Dunnet, Caithness, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish # 36

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


The name Dunnet is apparently derived from the Gaelic Dun, signifying hill. The names of many places in the parish are, however, of Danish extraction, as Ratter, Syster, Reaster, Sunnigoe, Ashigoe, Getterigoe, etc. It is bounded on the north and north-east, by the Pentland Firth; on the east and south-east, by the parishes of Canisbay and Bower; on the south, by Bower and Olrig; and on the south-west and west, by Olrig and Dunnet bay.

Thurso and Wick are the market-towns. There is nothing that can be called a village in the parish.

An interesting note of history concerning this parish, is the following inscription that occurs on a grave-stone in the church yard that states: “Here lies Margaret Wallace, daughter of William Wallace, who was murdered by Alexander Calder, son of Alexander Calder, in Dunnet, because he could not have her in marriage; August 29, in the year of God 1635.” There is still a tradition that the murder was committed on a Sunday morning, and that the murderer, by fleeing to Orkney, escaped punishment.

The land-owners of the parish are; James Traill, Esq. of Ratter; William Sinclair, Esq. of Freswick; and the Kirk-session.

The population of the parish in 1801 was counted as having 1366 persons, and by 1831, the count was 1906 persons. The great disproportion of males and females in the beginning of this century was caused by the number of young men who had gone to the army and navy, or some other seafaring line; and the great increase of population in 1821, (1862 people) was produced chiefly by about 300 Highlanders from Assynth and Strathnaver, who had been removed from their possessions by the introduction of sheep farming, and they came to this parish.

The agriculture produce in the parish consists of oats and bear, hay, turnips, and potatoes.

The parish church is inconveniently situated being nearly at the western extremity of the parish, and a distance of seven miles from the most easterly point. The great bulk of the population are within four miles of the church. The building is an ancient one, and was repaired in 1837, and capable of containing 700 sitters. There are a few Dissenters in the parish, Burghers, Anabaptists, and Methodists, not exceeding 40 of all these persuasions.

There has not been a register of deaths or burials kept in the parish. Many of those whose forefathers resided in the neighboring parishes have been buried with them, and many from the neighboring parishes have, for a similar reason, been buried here.

This account was written October 1840.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland  for Dunnet, 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 Dunnet.  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 Dunnet 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

Established Church—Old Parochial Registers

The Established Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. Read more about church records.

Here are the pre-1855 records that exist for this parish.

Record Type Years Covered Family History Library Film Number
Births: 1751-1860 0990521 Item 1
Marriages: 1797-1859 0990521 Item 1
Deaths: 1751-1756 0101969 Items 1-2


Condition of Original Registers—

Index: For an index to these records, see the Scottish Church Records Index available on computers at the Family History Library and family history centers.  The records may be indexed in the FamilySearch.org
Births: There is only one entry October 1784-August 1785. The entries are irregular at the period between 1768 and 1852; there is a page of irregular entries for 1774-1803 at March 1800.
Marriages: The regular record commences September 1806, but there is a page containing nine irregular entries from 1797-1814. No entries exist between 1807-December 1814.
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

There are no known pre-1855 records.

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.

Dunnet Free Church

Services for followers of the Free Church were provided soon after the Disruption in 1843, and the charge was sanctioned in August 1843. Many families who were seafarers later moved to larger seaports with the advent of steam power, and the population in Dunnet began to decline.
Membership: 1855, 330 including adherents; 1900, 90.
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.

Baptisms 1843-1897
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/913.

Scarfskerry Baptist Church

Although a congregation was not formed until about 1816, Baptists had been in this area since the 17th century. They first met on the estate of the 12th Earl of Caithness but later were forced to meet at various locations until 1868 when a pastor was installed and a small stone chapel was built.
Source: History of the Baptists in Scotland, by Rev. George Yuille, pub. 1926; Family History Library book 941 K2hi. Source includes lists of 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

Dunnet 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.

Return to Caithness parish list.