Bressay, Shetland, Scotland Genealogy

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Scotland Gotoarrow.png Shetland Gotoarrow.png Bressay

Parish #1 This parish includes Burra and Quarff

This is a guide to the history and major genealogical records of Scotland as they pertain to the parish of Bressay. To learn more about how to use these records to search for your ancestors, go to the Scotland: Research Strategies.


BRESSAY, BURRA, and QUARFF, a parish, in the county of Orkney and Shetland; containing the late quoad sacra parish of Burra and Quarff. These three ancient parishes, now united, comprehend six islands and a part of the tract called Mainland; the district of Bressay is to the east of the mainland, and consists of the islands of Bressay and Ness, separated from each other by Ness Sound, and from the mainland by Bressay Sound. The church, which is conveniently situated, was erected in 1815, and contains 370 sittings. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans.[1]

The New Statistical Account of Scotland (pub. 1834-45) offers uniquely rich and detailed parish reports for the whole of Scotland, covering a vast range of topics including history, agriculture, education, trades, religion and social customs. The reports, written by the parish ministers, are available online at Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for your parish of interest. Also available at the Family History Library.

Census Records

A census is a count and description of the population, taken by the government, arranged by locality and by household. Read more about census records.

Here is a list of the Family History Library microfilm numbers for the census records of Bressay as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:



Family History Library Film Number


Surname Indexes

477622 Item 13

941.11 X2b supp
6086700 (2 fiche)

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on To use it, you must register and pay a small access fee. All available censuses, 1841-1901, are indexed on this website. It may be easier for you to pay to use the website rather than access the separate indexes through the library.

Church Records

The Established Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. Read more about church records.
Here are the pre-1855 records that exist for this parish.

Established Church—Old Parochial Registers

Record Type
Years Covered
Family History Library Film Number
1737-1854 - Bressay

1755-1854 - Burra

1755-1854 - Quarff
1766-1854 - Bressay

1820-1854 - Burra

1830-1854 - Quarff
1786-1849 - Bressay

1820-1849 - Burra

1820-1849 - Quarff


Condition of Original Registers—

Indexed: For an index to these records, see Scotland’s People website, a pay-for-view website. The Scottish Church Records Index is also still available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Some records may also be indexed in other FamilySearch collections for Scotland.
Births: Bressay, registers are incomplete 1874–1847 and 1750–1753. Registers for Burra and Quarff are irregular and incomplete 1780 to the end of the record; five irregular entries 1721–1769 are on page 10.
Marriages: Bressay registers are incomplete 1794–1812.
Deaths: Bressay has no entries 1791–1817.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records

The Kirk session was the court of the parish. The session was made up of the minister and the land owners and business men of the parish, chosen to serve on the session. The Kirk session dealt with moral issues, minor criminal cases, matters of the poor and education, matters of discipline, and the general concerns of the parish. Kirk session records may also mention births, marriages, and deaths.

Here is a list of the surviving Kirk session records for this parish:

Minutes 1764–1806
Baptisms one page only 1806–1808
There are no records for Burra or Quarff.
Note: Available at the Shetland Archives, Lerwick, Scotland, record CH2/1108.

Nonconformist Church Records

A nonconformist church is any church that is not the Established church. Read more about nonconformity in Scotland in the article on the Scotland Church Records Union List.

Quarff and Burra Free Church

James Gardner, minister of Bressay, Quarff and Burra, "came out" in 1843. A church was built in Burra, but at Quarff Mr. Gardner conducted services on the green. With the scanty population, the Free Church congregation was small. Mr. Gardner resigned in 1849 and the charge was reduced to a preaching station. A mission hall was erected at Quarff in 1850 and in 1865 the church in Burra was made over to the United Presbyterian congregation there.
Membership: 1848, 33.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source.

The extent of records is unknown.

Burra Baptist Church

The history of this church can be traced back to 1820 when Sinclair Thomson, a convert to the sect and native of Burra, called the Apostle of Shetland, began preaching here. The congregation was formed in 1827. An earthen-floor church was built in 1829 and rebuilt in 1837. It was in use until a new chapel was built in 1904. The first pastor served for 55 years and died at the age of 92. The congregation is still active today.
Source: History of the Baptists in Scotland, by Rev. George Yuille, pub. 1926; Family History Library Book 941 K2hi; More details are given in the source including a list of ministers.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to the church at:
Burra Isles Baptist Church
Burra Isles
Tel: 011-44-1595-859224

Burra Methodist Society

It isn’t known when this society was founded but it was likely in the early 1800s. It was in existence by 1841 when membership was less than 30. They apparently leased a meeting house at that time and a chapel was built sometime later.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to:
Methodist Archives and Research Centre
John Rylands University Library of Manchester
150 Deansgate
Manchester M3 3EH, England

Civil Registration Records

Government or civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (also called statutory records) began on January 1, 1855 in Scotland. Each parish has a registrar's office and large cities have several. The records are created by the registrars and copies are sent to the General Register Office in Edinburgh. Annual indexes are then created for the records for the whole country.

See the article on Scotland Civil Registration for more information and to access the records.

Poorhouse Records

Shetland Combination[[]]

Probate Records

Bressay was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Orkney & Shetland until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Lerwick. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at You must register on the website but use of the index to probate records, called 'Wills & Testaments,' is free. You may then purchase a copy of the document or, if the document is before 1823, it will be on microfilm at the Family History Library. To find the microfilm numbers, search in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Shetland and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Orkney & Shetland.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Shetland. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place' of Shetland and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.


  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 499-514. Adapted. Date accessed: 15 August 2014.

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