Book Review: Discover Scottish Land Records

Discover Scottish Land Records. By Chris Paton. Published by Unlock the Past, P.O. Box 119, St. Agnes SA 5097, Australia. 2012. 68 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover. AU$20

I liked this book, a lot, and can highly recommend it for those seeking to put their Scottish ancestors on the ground in Scotland, and find the associated records. The book focuses on place. It even encouraged me to go back to my own book, A Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors, to remind myself what I had discussed and what I had not.

The book begins by discussing where your ancestors were. It examines the records you may already be familiar with, such as: vital records; parish records; census records; street directories; phone directories; electoral registers; valuation rolls; burgh assessment rolls; earlier tax and valuation rolls; and newspapers. In each of these record groups the goal here is to identify where your ancestors were living or working, so looking for specific street addresses or names of farms, etc. The book moves on to put those places into context using maps, the Statistical Account of Scotland, gazetteers, etc.

It is the next two sections of the book addressing land tenure and inheritance that I thought were especially good, taking me further into my understanding of Scottish records and importantly bringing me up to date on how to access these materials and learning  what has changed legally within the last decade. The section on land tenure begins with a very good overview of how Scottish laws have developed over time, describing feudalism and the use of charters. This provides the context for how and why the records developed the way they did. There is a good discussion of sasines, liferents and trusts, Registers of Scotland, Register of Deeds, rental records, the role of the tacksman, and ultimately the end of feudalism in 2004 (yes, you read that correctly  – 2004). The chapter on inheritance explains: the differences between moveable and heritable estates; apparent heirs (not the same as the English phrase – heir apparent); the Services of Heirs, with the differences between Special Services (special retours) and General Services (general retours), giving examples from the indexes; the concept of Precept of Clare Constat; and then a good explanation of the different types of heirs that you may run across in the records. The book concludes with a good glossary and a brief bibliography.

If you have found your Scottish ancestors in the basic record groups and want to go to a deeper level in your research and seek your ancestors on the land then I can highly recommend this slim but well written, practical guide to these records.

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