Early Scottish Statutory Death Records

In order to build my complete Unst Family Tree I first worked through the census records, and now I am gradually working my way through the statutory records for Unst page by page so that I can find everybody from Unst. Doing so also allows me to observe the evolution of these records, and the changes in what is recorded over the initial few years until the records settle down into something very similar to what we have now.

The Statutory records for Scotland start in 1855 and the first thing you notice in the 1855 records is the fact that they span two pages rather than just the one page as the later years do. This is only the case for 1855. 1856 moves to a single page, although the record does look a little squeezed for space!

So what information do they drop and would it have been handy for family history research? Comparing the column heading for the records is perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the changes made from the two page 1855 record to the one page 1856 record.

Headings from page 1 from an 1855 Scottish record

Name, Rank, Profession, or Occupation. Sex. Age. Where born
and how long in this District.
Parents’ Names,
and Rank, Profession, or Occupation.
If Deceased was married,
To  whom. Issue, in Order of Birth, their Names and Ages.

Headings from page 2 from an 1855 Scottish record

PARTICULARS OF DEATH. Signature of Informant. When and where registered, and
Signature of Registrar.
When died.
Year, Day of Month, Hour.
Where died. Cause of Death, and how long Disease continued.
Medical Attendant by whom certified, and when
he last saw deceased.
Burial Place.
Undertaker by whom certified.

Headings from a page from an 1856 Scottish record

No. Surname and Name.

Rank or Profession, and Condition
(whether Married or Single, Widower or Widow.
When and where Died,
with Hour of Death.
Sex. Age. Parents’ Names,
Rank, Profession, or Occupation.
Cause of Death, and how long
Disease continued.– Medical
Attendant by whom certified, and
when he last saw deceased.
Burial Place.
Undertaker, or other Person,
by whom certified.
Signature, Qualification, and Resi-
dence of Informant, if out of the
House in which the Death
When and where Registered,
and Signature of Registrar.

In this change from two pages down to a rather squeezed looking one page, we have retained most the information, but what we lose is the information about where the person was born, and a huge amount of information recorded in the column with the deceased’s issue. This really did give an awful lot of information in one column and we only have it for those people who died in 1855. It was the sort of information that family historians would have lapped up! Here is an example:-

Finding Stuff

Finding stuff like this is SOOO helpful to family history research

Issue, in Order of Birth, their Names and Ages
1. Thomas 30
2. William died at 27 in 1854
3. Gilbert 25
4. Catherine 23
5. Robert 20
6. James 18
7. Stillborn
8. Andrew, dead
9. Stillborn

Imagine having that for every person in your tree on their death record. What a resource that would have been!

The other thing we lose in this change is the name of the deceased’s spouse. This is reinstated with a further change to the record in 1861, although the column heading doesn’t indicate it is needed, an instruction was likely sent out to registrars to indicate that this information was to be recorded in the second column along with the condition (single/married/widowed).

Headings from a page from an 1861 Scottish record

No. Name and Surname.

Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and where Died. Sex. Age. Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession
of Father

Name, and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Cause of Death, Duration of
Disease, and Medical Attendant
by whom certified.
Signature & Qualification of Informant,
and Residence, if out of the House in
which the Death occurred.
When and where Registered,
and Signature of Registrar.

So we gain the spouse’s name, but lose the information about the burial.

So the currents records are a good source of information, especially considering that now we also have statutory marriage and birth records, but what would family historians give for those early records to have kept on going with extra information for a few years longer?

13 thoughts on “Early Scottish Statutory Death Records

  1. Morag, I have been following your thing about wir Unst family and have a load of information which I have not put onto ancestry as although I sat in Baba Ann’s for months on end many yrs ago, I am still working at it and many people would love it just to appear but I am afraid I was cheated and disheartened by what other people had put onto the system. None of it was checked and some of it was very wrong or surmised, estimated. I wish you all he best with this but you are taking on a massive task.

    • Hi Anna, Good luck with your research. Part of my reason for doing this is to have a correct version out there on the web. I too have found many inaccuracies and people who just copy anything they see, so I hope to produce something to combat that. I realise how massive a task it is. I’ll post something when I hit 10,000 people in the tree, which won’t b long I think.

  2. What an excellent approach to comparing the data by looking at the headers! It’s very obvious but something I missed when comparing our Federal Census records here in the U.S.

      • I’m an amateur but if I can help in anyway feel free to run your questions by me. Overall, I will tell you that the Federal Census questions provide enough info to create a snapshot of the family’s socio-economic position. Knowledge of the locale is another great help.

    • Hi Tony – yes I know – To some extent I’m hoping to validate what is there by recreating it. I know I’ve sent you a few corrections already, and at some point I will compare what I have to what you have. Hopefully we’ll all benefit from the effort. Cheers

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