Tracing Your Islay Ancestors

The brief details contained on this page are extracted from a brochure issued by Argyll & Bute Council Corporate Services entitled ‘Tracing Your Islay Ancestors’. There is additional online facility at


You want to trace your Islay Ancestors? Then before you visit the island, you should have made enquiries of elderly family members who may have some knowledge of your family tree, even if it is only for two or three generations. There may be old family documents, letters or birth certificates which will give you a lead.

From this information, you will at least have the basis to take your enquiry further. It is then possible to access a complete range of Parish, Census and Statutory Registers in Islay, Lochgilphead, Glasgow and Edinburgh to continue your investigation.

Islay Parishes & Districts

Islay was originally divided up into six parishes. They were a) Kildalton; b) Oa; c) Kilmeny; d) Portnahaven; e) Bowmore (or Kilarrow); f) Kilchoman. Prior to 1855, when statutory Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages became compulsory, parish registers were kept.

These registers were maintained by the Church of Scotland and cover baptism or births, proclamation of banns or marriages and burials or deaths up to 1855. From 1855 Statutory Registers of Births, Deaths & Marriages for the Islay registration districts were maintained as follows: a) Kildalton & Oa; b) Kilmeny; c) Portnahaven; d) Bowmore; e) Kilchoman.

Parish Registers & Statutory Registers

As previously mentioned, Parish Registers were kept prior to 1855. Unfortunately, they do not form a seamless join with the Statutory Registers from 1855. The earliest Parish Register entry for Islay is 1770 at Bowmore: there are large gaps in all the registers, many entries are damaged and, in some cases, there are no registers at all prior to 1830s.

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at the Service Point, Bowmore has no Parish Registers in her care. The only Statutory Registers held at Bowmore are: Births from 1900 to date; Deaths from 1940 to date; Marriages from 1940 to date.

The remaining Statutory Registers for Islay are, for the time being, in the custody of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Dalriada House, Lochnell Street, Lochgilphead (tel: +44 (0) 1546 602177).

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Lochgilphead can access the computerised indexes for all Scottish Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In addition, Statutory Records of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the former Argyll & Bute District covering the period 1855 to 1994 are held on microfiche.

Census records for 1841 and 1881 and Old Parish Registers from 1553 to 1854 are likewise available on microfilm. The Registrar will make a charge for a search of indexes (there is no absolute right to see individual entries in registers) and, if you wish to use the facilities at Dalriada House you must telephone in advance for an appointment. The Registrar does not have the staff to deal with random callers.
Parish Registers & Statutory Registers

Other Sources
In April of 1998 the Government opened a website allowing the online searching of the Scottish Registers stored in Edinburgh. This service does incur certain costs depending on the search criteria but payment can be made online. The web address is Strathclyde Genealogy Centre, 22 Park Circus, Glasgow G3. tel +44 (0)141 287 8364

The following records for the Strathclyde area only are available for you to consult: Records of Births Deaths and Marriages from 1855 on microfiche: Census Records on microfilm for the years 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891: Old Parish Registers on microfilm.

The Genealogy Centre operates a strict appointment system and you must telephone in advance to reserve time on their computer indexes.

New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT. tel +44 (0)131 334 0380. Indexes to the undernoted core records for the whole of Scotland are available via computer terminals and microfiche and microfilm readers: Old Parish Registers from 1553 to 1854; Registers of Neglected Entries 1801 to 1854; Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages from 1855.

Leaflet S1 available from New Register House describes the records which you can access and Leaflet S3 sets out the arrangements for viewing them.

Churchyard and Burial Ground Records: Argyll & Bute Council is responsible for maintaining records of interments in Churchyards and Burial Grounds under its care. The records for Islay are located at the Area Office, Bowmore.

So far as Churchyards are concerned, there are no records of interments prior to 1933. Such records as do exist consist of the name and address of the deceased, date of death and date of interment.

There are no lair numbers to help you locate an individual interment. The records for Burial Grounds, on the other hand, do indicate lair numbers in addition to the name and address of the deceased.

Records for burial grounds are available as shown: Kilchoman Burial Ground record of interment from 1934 Bowmore Burial Ground record of interments from 1935 Nerabus Burial Ground record of intermets from 1943 Kilnave Burial Ground record of interments from 1934 Kilmeny Burial Ground record of interments from 1934 Kilnaughton Burial Ground record of interments from 1934

Argyll & Bute Council: The Council has Poor Law Records dating back to the 1840s, Valuation Rolls from the 1850s, Voters’ Rolls from 1889, Education records from 1873 and various other sources of information about Islay and its people. The archive office at Manse Brae, Lochgilphead can be contacted on tel +44 (0)1546 604776

Islay Family History Society: Islay Family History Society was formed in 1991 to encourage and assist research into Islay local and family history and to undertake the collection and exchange of information and material relating to Islay.

The Museum of Islay Life: The Museum, which is located in the old Free Church building in Port Charlotte contains an important collection of artefacts illustrating life on Islay from the Mesolithic period to recent times. The many different items on display have been acquired by gift and loan from islanders as well as from archaeological excavations. A visit to the museum is essential to provide a backdrop to your enquiries and to set them in their historic context.

The museum library has three compilations prepared by a former curator, Mr C G Booth which are available to help you with your enquiries:

Index of pre 1855 gravestone inscriptions in Islay

A list of Islay People: extracted from Minutes of Presbytery of Kintyre 1655-1833, The Stent Book of Islay 1718-1843, Kilarrow and Kilmeny Free Church Communion Book 1843-1871, Kilarrow and Kilmeny Free Church Baptismal Register 1843-1856.

A second list of Islay People: extracted from the Book of Islay 1895. Rent Rolls 1686, 1733, 1741 and map, Statistics of the Parish of Kildalton, Rent Roll 1843, A Rent Roll of Islay 1817, The New Guide to Islay 1900, lists of The Founders of Port Ellen in 1821.

The Trustees of the Museum very much regret that, due to a lack of suitable records and restricted staff, they are unable to assist with specific family history searches. Steve Gilchrist in Seattle USA hosts an excellent Islay Genealogy site which can be accessed at

An offshoot of this website is an e-mail list currently admined by Ted Larson. By “subscribing” to this mailing list, you will become part of a loop of people who are researching kin from the Isle of Islay, Scotland, and the related lines of their study

To SUBSCRIBE, send an e-mail to:SCT-ISLAY-L-request@rootsweb.comwith the word subscribe as your message. you will receive a welcome message with instructions for sending messages to the list

Books which may assist you:

Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors by Cecil Sinclair. A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Scottish Record Office. HM Stationery Office. This provides a comprehensive guide to the range of material held in the Scottish Record Office.

The book sets out how to research records of births, deaths and marriages and lists many other sources of family history information.

John Ramsay of Kildalton by Freda Ramsay. Peter Martin Associates Ltd, Toronto. An account of John Ramsay of Kildalton’s 1870 trip to Canada to visit many of the families and individuals who had earlier emigrated from Islay.

The Day Book of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield by Freda Ramsay, Aberdeen University Press. The book incorporates details of the 1741 Rent Rolls for the parishes of Kildalton, Kilarrow, Kilmeny and Kilchoman. Details of a 1733 Rent Roll for Kildalton are included as well as an Islay Roll of 1780.

These books may be obtainable from The Celtic House, Shore Street, Bowmore, Islay, though some are possibly out of print. If you wish to purchase online, they are probably available from or,