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Help and advice for Caithness

If you have found a problem on this page then please report it on the following form. We will then do our best to fix it. If you are wanting advice then the best place to ask is on the area's specific email lists. All the information that we have is in the web pages, so please do not ask us to supply something that is not there. We are not able to offer a research service.

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Caithness

"CAITHNESS is a county in the north east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the Pentland Firth; on the east and south east by North Sea; and on the west and south west by the county of Sutherland ... It is about 43 miles in length, and thirty miles in breadth; comprising an area of 618 square miles ... On account of its remote situation, Caithness had little intercourse with the principal parts of the country, and consequently is connected with few historical events of importance, except occasional hostilities with the Danes and Norwegians."

From "A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland", 1951

Caithness Towns and Parishes

For Caithness townships unconnected to parishes, see the list of Miscellaneous places mentioned in the 1868 gazetteer.

For Caithness places mentioned in the 1868 gazetteer, see Where is it in Caithness?

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Archives and Libraries

Highland Archive Centre.

Caithness Archive Centre, Wick Library, Sinclair Terrace, Wick, Caithness KW1 5AB, Scotland.

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Bibliography

One supplier of books (including MIs) about Scotland is Books From Scotland.

The following is a list of books  gleaned from various sources. For some books there is the location of a copy, and a short description of the book. Other biographical material can be found on this page under specific sections.

  • The Caithness Book, Donald Omand (Ed), Pub:Highland Printers Ltd, Inverness, 1912/1972, 270pp. A good general book on the natural environment, history and development of the county. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • The County of Caithness, John Horne (Ed), 1907, Wick, 470pp. Interesting historical, botanical and geographical account of the county. Includes significant dates in Caithness' history, an ecclesiastical history and summary to current (1907) times. Good list of local terms and meanings of places names. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • Civil and Traditional History of Caithness from the Tenth Century, J. T. Calder, Wick, 1887, 370pp. A detailed and interesting, but rambling book on the history of Caithness. Frequent mention of individuals in the text of various levels of social standing made. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • Index To J T Calder's Sketch of the Civil Traditional History of Caithness from the Tenth Century, Sara Jayne Donaldson, Caithness, Scotland. 101pp. Available from Sara Jayne Donaldson Genealogical Research.
  • Index to "Civil and Traditional History of Caithness from the Tenth Century", Author : unknown, 40pp. A quite well put together index of the above book. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • Caithness : 1770 to 1832, I. Sutherland, Glasgow, Pub:Lowland Print, 1995, 110pp. Includes a list of registered voters in Caithness in 1835 - approx 660 people. Frequent mentions to local individuals, but alas no index. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • A Bibliography of the County of Caithness, John Mowat, Wick, 1940.
  • Bibliography of Caithness and Sutherland, John Mowat, London (Viking Club), 1910.
  • The book of Ross: and Sutherland and Caithness, Donald MacDonald, Dingwall, 1932.
  • Caithness in the 18th century, John E. Donaldson, Edinburgh, 1938.
  • In the Parish of Canisbay - Lest We Forget, A .L. Houston (Ed), Pub:Highland News Group, Inverness, 1996, 450pp. An eclectic collection of memories grouped by town/village with some excellent detailed information. Many wonderful photographs. No index. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • The Old White House of God - Reay Church 1739-1989, Rev. James S. Dewar, Pub:Northern Printers, Thurso, Caithness, 36pp. Interesting historical account, well researched with a few photos examining each of the minister's lives and the social conditions at the time. No index. Held at Inverness Library, 1989.
  • Vintage Wick - A Photographic history of the Royal Burgh of Wick and its People - 1589 Quartercentenary 1989, Ed:Clive Robertson, Pub:North of Scotland Newspapers Ltd., Wick, Caithness, 1989, 166pp. Photos from 1860s onwards, grouped by topic. No index. Held at Inverness Library, 1998.
  • Wick of the North, F. Foden, Pub:Scottish Press, Wick, 1996, 800pp. A very detailed historical view of Wick, but with probably little genealogical value. Small index. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.
  • The Story of Wick and Ackergill Lifeboats, Jeff Morris, 1984, 30pp. Personal accounts and histories of these lifeboats, with photos No index. Held at Inverness Library, 1998.
  • The People of St. John's, Wick: a congregational history, Gordon Johnson, published by St John's Episcopal Church, Wick, available from the author at Glenorchy, Papigoe, WICK KW1 4RD; e-mail: gordon[at]kinhelp.co[dot]uk. 40-page A4 size book about the past members of the congregation of St. John's Scottish Episcopal Church, Wick, Caithness, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the congregation. It includes as much family information as was available to the author, so should have genealogical value. Incumbent clergymen are included, also visiting clergy and the bishops of the period.
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Cemeteries

All (?) of the monumental inscriptions (MIs) in Caithness have been collected and are in print currently from Books From Scotland amongst other places.

There is an index of sorts for these MIs at Index to Caithness Memorial Inscriptions. This composite index was produced by David Ryrie, New Zealand Society of Genealogists (NZSG), NZSG No. 4960, with authority from The Scottish Genealogy Society. There are no christian names listed, but it may help narrow the search. It was created from "Some Caithness Burial Grounds" (in thirteen parts) by A. S. Cowper and I. Ross - see Burial Grounds of Caithness and Sutherland on the Caithness Community web site.

Sara Jayne Donaldson has published an index to burials at Bower, Dunnet, Reay, Bunnahaven and Kirktown.

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Census

General advice on census records and indexes can be found on our Scotland Census page.

North Highland Archive in Caithness have published indexes to the 1861 census for Bower, Canisbay, Dunnet, Halkirk, Latheron , Wick Burgh and Pultneytown.

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Church History

Steve Bulman has an excellent site featuring pictures of churches throughout the Highlands, perhaps when there are enough Caithness photos he will put together a Caithness page.

  • A History of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Caithness, Rev. J.B.Craven, Kirkwall, 1908, 300pp. Detailed extracts from kirk sessions and history of the Episcopal Church in Caithness. Good index of place names. Includes a list of some baptisms, marriages, burials, convictions of drunkedness and absences from the kirk ! Dates covered : 1650s-1750s. Held at Inverness Library, 1997.

Caithness Church History covers the churches of Wick and Keiss Baptist Church, Wick Central Church, the Presbyterian Church, Pultneytown Church, plus several others, and the Fisherman's Revival of 1921.

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Church Records

Details of individual parish records can be found on the parish pages.

Records of non-conformist churches are held at the National Archives of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland parish records for all of Caithness are available at LDS Family History Centres 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).

On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch discontinued its microfilm distribution services. For access to the digitized records use the online Search at FamilySearch, which includes records on the IGI (International Genealogical Index).

In Scotland, research can be done at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

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Civil Registration

Civil Registration of all births, marriages and deaths began in Caithness, 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 Centres worldwide. Indexes to these records are also available on LDS microfilm up to the year 1955.

Please refer to Names, Personal

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Description and Travel

Caithness Community Website has much useful local information including Caithness Castles , and a History section including Calder's History of Caithness (parts of the text).

The Scottish Citylink website with timetables.

For those more inclined to rail travel, Network Rail provides a very worthwhile train travel information, allowing from/to stations specifications on certain days, and the program will supply a complete itineary for the journey.

An Internet Guide to Scotland is produced by Joanne Mackenzie-Winters.

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Gazetteers

See a description of Caithness from the National Gazetteer of Great Bitain and Ireland, 1868.

See a description of Caithness from Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1896.

1851, Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis

CAITHNESS-SHIRE, a county, in the north-east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the Pentland Firth; on the east and south-east, by the North Sea; and on the west and south-west, by the county of Sutherland. It lies between 58° 10' and 58° 40' (N. Lat.), and 3° and 3° 65' (W. Long.), and is about forty-three miles in length, and thirty miles in breadth; comprising an area of 618 square miles, or 395,520 acres; 6965 inhabited houses, and 216 uninhabited; and a population of 36,343, of whom 17,135 are males, and 19, '208 females. On account of its remote situation, Caithness had little intercourse with the principal parts of the country, and is consequently connected with few historical events of importance, except occasional hostilities with the Danes and Norwegians, of which there are some memorials in various monumental relics. From ancient records, it appears to have been erected into an earldom in 875; the title, after being for a long period in abeyance, was revived in favour of William Sinclair, a descendant of Robert II., in 1455. Many of the men of Caithness attended James IV. at the battle of Flodden Field, under the Earl of Caithness; and scarcely an individual of the number survived that fatal conflict. Before the abolition of episcopacy, this county, with Sutherland, constituted a diocese, of which the cathedral and episcopal palace were situated at Dornoch; it is at present in the synod of Sutherland and Caithness, and comprises one presbytery and ten parishes. For civil purposes it is divided into the districts of Wick and Thurso, where the quarter-sessions and other courts are held alternately, Wick being the seat of the sheriff court. It contains the royal burgh of Wick, which is the county town; the town of Thurso; and a few inconsiderable villages. The SURFACE is generally level, with the exception of some mountainous tracts on the borders of Sutherland, and a few eminences in other parts. The chief mountains are, the Ord of Caithness, which has an elevation of 1250 feet; the Scarry hills, 1876 feet; and the Maiden Paps, an elevation of 2000 feet, above the sea. (See more)
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Genealogy

Caithness GenWeb page has a message board for queries.

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Military History

  • The Sword of the North - Highland Memories of the Great War, D.MacEchern, Pub:Robert Carruthers and sons, Inverness, 1923.
  • Caithness and the War 1939-1945, N.M.Glass, Pub:North of Scotland Newspapers, Wick, 1994, 2nd printing, 155pp. The first half of the book is a short descriptive and pictorial account of Caithness during World War II. The second half lists Caithness' medallists and war heros of various categories with descriptions of individual's role in the war. Held at Scottish Genealogical Society, Edinburgh, 1998.
  • The Battle of Jutland, 1916 - A description from the National Records of Scotland.
  • The Caithness Secret Army in World War II - the "Auxiliary Units".
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Military Records

  • Rolls of Honour and War Memorials (monuments) are one good resource for family historians, but need to be addressed with some caution - it should not be assumed that they are either complete or accurate. Memorials (and Rolls of Honour) were created at the local parish level after asking the local inhabitants whose names should appear. Thus:

    - Some names may have been omitted, for a variety of reasons.
    - Some names may appear on more than one memorial.
    - Some names may be misspelled, or given names transposed.
    - Some people may be listed as killed in action, but were not.
    - Some people may be listed who were not in the service at all.
    - Some people may have been confused with others of a similar name.

    - A Roll of Honour may sometimes list the names of all who served, not just those who died.
    - Some of the original records may have been incorrect, for a variety of reasons.
    - Some (more recent) research may be incorrect.
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Names, Personal

  • The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History, George F. Black, 1946.
  • The Highland Clans, Sir Ian Moncrieff, Pub:Brian and Jenkins, Revised Ed., London, 1964.
  • The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, R.R.McIan, Pub:Webb and Bower, Exeter, England
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Newspapers

A collection of current Scottish newspapers can be found at Online Newspapers.

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Public Records

Records of testaments, inventories, tax, court records etc. are held at the National Records of Scotland.

In Scotland, research can be done at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

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Societies

The Caithness Family History Society Details of meetings and membership can be found here.

Highland Family History Society The Society is based at the Highland Archive and Registration Centre at Bught Park, Inverness.

Scottish Genealogical Society 15 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2JL.

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Statistics

  • County Population
    (sources : The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, The County of Caithness, John Smith (Ed)
    and The Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799, Sir John Sinclair (Ed), Vol XVIII)
    • 1755 - 22,215
    • 1790s- 24,802
    • 1801 - 22,609 or 23,474
    • 1811 - 23,419
    • 1821 - 29,181
    • 1831 - 31,459
    • 1841 - 36,343
    • 1851 - 38,709
    • 1861 - 41,111
    • 1871 - 39,992
    • 1881 - 38,868
    • 1891 - 37,177
    • 1901 - 33,870
    • 1911 - 32,010
    • 1921 - 28,285
    • 1931 - 25,056
    • 1951 - 22,710
    • 1961 - 27,370