Watten, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish # 42

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


The etymology of the name Watten is uncertain. Some have supposed it to be a Danish word, signifying water, and to have derived its application from the circumstances of this parish containing the largest lake in the county. It is surrounded on the north, east, south, and west, by the parishes of Bower, Wick, Latheron, and Halkirk respectively.

There are no market-towns or other towns in the parish, and the nearest market-town is in Wick, a distance of eight miles.

The chief land-owners are, Sir Ralph A. Anstruther, Bart. of Balcaskei; William Horne. Esq. of Stirkoke; William Sinclair, Esq. of Freswick; Sir P.M. B. Thriepland of Fingask; Major General William Stewart of Strath. There are no resident heritors in the parish.

The amount of population by the census of 1811 was 1109; by that of 1821, 1158; and by that of 1831, 1234. It is believed that since 1831 the population has decreased, chiefly from the great size of some of the farms, the introduction of sheep and etc.
The crops that are grown in the parish are oats, bear, potatoes, turnips, and hay.

The parish church is very inconveniently situated, being a distant from the north-east extremity of the parish only one mile, and nearly nine miles from the south-west. The date of its erection is unknown. It appears from the session records to have been repaired in 1714. Since that period, it has received several repairs, and was propped with wooden supports, a couple of years ago. It is in a very bad state. It may accommodate from 700 to 800 persons, and the sittings are all free. There is no Government church, no Dissenting, Seceding, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic chapels in the parish.

The parochial registers have been regularly kept since 1701, and are not very voluminous.

This account was written October 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Watten, 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 http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/.  Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for Watten. 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 Watten as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

FHL 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
FHL Film Number
0101974 - in vault

0101974 - in vault

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. Some of records are indexed and searchable on FamilySearch.org.
Births:  Note: The earlier entries were missed when the records were filmed the second time. The earlier film must be ordered from the vault.
Births: There are irregular entries circa 1807.
Marriages: There is only one entry between December 1793 and November 1795.
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 1701-1826
Accounts 1779-1826
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/364.

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

Watten Free Church

In 1843 the minister of Watten and many of his congregation left the Established Church. They soon after built a church and manse.
Membership: 1855, 500 including adherents; 1900, 105.
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 1843-1900
Note: Available at the Free Church Offices, Edinburgh.

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

Watten 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 Caithnesss and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'  

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.

Return to Caithness parish list.