Scotland Counties

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Pre-1974 Counties
Modern Counties

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Scotland was divided into geographic subdivisions (called counties or shires) during the Middle Ages. Originally, these counties were established for juridical purposes but beginning in the 17th century, they started to be used for local administration purposes.[1] These boundaries remained in use for local government until 1974, after which they were substantially reformed into regions and since 1996 into council areas. Genealogical contexts use the old pre-1974 boundaries.

Long before the 1974 reorganization, some counties had alternate names by which they were at times known. These include: Edinburghshire or Midlothian, Elginshire or Moray, Forfarshire or Angus, Haddingtonshire or East Lothian, and Linlithgowshire or West Lothian.

Use of the suffix 'shire'[edit | edit source]

'Shire' is an old Anglo-Saxon word designating a county or district, which was integrated into Scotland by the English. A shire was policed by a 'shire reeve' or sheriff.

The word 'shire' is usually used on the end of a county name when there is a parish or city (burgh) of the same name within the county, such as the city or burgh of Aberdeen in Aberdeenshire. When referring to 'the county of Aberdeen', you do not use 'shire' on the end of the name as that would be redundant.

One exception worth noting is that of Fife, which has never actually been a county in the true sense of the word, but anciently was a kingdom. It is still referred to as "the Kingdom of Fife" and should not at any time be given the -shire suffix.

History[edit | edit source]

There were significant changes to Scotland counties in 1974 and 1996.

In 1974 the British government reorganized the counties of Scotland. Twelve areas called regions were created from the original thirty-three counties.

In 1996 the regions were replaced by 32 Council Areas. Often their names and boundaries are similiar to the original Counties, but not exactly the same.

These changes should not seriously affect genealogical research, but be aware of the following issues:

  • Current maps show the new boundaries.
  • Current addresses are located in the new counties. The addresses use the current county structure.
  • If you are looking for a parish, city, or regional office that houses records, you will need to know the current address and the areas covered by the repository..

Maps[edit | edit source]

Counties[edit | edit source]

Here is a list of the historic counties with the new (post-1974) county or counties they are primarily a part of. Click on an old county name to see a list of historic parishes with further links to information on parish records. (The codes are the standard 'Chapman Code' abbreviations for the historic counties.)

Historic County Code Post-1974 County
Aberdeenshire ABD Grampian
Angus (or Forfarshire) ANS Tayside
Argyllshire ARL Strathclyde
Ayrshire AYR Strathclyde
Banffshire BAN Grampian
Berwickshire BEW Borders
Bute BUT Strathclyde
Caithness CAI Highland
Clackmannanshire CLK Central
Dumfriesshire DFS Dumfries & Galloway
Dunbartonshire DNB Strathclyde
East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) ELN Lothian
Edinburghshire (see Midlothian) --- ---
Elginshire (see Moray) --- ---
Fife (Kingdom of) FIF Fife
Forfarshire (see Angus) --- ---
Haddingtonshire (see East Lothian) --- ---
Inverness-shire INV Highland
Kincardineshire KCD Grampian
Kinross-shire KRS Tayside
Kirkcudbrightshire KKD Dumfries & Galloway
Lanarkshire LKS Strathclyde
Linlithgowshire (see West Lothian) --- ---
Midlothian (or Edinburghshire) MLN Lothian
Moray (or Elginshire) MOR Grampian
Nairnshire NAI Highland
Orkney Islands OKI Orkney
Peeblesshire PEE Borders
Perthshire PER Tayside, Central
Renfrewshire RFW Strathclyde
Ross & Cromarty ROC Highland
Roxburghshire ROX Borders
Selkirkshire SEL Borders
Shetland (or Zetland) Islands SHI Shetland
Stirlingshire STI Central
Sutherland SUT Highland
West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire) WLN Lothian
Wigtonshire WIG Dumfries & Galloway

Parishes in each county[edit | edit source]

The Parish List for Scotland shows all of the parishes in alphabetical order, giving the parish number, county in which it is situated, and the date when the Old Parochial Records (Presbyterian Church records) began. You may also see maps of Scotland through this link.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wiki contributors, "Shires of Scotland," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 30 August 2018.