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Scottish Probate Records 

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Content by
Linda Jonas 2006

Probate Records

There are two primary types of probate records in Scotland. Because land had to descend according to law and could not be bequeathed by will until 1868, Testaments leave moveable property and Services of Heirs are records determining heirship of heritable property (land and buildings). Services of Heirs will be discussed in the section on Land Records.

What are Testaments?

In legal terms, a "Last Will and Testament" involves two types of transactions. The "will" is the instrument that designates how the testator wants his real property to be distributed after his death; a "testament" involves the distribution of moveable property. As mentioned above, land could not be bequeathed by will in Scotland until 1868. Testaments are very valuable documents that can indicate family relationships and financial status.

There are two types of testaments: a testament testamentar was written by the person before his death and a testament dative was created by the court when the person died without leaving a written testament.

For more details, see Chapter VI "Testaments" in Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry. For step-by-step instructions see Linda Jonas and Paul Milner, A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage.

Testaments to 1823

Until 1823, the testaments were proved in the local commissary court. Each commissary court handled the testaments within its own area. The Commissary Court of Edinburgh could confirm testaments for the whole of Scotland, and for those who had died outside of Scotland.

The pre-1823 registers of testaments are catalogued in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the commissary court. The Commissary Courts of Scotland were Aberdeen, Argyll, Brechin, Caithness, Dumfries, Dunblane, Dunkeld, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton & Campsie, Inverness, The Isles, Kirkcudbright, Lanark, Lauder, Moray, Orkney & Shetland, Peebles, Ross, St. Andrews, Stirling, and Wigtown. To determine the appropriate commissariot, look up the name of your ancestor's parish in the table Pre-1801 Testament Indexes of Scotland. You can see the approximate commissariot boundaries in the maps of Scotland in Cecil Humphery-Smith ed., The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (1995). The maps show all of the parishes and the commissariots to which they belonged. There is also a list of each parish in Scotland and its commissariot in Appendix D of Hamilton-Edwards, In Search of Scottish Ancestry. There are also maps of jurisdictions and a list of FHL film holdings on fiche #6054479.

There are printed indexes to testaments covering the years 1514 to 1823. They are arranged by Commissary Court and are available on microfilm and microfiche. The microfiche indexes are on fiche #6068611 - #6068631. The courts are in alphabetical order. The index gives the name and designation of the deceased and the date of confirmation. Married women are listed under the maiden name, with the husband's name cross-referenced. If your ancestor is not found in the nearest court to his place of residence, then check the Edinburgh court which covered all of Scotland. The post-1800 indexes are slightly different from the earlier index. The ones covering 1801-1823 are all on microfilm #0231259 and give the name and designation of the deceased, the date of confirmation, the commissariot, and the volume and folio numbers or warrant numbers of the testament.

Indexes to Scottish testaments are also available on the Internet at http://www.scottishdocuments.com, and they are even easier to use because all courts are in one index.

Once you find your ancestor in the index, you can see his complete testament.  See Scottish Testaments for a list of film numbers or you can order an online image at http://www.scottishdocuments.com.

Testaments after 1823

After 1823, the Sheriff's Courts were responsible for recording testaments. Sheriff Courts did not use a standard format; each had its own way of organizing its records. From 1824-1875 only the years 1846-1867 are indexed on microfilm for all courts. The index is called Index to the Inventories of the Personal Estates of Defuncts and is available on microfilm #1,368,215 - #1,368,217. Here is an example of an index entry: "F 713 Brough, Edward, china-merchant, Crieff. 54. P. 11.2.54." This means that Edward Brough's inventory was recorded in 1854 [54] in the County of Perth [P], and he died 11 February 1854 [11.2.54]. Click here to see a transcript of Edward Brough's inventory.

The Testaments from 1824 to 1876 have not been microfilmed except for the counties of Argyll, East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian, Perth, Renfrew, Ross & Cromarty, Stirling, West Lothian, and Wigtown. Most of the testaments are at the National Archives of Scotland (formerly called Scottish Record Office). The testaments have been indexed at http://www.scottishdocuments.com and online images are available.

The Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories 1876 to 1936 covers testaments for all of Scotland and is arranged by year, then alphabetically by surname. Each entry gives the name and designation of the deceased, the date and place of death, whether testate or intestate, name of court where confirmation was granted, date of confirmation, the names and designations of the executors, and the value of the estate. If the deceased was testate, the date of the will is given along with when and where it was recorded. Testaments after 1876 have not been microfilmed, but the Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories is available on microfiche:

Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories

Years Covered

Microfiche Numbers

1876 - 1922 6068884 - 6068930
1923 - 1927 6069735 - 6069738
1928 - 1936 6070135 - 6070143

 

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