Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish # 47

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

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DORNOCH, a royal burgh, the county town, and a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 201 miles (N. N. W.) from Edinburgh. This place is supposed to have derived its name, Dor-Neich, signifying in the Celtic language a horse's hoof, from the slaughter of a Danish general, who made a descent upon this part of the coast in 1259. The parish is bounded on the east and south by Dornoch Frith, and on the north-east by Loch Fleet. The church, formerly the cathedral, is a venerable structure containing 1100 sittings. A place of worship has been erected for the members of the Free Church.[1]

The town and parish of Dornoch derive their name from the Gaelic words Dorn-Eich, which signify a horse’s foot or hoof. It is bounded on the east by the Little Ferry, which separates it from the parish of Golspie; on the north and west by the parishes of Rogart and Criech; and on the south by the Dornoch Firth, which separates it from the county of Ross.

Dornoch is the only market-town in the parish, and the only Royal Burgh in the county. It was erected into a royal burgh by a charter from Charles l, A.D. 1628.

Among the eminent men connected with this parish is Sutherland, Lord Suffus, who had a residence in Skelbo, and also Gordons of Embo. The heads of these families acted a conspicuous part in the feudal quarrels and wars of their times. Connected with this parish also, by purchase of lands and by residence, were George Dempster, Esq. of Dunnichen, and John Hamilton Dempster, Esq. his brother. These gentlemen were of a younger branch of the ancient family of Dempster of Muresk, in the county of Aberdeen.

By the Government census of 1821, the population of the town and parish was 3100, in the 1831 census, it was 3380, and would have been 300 more, had there not been a partial emigration to British America the previous year.

The land-owners are the Duchess Countess of Sutherland; George Dempster, Esq. of Skibo; Major George Gunn Munro of Poyntzfield; and Mrs. Gordon of Embo. None of the principal land-owners reside in the parish, except Mr. Dempster.

There have been great improvements made to agriculture that has provided heavy crops of wheat and other grains. There is a five-course shift in the rotation of crops adopted in the parish, oats, turnips, and potatoes, barley and grass seeds, hay or pasture.

Dornoch was formerly the seat of the Bishop of Caithness. The precise time of the erection of the See is not ascertained. Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, had his seat here in 1150; and in 1222, Gilbert Murray was consecrated bishop.

The great body of the people are within six miles of the church; some at a distance of seven or eight miles, and in one district about twelve. There are no Dissenters, and only one family of Seceders, who almost regularly attend public worship in the parish church.

A register of baptisms has been kept, though sometimes not very regularly, since 13th August 1730; and a register of marriages, since 13th August 1734. Since 1817, both registers have been kept correctly. A register of deaths of the parish has been kept since January 1821.

This account was written September 1834.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Dornoch, 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  Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish you are interested in. Also available at the Family History Library.

Census Records
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A census is a count and description of the population, taken by the government, arranged by locality and by household.  The Scottish government began taking censuses in 1801 but the first one that lists all persons in a household by name is the 1841. Census records are not available to the public until one hundred years have passed.  Read more about census records.

Click here[low quality link] to go to the Family History Library microfilm numbers for the census records of Dornoch.  The Family History Library has a surname index to the 1881 census of the whole of Sutherland county.

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on 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
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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[edit | edit source]

Record Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Births: 1730-1854 FHL 0990561 Item 2
Marriages: 1734-1849 FHL 0990561 Item 2
Deaths: No entries none
Condition of Original Registers—[edit | edit source]

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 records may also be indexed in other FamilySearch collections for Scotland.Births: There are no entries May 1732–May 1734, December 1741–June 1744, July 1751–August 1754, and March 1760–June 1781, except six or seven families recorded in groups, 1761–1813. January–March 1796 has been partially destroyed.
Marriages: There are no entries October 1741–June 1744 and May 1760–December 1781, from which date to 1796 they are recorded among the baptisms. One entry dated 1853, is after 1849.
Deaths: There is only one entry dated 1816.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records[edit | edit source]

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:
The extent of records is unknown.

Nonconformist Church Records[edit | edit source]

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.

Dornoch Free Church[edit | edit source]

The minister of Dornoch, with a large congregation, adhered to the Free Church in 1843. Church and school buildings erected in 1844. The manse was built in 1882. The church was renovated in 1896.
Membership: 1855, 900; 1900, 100.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

The extent of records is unknown.

Civil Registration Records
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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
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Dornoch was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Caithness until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Dornock. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at 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 Sutherland 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 Sutherland. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Sutherland and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 499-514. Adapted. Date accessed: 7 August 2014.

Return to Sutherland parish list.