Learning Zone - Sasines - Scottish Property Records

Quick Facts

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Types of Records

Sasines from 1617 to the present day

Searching for sasines between 1617 and 1781

Finding sasines from 1781 to the present day

Tracing the history of your house

Indexes to the General and Particular Registers of Sasines (pre-1781)

Indexes and Abridgements of the General and Particular Registers of Sasines (post-1781)

Quick Facts

Lets begin with pronunciation, sasine is pronounced 'say-zin’. It can help to understand the origin of the word. Sasine comes from the Old French word ‘seisine’, meaning to seize or take. When property was transferred a ceremony took place. Symbols of ownership (such as a clod of earth and some stones) were given on the ground of the property being transferred, and written proof of the transaction was made. This written proof was called an instrument of sasine. There were variations on this ceremony which dates back at least the 1200s.

With no official register, however, the system was open to abuse and it was recognised that a register was needed.

Notorial protocol books were the earliest registers of land ownership. A few of these protocol books survive from the 15th century but many have been lost. In 1599 an attempt at a national system was made with the introduction of the Secretary's Register but this system was short-lived and abolished in 1608.

The General Register of Sasines and the Particular Register of Sasines begin in 1617 and the earliest Royal Burgh Registers of Sasines begin in 1681. This system was to change very little for nearly 400 years.

All land transfers should be registered, but in the case of inheritance it was sometimes many years after a person inherited property that the sasine is registered. Historically, only a very small proportion of Scottish people owned land. Even wealthy ancestors may have rented from large landowners.

The Register of Sasines records heritable property being transferred. Heritable property consisted of land, buildings, minerals and mining rights. Frequently, the Register records a property being purchased, but it also often records a person inheriting a property.

The Royal Burgh Registers were discontinued between 1926 and 1963. In recent years the sasine registers have been gradually replaced by the modern Land Register of Scotland which you can find out more about on the Registers of Scotland website.

The Registers of Sasines are held by the National Records of Scotland and many have been digitised for easy consultation. We offer a ‘Record Retrieval/Quick Look-up’ service if you have a reference and would simply like a copy of the original sasine.

Although we may think of the sasines as property records, and they are, we do find a variety deeds (all connected with heritable property) registered in the volumes. Loans secured on the property, such as mortgages, would also be registered in these volumes.

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Types of Records

Register of Sasines

An instrument of sasine is a deed recording the transfer of property. The original instrument of sasine was generally kept by the family (or their legal representative). Today, when we look at the register of sasines, we are looking at a copy of the instrument of sasine which was registered. For this reason, it is also possible to find instruments of sasine in private family papers.

The earliest registers of ownership of heritable property are protocol books, dating from the 15th and 16th century, but many of these have been lost. Those which have survived can be found in a variety of local and national archives. A few have been indexed and published.

In 1599 an attempt to provide a national system of land registration was made with the introduction of the Secretary’s Register. Sadly not all of these registers have survived.

In 1617 the system which changed little until the late 20th century was introduced, with the General Register of Sasines and the Particular Register of Sasines being introduced in that year.

General Register of Sasines - A sasine from anywhere in Scotland could be registered in the General Register. In practice this register was often used when the property concerned was in more than one county. The General Register is referred to as ‘GR’ in the abridgements and other finding aids.

Particular Registers of Sasines - Generally speaking, there is a Particular Register of Sasines for each Scottish county (some counties were combined). These registers were used for land that was contained within one county. The Particular Registers are referred to as ‘PR’ in the abridgements and other finding aids.

Burgh Registers of Sasines - From 1681 Royal Burghs could establish their own registers. Most burghs which were not Royal Burghs did not operate their own sasine registers. Sasines concerning transfers within in the burgh could be recorded in these registers. Although containing relatively few sasines, these burgh records are not included in the index which we will discuss later in this Learning Zone, so it is therefore important to know if land was within a Royal Burgh.

General Register of Sasines with County Divisions - In 1868 the system was simplified, with the old Particular Registers being abolished. Alls sasines were now registered in the General Register, which was subdivided into county divisions.

Abridgements with Indexes - From 1781 onwards, very useful printed abridgements were made. These are a summary of the sasine and are extremely helpful to the researcher. The index to the abridgements enables you to quickly find the entry you need and then consult the sasine. This is much quicker than looking at the sasine in each case and as the abridgements are printed they are easier to read.

Sasines from 1617 to the present day

From 1617 all instruments of sasines had to be registered in one of the registers described above. Although all transfer of land from 1617 should have been registered, we may not find the record when we expect. The Land Register which commenced in 1981 progressively replaced the Register of Sasines.

Although it is free to search historical sasine records in the National Records of Scotland, there is a small fee for searching modern records. This page is describing searches for historical research, if you have a query regarding a recent land transaction, pleases see the Registers of Scotland website: www.ros.gov.uk.

Heritable property, that is land, buildings, minerals and mining rights, could not be bequeathed in a will until 1868 (although there were legal ways around this which you can read about in the Deeds section of our Learning Zone). Generally, the eldest son inherited his father’s heritable property. If an inheritance was not disputed an heir may not have gone through the formal process of registering the transfer for years. Eventually however the land would be registered, although sometimes a whole generation later!

Sasines follow a set form and, as with many legal documents, are not pithy! Although the entire sasine can be useful and contain vital information the first paragraph gives some of the most vital information.

Within the first paragraph of a sasine you will see a description of the lands concerned. You will also see the names of the parties involved in the transfer. This first paragraph will also tell you the terms of the lands being conveyed, including whether the land been inherited or purchased, for example. Another useful part of a sasine to look for are the witnesses. If you are tracing your family history these witnesses can be a vital clue as they could be family members.

As sasines follow a standard format you will soon get used to the layout, even though it is a bit daunting at first. Until the 18th century most sasines were written in Latin so that can present an additional challenge. The book, “Formulary of Old Scots Documents” Compiled by Peter Gouldesbrough is helpful to understanding many Scots legal documents. Although out of print there are copies in various libraries which you can consult. A copy is available to consult in the Historical Search room of the National Records of Scotland, where you would also be looking at these historical sasines. The difficulty in reading the sasines makes the printed abridgements from 1781 even more valuable.

To assist you further we offer a transcription service. This can be a full transcription but we are happy to make partial transcription or summaries of longer documents, just get in touch and we can discuss the options with you.

Searching for sasines between 1617 and 1781

Register of Sasines

Scottish sasine (property) records are held by the National Records of Scotland, with the exception of the Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee Burgh Registers prior to 1809 that are held at the City Archives of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee respectively.

Before 1781 there is no comprehensive index to the sasine registers and there are three possible series we may need to search.

General Register of Sasines - The General Register of Sasines is indexed from 1617 to 1735 (printed index volumes available in the National Records of Scotland). We have begun a project to index the unindexed period of the General Register of Sasines, you can see our coverage here on our website.

For the period where no index exists we recommend you use the minute books to find the entry you need then consult the sasine register. Sadly, not all periods even have minute books so if that is the case we simply have to search the sasine registers themselves.

It may be the case that a sasine mentions the previous sasine relating to the same property, with the date of that transfer being mentioned. This can make it possible to follow the papertrail back from the indexed period to quite successfully find sasines in the unindexed period.

Particular Registers of Sasines - Indexing of the Particular Registers of Sasines varies greatly but when indexes do exist these can often be found in a variety of libraries as well as the National Records of Scotland.

There is a list of the Particular Register of Sasines along with covering dates of any existing indexes at the bottom of this page.

We are indexing the Particular Register of Sasines for the counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. Find out about helping us expand our index on our crowdfunding page or see our progress so far on our coverage page.

Burgh Registers of Sasines - There are relatively few indexes to the Burgh Registers of Sasines. The burgh registers were only for Royal Burghs and only land falling wholly within the Burgh could be registered in the Burgh Register.

As a sasine for burgh land could also be registered in the Particular Register of Sasines for that county. We would therefore recommend starting with the Particular Register of Sasines index, if it exists.

The good news is that most Burgh Registers of Sasines are relatively small, so if you do need to search these registers it should not take too long.

Finding sasines from 1781 to the present day

From 1781 we have a few very useful tools. First of all we have the ‘RAC’ search tool available in the National Records of Scotland. This computerised search tool enables us to search the digitised sasine indexes and abridgements.

Before 1781 there is no comprehensive index to the sasine registers and there are three possible series we may need to search.

Although computerised there are some glitches in the RAC search tool and error messages are often displayed. If the RAC search tool is not displaying results use the digitised ‘paper indexes’ on the computer. These paper indexes were available on the open shelves until a few years ago and are very easy to use. Using either the digitised ‘paper’ index or the RAC search tool you can use search by by place or name (but not both at the same time).

The RAC search tool links to the abridgments (here is an example of what the sasine abridgements look like). The summary of the sasine that you can read in the abridgement should help you identify the correct sasine. Use the references in the abridgement to locate the sasine. Most sasines from 1781 have now been digitised.

Deciphering the references in the abridgments are not too difficult but you will find handy guides next to the computers in the Historical Search room of the National Records of Scotland that should help. The staff are very friendly and if you are having difficulty just ask for help. Once you find a sasine using this system you can print it at a cost of 50 pence per image. We recommend this as it means you can take it home to read and interpret it!

Our experienced research can help you access these records, just get in touch to discuss your search requirements. For modern searches please see the Registers of Scotland website: www.ros.gov.uk.

Tracing the history of your house

The various Registers of Sasines were compiled chronologically. You cannot simply look up an address to see who was living there on any given year (which would be quite helpful). To trace the history of your house it is best to start with the modern records and go back in time. As mentioned earlier, however, many people in Scotland did not own their own home so be prepared to discover that any property you own was part of a larger estate before the mid-20th century.

To begin searching the history of your home we would suggest using the valuation rolls first, to discover who owned the property and if it was part of an estate. This will make the next step using the sasine records easier. Find our more about valuation rolls in our how-to guide.

Another way way to find out the history of your house can be to make keyword searches on websites such as ours, just search by the name of your house or village and see what comes up.

Find out more about historical Scottish records in other sections of our free Scottish genealogy Learning Zone.

Indexes to the General and Particular Registers of Sasines (pre-1781)

All indexes below are available in the Historical Search Room of the National Records of Scotland, with many others available at major libraries in Scotland and worldwide. Some indexes are available for free from various locations online, please click on the links below to view them (please note that we are not responsible for external websites and there may be a login required to access some sites):

General Register of Sasines
Indexes: 1617-1700, 1701-1720, 1721-1735

Particular Registers of Sasines
Aberdeen: 1599-1609 & 1617-1629; 1630-1660
Angus (Forfar): 1620-1700.
Argyll, Bute and Dumbarton: 1617-1780.
Ayr: 1599-1609; 1617-1634; 1635-1660.
Banff: 1600-1609 & 1617-1780.
Berwick: 1617-1780 A-H; 1617-1780 I-Z.
Caithness: 1646-1780.
Dumfries & Kirkcudbright: 1617-1701; 1672-1702; 1703-1732; 1733-1780.
Fife & Kinross: 1603-1660.
Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian (Edinburgh, Haddington and Linlithgow): 1599-1660.
Inverness, Caithness (1606-1645), Sutherland and Ross & Cromarty: 1606-1780.
Kincardine: 1600-1608 & 1617-1657.
Lanark: 1618-1780.
Moray (Elgin): 1617-1780.
Orkney & Shetland: 1617-1660.
Perth: 1601-1609.
Renfrew: None.
Roxburgh, Selkirk & Peebles: 1780 (search online at Scottish Indexes).
Stirling & Clackmannan: None.
Wigtown: None.

Indexes and Abridgements of the General and Particular Registers of Sasines (post-1781)

These are all available in the Historical Search Room of the National Records of Scotland, via the RAC search tool and digitised images of the original abridgements and indexes. A small number are also available online:

Argyll
Abridgements: 1781-1820, 1821-30, 1831-1840, 1841-1845, 1846-1850, 1851-1855, 1856-1860, 1861-1864, 1865-1868, 1869-1870, 1871-1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893.

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