Caithness-shire, Scotland Genealogy

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Caithness-shire is the furthest north county of mainland Scotland.  It is bounded on the north by the Pentland Firth, on the east and south-east by the North Sea, and on the west and south-west by the county of Sutherland.  It is about forty-three miles in length and thirty miles in breadth and comprises an area of 618 square miles or 395,520 acres. 

On account of its remote situation, Caithness is connected with few historical events of importance except occasional hostilities with the Danes and Norwegians.  Many of the men of Caithness attended James IV at the battle of Flodden Field [September 9, 1513], under the leadership of the Earl of Caithness, and scarcely an individual survived that fatal conflict.  

Caithness includes ten parishes and the two civil districts of Wick and Thurso.  It contains the royal burgh of Wick, which is the county town and the seat of the sheriff court, and the town of Thurso, with a few villages.

The surface of the county is generally level with the exception of some mountainous tracts on the borders of Sutherland, and a few eminences in other parts.  The plain of Caithness, extending to the Pentland Firth, comprises about four-fifths of the land.  The coast is bold, rocky, and precipitous, indented with numerous bays and marked by lofty promontories.  Along the shores of the Pentland Firth and the North Sea are caverns in the rocks.  The island of Stroma, in the Firth, forms part of the county. 

A little more than a fifth of the land is in cultivation and the remainder is mostly moor.  The herring-fishery off the east coast was once extensive and lucrative, indeed the most important in Britain in the 19th century.  There is a spacious harbour at Wick, besides several other small harbours for the vessels engaged in the fisheries.  Wick harbour now (2012) has a marina for yachts and other small boats. Few fishing vessels now use the harbour, though occasional cargo ships deliver fertiliser, timber, or parts for wind turbines or undersea pipelines.

The population in 1851 was 36,343.

(Source:  Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 2nd ed., 1851.  FHL book 941 E5L.)


Here is a list of the historic parishes for the county of Caithness.  Click on the parish name to see information about records.

Watten 42

Parish No.
Bower 34
Canisbay 35
Dunnet 36
Halkirk 37
Latheron 38
Olrig 39
Reay 40
Thurso 41
Wick 43



The Family History Library has county-wide census indexes for Caithness-shire for 1881.  

The library also has a collection of census surname indexes for different places within Caithness-shire. Click here to see a table listing these other census surname indexes that are available at the library.

Helpful Websites


Click on the map at the right to see a larger version, and click again on the larger map. Next, click on the ‘Expand’ button when it appears in the lower right-hand corner of the map.


Click here to see an outline map of the parishes of Caithness.

Poorhouse Records