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Help and advice for Land and Property Records in East Lothian

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Land and Property Records in East Lothian

Three sets of records which fall into this category are the Registers of Sasines, Services of Heirs and Testamentary Records (Wills and Inventories), all of which are held at the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh.

Note: these records generally only record some of the gentry and wealthier Scots in days gone by. The vast majority of the population do not appear in these records.

For a more detailed description of the records described on this page, please see any of the following books:

  • Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors (a guide to ancestry research in the Scottish Record Office) by Cecil Sinclair
  • Tracing your Scottish ancestry by Kathleen Cory
  • In search of Scottish ancestry by Gerald Hamilton-Edwards
  • Scottish Local History - an introductory guide by David Moody

Details of all of these books may be found among the main Scottish GENUKI pages.


Registers of Sasines

The Registers of Sasines record changes in ownership of land, either across the whole of Scotland (the General Register) or in just one particular area (the Particular Registers). From 1781 onwards, summaries or abridgements were printed together with indexes of people and places mentioned in the records. These can be viewed in the SRO and in many local libraries.

Prior to 1781 there are no abridgements and the original registers must be consulted in conjunction with the few indexes which have been published so far. These are available in larger reference libraries in Scotland, and worldwide in LDS family history centres. Those indexes covering East Lothian are:

  • "Index to particular register of sasines for sheriffdoms of Edinburgh, Haddington, Linlithgow and Bathgate preserved in H.M. General Register House"
    published at Edinburgh by HMSO, 1953-59 (6 volumes)
    • Vol.1: 1617-1623
    • Vol.2: 1624-1630
    • Vol.3: 1631-1636
    • Vol.4: 1637-1643
    • Vol.5: 1644-1653
    • Vol.6: 1654-1660
  • "Index to secretary's register of sasines for sheriffdoms of Edinburgh, Haddington, Linlithgow and Bathgate preserved in H.M. General Register House: 1599-1609"
    published at Edinburgh by HMSO.

Services of Heirs

Following the death of someone owning heritable property, the heir had to prove their right to inherit before the land could be passed over to them. Only once the claim was proved to the satisfaction of a jury could the claim be confirmed and recorded in the Sasine registers.

The Records of Services of Heirs and their predecessors the Records of Retours (the verdict of the jury was retoured back to the appropriate government department) contain valuable information on kinship and usually record the date of death of the deceased as well. However not every heir appears in these records: some simply occupied the land without going through the procedures.

The original records are held in the Scottish Record Office but a number of indexes and transcripts have been published and can be consulted in the SRO and a number of other libraries:

  • 1544-1699: "Inquisitionum ad Capellum Regis Retornatorum Abbreviato" (3 volumes)
  • 1700-1860: decennial indexes have been published
  • 1860 onwards: annual indexes have been published

Testamentary Records (Wills and Inventories)

Testamentary records deal with the disposal of moveable property such as money, furniture and animals. Many people in Scotland bypassed the formal procedure altogether (distributing the goods themselves) and therefore do not appear in these records.

When someone dies, an executor is supposed to be appointed to administer the moveable estate. If a will exists which nominates an executor then this is usually followed, otherwise the court appoints an executor of its choice. In either case the appointment must be confirmed by the court and it is the record of this confirmation which is of interest to family historians. If a will exists then the confirmation is called a testament-testamentar, otherwise it is a testament-dative. Both sorts of testament give the following bits of information:

  • name and designation of the deceased
  • (usually) when they died
  • name and designation of the executor
  • an inventory of the moveable estate of the deceased

A testament-testamentar also includes the will.

Before 1801 Haddington came under the jurisdiction of Edinburgh Commissary Court and a number of indexes of testamentary records for this court have been published and are available in larger reference libraries in Scotland and through LDS family history centres around the world:

  • "The Commissariot record of Edinburgh: register of testaments"
    published at Edinburgh, 1897-99, by the Scottish Record Society in 3 volumes:
    • Vol.1: 1514-1600
    • Vol.2: 1601-1700
    • Vol.3: 1701-1800

Between 1801 and 1829 there was a gradual changeover from Edinburgh Commissary Court to Haddington Sheriff Court and indexes for both courts for the period 1801-1829 are available in the SRO (it may be necessary to search both). After 1830 the Sheriff Court took over completely - again relevant indexes and records are held at the SRO.