Small Isles, Inverness-shire, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish #116  (Canna, Eigg, Rum, and Muck)

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

History[edit | edit source]

SMALL ISLES, a parish, partly in the county of Inverness, but chiefly in the district of Mull, county of Argyll; containing the island of Eigg in the former, and the islands of Canna, Muck, and Rum in the latter, county. This place anciently formed part of the parish of Sleat, from which it was severed in 1726, by act of the General Assembly, and erected into a distinct parish. There is no church; the parishioners assemble in the schoolroom at Eigg, which is capable of accommodating a congregation of eighty persons. Nearly one half of the people are of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and meet for public worship in the house of the priest; and those who are of the Free Church have also a place of worship.[1]

This parish derives its name from the islands of which it consists namely, Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. Three of them are attached or nearly so, Eigg, Ellain Chaistal, or Castle Island to Muck, Ellain no’ n Each, or Horse Island; and to Canna Ellain Gainmhich or Sandy Island. The only inhabited island is Canna.

Dr. Hugh Macpherson, Professor of Greek in King’s College, Aberdeen, is the proprietor of the Island of Eigg. It became his property by purchase at Whitsunday 1828. Before that period, it, with the Island of Canna, formed a part of the large and extensive possessions of the ancient family of Clanranald. The Islands of Rum and Muck belong to Maclean of Coll, and the Island of Canna to Macneil, who likewise got possession of it by purchase in 1828.

 Agriculture, raising potatoes the main crop, and rearing of black-cattle and sheep, is the main occupation in these islands.

Parochial registers have never been regularly kept in this parish.

There is no church on any of the islands. In Eigg they assembled in the school-house for public worship; but in the other islands they sometimes met in the fields when they could not conveniently get a house to receive them. The manse was erected in the Island of Eigg in 1790. It has often been repaired, but it is so much exposed to the winter gales, and so high above the level of the sea, that it is hardly possible to make it comfortable, or to keep it so for any length of time.

This account was written January 1836.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland, for Small Isles Family History Library book 941 B4sa, series 2, vol. 14.

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 Church[edit | edit source]

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 Small Isles, as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

Year Family History Library Film Number Surname Indexes
1841 1042642 none
1851 1042068  6344852 (3 fiche)
1861 0103837 none
1871 0104002 none
1881 0203428 6086593 (4 fiche)
1891 0208644 none

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[edit | edit source]

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]

No records prior to 1885.

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.  The records may be indexed on FamilySearch Records.[1]

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

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:

None available

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.

Small Isles Free Church[edit | edit source]

The minister of this parish, comprising the four inhabited islands, Eigg, Rum, Canna, and Muck, came out in 1843. The population of the group was about 1000, nearly half of whom were Roman Catholics. There was no church building on the islands. No site could be got on Eigg. These adherents were few and when the minister was transferred in 1847, the congregation was reduced to a preaching station.
Source:  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source

The extent of records is unknown.

Roman Catholic Church in The Small Isles[edit | edit source]

There has been a Catholic presence in the Small Isles since long before the Scottish Reformation, the inhabitants having been converted in ancient times. In 1700 the Catholic population stood at 300 on Eigg, 130 on Canna; and the residents of Rum and Muck were said to be all Catholic. Shortly before that time many islanders on Eigg had suffered martyrdon at the hands of an English pirate named Porringer who held a knife to their throats and forced them to either renounce the Catholic faith or die, and many chose to die. A Catholic chapel was located on Eigg. Today the Catholics in the Small Isles are served from Fort William on the mainland.
Sources:  History of the Catholic Church of Scotland, by Alphons Bellesheim, 1890, Family History Library British Book 941 K2be vol. 4; also The Catholic Directory for Scotland, 1987, Family History library Brit Ref. Book 941 K24ca.

There was a resident priest at Eigg from 1842, but there are no known records.

Note: Available online for a fee, at,

Civil Registration Records[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

Small Isles was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of The Isles until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Inverness. 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 Inverness-shire] and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of The Isles.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Inverness-shire. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Inverness-shire 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: 30 July 2014.

Return to Inverness-shire parish list.