Shetland (or Zetland), Scotland Genealogy

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The Shetland or Zetland islands are a maritime county in the northern extremity of Scotland, bounded on the north by the North Sea, on the east by the German Ocean, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the waters that separate it from the Orkney Islands. They extend for about 70 miles from north to south and 54 miles from east to west, comprising an area of about 855 square miles or 547,200 acres.

At the time of the Roman occupation, northern Scotland, including Shetland, was occupied by the Picts who had them until about the year 876, when the forces of the King of Norway took the isles. They remained under Norwegian rule until 1472 following the marriage of James IIIof Scotland to Princess Margaret of Norway. When her father, Kristian I, could not pay her dowry, Norway forfeited both the Shetlands and the Orkneys to Scotland.

The Shetlands comprise a cluster of 90 islands, of which 25 are inhabited, and the remainder are used principally for pasture. There are twelve parishes. Shetland and Orkney are joined into one sheriff's district with a sub-sheriff over each. The only town is Lerwick, which is a royal burgh of barony, and there is the village of Scalloway and some small hamlets on the coasts.

The general surface is diversified with hills. Between them are valleys of pleasing appearance, of which those near the coasts have a wildly romantic character, but the great scarcity of trees detracts much from the beauty of the scenery. There are many lakes which abound with trout. Not more than 25,000 acres are in cultivation. More than 500,000 acres are hilly moorland pasture, water, and waste. The chief crops are oats, bear [barley], potatoes, and turnips. Cattle, sheep, poultry, swine, and horses are raised. Limestone and sandstone are quarried, as is chromate of iron. The chief manufactures are knitting of wool into stockings, gloves, shawls, and mitts, and the weaving of coarse woolen-cloth. There are fisheries for cod and herring and other fish. Dried fish, herrings, oil, butter and eggs, beef, cattle and sheep, Shetland ponies, hosiery, gloves, and worsted shaws are all exported. The port is Lerwick.

The population in 1851 was 30,558.

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


Here is a list of historic parishes for the county of Shetland (or Zetland) with their parish numbers. Click on a parish name to see information about records. Many of the names are of islands which form part of a parish.

Parish No. Parish No.
Aithsting -- see Sandsting 9 Northmavine 8
Bressay 1 Papa Stour -- see Walls 12
Burra -- see Bressay 1 Quarff -- see Bressay 1
Cunningsburgh -- see Dunrossness 3 Sandness -- see Walls 12
Delting 2 Sandsting & Aithsting 9
Dunrossness 3 Sandwick -- see Dunrossness 3
Fair Isle -- see Dunrossness 3 Skerries -- see Nesting 7
Fetlar 4 South Yell -- see Mid Yell 6
Foula -- see Walls 12 Tingwall 10
Lerwick 5 Unst 11
Lunnasting -- see Nesting 7 Walls 12
Mid & South Yell 6 Weesdale -- see Tingwall 10
Nesting 7 Whalsay -- see Nesting 7
North Yell -- see Fetlar 4 Whiteness -- see Tingwall 10


The Family History Library has a county-wide census index for Shetland (or Zetland) Index 1881. The library also has a collection of census surname indexes for different places within Shetland (or Zetland). Click here to see a table listing these other census surname indexes that are available at the library.


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.

Shetland, c. 1845.jpg

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

Poorhouse Records

See Shetland

Archives and Libraries

The catalog of the Shetland Archives is available online. Note: This is the catalog of the holdings; the materials are not online.

Helpful Websites

Other Helpful Works

"Early Congregational Independency in Shetland" by Rev. Dr William D McNaughton. 2005. ISBN 1-904746-05-5, ISBN 9781904746058. Gives history of churches and those involved c. 1790-1870

[Return to the Scotland county list.]