Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland Genealogy

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Scotland Gotoarrow.png Shetland Gotoarrow.png Lerwick

Parish #5

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


LERWICK, a parish, sea-port, burgh, and market-town, and the county-town, in the Shetland Isles; 95 miles (N. E.) from Kirkwall, 126 (N. E. by N.) from Wick, 166 (N.) from Peterhead, and 272 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh. This place, which has long been celebrated as the resort of whale-ships, Dutch herring-boats, and numerous foreign and wind-bound vessels, originated in the seventeenth century, in connexion with the Dutch fishermen. Capt. Smith, however, who visited the islands in 1633. The church is a modern edifice, with a Doric front of hewn stone, and stands above the town, towards the northern extremity.[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 http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. 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 Lerwick as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

Family History Library Film Number
Surname Indexes
6086700 (2 fiche)


1804                                     477622 Item 13

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: 1728-1854 0919489
Marriages: 1706-1854 0919489
Deaths: 1751-1854 0919489


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: There are no entries October 1728–July 1730, August 1734–July 1735, September 1742–January 1751, and December 1755–January 1778.
Marriages: There are no entries September 1708–November 1709, June 1713–January 1742, December 1746–January 1751, and December 1775–October 1778.
Deaths: There are no entries 1775–December 1816.
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:

Shetland, afterwards Lerwick

Minutes 1700–1911
Scroll Minutes 1700–1701
Separate Register 1744–1848
Note: Available at the Shetland Archives, Lerwick, Scotland, record CH2/1071.

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.

The New Statistical Account of Scotland for Lerwick for 1841 states that there were 187 dissenter families in the parish, but it does not mention specific groups.
Lerwick St. Columba Secession Church

The Rev. Dr. Johnson was sent on a mission tour to Shetland by the Secession Synod and the formation of a congregation in Lerwick was the result. A church was erected in 1838. In 1840 the East Church, Dalkeith, took the congregation under its fostering care.
Source: Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, by Rev. William MacKelvie, D.D., pub. 1873. Film #477618. More details may be given in the source.

The extent of records is unknown.

Lerwick St. Olaf's Free Church

In 1845 a ministerial charge was constituted here in response to a request from the people. The congregation worshiped for four years in a hall. The church was built in 1848–1849.
Membership: 1848, 100; 1900, 240.
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.

Lerwick Congregational Church

Independent ministers first preached in the Shetlands in 1799. Their work was built upon by a convert, who had been studying in Glasgow, who returned to the Shetlands in 1803. He preached in the Lerwick area. A church was formed there in 1808. They met in a private dwelling until a chapel was erected in 1820. This church is still active today.
Sources: A History of Scottish Congregationalism, by Harry Escott, pub. 1960; Family History Library Book 941 K2es and The Scottish Congregational Ministry, by Rev. William D. McNaughton, pub. 1993. Family History Library Book 941 K2mwd. More details are given in the sources including a list of ministers.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to:
The United Reformed Church, Scottish Synod Office
PO Box 189
240 Cathedral Street
Glasgow G1 2BX

Lerwick Baptist Church

This church was formed by 1850. Growth was gradual and a building to serve as a church was purchased in 1863.
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 ministers.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to:
The Baptist Union of Scotland
12 Aytoun Road
Glasgow G41 5RT

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

Lerwick 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 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 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-names' 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.

Return to Shetland parish list.