Latheron, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

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Scotland Gotoarrow.png Caithness-shire Gotoarrow.png Latheron

Latheron # 38

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


LATHERON, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 17 miles (S. W.) from Wick; containing the late quoad sacra districts of Berriedale and Lybster, and the villages of Dunbeath and Swiney. This place, which is situated on the south-eastern coast of Caithness, is supposed with great probability to have derived its name, signifying in the Gaelic language "the resort of seals," from the vast multitudes of those animals by which its shores were formerly frequented, and of which considerable numbers are still found in the caverns near the sea. The parish church, situated near the coast, was erected in 1734, and enlarged and new roofed in 1822; it is a neat plain structure containing 870 sittings. Churches were erected in Berriedale in 1826, and at Lybster in 1836. Attempts have been made to establish a congregation of members of the United Secession.[1]

The ancient name of this parish is said to be “Loinn, derived from Luidhoin, which signifies, in the Gaelic, lodged or bedded bear, because the lands contiguous to the church are of a good quality, and yield excellent bear.” But there is another derivation which has always appeared equally probable and rather more natural, viz. from the Gaelic words Lathair Roin, which signifies the resort of seals, a species of animal with which the whole coast is covered. The parish of Latheron is situated on the southeast coast of Caithness, and is bounded in that direction by the German Ocean and Moray Firth; on the west, by Sutherlandshire; and on the north and east, by the parishes of Halkirk, Watten, and Wick.

There is no market-town in the parish, the nearest is Wick, which is a distance of twenty miles.

Very little can be found of authentic records as to the early history of this parish. Judging, however, from the number and variety of the remains of those places of strength which it contains, together with the other war-like relics of barbarous and feudal times with which it is everywhere bestudded, there can be no doubt that it formed the scene of many a well fought fight. One tradition out of many refers to the last invasion of this county by the Danes. On that occasion they landed near the town of Thurso, under the command of the young Prince of Denmark, and the natives, not being in sufficient strength to oppose them, retreated across the county, followed by the invaders, till they came to the hill of Ben-a-gheil, in this parish, a distance of twenty miles from Thurso. By this time, the ranks of the natives having been greatly increased in number, and being now in view of the coast where their retreat must be stopped, deriving courage also from the very favorable position they occupied on this hill, they resolved to try the fate of a pitched battle. Having taken their ground, the enemy soon came up and attempted to dislodge them, when they poured down in one dense mass, broke the enemy’s ranks, killed their leader, and routed their whole force. A huge stone, placed perpendicular in the ground, resembling a pillar, marks the place where the Prince fell; and from this occurrence the hill itself seems to derive its Gaelic name, Ben-a-Gheil, signifying the hill where they yielded, or were overcome.

One of the most eminent men known to have been connected with this parish, was the late Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, Bart., author of the former Statistical Account of Scotland, the Code of Agriculture and etc.; a man who was an ornament to the age in which he lived, and of whom any parish or county might deservedly boast. Sir John was principal proprietor in this parish, and the estate of Longwell, then in his possession, was his favorite resort during the periods of his residence in the country.

The chief land-owners of the parish are, Sir George Sinclair, of Ulbster, Bart.; William Sinclair, Esq. of Freswick; John Sutherland Esq. of Forse; Donald Horne, Esq. of Langwell; Colonel Gordon of Swiney; Lord Duffus; Sir Ralph Anstruther, Bart.; Temple Frederick Sinclair, Esq. of Lybster; and Donald Munro, Esq. of Latheron.

It is stated in the former Statistical Account, that, the population had nearly doubled during the seventy years preceding 1794, when it amounted to 4006; and such has been the extraordinary rapid increase during the forty years since then. The census of 1831 shows that the population in the parish is now 8000.

Although the lands in this parish are well adapted for agriculture, and although it contains several farms in the very highest state of cultivation, the great body of its inhabitants are engaged in the herring-fishing, and make the cultivation of the soil little more than a secondary concern. There is a six-year shift in planting turnips, wheat, barley or bear, grass, oats, potatoes or Hopetoun, and Angus or dun oats. Much attention is being paid to the improvement of the breeds of sheep and cattle. Cheviot sheep of the finest description are reared on the farms of Langwell and Dunbeath.

The earliest date of the parochial records is 1755. They have been pretty regularly kept until 1770. There is then a nearly thirteen year gap to 1783, after which they have, with few exceptions, been correctly kept; especially since 1813, the entries are scrupulously correct.

The church is situated close by the sea, and is seventeen miles from the western extremity of the parish, eleven miles from the eastern, and ten from the northern extremity. It may contain about 900 sitters, and no seat rents have been demanded since it received extensive repairs in 1822. It is one of the largest and most commodious country churches in the county. There is a Government church at Berriedale, in the west end of the parish. It was built in 1826, and accommodates 300 sitters.

There was also a church built at the village of Lybstger in 1836 by subscription, and is four miles east of the parish church, has a regular minister, and a population exceeding 2500 souls. About 300 of the inhabitants of the interior of the parish are connected with the Royal Bounty Mission of Dirlot, in the parish of Halkirk, and attend public worship at the meeting-house of Halsary. There are four catechists in the parish. They are appointed by the kirk-sessions, with the consent and approbation of the people among whom they labor, and by whom they are paid. There are no Dissenting or Seceding chapels in the parish.

This account was written October 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Latheron, FHL 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  Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for Latheron. 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 Latheron, 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 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: 1740-1854 0990522
Marriages: 1755-1854 0990522
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.
Notes: Prior to 1813, the record is a copy certified by the sheriff. There is a gap between 1770 and 1783. Two pages of irregular births for 1777-1812 are found after March 1813.
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 1734-1744, 1761-1776, 1809, 1819-1820, 1823-1910
List of Poor of the Parish 1839-1844
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/530.

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.

Latheron Free Church

In 1843, the minister and most of the population, with the exception of a few persons, adhered to the Free Church. Because of emigration and evictions, the new church did not readily prosper.
Membership: 1848, 30; 1900, 78.
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.

There are no known pre-1855 records.

Berriedale Free Church

The minister of Berriedale quoad sacra parish left the Established Church in 1843. The congregation built a church at Dunbeath in 1857.
Membership: 1848, 10; 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.

Accounts 1834-1872 - Church of Scotland to 1843
There are other post-1855 records
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/592.

Lybster Free Church

In 1842, the congregation of Lybster quoad sacra church adhered to the Free Church. By 1847, they moved into their own building. With the decline of the fishing industry and consequent emigration, the population of the congregation decreased.
Membership: 1855, 800 including adherents; 1900, 126.
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.

Baptismal Register 1844-75, 1850-1933
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/882.

Bruan Free Church

This was a mission of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. When the minister adhered to the Free Church in 1843, the Society withdrew from the mission. The charge was sanctioned in 1845 and a minister was settled in 1847.

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

Latheron 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 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 Latheron 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.

Return to Caithness parish list.