Orkney Map
"The Orkney Islands or Orkneys, an archipelago c.50 miles long, separated from the north coast of Caithness, Scotland by Pentland Firth. The group consists of 90 islands, fewer than a third of which (including four lighthouse stations) are inhabited. The largest islands are Pomona (or Mainland), South Ronaldsay, Westray, Sanday, and Stronsay. The county town, Kirkwall, is on Pomona. Hoy is the only island which rises to any considerable height. The rest are generally low, rocky, and treeless, with an occasional cultivated area. The natives, who have much Scandinavian blood, are mostly fishermen and tenant farmers. There are prehistoric remains of standing stones, mounds, and monuments. The Norseman Harold I (Harold Fairhair) added the Orkneys to the Scandinavian domain in 875, and they remained nominal dependencies of Norway until 1468, when Christian I of Norway and Denmark pledged them as security for the dowry of his daughter, Margaret, who married James III of Scotland. The pledge was never redeemed, and the Orkneys remained the property of Scotland. At the naval base of Scapa Flow part of the German fleet was scuttled by its crew in 1919. The base was attacked by German raiders in the Second World War." From "The Columbia Encyclopedia", 1950


FAMILIA, (Family History Resources in Public Libraries in Britain and Ireland), has a web page devoted to Orkney.

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Census records for the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891 have been microfilmed and are available at LDS Family History Centers around the world.

An online index to the 1891 census is under development by the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh.

In Scotland, research can be done at the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh.

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Church History

A Christian History of Orkney from the times of the Picts to the present is available on the Orknet web page.

Orkney Scene, authored by Rev. Trevor G. Hunt, contains many links to Orkney church information, past and present, especially those in Evie, Firth and Rendall.

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Church Records

Records of non-conformist churches are held at the Scottish Record Office.

The Church of Scotland parish records for all of Orkney have been microfilmed and are available at LDS Family History Centers worldwide. The LDS have also made them available through computer search via a Scottish Church Records CD-ROM or by microfiche. Many of them have been extracted on the IGI (International Genealogical Index).

Walt Custer has on his website indexes to many baptism and marriage records from the International Genealogical Index, arranged by specific surname. Dozens of names are included with more being added weekly.

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Civil Registration

Civil Registration of all births, marriages and deaths began in Orkney, as in all of Scotland, in 1855. The records for 1855-1875, 1881, and 1891 have been microfilmed and are available at LDS Family History Centers worldwide. Indexes to these records are also available on LDS microfilm up to the year 1955.

In Scotland, research can be done at the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh.

Indexes to General Register Office records for Scotland that are available online at www.origins.net/GRO/. This is a fee-based service, even for searching the indexes, but very convenient. You'll need a credit card to register. Once you have located the records you want it is also possible to order complete extracts of those records online. The database contains fully searchable indexes of the GRO(S) index to births/baptisms and banns/marriages from the Old Parish Registers dating from 1553 to 1854, plus the indexes to births, deaths and marriages from 1855 to 1897. One additional year will be added per annum (1898,1899 etc.) to protect the privacy of living persons. An index to census records for 1891 will be provided in the near future; 1881 census data will provided later this year (1998).

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Court Records

Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the Scottish Record Office.

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Description and Travel

Both Orknet and orkney.com have large websites with a wide variety of Orkney information.

The Scottish Highland Explorer Orkney page is here.

Emigration and Immigration

The Hudson Bay Company Archives now has a website with information about searching for your HBC ancestor.


For those of you still not sure quite "how-to" do Orkney genealogy, particularly from abroad, check out the GENUKI page on researching from abroad as well as Mark Howell's excellent guide to using LDS Family History Centers. He delves deeply into the "how-to" of doing genealogy in the U.K. It has a British flavor, but much can be adapted for Scottish research.

A good introduction to Scottish research.

Walt Custer of Santa Ana, California, USA has made accessible over the web much of the Orkney research he has done over the years. He has written books on the CURSITER, WALLACE and TURFUS families of Orkney and those books are downloadable from his site. He also includes baptism and/or marriage records for dozens of Orkney (and occasionally Shetland and Caithness) surnames, taken fom the International Genealogical Index, with more being added on a weekly basis. His plans are to include all of the common Orkney names found in Gregor Lamb's Orkney Surnames. The also has partial indices to some census records. Along with Orknet and this website, Custer's site is a must see for Orkney genealogists.

The World GenWeb project now has an Orkney Page and an Orkney queries page. Check them out. They are both excellent.


A Collection of Armorials of the County of Orkney: being drawings of armorial bearings from tombstones, wood carvings, seals, etc., with extracts from the Lyon registers and genealogical notes compiled from public records and other sources.
Author: H.L. Norton Smith
Published: Galashiels: A. Walker and Sons, 1902, 182 p.
Available on microfilm at LDS Family History Centers, Film #0253062.
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Historical Geography

See Hugh Marwick's Selected Papers, volume 1, below.


Sigurd Towrie's "Orkneyjar: The Heritage of the Orkney Islands" includes a history section as well as a timeline of Orkney history. Also be sure to visit Sigurd's other Orkney website at www.orkney.com.

An email discussion lists on Orkney genealogy and history.

Information on archeology.

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Language and Languages

Orkney Dictionary
Authors: Flaws and Lamb.
The Orkney Norn
Author: Hugh Marwick
Originally published in 1929, reprinted by Brinnoven Publishing, 207 p., ISBN: 0-899851-02-X.
The Orkney Norn is the most authoritative work ever published on the Orcadian language. In addition to a dictionary of Norn words this book also contains a history of the Orkney Norn tracing its phonological development from Old Norse, fragments of old rhymes and riddles, an examination of the 12th-century Maeshow runes and printed specimens of Orkney Norn from the 14th and 15th centuries.
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UK Ordnance Survey maps contain a vast wealth of information, showing position and place names for cities, towns, villages, hamlets, farms and even individual houses. The northern isles are covered in the Landranger 5 map, Mainland in Landranger 6, and the southern isles in Landranger 7. They are an invaluable aid for serious Orkney genealogists.

Caledonian Books has reprinted four Ordnance Survey maps of Orkney, dating from about 1890. These are available from Caledonian Books, Collieston, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, AB41 8RT, Scotland. Ask for sheets 117-120.

For great maps on the web check out www.streetmap.co.uk.

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Military History

Orkney's Legionnaires: a brief history of the British Legion in Orkney, 1921-1996
Author: Andrew B. Wylie
Published: Kirkwall, Bellavista Publications, 1996.
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Names, Geographical

Most Orkney place names are pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, and those that end in -say are pronounced 'see' rather than 'say'.

Marwick Selected Papers, volume 1
Author: Hugh Marwick
Published: Livingston, West Lothian: Brinnoven, 1995.
161 p., illus., ISBN: 1-899851-01-1.

This 161 page booklet is an anthology of some of the works of Orkney antiquarian Hugh Marwick (1881-1965) written largely for the Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society during the period 1920-1955. Place name essays include "Celtic Place-Names in Orkney", "The Place-Names of North Ronaldsay", and "Orkney Farm-Name Studies", the latter being a precursor to his later book "Orkney Farm Names ." Also included are chapters of Antiquarian Notes on Sanday, Rousay, Papa Westray, and Stronsay, all of which contain many place names, as well as an essay entitled "Leidang in The West" that references many Norse place names. Maps of North Ronaldsay, Sanday, Papa Westray and Stronsay are included in the text.

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Names, Personal

Orkney Surnames
Author: Gregor Lamb
Published: Edinburgh, Paul Harris Publishing, 1981.
The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History
Author: George F. Black
Published 1946


For a brief time (29 February-1 August 1884, there was a newspaper published in Stromness entitled the "Stromness News".

Orkney now has an online news service.

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Sib Folk News
Published by the Orkney Family History Society

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ca.1800 = 24,445 [Source: Topographical and Statistical Description of the British Isles by George Alexander Cooke.

1841 = 30,450 [Source: Census]
1881 = 31,964 [Source: Census]
1931 = 22,077 [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 1950]
1948 = 22,070 (est.) [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 1950]
1995 = 19,870 [Source: Orcadian, 25 July 1996]
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Probate Records

The Commissariot Record of Orkney and Shetland. Registers of Testaments. Part I. Orkney, 1611-1684.
Editor: Francis J. Grant
Published: Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 1904.
Orkney testaments and inventories, 1573-1615
Editor: Robert S. Barclay
Published: Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 1977, 198 p.
Available on microfiche at LDS Family History Centers, Fiche #6036317.

Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the Scottish Record Office.

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Public Records

List of Orkney & Shetland documents [in the Scottish Record Office]
Published: Scottish Record Office, 1983?
[Pt 1. Gifts and deposits -- pt. 2. Maps, charts and plans"]
Records of the Earldom of Orkney, 1299-1614
Author: Joseph Storer Clouston
Published: Edinburgh, 1914 (Scottish History Society, 2nd series, volume 7)
Also contains short pedigree charts of the following early Orkney families: Berstane of Cletts, Clouston of Clouston, Corrigall of Corrigall, Cragy of Brough, Cromarty of Cara, Flett of Netherbrough, Flett of Hobbister and of Gruthay, Fraser of Tohop, Halcro of Aikers, Halcro of Halcro, Heddle of Heddle, Ireland of Ireland, Irving of Sabay, Kirkness of Kirkness, Linklater of Linklater, Louttit of Lyking, Ness and Tulloch of Ness, Paplay of Paplay and Sands, Rendall of Rendall, Sclater of Burness, Scarth of Scarth, Sinclair of Air, Sinclair of Warsetter, Tulloch of Lambholm, and Yenstay of Yenstay.
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