"SELKIRKSHIRE is of an irregular figure, extending 20 miles in length, bounded on the N. by Peebles-shire; on the E. by Berwickshire; on the S.E. and S. by Roxburghshire; on the S.W. by Dumfries-shire; and on the W. by Peebles. This county was formerly named the sheriffdom of Etterick forest, being covered with an extensive wood, which was stocked by great herds of red and fallow deer kept by the Scotish princes for the chace, who had houses for themselves and their train in different parts of the country. The wood is now almost entirely cut down, and the county is stocked with great flocks of sheep. The county is mountainous, and intersected by numerous streams, on the banks of which those plaintive airs were produced, the natural simplicity of which is the pride of the Scots and the admiration of strangers. Besides the Tweed, it is watered by the Etterick and Yarrow, two pastoral streams, the beauties of which are celebrated in Scotish song."
From Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.
Note: Selkirkshire 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 Selkirkshire.
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.
Information on many local libraries within the county can be found among the SLAINTE web pages (Scottish Libraries Across the INTErnet).
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.
List of books relating to, or published in, the counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles
Published Edinburgh, 1899
For general information on Scottish census returns see the Census section on the main Scotland GENUKI page.
The Selkirkshire FreeCEN Project is developing a free-to-view online database of the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 census returns.
Graham and Emma Maxwell are transcribing and indexing the 1841, 1851 and 1861 Selkirkshire census returns. Their website also offers a free census database search facility.
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.
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.
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.
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 Selkirkshire 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
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 Selkirkshire include the following:
The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland published The ancient and historical monuments of Selkirkshire in 1957.
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.
Allan Wilson's Roman and Native in the Central Scottish Borders (British Archaeological Reports British Series 519, 2010) examines interactions between Romans and native society in Roxburghshire, Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire. It includes an inventory of Roman-era archaeological finds in this part of the Borders, as well as plans and sketches of archaeological sites and finds. Its ISBN is 9781407307220. The book was sponsored by The Trimontium Trust.
One book specifically about Selkirkshire is T. Craig Brown's The history of Selkirkshire published in 2 volumes at Edinburgh in 1886. It is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.
See also under Statistics.
(Kirk Session Records - see Church Records)
The Borders Book (see Bibliography section) has an entire chapter all about the Borders dialect.
A number of 16th century legal notebooks from Selkirk were discovered quite recently.
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.
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.
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.
Peter Higginbotham's The Workhouse website includes photographs of the poorhouse at Galashiels which housed Selkirkshire paupers.
Here are some figures showing the county's population through time:
- 1755 - 5019
- 1801 - 5388
- 1811 - 5889
- 1821 - 6637
- 1831 - 6833
- 1841 - 7990
- 1851 - 9809
- 1861 - 10449
- 1871 - 14005
- 1881 - 25564
- 1891 - 27353
- 1901 - 23356
- 1911 - 24601
- 1921 - 22607
- 1931 - 22608
- 1951 - 21729
The commissariot record of Peebles: register of testaments, 1681-1699 edited by Sir Francis J. Grant was published in 1902 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.
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 personal 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. Please note there is a significant gap in the surviving testaments for this county between 1699 and 1785.
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.
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.
For a social and economic record of the parishes of Selkirkshire, 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 Selkirkshire. 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 Counties of Peebles and Selkirk edited by J.P.B. Bulloch was published in 1964 by Collins.
The New Statistical Account for this area is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm and microfiche format (under Scotland/Selkirk/History), so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres (note that one microfilm version of it is misnamed in the LDS catalogue as "The New statistical account of Scotland: vol. III: Boxburg - Peebles - Selkirk").
The online version of The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1799 and 1845.
See also the Population section above.