Olrig, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

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Scotland Gotoarrow.png Caithness-shire Gotoarrow.png Olrig

Parish # 39

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


OLRICK, or Olrig, a parish, within the county of Caithness, 5 miles (E. by S.) from Thurso; containing the village of Castletown. This place, which is of remote antiquity, seems to have derived its name, signifying the "son of Erick," from one of the Norwegian chieftains, who is supposed to have made himself master of it during the general invasion of Caithness by the King of Norway, about the commencement of the 9th century. The old church, erected in 1633, and containing 403 sittings, having become ruinous, and inadequate to the increased population, has been deserted, and a handsome structure erected at the eastern extremity of Castletown, affording ample accommodation for all the parishioners. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship.[1]

The word Olrick or Olrig, is of Norwegian origin, and may be interpreted as “the son of Erick”. It was applied to this parish in allusion to a settlement made by some chief of that name on this part of the coast, about the end of the eighth or the beginning of the ninth century. It is bounded on the west, east, and south by the parishes of Thurso, Dunnet, and Bower, and the sea is the boundary on the north.

Murkle on the western boundary is a place worthy of note. The name is believed to have been originally Mort Hill, or the field of death, applied in allusion to a battle fought between the Danes and natives, in which the latter were victorious. It is said that the Scottish chief, on seeing a large hollow at the head of Murkle Bay filled with the enemy, called out to his followers, “clear the den,’ which was responded to with such destruction of the invaders, that the place got the name Clear Den, or Clairden, which it bears to this day.

The only two residing heritors are, James Traill, Esq. of Ratter, and James Smith, Esq. of Olrig. Non residing heritors are, the Earl of Caithness; Sir John Gordon Sinclair, Bart.; and the Trustees of the late George Miller, Esq., who bequeathed the small property of Swarclet for the benefit of the poor of the parish of Thurso.

The population in 1755 was reported to be 875 souls, and by the government census of 1831, the population increased to 1146.

The soil throughout the parish may be considered good, there is not a parish in the north of Scotland where better crops of all kinds of useful produce are raised. Also, there is very little of the parish that can be considered as unfit for husbandry, and what is not already under cultivation, affords excellent pasture for young cattle and sheep.

The earliest date for parochial registers is 1700, which period the record of session, including births and marriages, have been regularly kept; but no record of deaths seems to have been kept in this parish at any time.

The present church, conveniently situated for the parish, seems to have been built in 1633, and though frequently repaired, have never had any addition made to it. It afford accommodation for only 403 sitters, at 18 inches; and this being far below what the increasing population require of seat room. The number of communicants is 120. There is no Dissenting place of worship in the parish; the number of Dissenters is under 100; and these belong to the Original Seceders, Independents, and Baptists, the great majority of whom readily signed a late petition to the Legislature in behalf of the extension and endowment of the Established Church.

This account was written October 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Olrig, 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 Olrig. 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 Olrig, 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
No entries


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.  The records may be indexed in the [1]

Births: No entries were found from November 1718-March 1721 and July 1733-June 1735. Irregular entries exist between 1793-1823.
Marriages: No entries were found from October 1710-November 1711, November 1712-September 1715, and January 1721-June1735.
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 1700-1798, 1808, 1819, 1825-1846
Accounts 1735-1803, 1823-1846
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/290.

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 New Statistical Account of Scotland for Olrig for 1840 states: “There is no Dissenting place of worship in the parish; the number of Dissenters is under 100, and these belong to the Original Seceders, Independents, and Baptists.” These would have attended worship services in neighboring parishes.

Olrig Free Church

The minister of Olrig and a large congregation adhered to the Free Church in 1843.
Soon after, a church and school were built. The minister and congregation remained outside of the Union in 1900.
Membership: 1855, 768 including adherents; 1900, 14.
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.

The extent of the records is unknown.

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

Olrig 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 Caithness 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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