Monday 14 January 2019

Look Online - Scottish Burial Records

The following article was first published in the now defunct Your Family Tree magazine issue 173 (September 2016):

Look Online: Scottish burial records

Whilst records for baptisms, births and marriages are relatively straightforward to locate in Scotland, information about burials can be somewhat more difficult to unearth. Thankfully a range of record types and finding aids available online can help to make the process a little easier. These include death records that note the date of burial, interment records within church created parish registers, records from local government authorities, and monumental inscriptions that describe basic details of a person's life and death, and possibly others interred within the same lair.

The civil registration of Scottish births, marriages and deaths commenced in January 1855. From 1855 to 1860, civil death records not only noted where and when a person had passed away, as well as the cause of death, but also the place of burial and the name of the undertaker responsible. The latter details were unfortunately no longer noted by registrars beyond this point, however, a record located in this period may still steer you towards a potential family burial ground where other relatives may have been buried in later years. Civil registration records for death are available online via the pay-per-view based

Prior to the civil registration era the churches were largely responsible for burials. The main Church of Scotland parish records prior to 1855 are also available on ScotlandsPeople, but there are several things to be aware of when using them. The first point to note is that despite several acts of the Kirk's General Assembly to instruct parishes to keep burial registers, most dragged their heels, with only about a third having any surviving records concerning interments. The oldest surviving registers are from Aberdeen, dating back to 1538.

In a small number of areas (usually the larger burghs) such records can be very detailed, noting the names of the deceased, ages, causes of death, and in some instances genealogical information, such as the name of a father. The majority, however, are not burial records at all, but the details of payments made for the hire of a mortcloth, used to drape over the coffin. These can sometimes be so vague – e.g. 'Widow Smith, 3 shillings' – that it may not even be possible to confirm that the entry is actually for the person to whom you think it might concern.

Additional kirk session records may have further details such as information about the purchase or 'feuing' of lairs, although these tend to anticipate future burials within, rather than record contemporary burials, which may ultimately not have happened as planned for. Kirk session registers have been digitised, and can be viewed at the National Records of Scotland ( in Edinburgh, but have yet to appear online – it is intended, however, that they will make their way onto ScotlandsPeople in due course. Note that if a family member migrated away from his or her home parish, it was fairly traditional up to the 19th century to be returned to the parish of birth for burial, and so interment may not necessarily be near to where the deceased spent his or her final days.

The Church of Scotland was not the only church in town, however, with many nonconformist Presbyterian factions splitting off from it in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as other denominations arriving on the scene separately. Many of their records are held at local repositories across the country, such as county record offices or university archives. To locate such records you will need to use online catalogues such as that of the National Records of Scotland or the Scottish Archive Network (, and then visit the institution in question. ScotlandsPeople holds burial records for some Roman Catholic church registers, although coverage is sparse, with just 17,560 burials recorded from 1782-1959.

In addition to the records of church graveyards, municipal cemeteries were also established in much of the country from the 19th century, with some available in searchable databases online. Some pre-1855 burial records from Perth's Greyfriars Cemetery, for example, can be searched online at, with another page on the website hosting downloadable cemetery maps for much of Perthshire at In addition to several churchyard registers for Aberdeenshire and Angus, Deceased Online ( also hosts some records for municipal cemeteries located within the two counties, as well as cremation records from Edinburgh.

Some of the most useful collection of records for Scottish burials are those of transcribed monumental inscriptions, largely collected by members from family history societies across the country. These detail the names of the deceased, the years of birth and death, the names of additional family members buried in the same lair, and in some cases they may even carry short epitaphs. To assist with their location, the Scottish Association of Family History Societies has an extremely useful database available online, at, which lists some 3500 known burial grounds in Scotland. Each entry details whether monumental inscriptions have been recorded, if they have been published in any format, and if not, where the unpublished collections may be consulted. The largest collection of monumental inscriptions records in the country is held at the Scottish Genealogy Society at Note that some family history societies have basic indexes on their websites to burials they hold, which can be consulted in book or CD format – the SAFHS website provides details for each group. Monumental inscription records for Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Kincardineshire, as transcribed by the Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society, have recently been added to FindmyPast (

There are additional online resources for gravestone inscriptions. A team from Scottish Monumental Inscriptions ( is regularly touring around the country to photograph and transcribe headstones, with the records available to purchase on CD, or by download from the site – many of these can also be purchased from the Deceased Online website. Other useful index based sites for burials include Highland Memorial Inscriptions (, which has records from much of the Highlands, including major cemeteries such as Tomnahurich in Inverness; Find a Grave in Scotland (, with holdings from across the country; and Memento Mori (, with records from Glasgow and much of the Central Belt. Some previously published records, such as interments from Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh, can be found also on Ancestry (, within its UK Parish Baptism, Marriage and Burial Records collection, whilst the Friends of Dundee City Archives ( hosts several burial collections including one for Dundee's Howff Cemetery and another for Broughty Ferry.

Finally, many Scots also died in times of war. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at records the known burials of, or places of commemoration for, soldiers killed in both world wars. In addition, original records describing the interment process are also now available for many of those commemorated on the site, noting inscriptions to be added to headstones, and the next of kin with whom the Commission was liaising at the time. Photographs of many of the memorials in Scotland commemorating their sacrifice have been photographed by the Scottish War Memorials Project, and can be freely accessed at

Note that additional resources for Scottish burials can be found on gateway websites such as Cyndi's List ( and GENUKI (

(c) Chris Paton

For my genealogy guide books, visit, whilst details of my research service are at Further content is also published daily on The GENES Blog Facebook page at

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