The English in Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

20080623Rowallan.bmpA few months ago I wrote about the Irish in England. This article takes a look at the English in Scotland, a topic that receives little attention. However, in recent years, and from a modern perspective, academics and others in the UK are taking an interest. In 2001 the number of people living in Scotland who were born in England was at its highest level ever–more than 400,000, just above 8 percent of the population. These same numbers are reflected in the make-up of the elected members of the Scottish parliament, and it comes as a surprise to many that Scottish lawmakers are not all Scottish.
The English are the largest ethnic minority group in Scotland. They took over the number one position back in 1921, from the Irish. As for the Irish-born, their numbers were largest in 1881 at 218,745. In 2001 they had fallen to only 21,774. Keep in mind these numbers relate to birthplace and not to what people state as their ethnic origin.

Numbers and politics are interesting but it is the history that fascinates me and it should also be of interest to anyone researching in Scotland. Some of your assumptions about the depth of your Scottish roots could be wrong. In the past 200 years, more than 1 million English have moved north of the border to what was once referred to as North Britain.

Not many of those migrants were wealthy people looking for fishing and hunting retreats. They were laborers, the skilled and unskilled–riveters, framework knitters, and domestic servants, to describe a few. It was the Industrial Revolution that speeded up the flow of people northward. Workers went to Glasgow and the Clyde for the ship building and to border towns such as Hawick where the woolen and hosiery industries were growing. Numbers of English-born workers were highest in the border counties.

Genealogical Considerations
You cannot always recognize a name as English or Scottish. Part of your research should include reading about surnames in sources such as the Surnames of Scotland (Black, 1989). You should also check the distribution of the surname in Scotland and England, easy to do for the census year of 1881 using the surname profiler at the website of the English National Trust.

Once you know the parish where your ancestors lived, read about its history, in particular about the local economy and whether any manufacturing grew in the nineteenth century. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (Groome, 1884-85) is a good place to start, and it can be found at Ancestry.

When your research is crossing into Scotland, pay particular attention to the differences between records. Take the time to consult information about contents, indexes, and access before starting research. Here are a few notes about six types of records.

Civil Registration: Civil registration began at the beginning of 1855, eighteen years later in Scotland than in England. Scottish records have the advantage of being more informative than their English counterparts, and complete surviving indexes are on the Web at ScotlandsPeople.

Census: Census records are available for the same years and in the same format as the England censuses. Indexes and transcripts are at Ancestry, indexes and images are available at ScotlandsPeople, and quite a large proportion of 1841 and 1851 can be searched at FreeCen.

Church registers: The Church of Scotland was the established church and in 1855 all its records were gathered together in Edinburgh and are part of the holdings of the General Register Office for Scotland. (In the twelve or so years before 1855, less than half the population of Scotland belonged to the Established Church.) Christenings and marriages are in the International Genealogical Index at FamilySearch and are also available at ScotlandsPeople.

Directories: Similar to England, the earliest and more inclusive directories were for larger cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. Check the U.S. and UK Directories 1680-1830 collection at Ancestry for these.

Voters’ lists: Before the first British Reform Bill of 1832 there was a much smaller percentage of people in Scotland who were qualified to vote.

Wills: These are far easier to check in Scotland because they had a civil system dating from the sixteenth century; a free index (you must register) to all wills and inventories is at the ScotlandsPeople website.

Your immigrant to the U.S., Canada, Australia, or even England, could be something other than a Scot. So many English moved north, particularly after the union of the two countries in 1707, that you really must consider the possibility. One final bit of advice, if your roots are in the Borders, whether in England or Scotland, read The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser. It is the well-told history of the fighting families of the area–the “Border Reivers.” They and their descendents lived their lives as though no government had drawn a line between England and Scotland.

Black, George F. Surnames of Scotland. New York: New York Public Library, 1989.

Fraser, George MacDonald. The Steel Bonnets. London: Pan Books, 1971.

Groome, Frances. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland. Edinburgh: T.C. Jack, 1884-85.

Irvine, Sherry. Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2003.

Watson, Murray. Scotland’s English Clan. History Today, June 2005, Vol. 55, Issue 6.

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Sherry Irvine, CG, is an author, teacher and lecturer specializing in English, Scottish and Irish family history. She is the Course Director and co-owner of Pharos Teaching and Tutoring (, a British company. Her books include Your English Ancestry” (2d ed., 1998) and “Scottish Ancestry” (2003). From 1996 to 2006 she was a study tour leader, course coordinator, and instructor for English and Scottish programs at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. She is vice-president of the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History.


1 thought on “The English in Scotland, by Sherry Irvine, CG

  1. I was happy to have the reminders you make in this article as some of my ancestors likely were English in Scotland.

    I would like to advise of a great source of historical information about Britain, British History Online, at

    Thank you for the article,
    Eric Langley
    Courtenay, BC

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