improved way to access the sasine records.

The sasines registers date back to the early 1600s, and provide a continuous run of records noting transactions of land, whether by inheritance, purchase or exchange (excambion). From 1781-1868 the main method for accessing the records is to consult a series of shortened abridgements noting the key details of who was involved, where the property was, and what financial obligations were involved (for purchases or loans). There are two indexes for these, which allow you to look for a person's name or a place name, and once you have a hit you look up the abridgement, and if necessary, find further indexing details on this to then look up the original sasine document itself (not always necessary).

The obvious thing to do with this is to have a database where you can do such a search, and to then view the abridgements. And sure enough, the NRS has one, called the RAC Search Tool, designed by BT many years ago, some say before the birth of Christ, possibly even as far back as the jurassic era.

The thing is, the RAC Search Tool is a truly, TRULY, terrible, terrible database.

I have made many visits in the past where I have typed in a name on the database, and waited anything up to ten minutes for a result to appear - or for it simply to just look at me as computers do, and to say "computer says no", but with out actually saying anything.

Thankfully, the NRS has finally, finally, finally, after years of hearing complaints about this, done something to alleviate the situation. And it is just brilliant, and so very simple. On each computer terminal now, you will find a link on the home screen to a PDF document that lists all the call numbers for the sasine index volumes, both for the name and place name indexes, and the abridgements. So if I want to look up a name in Invernessshire in 1800, for example, I open this document, scroll down until I find the Invernessshire call numbers, select the one that covers the period (1781-1820), and note the call number. Then all I do is open up Virtual Volumes, type in that number, and voila, I can now browse the index. After locating a possible entry of interest, I note the number beside the name, look up the call number for the corresponding abridgement volume for the same period, and then browse through it on Virtual Volumes until I find the right numbered entry. It is soooo easy. And almost identical to the process that we used to do when we were allowed to actually look at the volumes themselves, before digitisation. A simple solution to what was one of NRS's most irritating methods for accessing one of Scotland's most important record sets.

Now here's a thought... In the past I have visited other places that hold the sasines abridgments, such as the Carnegie Library in Ayr, but although it has the abridgement volumes, it does not hold the indexes. The indexes are digitised, so could they not be made available across the country, indeed, the abridgements as well for libraries or archives that don't have them? The NRS is doing a good job making vital records accessible across the country at various archives, as well as kirk session records - the sasines would make a perfect addition to that effort to democratise access to our national record.

For more on sasines, visit the NRS guide at or my own Discover Scottish Land Records book, available from suppliers in the UK, Canada and Australia (see

(With thanks to the NRS)


For details on my range of genealogy guide books please visit To commission me for genealogical research, please visit my research site at

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