It might seem slightly incongruous to be writing about geography in a family history blog, but it's definitely not. Family history - as opposed to genealogy in the narrow sense - is really about people and place. To understand how your family lived, you have to understand the places they knew. Equally, even simply to research your genealogy, you have to have some understanding of geography, if only because most historical records were and are organised on a geographic basis.
Historically, Scotland - like England - was divided into counties. These counties were established in medieval times, and remained the main subdivision of government in Scotland until the reorganisation of local government in 1975. Churches were also organised geographically - in the case of the Church of Scotland, the basic unit was the parish. Parishes were grouped into Presbyteries, which in turn were grouped into Synods.
The significance of this is that most historical records of interest to genealogists and family historians were organised territorially. So in order to find and trace your ancestors, you need to understand geography.
For family history research, it's usually best to think in terms of the pre-1975 counties, of which there were 32:
Below county level, things get a little more complicated. Most genealogists tend to think in terms of parishes, and indeed that's how we've structured our website. After 1855 - when statutory registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in Scotland - many records are organised by registration district. These registration districts often initially coincided with pre-1855 parishes, but over the years, the differences increased, with the result that modern registration districts often bear little similarity to the original parishes. Nevertheless, parishes remain a very useful way of thinking about places.
The table below lists the Church of Scotland parishes in existence in 1854, the county in which they were located, and the year of the earliest entry in the Old Parish Registers.
Genealogy and Family History - A mix of our news, curious and intriguing discoveries. Research hints and resources to grow your family tree in Scotland from our team.