Organisation of Civil Registration in Scotland


Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Its history is reflected in the fact that it has its own legal system, separate from those of England and Wales, and of Northern Ireland. Civil registration is therefore governed by different Acts of Parliament.

Scotland's population in 1993 was around 5.1 million persons. In that year some 360 district registrars registered around 161,000 "events" (63,000 births, 64,000 deaths and 33,000 marriages).



The main laws relating to registration and marriage are:

Under the 1965 Act, the relevant UK Government Minister appoints a Registrar General who has statutory authority to prescribe forms, and to set fees subject to the approval of the UK Parliament. He also has authority to give instructions and directions to registrars on the exercise of their functions.


Responsibility is divided between the Registrar General and 12 local councils who employ a total of 360 registrars. Under legislation recently approved by Parliament the number of local councils will increase to 32 in 1996.

The Registrar General employs three examiners who inspect the work of the registrars. The control of registration is administrative, not judicial. A member of the public who is unhappy with a decision of the Registrar General can, in theory, appeal to a court or can make a complaint, via a Member of Parliament, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the 'Ombudsman').


Registrars maintain and preserve registers of births, stillbirths, deaths and marriages. They also conduct all civil marriages. All births, stillbirths, deaths and marriages (both civil and religious) occurring in Scotland must be recorded in these registers. Copies of the registers are held centrally by the Registrar General.

The Registrar General maintains registers of adoptions and divorces notified to him by Scottish courts. Where a court makes an adoption order, the Registrar General annotates the entry in the register of births as well as making a separate entry in the adoption register. The information necessary to link the two entries is kept confidential. Where a court makes a divorce order, the entry in the register of marriages is not now annotated to show the marriage is ended.

The items included in the main registers are:

  1. Birth: forenames and surname, sex, date and time of birth, place of birth, mother's forenamesand surname, mother's maiden surname, mother's usual residence, father's forenames and surname, father's occupation, date and place of parents' marriage, signature of informant, date of registration, signature of registrar
  2. Marriage: forenames and surname, sex, occupation, marital status, date of birth, place of birth, usual residence, forenames, surname and occupation of father, forenames, surname and maiden surname of mother (above details for each of the two parties to the marriage), name of person solemnising the marriage, name and address of each of two witnesses, date of registration, signature of registrar
  3. Death: forenames and surname, sex, occupation, marital status, date of birth, age, time, date and place of death, cause of death, usual residence, forenames, surname and occupation of spouses, forenames, surname and occupation of father, forenames, surname and maiden surname of mother, signature of informant, date of registration, signature of registrar

The general rule is that once made a register entry remains unchanged. However the Registrar General maintains a register of corrections etc in which amendments to the other registers can be entered. Some changes are possible:

  1. an error of fact in any register entry may be corrected
  2. a birth entry where the parents subsequently marry may be cancelled and replaced
  3. a marriage entry may be cancelled if a court declares the marriage was void

There are some cases in which an entry is made in the register of corrections and a marginal note beside the original entry gives a reference to this. These include cases where:

  1. a court has made an order of parentage
  2. the subject of the entry has changed his name
  3. further information about a death has become available

Documents issued from the Registers

There is a statutory requirement for various officials to be notified of certain events (eg births to local public health authorities, deaths to local tax authorities). Otherwise, information is given by way of official extracts. In most, but not all, cases the extract reproduces the information in the register as amended by any entry in the register of corrections.

Except in the case of stillbirths (for which the permission of the Registrar General is required) anyone may purchase an extract on payment of the relevant fee.

Extracts from the registers are accepted in courts as evidence of the events to which they relate.

Consultation of registers

Any member of the public, on payment of a fee, has a statutory right of access to the indexes to the registers and, on payment of a further fee, can buy an extract of an entry in the registers.

Members of the public paying for access to the indexes to the registers are generally also allowed, by an administrative decision of the Registrar General not enshrined in statute, to inspect the registers. See our list of services page for more information.

GRO(S) has two offices, both located in Edinburgh:

New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 3YT

New Register House is at the east end of Edinburgh's Princes Street, directly opposite the Balmoral Hotel, a few minutes' walk from the main Waverley railway station, the bus station and the airport bus stop. There is no space for car parking or for baggage storage. If informed in advance we can make arrangements for customers with disabilities.

Ladywell House, Ladywell Road, Edinburgh, Scotland EH12 7TF

Ladywell House is located in Corstorphine on the west side of Edinburgh. Head west on the A8 from the city centre and turn left at the Drumbrae roundabout. Turn left at the next roundabout into Ladywell Road. Ladywell House is on the left about 75m further on.

These buildings are normally open to customers between 0900 and 1630 hours, Monday to Friday.

Telephone numbers are:

The following abbreviations are used for Branch names:

The following abbreviations are used for Branch locations:

Topic Branch Location Contact Ext
Registration services REGN NRH Mrs P Doogan 467
Adoptions and parental orders; re-registrations of births; changes of name REGN NRH Mrs L Macaulay 456
Marriage preliminaries; correction of errors REGN NRH Mrs K O'Donnell 447
Archives and records; public counter sale of extracts REGN NRH Mrs H Ewing 433
Archives and records; postal sale of extracts REGN NRH Mr D Coxon 446
Population Statistics; mid-year population estimates; population projections; migration statistics; electorate data PSB LH Mr K Dargie 301
Vital Events; births; deaths; marriages; life expectancy PSB LH Mrs C Crook 243
Census statistics 1801 - 1991 CEN LH Mr P Jamieson 254
Digital boundary and geography products CEN LH Mr P Jamieson 338
Future Censuses CEN LH Mr P Jamieson 254
Medical Research NHSCR LH Mrs A Murray 224

New Register House

If you are planning to visit New Register House to research your Scottish ancestors you may the following information useful.

First of all, New Register House is located just off Princes Street, less than five minutes walk from Waverley Railway Station. While there are about 100 positions available for people carrying out their own researches, to be sure of getting a place, especially in the summer months, advance booking is advisable. This can be done by telephone (031 314 4441 or 031 314 4441) fax (031 314 4400 or 031 314 4400) or by mail to General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT.

The charge for one day's search is currently £16 and payment may be made by Visa, MasterCard or cheque. If you are making application in person, in addition you can pay in cash, a Sterling travellers' cheque or by Switch.

When you arrive at New Register House you will be given a numbered ticket and asked to wait your turn to buy a pass at the public counter. This should not take more than a few minutes. While you are waiting there is a continuous video film shown in the waiting room describing how to go about your search. You are most unlikely to have to wait so long that you will see more than a small part of the film!

It is important to note that space is limited so don't bring any bulky items of luggage with you. Also you must use a pencil to record your findings. It is worthwhile bringing two, but if you don't have a pencil you can buy one (or two!) at the public desk. The proceeds for the sale of pencils go to a local charity.

Once you have got your pass for the day you will be allocated a numbered desk in one of the three search rooms - the Dome Room, the East Wing or the West Wing. There you will meet the room supervisor who will show you to your desk and give you a run-down on the procedures. The supervisor will be very pleased to help you with any difficulties you may encounter during the day. The supervisors are anxious to help and give advice on how to proceed with your search, so don't be afraid to ask!

Basically there are two categories of search you can undertake using the computer terminals provided in each search room. These are the Old Parish Records of Births, Deaths and Marriages from 1553 to 1854 and the Statutory Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages from 1855 to the present day. The OPRs are far from comprehensive but from 1855 registration was compulsory so a full record is available.

The first piece of information to be obtained from the computer terminal is the index of the birth, death or marriage. If you have never used a computer before, don't worry as full instructions are given on-screen of how to proceed. And remember there is always the helpful supervisor if you are really stuck.

If the details of person you are seeking appears on the screen complete one of the Order Slips provided and go to the area where the microfiches are stored and extract the microfiche from the drawer labelled with the year of the event and the RD number (i.e. 1855 for year and 559/1 for the RD No. in the above example). There will be a microfiche reader at your desk and, in the case illustrated above, look for the entry number 343 and this will give full details of, again in the case of James McAusland above, his birth and his parent's names and occupations etc. You can then copy down all the details for your notes, in pencil of course!

Similar computerised indexes are available for the pre-1855 OPR indexes with the actual records available on micro-film.

There is also access to census returns from 1841 to 1891 on micro-film.

If you have searched in the index for a particular event and the computer fails to display what you want, then the computer system is designed to allow you to search for the year before or the year after the particular event initially displayed. You can continue with this process to search for "the year-before-the year-before" indefinitely and the same with "the year-after". Also very useful is the facility to search for similar sounding names and different spellings of the same name. In the index for the Statutory Register, cross referencing a woman's married name and her maiden name for marriage or for death is provided for. With all deaths it is possible to limit the search to a range of the age of the person at death.

There are a number of helpful leaflets available on application from General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT.

If you are unable to make a trip to Edinburgh there are a number of people as well as the General Register Office who will carry out your research for a fee.