"BERWICKSHIRE is of an irregular square form, bounded on the N. by East-Lothian; on the E. by the German Ocean; on the S. by the river Tweed, and the English border; and on the W. by the counties of Roxburgh, Peebles and Mid-Lothian. Its extent in length may be stated at 34 miles, and its breadth 19. This county is nominally divided into 3 districts, viz. Lauderdale, Lammermuir and Merse or March. The first is that opening or valley in the Lammermuir hills, through which the river Leader runs. Lammermuir comprehends the ridge of hills which separate this county from East-Lothian, extending from the head of Leader water to the sea, below the town of Berwick. The Merse or March includes that fertile and populous plain, stretching from the hills, along the banks of the Tweed. Berwickshire contains one royal borough, viz. Lauder; and several large towns and villages, as Dunse, Coldstream, Coldingham, Ayton, Eyemouth. It is divided in to 32 parochial districts: and contains, by the late enumeration in 1801, 30206 inhabitants." From the Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.
Note: Berwickshire became part of the new Borders region in 1975, which in turn became the Scottish Borders council in 1996. However historical records used by genealogists and family historians are, in the main, structured around the older counties, like Berwickshire.
If you don't know which parish a place lies in, try an online gazetteer for the county.
A list of ancient parishes is also available, mapping ancient names to more modern parishes which replaced them. There is also a (large) county map showing the relative positions of the parishes. Note: the parishes listed here are generally those in existence before 1855 when civil registration started, indeed many of the civil registration districts were based on the older parishes. Since 1855 new parishes may have appeared and old parishes joined together. This list should not be viewed as a comprehensive list of parishes in the county throughout time. Instead it is a means of further dividing the county up geographically, taking a snapshot of the situation at a particular time (1855).
A considerable quantity of archival and historical material is held at the Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre at the Heritage Hub in Hawick.
Eyemouth Museum now holds a considerable number of genealogical resources for eastern Berwickshire, to help visitors eager to trace their family tree. For a fuller description see the Borders Family History Society blog post about this.t).
The Borders Family History Society has a research room in Galashiels. For further details, see the society's home page.
The Borders Book
edited by Donald Omand
Published 1995 by Birlinn Ltd., Edinburgh
ISBN 1 874744 50 5 [hardback]
ISBN 1 874744 73 4 [paperback]
Note: this contains essays on a wide variety of topics making it fascinating reading for all with an interest in the Borders.
Chapter 10 entitled "Abbeys and Churches" of The Borders Book (see the Bibliography section) is devoted to this subject, starting from the ancient monastic communities in the Borders through to the present day.
Christian Heritage in the Borders examines the history of the Christian church in the Scottish Borders. It is a companion to Early Settlers in the Borders (see under the History section) and was published by the Scottish Borders Council in 1998. Its ISBN is 0953043819.
The churches and churchyards of Berwickshire by James Robson was published at Kelso in 1896 (227 pages). This is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
The churches and graveyards of Berwickshire by G.A.C. Binnie was published at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1995 (468 pages).
For information on registers (baptisms, marriages and burials) for a particular parish, please see that parish's page. General advice on parish registers throughout Scotland can be found under Church Records on the main Scotland page in GENUKI.
The website of the National Records of Scotland includes a leaflet on irregular marriages and information on the known surviving registers. Irregular marriages occurred along the Border and were a form of marriage by consent, convenient both for English runaway couples and Scottish Borderers who did not want to marry in their own churches. The Church of Scotland disapproved of such marriages and would often catch up with a couple, perhaps when their first child was born or baptized. So kirk session minutes can be another useful source for tracing irregular marriages.
Graham and Emma Maxwell are transcribing and indexing baptisms, marriages and burials recorded in Scottish Borders kirk session records and non-conformist church records. Their website also offers a free search facility for these resources.
The kirk session of a parish consists of the minister of the parish and the elders of the congregation. It looks after the general wellbeing of the congregation and, particularly in centuries past, parochial discipline. Most kirk session records are held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh and can be fascinating reading. For more information see Anne Gordon's Candie for the Foundling published by the Pentland Press in 1992. ISBN 1 872795 75 7 (720 pages).
For an account of the Border kirk session records, focusing particularly on poor relief and the dispensation of discipline, see M.C. Lawson's article "The Poor, Crime and Punishment, and the Power of the Kirk in the Borders, 17th & 18th Centuries" which was published on pages 14-15 of the June 1996 Borders Family History Society magazine.
The LDS Family History Library catalogue lists a microfilm version of Presbytery meeting minutes, 1843-1862 of the Free Church of Scotland's United Presbytery of Duns and Chirnside. The catalogue entry records this as a microfilm of records held at the Scottish Record Office (now called the National Records of Scotland), citing reference CH3/104/1. The microfilm copy in the LDS catalogue should hopefully be viewable at LDS family history centres around the world.
Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For further details of this see the National Records of Scotland website.
ScotlandsPeople is the official government website providing access to indexes of Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates, linked online images of the certificates, census return indexes and linked images, and parish register indexes.
Graham and Emma Maxwell are transcribing and indexing the prison registers for the Scottish Borders. Their website also offers a free prisoner database search facility.
Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the National Records of Scotland.
Graham and Emma Maxwell are putting online a searchable index to paternity cases for illegitimate births, based on records in the various courts about the Scottish Borders. This is an ongoing project.
For an in-depth account of the Lauder Commissary Court records and their use in Berwickshire family history research (prior to 1823), see Rosemary Bigwood's "A Case for the Commissary" which was published in the February 1997 edition of the Borders Family History Society magazine. These records, held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, are a largely untapped resource for family historians. Yet they can be a goldmine of information covering topics as diverse as wills and disputes over them, appointment of tutors for children under twenty-one years of age, inventories of goods, marriage contracts and cases of slander brought before the court.
There are many websites that can be helpful for finding out about the Scottish Borders, whether you are planning to visit or not. Here are just a few of them (in no particular order):
A classic guide to the area is Andrew and John Lang's Highways and Byways in The Border, first published in 1913 and reprinted in later years. Most recently it was reissued in the United Kingdom by Senate in 1999, under the title Scottish Border Country, ISBN 1859585434 (439 pages). The book takes the form of a journey through the Border country and is full of local and historical snippets of information, as well as many pencil sketches of local places.
A more recent book which may be of interest is Charles Alexander Strang's Borders and Berwick: an illustrated architectural guide to the Scottish Borders and Tweed Valley. As the title suggests, it concentrates on the architecture of the area. However it is well illustrated with hundreds of photographs and contains short descriptions and historical notes on many places. It was first published in 1994 by the Rutland Press and its ISBN is 1873190107 (272-page paperback edition).
Chapter 9 of The Borders Book (see the Bibliography section) has a lot of information on the history of roads, bridges and railways in the Borders. More is given in Chapter 14, pp 171-176 as part of the chapter on the Industrial Revolution.
A web page has been created giving bibliographic details of Berwickshire directories.
In Tales of the Borders Michael Brander presents a number of tales from John Mackay Wilson's collection of the same name which was first published in the first half of the nineteenth century. This more recent collection includes 12 tales spanning the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, together with historical notes and background information on the places described. It was published by Mainstream Publishing in 1991 (ISBN 1 85158 395 5).
Haunted Borders by Norrie McLeish is a collection of Border stories of the supernatural, placed in an historical and geographical context. It was published by Alba Publishing in 1997 (ISBN 1873708084).
Both Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and James Hogg (1770-1835) (the "Ettrick Shepherd") were fascinated by the folklore and history of their native Border country, and used it considerably throughout their works. Their contribution is discussed in two chapters of The Borders Book (see Bibliography section).
A number of articles related to this subject have appeared in past transactions of the Hawick Archaeological Society including:
- "Strange happenings in the Borders" by Edward Barton, 1942 transactions, pages 21-27 (contemporary records of supernatural events)
- "Border Ghosts and Witches" by W.E.Wilson, 1947 transactions, pages 32-38
For information on Berwickshire witches and witch-trials see Raymond Lamont Brown's article in the transactions of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club: Volume 39 (part 1 - 1971) pp 34-42.
Michael Robson's Surnames and Clansmen: Border family history in earlier days is a study of Border family life over three hundred years ago, based on extensive original research. The book includes an index of surnames mentioned (nearly 400) and focuses in detail on three of them for illustrative purposes (Chisholm, Mader/Mather, and Yarrow). The book was published by the author in 1998, has 200 pages, and its ISBN is 0953401502.
Other online resources for Berwickshire include the following:
The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland published an Inventory of monuments and constructions in the County of Berwick in 1909, and a revised edition in 1915.
Alistair Moffat's The Borders: A history of the Borders from earliest times was published in Selkirk in 2002 by Deerpark Press, 464 pages in hardback. The book accompanies a UK television series of the same name.
The Borders Book (see the Bibliography section) contains much information on Border history.
Early Settlers in the Borders looks at the early settlers of the Borders, from prehistoric times, through Roman Britain, and up to the early Christian kingdoms in southern Scotland. It is a companion to Christian Heritage in the Borders (see under the Church History section) and was published by the Scottish Borders Council in 1997. Its ISBN is 0953043800.
The border counties were for many centuries the battleground between Scotland and England. Largely as a result of this the reiving tradition arose, something which only really died out with the Union of the Crowns in 1603. For a comprehensive history of the reiving times, read George MacDonald Fraser's The Steel Bonnets: the story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, first published in 1971 and reprinted ever since.
One book specifically about Berwickshire is Elizabeth Layhe's History of Berwickshire's Towns and Villages to the Present Day, published in 1994, ISBN 0952322102.
The Berwickshire Coast by Lawson Wood is an illustrated history of the coastline, following the coast through places like Cove, Pease Bay, Fast Castle, St Abbs Head, Coldingham Bay, Eyemouth, Burnmouth and Lamberton, right down to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The book is illustrated, mainly from old postcards which were posted locally. The book was published in 1998 by Stenlake Publishing and its ISBN is 1840330465.
See also under Statistics.
(Kirk Session Records - see Church Records)
Index to particular register of sasines for shire of Berwick and bailiary of Lauderdale, 1617-1780 was published in 2 volumes (volume 1 covering surnames A-H; volume 2 surnames I-Z) in 1928 by HMSO. It is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
The Borders Book (see Bibliography section) has an entire chapter all about the Borders dialect.
A transcript of the Protocol book of Sir William Corbet 1529-1555 edited by Rev. John Anderson and William Angus was published by the Scottish Record Society in 1911. According to the preface to the book, the legal transactions recorded "deal almost entirely with subjects in the counties of Roxburgh and Berwick, chiefly in the parishes of Linton and Merton". This is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
For details of surviving records for Dingleton Hospital at Melrose (from 1872 the lunatic asylum for Roxburghshire, Berwickshire and Selkirkshire) see the Melrose parish page.
The project Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland hosted at the University of Glasgow is researching place names in Berwickshire between 2016 and 2018, with a number of academic outputs planned. See their website for full details, and news of the project's progress.
Over the course of three years (2016-2018), we shall collect and analyse all place-names in six parishes along the Anglo-Scottish border, publishing the results as a printed volume within the Survey of Scottish Place-Names. We shall also collect and analyse all major settlement, hill and river names throughout the county, making the results freely available as a searchable web resource.
Chapter 15 of The Borders Book (see the Bibliography section) is a descriptive account of "Borders Place-Names".
A useful guide on this subject is James B. Johnston's The place-names of Berwickshire, published in Edinburgh in 1940. This can be of great help in identifying which parish a particular place lies within, or discovering more about the origins of a given place name.
See also the Gazetteers section for details of an online gazetteer for the county.
Michael Robson's book Surnames and Clansmen (see the Genealogy section) gives an insight into Border family life over three hundred years ago and mentions nearly 400 surnames.
Information about newspapers covering the county in the past is available.
Indexes of death notices in 1854 and 1853 in the Kelso Chronicle have been published. These list many deaths throughout the Scottish Borders as well as deaths on the other side of the Border (including Berwick-on-Tweed) and deaths of Borderers overseas.
See under Newspapers for details of pre-1855 death notice indexes compiled from old issues of the Kelso Chronicle.
Grace A. Elliot's article on "Forgotten Industries of Berwickshire" was published in the transactions of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, Volume 51 (part 1 - 1977) pp.1-12.
Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland 1770-1914 edited by T.M. Devine (published in 1984 by John Donald Publishers Ltd of Edinburgh) includes a chapter by Michael Robson entitled "The Border Farm Worker". This appears on pages 71-96 of the book.
A short article on "The Weavers of the Borderland" appeared in the 1935 Hawick Archaeological Society Transactions, on page 15. Beginning "There is scarcely a trace of the old handloom weavers that were prominent in every Border district before the advent of the modern loom swept them aside" the article continues to briefly mention weavers in Selkirk, Kelso, Darnick, and Coldingham.
The Borders Family History Society is transcribing and indexing old Poor Law Records for Berwickshire.
Peter Higginbotham's The Workhouse website includes photographs of the poorhouse at Kelso which housed some Berwickshire paupers as well as paupers from eastern Roxburghshire. The 1881 census reveals a smaller poorhouse facility in Chirnside (possibly a number of cottages used for the purpose), together with probably even smaller in-relief facilities in each of Duns, Coldingham, Ayton, Earlston, and Bunkle and Preston parishes.
Here are some figures showing the county's population through time:
- 1755 - 23906
- 1801 - 30206
- 1811 - 30893
- 1821 - 33385
- 1831 - 34048
- 1841 - 34438
- 1851 - 36297
- 1861 - 36613
- 1871 - 36486
- 1881 - 35392
- 1891 - 32406
- 1901 - 30824
- 1911 - 29643
- 1921 - 28246
- 1931 - 26612
- 1951 - 25060
The commissariot record of Lauder: register of testaments, 1561-1800 edited by Francis J. Grant was published in 1903 in Edinburgh by the Scottish Record Society. It is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres. This out of copyright book has been scanned and put online by the Internet Archive.
Index to the inventories of the personal estates of defuncts: recorded in the Commissary Court books of Ayr, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown, Dumfries, Roxburgh, Berwick, Peebles, and Selkirk was published by HMSO in Edinburgh in 1868, and indexes inventories of estates of deceased people in these counties between 1846 and 1867. It is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
Note that testamentary records - where they survive - for this county are generally held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. The National Archives has unpublished testamentary indexes for some other periods, but many surviving records are unindexed.
An article about parish schools in 17th century Berwickshire was published in past transactions of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club. It was written by Margaret Elliot and appeared in two parts:
- Volume 40 (part 3 - 1976) pp.223-231 (covering Ayton, Chirnside, Coldingham, Coldstream, Edrom, Eyemouth, Foulden, Hutton, Ladykirk, Mordington, Simprim, Swinton, Whitsome and Hilton)
- Volume 41 (part 1 - 1977) pages 41-59 (covering Abbey St Bathans, Bunkle, Channelkirk, Cockburnspath, Cranshaws, Earlston, Eccles, Ellem, Fogo, Gordon, Greenlaw, Hume, Langton, Legerwood, Longformacus, Mertoun, Nenthorn, Polwarth and Preston)
Chapter 9 of The Borders Book (see the Bibliography section) contains a section concentrating on the social life and welfare in the area, including population numbers, pay and conditions, housing, health and education etc. See also the Statistics section below.
A good insight into 17th century Berwickshire life, for the gentry at least, may be found in the diaries of George Home of Kimmerghame (1660-1705). The first instalment of these (An album of Scottish families, 1694-96) was published in 1990 by Aberdeen University Press and edited by Helen and Keith Kelsall.
An earlier work on a similar subject is Helen and Keith Kelsall's Scottish Lifestyle 300 Years ago: New Light on Edinburgh and Border Families, published in 1986 at Edinburgh, ISBN 0 85976 167 3. This is based largely on the diary of George Home of Kimmerghame mentioned above, together with the account books of his cousin's wife, Grisell Kar, Countess of Marchmont.
An article on "Border life 140 years ago" (circa 1800) appeared in the 1936 transactions of the Hawick Archaeological Society, pages 5-12. Written by James Edgar, it is largely based upon the Statistical Account of the 1790s.
The 1932 transactions of Hawick Archaeological Society contained an article on "Border rural life in the olden time", pages 13-16. Written by Walter Barrie, this concentrates on the first half of the century, going back to his childhood and also covering life for the previous generation.
The Borders Family History Society covers Berwickshire.
For a social and economic record of the parishes of Berwickshire, together with masses of statistical material, see Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland which was compiled in the 1790s. Volume III deals with the Eastern Borders, including Berwickshire. The account was reprinted in facsimile form in 1979 by EP Publishing Limited of Wakefield, England.
Follow-up works to this were the New Statistical Account (also known as the Second Statistical Account) which was prepared in the 1830s and 1840s; and more recently the Third Statistical Account which has been prepared since the Second World War. The Third Statistical Account: The County of Berwick was published in 1992 by Scottish Academic Press, ISBN 0707306086.
The New Statistical Account for this area is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm and microfiche format (under Scotland/Berwick/History), so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
The online version of The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1799 and 1845.
See also the Population section above.