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A Beginner's Tutorial
to Research in Wigtownshire

The tutorial is based on the premise that you have found a link to a person born in Wigtownshire, and that you are relatively new to genealogical research. What we offer below is a basic primer to research in Galloway.

First things first: make sure you're in the right place

Wigtownshire is today part of Dumfries & Galloway, which is in the south west of Scotland. Need more? Read our WigPages section titled, "Map Help" to get a general fix on Wigtownshire's location. If you're confused as to what is a county and what is not, read Crawford's article titled "Counties, Countries & other Mysteries", found in our article section. If you have the parish name, but aren't sure whether that parish belongs to Wigtownshire, then check out our parish map on our "Parishes" page. [click here]. If you have the name of a farm, or small village, and are not sure whether it belongs to a parish in Wigtownshire, then look through either Carrie's Place Name Index, or the M'Kerlie pages, both of which will help link place name to parish. Please note, place name spellings can wildly vary depending on the source, and you may have to go with an approximation of the word.

Are you in the right place? Then you may wish to begin with an overview by reading an article penned by Jim McLay, titled, "Geography of Wigtownshire".

Just as a quick hint, you may very well see Wigtownshire referred to as Wigtonshire, Wigton, or as one of the two counties of Galloway.

As in all research, start with what you know, and then validate it.

Aunt Bess could have got it wrong, and your great grandfather was really born somewhere else. Find the record. Depending on the date, you have several options:

Civil Registration records 1856 to present day.
    Civil registration began 1 January, 1855. (See more below about 1855 records). Records are found in the General Register Office of Scotland, located in New Register House, West Register Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YT. It has a website, [click here], which answers any further questions you may have about ordering and what type of information is available. Transcriptions of births records less than 100 years old, marriages less than 75 years, and death entries less than 50 years old are available only through application at the GRO. Its Edinburgh location makes research difficult for those not living close by. As an alternative, you may wish to use their fee-based searchable index found online at ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk. The index is limited to Scottish birth records from 1553 to 1902, marriage records 1553 to 1927 and death records 1855 to 1952 and is available on the Web together with 1881, 1891 and 1901 census indexes. An index is not a record. You may need to order a copy of the entry to get full details, depending on the age of the document. Older documents, such as those found in the OPRs, tend to have less description/additional information than a civil record may have. Ordering a copy of the actual register in those cases may not result in much more detail. (View samples here).

     An alternate method, would be to view a film at a FHC. Films need to be ordered in advance of viewing. Film numbers can be accessed through the Family History Library Catalog or through D. Wills site. His site lists the film numbers for the indexes and filmed registers for Births, Marriages and Deaths in the years 1855 to 1875, as well as 1881 and 1891. He explains the difference between a filmed copy of a register vs. an index here.

Civil Registration in 1855. You are very fortunate if someone in the family had a birth, marriage, or death in 1855. Read more about it on our page titled 1855 Civil Registration Records : A Treasure Trove of Information. Meg Greenwood and Randy Chapple have been working on an 1855 death index for the Wigtownshire Pages, which can be viewed on the 1855 Death Records page.

Records before 1855: Old Parish Records.
     Most records prior to 1855 were recorded within the parish in a register, which we now call an Old Parish Register. We have a separate page on the WigPages, "Old Parish Records" which will provide you with sample images and talk further about information recorded. Where to view and find a copy of an OPR is also on this page.

     Births & Marriages: Most of the births or marriages found within Wigtownshire's old parish records have been added to the IGI. The IGI is searchable online at FamilySearch.org. Penninghame's complete old parish records have been transcribed and offered to the WigPages by Jim McLay [click here]. For more on births before 1855, look at our Old Parish Records page.

     Death records are not generally found on the IGI. An explanation of this can be read in Bruce McDowall's article Deaths and the IGI. The WigPages has a separate page titled Wigtownshire Death Records which provides images, and explanations of what information may be gleaned from a death record. Included are links to transcriptions of some of the parishes Register of the Dead (burial records). For further info on deaths before 1855, look at our Old Parish Records page.

Non-Conformist Records. Many of these records are held at the National Archives of Scotland. According to their website, they hold records from 1733 and 1929 for non-conformist churches (not the Church of Scotland, which most belonged to). "These congregations include the Secession, the Relief and the Free Churches. Their records include a few registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Most of these, but not all, start only from 1843." (see FAQ, accessible from the Family History pages of the National Archives Site). It might be helpful to read Crawford MacKeand's article, The Church in Scotland. LDS has filmed some records, prints of which are available to view at a FHC.

Now, where?

Census Information. A census record will place the individual within a family, or at the very least, usually provide a birth place, age or profession. Visit our Wigtownshire Census Records page. There you will find sample images, explanations of where and how, and links to the online searchable indexes, as well as links to our own Heads of Household, carefully compiled and generously offered by John Roy.

Monumental Inscriptions. Monumental inscriptions (tombstones or gravemarkers) are useful, as they will provide date of death, and will usually place an individual within a family. A good general article on the subject is Jim McLay's Graveyards. The WigPages is lucky to have access to a transcription of some kirkyards originated by J. Birchman, and compiled for current use by Randy Chapple. It is accessible on our Monumental Inscriptions page. The Dumfries & Galloway Family History Society has transcriptions available for purchase through their Publication List.

Wigtownshire Free Press. Now known as the Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, the local paper has been published since 1843. Announcements for Births, Marriages & Deaths have been archived on fiche. Undaunted by the vast size of the project, Diana Henry has been wading through the fiche, and much of the compilation of her transcriptions into an index was done by Randy Chapple. We offer this in-progress index, on our Wigtownshire Free Press Announcements for Births, Marriages & Deaths.

Going way back

Perhaps your first Wigtownshire link is an early one. The records below may be very useful.

The Commissariot Record of Wigtown Testaments 1700 - 1800. Scottish wills, or testaments, until quite recent times were recorded by the local commissariot, in Wigtown for Wigtownshire. No record is known of wills in this county before 1700. See Crawford MacKeand's index to the wills on our Commissariot Record of Wigtown Testaments.

1684 Parish Lists. Nominal Rolls of all persons, male or female, over the age of 12 years, resident within their respective parishes. To read more, and search the index, [click here].

The Military

The Napoleonic Militia : [click here].
Chelsea Royal Hospital Discharged Soldier List : [click here].
War Memorials of Wigtownshire : [click here].

Start Reading

We can't over-emphasize how important it is to read about the area you are researching. The Wigtownshire Pages has a separate, dedicated page for each of its parishes. To access the intro to parishes, please go to to our Parish Page.

Outside of the WigPages are many other valuable sites of interest to Wigtownshire researchers, many of which can be found on our links page.

Passenger Lists

We know of no Wigtownshire related passenger list. Archives of passenger lists are generally found indexed by points of arrival and date. To begin a search for those who left Scotland as hopeful immigrants, you need to look amidst the passenger lists in the country where they landed, not from the country they left.

An exception for this is travel between Wigtownshire and Ireland which can only be described as common and casual. There are no passenger lists for travel between Galloway and Ireland. Read more about this topic, at Ower the Sheuch, an engrossing article by Crawford MacKeand.

The Kindness of Strangers

Lookups. The Wigtownshire Pages originated from rootsweb's Sct-Wigtownshire mailing list. In the spirit of generosity, many of the list members have offered to do lookups of their resources for those in need. Two types of lookup are available: parish specific OR "other". Please read the instructions carefully before asking a volunteer to spend time looking up a reference. And always, please, say thank you!

Get in Contact with Others Who Share Your Interests

Mailing Lists. The WigPages originated from the very useful and friendly Sct-Wigtownshire list. Read more about mailings lists and their uses, on our Mailing Lists page.

Once you have learned about the Sct-Wigtownshire list, we suggest you look through its archives, using your surname as a search parameter. [click here].

Happy hunting!

Leigh-Ann Evans Elliott
December 2003

Edited: Crawford MacKeand Nov 2010



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