Halkirk, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

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Scotland Gotoarrow.png Caithness-shire Gotoarrow.png Halkirk

Parish # 37

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


HALKIRK, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 7 miles (S. by E.) from Thurso. This place, of which the name is of very uncertain origin, includes the ancient parishes of Halkirk and Skinnet, supposed to have been united soon after the Reformation. The parish, which is situated nearly in the centre of the county. The church, erected in 1743, and enlarged in 1833, is situated in the village, and is a neat plain structure containing 858 sittings. There is a missionary chapel at Achrenny, with 403 sittings.[1]

The etymology of the modern name, Halkirk, is involved in the greatest obscurity, and, as there is no tradition regarding it, the conjectures of imagination are the only sources from which anything probable can be drawn. The ancient name of this parish was St. Fergus and St. Thomas. It had this name because the parish of St. Fergus was untied to that of St. Thomas soon after or about the time of the Reformation. The parish is bounded on the north by the parish of Thurso; on the north-east and east by the parishes of Bower and Watten; on the south and south-west by the parishes of Latheron, Kildonan, and Reay; on the west by Dorrory, a detached part of the parish of Thurso; and on the north-west by the parish of Reay.

The nearest market-town is Thurso, which is about seven miles from the parish church.

The land-owners in this parish are, Sir George Sinclair of Ulbster, Bart. M.P. for the county; Lord Duffus; Sir Patrick M.B. Thriepland of Fingask and Tiftingal, Bart.; James Sinclair, Esq. of Forss; Charles S. Guthrie, Esq. of Scots Calder; Donald Horne, Esq. of Langwell; David Henderson, Esq. of Westerdale; James Smith, Esq. of Olrig; and Adam Duff, Esq. of Banniskirk. None of these except Mr. Henderson of Westerdale reside in the parish.

The gradual increase of the population is to be attributed to the cultivation of waste ground, the improvement of which is carried on by those poor and industrious individuals who build houses in moors, and by farmers, who employ laborers to cultivate wastes adjacent to the arable land they occupy. In 1831 the population was 2847, and in 1836 it increased to 3085.

The church is situated on the east side of the river, near the extremity of the parish on that side, on the other however, the parish extends three miles towards Thurso. The church was built in 1753, and underwent a substantial repair in 1833. It accommodates about 756 individuals; 18 sittings are set apart for the poor by the heritors, and about 20 are provided for them by the minister and session, by placing benches in wide passages.

The parish church and the mission chapel are the only places of worship in the parish. The total of all denominations who do not attend public worship in the Established Church is about 33 individuals; some of these are Seceders, others Independents, and a few Baptists and Episcopalians.

The whole of the inhabitants, with the exception of thirty-three individuals, are attached to the Established Church of Scotland. Making allowances for the distances which they have to travel, and the very bad roads by which they must come, the people on the whole are regular in attending public worship on the Sabbath, as well as catechetical exercises on week-days.

The old registers of this parish were destroyed many years ago by some ill disposed persons. The present ones commence with the year 1790. There is no register of deaths kept.

This account was drawn up in 1834, and revised in October of 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Halkirk, Family History Library book 941 B4sa, series 2, vol. 15.

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 http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/.  Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for Halkirk. 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 Halkirk as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

Family History Library Film Number
Surname Indexes
6086538 ( 2 fiches )

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. 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
Births: 1771-1856 0990521 item 2

1770-1785 irregular entries 0990521 item 2
Marriages: 1772-1854 0990521 item 2
Deaths: No entries none


Condition of Original Registers—

Index: 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: The irregular entries are found on two pages at 1781. There is a separate record for the Mission District for 1790-1819.
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 he 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 1781-1972
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/186.

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 Lists

The 1840 New Statistical Account of Scotland for Halkirk states: “The total of all denominations who do not attend public worship in the Established Church is about 33 individuals. Some of these are Seceders, others Independents, and a few Baptists and Episcopalians.” They would have attended worship services in neighboring parishes.

Halkirk, West Free Church

The minister of Halkirk left the Established Church in 1843 with a large congregation. However, this congregation declined due to emigration, and eventually in 1933, they rejoined the Church of Scotland.
Membership: 1855, 630 including adherents; 1900, 136.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843-1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details are given in the source.

Minutes 1843-1933
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/898.

Westerdale Free Church

In 1843, the missionary at Auchrenny adhered to the Free Church, and in 1844, the charge was sanctioned.
Membership: 1855, 600 including adherents; 1900, 68.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843-1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details are given in the source.

Minutes 1849-1965
Collections 1849-1941
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/905.

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.

Probate Records

Halkirk was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Caithness until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Wick. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. 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 Halkirk and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Caithness.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Caithness. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Caithness 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: 7 August 2014.

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