Orkney is a group of 67 islands forming a maritime county in the northern extremity of Scotland.  Twenty-nine islands are inhabited, and the remainder are chiefly used as pasture for cattle. They are bounded on the north by the waters which divide Orkney from Shetland, on the east by the North Sea, on the south by the Pentland Firth, which separates the isles from Caithness, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.  They extend about 50 miles in length and nearly 30 miles in breadth, comprising an area of 235 square miles or 150,000 acres.

At the time of the Roman occupation, northern Scotland, including the Orkneys,  was occupied by the Picts who had them until about the year 876, when the forces of the King of Norway took the isles.  They remained under Norwegian rule until 1472 following the marriage of James III of Scotland to Princess Margaret of Norway. When her father, Kristian I, could not pay her dowry, Norway forfeited both the Shetlands and the Orkneys to Scotland.

The county consists of 18 parishes, and it is united with Shetland under one sheriff with a sub-sheriff over each.  Kirkwall is a royal burgh and the county town, and Stromness is a burgh of barony.  There are several villages and some fishing stations on the coast.

The population of the islands in 1851 was 30,507.

(Source:  Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 2nd ed., 1851.  Family Hisotry Library book 941 E5L.)

Scceotlands People: An Important Online Sour

ScotlandsPeople is one of the largest online sources of original genealogical information. If you are researching UK genealogy, your Scottish ancestry or building your Scottish family tree, they have more than 100 million records to look through.

The comprehensive choice of Scottish records includes:

·         Statutory Registers

·         Old Parish Registers

·         Catholic Parish Registers

·         CPR Others

·         Census

·         Valuation Rolls

·         Soldiers’ Wills

·         Wills & Testaments

·         Coats of Arms

For more detail on exact record availability, see Availability. For examples of the records available, see Record Types and Examples. More information on the site, its contents, and instructions for using it can be found in the ScotlandsPeople Wiki article. Indexes may be searched for free, and there is a small pay per view fee to see the actual digitized record.


Many census records have been indexed by surname. Some indexes cover one parish (and will be listed in the Wiki on the parish page) and some indexes are for the county as a whole. The Family History Library has county-wide census placename indexes for Orkney for 1881.  Click here for other census indexes available at the library.

Church Records
Civil Registration or Statutory Registers
For details on information found in statutory registers and other methods of searching them, see Scotland Statutory Registers - Vital Records.
Refer to the ScotlandsPeople Wiki article.
Images and Indexes Available at ScotlandsPeople Website ($)
Images-Years Indexes
Births 1855-1910 ◊ScotlandsPeople Website has indexes to 2012.
Marriages 1855-1935
Deaths 1855-1960

Some of the Orkney parish records are indexed in Orkney, Scotland, Extracted Parish Records.

This database is a collection of historical parish registers from the county of Caithness in the country of Scotland. The records in this collection can range in date from the early 1500s to the mid- to late-1800s. The records include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records. Also included are some records from non-conformist churches. You will find interesting phonetic spelling. Some of the records may be in Latin or even a Welsh or Scottish dialect. Due to the nature of the records and because the records were originally compiled by a third party, it is difficult to absolutely verify the completeness and validity of the data.

Here is a list of historic parishes for the county and island of Orkney.  Click on a parish name to see information about records. Click on this link for an outline map of the parishes of Orkney. 

Parish No. Parish No.
Birsay 13 Papa-Westray -- see Westray 33
Burray -- see South Ronaldshay 29 Paplay -- see Holm 19
Deerness 14 Pharay -- see Eday 15
Eday & Pharay 15 Rendall -- see Evie 16
Egilsay -- see Rousay 24 Rousay & Egilsay 24
Evie & Rendall 16 St. Andrews 25
Firth & Stennes 17 Sanday 26
Flotta -- see Walls 32 Sandwick 27
Graemsay -- see Hoy 20 Shapinshay 28
Harray 18 South Ronaldshay & Burray 29
Holm & Paplay 19 Stennes -- see Firth 17
Hoy & Graemsay 20 Stromness 30
Kirkwall & St. Ola 21 Stronsay 31
North Ronaldshay 22 Walls (including Flotta) 32
Orphir 23 Westray (including Papa-Westray) 33
Poorhouse Records

Orkney Family History Society
Orkney Library & Archives
44 Junction Rd
KW15 1AG
Scotland, UK
Telephone: 01856 879207


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