FAMILY HERITAGE OF THE ORKNEY ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND
Also including Caithness and the Shetlands Isles
THE CURSITERS OF ORKNEY, SCOTLAND AND THEIR DESCENDANTS WORLDWID
Including the Orcadian surnames: Cursiter, Cusiter, Cusitar, Cursetter,Cusator, Custer, Cursater, Cursitter,
Cursator, Cursatter, Cursittar, Custard, Curseter and thirty other variant spellings
Walter D. Custer
July 4, 1997
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE ORKNEY ISLANDS
The Orkney Islands form anarchipelago in the North Sea and(depending on the island) are about 8 to 50 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Their land area totals 974 sq km (376 sq mi) with less than one-third of the 67 islands being inhabited. The major populated islands are "the Mainland" (once called Pomona) which includes the largest cities - Kirkwall (the administrative seat) and Stromness, S. Ronaldsay, Burray, Hoy, Shapinsay, Rousay, Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and N. Ronaldsay. Of glacial origin, the Orkneys are low, almost treeless, windswept, and wet, but the climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. The present total Orcadian population approaches 20,000. Major industries include farming and fishing and more recently petroleum.
Historically the Orcadian people have had strong Norse genetic and cultural ties. The Orkney Islands were first inhabited by Neolithic peoples. By the 6th century AD the Picts had settled there. The Vikings invaded during the 8th century and remained in control under the Norwegian crown until 1231, when the islands became a possession of the Scottish earls of Angus. Since 1472 the Orkneys have been ruled by the Scottish crown. During both world wars SCAPA FLOW was the main British naval base.
GENERAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In January 1983 as a hobby I began a genealogical search of the predecessors and descendants of my grandfather Robert Wallace Cursiter who was born in 1872 in Lady Parish, Sanday, Orkney, Scotland.
SCOPE OF THIS PAPER
Owing to the uniqueness of the Cursiter name and its clear Orcadian origin, I have expanded this surname search to include all Cursiters (and variant spellings) worldwide, whether they are my proven relatives or not.
The earliest recorded Cursiter that I have found is Andro Cursiter who in 1532 was listed as being from the farm of Cursetter in Firth on the Orkney mainland. Per the ORIGIN OF THE CURSITER NAME section of this paper the surname CURSITER appears to have been derived from this farm name CURSETTER in Firth and possibly independently from farms of the same name on Stronsay, Birsay and North Ronaldsay.
Based upon a search of the old parish Christening/birth records (dating from 1657 - 1755 depending on the parish) and also old land records, people named "Cursiter" (including variant spellings) lived in the parishes of Kirkwall and St Ola, Firth and Stenness, Sanday, Papa Westray, South Ronaldsay, Stromness, Eday and Pharay, Sandwick, Stronsay, Orphir, Evie and Rendall, Birsay, Shapinsay, Harray, Holm and Paplay, and St Andrews. Of these parishes the oldest Cursiter settlements on record were on the Orkney mainland (Firth, Kirkwall, Holm, Stromness, Birsay, Orphir, and St Andrews). In addition there was a large Cursiter concentration in Cross Parish, Sanday (some of whom later migrated to Papa Westray) and in South Ronaldsay. Curiously although there was a farm on North Ronaldsay also called "Cursetter", no trace of Cursiters from that island can be found in the records.
It is quite possible that prior to the 16th century all the Cursiters arose from a common stock - the inhabitants of the farm of Cursetter in Firth. Since the Cross, Sanday parish record keeping only began 1755, I can not be sure when my own Cursiter ancestors began using this surname or if and when they immigrated to Sanday from Firth.
MY CURSITER HERITAGE
My grandfather Robert Wallace Cursiter was born 26 February 1872 at Lady Parish, Sanday, Orkney, Scotland. Robert's parents were Robert Cursiter (born 1848 - the son of Robert Cursiter b1821 and Christina Turfus) and his wife Mary Wallace (the daughter of David Wallace and Elizabeth Drever).
In 1890 my grandfather Robert (with his parents and four sisters) left Orkney, sailing from Glasgow 3 June 1890 on the ship "Canadian" and arriving at the port of Quebec 14 June 1890. The "passenger list" shows that their ultimate destination was Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. As a number of Orcadians settled in Hamilton in this time period, perhaps Robert's family followed the emigration lead of related Turfuses, Drevers and Wallaces. The Quebec passenger lists, the 1891 Hamilton census and the 1888 to 1900 city directories contain many of these Orcadian surnames. Robert, his parents and sisters, lived in Hamilton until 1898. He was a tailor and his father worked for the local railroad.
In 1898 the entire family emigrated to Chicago, Illinois. Robert's father continued to work for the railroad (as a night watchman) until his death in 1907. My grandfather Robert worked as a tailor in the shop of Fred Grant (who later married Robert's sister Mary). There he met a coworker Christine Hrubec (surname later changed to "Roberts"). Robert and Christine married at the Lake Michigan resort of St Joseph, Michigan 15 July 1902. They had three children - my father Robert born 10 July 1903, and his sisters Mildred born 1905 and Lorraine born 1908. Unfortunately my grandfather enjoyed his fiddle, pipe and beer too much to suit my more conservative grandmother. They separated in about 1912 and he moved back to Canada. He died in Montreal of throat cancer 07 February 1928.
I have traced my own family line back eight generations from my birth November 30, 1942 in Orange, New Jersey to my oldest proven ancestors - Robert Cursitter and his wife Jean Cursitter (Cursitter was her maiden and married name). Interestingly the first male of each of these eight Cursiter generations (including my father and my older half-brother) was a "Robert".
My oldest ancestor Robert, a sailor, was born in the mid 1700's possibly in Cross Parish, Sanday. Robert and Jean's only recorded child (parish records) was Robert born February 1, 1778 in Cross Parish. This Robert married Janet Fotheringshame and had three children Robert (b1800), Margaret (b1802) and William (b1811).
Robert (b1778) died in Cross parish on January 25, 1855 - "waiting just long enough" to be included in the newly mandatory civil death records. His death record (rich in information - the norm for 1855, the first year of recording) proved his parentage and confirmed that he had only three children. It stated that "he was born in Cross parish and he had lived there all his life". If Robert had died 26 days earlier (prior to 1855) I wouldn't have nearly as conclusive evidence of my family's heritage!
His son Robert (b1800), my great, great, great grandfather married Janet Cock, remained on Sanday and continued the family line. Their only child Robert (b1821) married Christine Turfus and had 7 children including my great grandfather Robert b1848 who married Mary Wallace and emigrated to the USA.
Margaret (b1802), Robert's sister, married John Wards of Sanday and had seven children. Margaret died young but her husband and children settled on the farm of Castles on the nearby island of Eday. Castles is inhabited today by Miss Marie Stewart Wards, a great granddaughter of Margaret and John.
William (b1811), Robert's brother, married twice - first to Janet Scott who died young possibly after the birth of their second child. William remarried Traill Hay and between 1841 and 1851 emigrated from Sanday to the island of Papa Westray. William and Traill had six more children - descendants of whom still live on Papa Westray and the Orkney mainland. William, both a fisherman and farmer, had a wandering spirit and lived for a while in N America, afterwards returning to a farm in Deerness on the Orkney mainland and ultimately back to Papa Westray where he and his wife farmed until their deaths in the 1880's. Willie Cursiter of Charleston, Papa Westray remembers stories about his great grandfather William. Willie reports that "he was a better fisherman than farmer" and that he was referred to somewhat derogatorily as the "globetrotter"! Willie claims that William's relatives "stepped-in" and insisted that he return from N America and support his family in Orkney.
My own family's history (including all of the people mentioned above) is detailed in the enclosed chart "Descendants of Robert Cursitter (RN=205)". It includes all the known descendants of my great, great, great, great, great grand parents Robert and Jean Cursitter including the names, addresses and if possible telephone numbers of their living relations. Similar charts are enclosed for other Cursiter lines.
GENERAL DETAILS OF MY GENEALOGICAL SEARCHES
When I began this search in 1983 I didn't know from where in Scotland our family had originated. After an initial search of the US censuses and the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and, then after locating the birth certificate of one of Robert and Mary's children, I was able to establish that Sanday was their previous home.
In June 1983 my wife Nancy, son Andy, brother John, parents and I were all able to visit Orkney for the first time. Through quick searches of the IGI, the censuses and a few civil records in the New Register House, Edinburgh, we were able to trace our heritage back until about 1800. We then visited Kirkwall and Sanday (one day each).
From July 83 until June 84 I pursued our family genealogy primarily through searches of the Scottish census, civil vital records, and parish records. All of these were available to some extent (microfilm copies) in the USA. I also began to correspond with the Wallace and Cursiter families that I located in the Orkney phone book.
In June 84 my wife and I again visited Orkney, this time allowing a total of one week in Sanday, Papa Westray and Kirkwall. We concentrated on visiting the relatives we had located and also the Registrars of Sanday and Papa Westray (to copy the civil records of these islands). My wife, sons Andy and Ken and I visited Orkney again for two weeks in 1988.
After returning from Orkney with a tremendous amount of Wallace, Cursiter, Drever and Turfus data that was not generally available in the USA, I decided to expand my family search to include all of the descendants of these families. I began first with the Sanday Wallaces and Cursiters. With the aid of my Apple II+ computer (later upgraded to an IBM PCAT with a 80 megabyte hard disk) and Quinsept's FAMILY ROOTS genealogy software, I entered every Wallace and Cursiter we found in the records into my computer data base. Many people who at first appeared not to be relatives were now found to fit onto the family tree! Even if I couldn't establish a relationship to our family I still kept them in the data base.
In late 1985 I placed an notice in the ORCADIAN (the local Orkney newspaper) offering copies of my Wallace paper free to interested family members. I also mentioned my Cursiter family study. I received about 30 responses and included the information each family provided.
In January 1989 I placed another notice in the Orcadian offering both my Wallace and Cursiter papers free to family members.
In October and November 1989, as part of a business trip to Europe, I (alone) visited Orkney, this time to spend a week in the Orkney Library. Most of my efforts were devoted to the Sanday kirk session records (dating from 1697) and to a lessor extent the Sheriff's Court Records. Both of these sources gave a good "snapshot" of Orcadian life - especially pre 1800. During this trip to Orkney, I also had time to visit friends in the evenings and weekends and was able to obtain some additional contemporary family information. WALLACE RESEARCH
As noted above my great grandparents, who left Sanday in 1890 for Canada and afterwards (1898) for Chicago were Robert Cursiter and his wife Mary Wallace. In 1901 Mary Wallace's brother William Wallace, a butcher in Kirkwall, also emigrated to Chicago with his wife Barbara McLachlan and their eight children. I have traced Mary and William's family in a paper THE WALLACES OF SANDAY, ORKNEY, SCOTLAND.
My Wallace paper is not now and never will be complete. I have done the "easy part" by tracing my Wallace forbearers as far back as the oldest records exist for Sanday - the 1841 census, the 1855 civil birth, marriage and death records and the oldest parish birth and marriage records (1735 for Lady and 1758 for Cross and Burness). As time allows I plan to expand my Wallace scope to include all of Orkney. This would include the large Wallace settlements in Walls and the Orkney mainland. As I have done with the Cursiters I would like to trace the Orcadian Wallaces throughout Scotland using the 1855-present vital records. Unfortunately "Wallace" is not uniquely Orcadian. It is a common name throughout Scotland with many different origins. It would take years in New Register House to look up every birth, marriage and death record to check for Orcadian ancestors! Perhaps someday the civil records will be computerized and this search can be done "by a press of a button". Until then I'll limit my search to Orkney!
In late 1991 I began actively working on THE TURFUS FAMILIES OF ORKNEY. While not yet "published" in any fashion I have completed much of the research. The search of the civil birth, marriage and death records for 1855-1990 for all of Scotland is complete. I have compiled an index based on these civil records as well as the IGI and some census data. Most of this information has been entered into my computer. I now need to write the text, print the "books" and send preliminary copies to Turfus family members for comment. Hopefully this will be done in 1992 as time allows.
After temporarily "completing" my Wallace paper in early 1987, I began devoting my full efforts to the Cursiters. Having already gathered information on the Sanday /Papa Westray line, I determined to expand my scope to all Orcadian Cursiters and variant spellings worldwide. In early 1987 I sent a general mailing to all Cursiters (and variants) in the Highlands and Islands, Edinburgh and Glasgow phone books as well as to a number of Canadian residents. To date I have received over 60 responses.
Using my computer I created master Cursiter birth, marriage and death indices. I began to systematically collect all public information. I copied (three books/year for 1855-1965) the indices to the Scottish civil birth, marriage and death records for all Cursiters (and variants). I subsequently again visited the New Register House in Edinburgh and, with the help of friends and ultimately two professional genealogists, copied the full record for each Cursiter entry. The result was every birth, marriage and death record for every Cursiter for all of Scotland for 1855 - 1986!
I also entered all the Cursiter IGI births and marriages for Scotland. The IGI is a rather complete index to the pre 1855 parish records (for those parishes indexed to date). Fortunately the IGI indexing began at the northern most parish (Shetland) and is complete for Orkney and northern Scotland.
Other information sources thus far have included many invaluable personal communications as well as all of Sanday's and to date, about 50% of the balance of Orkney's 1841-81 censuses, various phone books, articles in the ORCADIAN, some sasines, Peterkin's Notes on Orkney and Zetland, Clouston's Notes on an Odal Family, Johnston's Orcadian Families - Cursetter, The Register of Testaments, Orkney 1611-1684, John Scott Cursiter and/or James Walls Cursiter's "My Great Grandfather Notes", Stanley Cursiter's letter to Alexander Cursiter, and Barclay's Orkney Testaments and Inventories 1573-1615. I still have quite a bit of readily available information to search. Time is my only problem. Unfortunately I must work for a living also!
I have donated copies of THE WALLACES OF SANDAY (British Book Area 929.241 W155cw) and THE CURSITERS OF ORKNEY (929.241 C939c) to the Mormon Church's FAMILY HISTORY genealogy library in Salt Lake City. While I am not a Mormon I certainly admire their superb genealogy library. I have used their facilities often. They are the ones who compiled the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and microfilmed the old Scottish parish, census and civil vital records. By donating copies of my Wallace and Cursiter papers, they will be made available on LDS microfilm to genealogy researchers worldwide. I have also provided a copies of both papers to the "ORCADIAN ROOM" of the Kirkwall library and the New Register House in Edinburgh.
I am "publishing" this Cursiter paper in its present unfinished form to solicit comments and hopefully make others aware of my work. I feel that even in its present form it contains large quantities of information not readily available in one book. The birth index, descendancy charts and the list of names and addresses of my personal contacts may be helpful to some family members. I expect that I will improve this work over the next few years and that it will slowly evolve into a more complete and polished paper. Copies are available free on request for non-commercial purposes. I look forward to your comments including your contributions and recommended changes.
ORIGIN OF THE CURSITER NAME
The name "Cursiter" (like many other Orcadian surnames) is believed to have been derived from a placename - in this case the farm of Cursetter located in the parish of Firth about three miles northwest of Kirkwall on the mainland of Orkney.
Gregor Lamb in his book ORKNEY SURNAMES (published in 1980) when discussing the origin of the Cursiter surname wrote:
CURSITER: Andro Cursiter, 1532: from the farm of Cursetter in the parish of Firth: also spelt Cusator and Cusiter, the spelling Cursiter being most common and the spelling Cusiter, rare: formerly always pronounced 'Custer': a common surname, widely scattered throughout Orkney, it is also the most common surname to originate from one single farm: Black in his SURNAMES OF SCOTLAND states firmly that General Custer of American history had no Orkney connection, his forefathers coming from Prussia and the original German surname being Kuster meaning a church officer: this surname also originated in England where it is found in the form Custer meaning 'a maker of cushions.
George Fraser Black in his book THE SURNAMES OF SCOTLAND wrote:
CURSITER. From the lands called Cursetter in the parish of Firth, Orkney. Magnus Cursetter "in that Ilk" had from Earl Robert Stewart a feu charter of the three penny land of Cursetter in 1587, in which he and his predecessors "is and has bein in peacobill possesioun . . . past memorie of man" (OS, Rec., I, p.209), General George Custer of the United States Army (killed by the Indians in 1876) was believed to have been a son of Cursetter of Binscarth, who immigrated to the United States (Clouston, A Note on a Odal Family, p. 136). This however is not so - the general was of German descent, from one KÅster, a Hessian soldier paroled after Burgoyne's surrender in 1777. Corsatir 1536, Cursattour 1532, Cursettare 1574.
Assuming that the surname "Cursiter" is derived from the placename "Cursetter" one must next establish the derivation of the placename itself.
James B Johnston in his PLACENAMES OF SCOTLAND gives the derivation of this placename "Cursetter" as being from the OLD NORSE "ky-r soeter" meaning "cow (ky-r) and summer grazing place or pasture (soeter)". He notes that there are two farms named "Cursetter" in Orkney - one in Firth and a second on the northern island of North Ronaldsay.
In a recent (1984) personal communication, Gregor Lamb offered two alternatives ("kostr or "kirkn") to the "ky-r (cow)" derivation for the first portion of the placename Cursetter. Gregor suggested that one possible alternative to "ky-r (cow)" was based upon a derivation from the "OLD NORSE 'kostr' (a heap or mound) - a word chronologically related to English word 'castle'. That is "Cursetter" could mean a place with a mound. As a second alternative he noted that there is also a placename "Curcasetter" in Burness, Sanday which he believes is derived from "kirkn-setr" (a church settlement). Gregor suggested that one of these two derivations might also apply to Cursetter in Firth as it was "nearby a glebeland as you know and the name of the old parish church of Firth".
Gregor, in the November 12, 1987 issue of the ORCADIAN, devoted his PLACENAME ORIGINS column to this surname. He wrote as follows
This farm in Firth is well known through its association with the surname. It is pronounced "Custer" and indeed one form of the surname also misses out the "r" before the "s" to give Cusator. An "r" before the "s" presents quite a problem for a dialect speaker and one solution in placename pronunciation is to miss it out so we find, for example, Gerstie becomes Gesty in Stronsay and Garson taking the form Gessan.
The placename Cursiter is also found in North Ronaldsay and in Stronsay. In Shetland there are about 160 placenames which have their origin in Old Norse "setr", a settlement, but there isn't one Cursiter. The most likely interpretation is Old Norse "kyrsetr", cow settlement. After all, in Shetland we do find Russeter (O.N. hross, a horse) a few swinisters (O.N. svin, a pig) Oxensetter (O.N. oxn, oxen) and Niddisetter (O.N. naut, cattle). But this makes the assumption that the earliest form Cursetter is the correct one. A case could be made for considering it to be an original Curcasetter from the Old Norse "Kirkju-setr", church settlement. Not far to the west stood at one time the remains of some extraordinary buildings believed to be a chapel and an associated monastery. The old mansion house of Cursiter was built on a mound; this unique building now gone was, fortunately captured on canvas by Orkney's celebrated artist, Stanley Cursiter.
Whether the placename "Cursetter" is derived from a "cow pasture", a "mound place" or a "church place", it appears that the Orcadian surname Cursiter is derived from this word!
Interestingly, although there are (or were) at least four "Cursetter" farms (in Firth, North Ronaldsay, Birsay and Stronsay) and one "Curcasetter" (in Burness parish, Sanday), the oldest records I have found show the Cursiter families in Firth. I have not found any evidence of a Cursiter living on Stronsay or North Ronaldsay. Furthermore although there were many Cursiters living on Sanday (at least since the mid 1700's when the local parish birth record keeping began), all of these Cursiters lived in Cross (not Burness parish). Based upon this my initial conclusion is that the Sanday Cursiters most likely arose from a Firth rather than a North Ronaldsay, Stronsay or Burness line.Gregor Lamb, November 12, 1987 issue of the ORCADIAN
While "Cursiter" is a relatively common Orcadian surname at least 43 VARIANT SPELLINGS can be found. Based upon an analysis of 987 Scottish and USA birth records (all the Scottish IGI listings, the civil birth records (1855-1985) for all of Scotland, the Register of Testaments (1611-84) for Orkney, the respondents to my "mass Cursiter mailing" and my USA Custer family) a chronological distribution of these spellings is given in CHART 1:
Beyond these fairly obvious spelling variants, Gregor Lamb in a recent personal communication postulated one more - "Chester". He wrote: "In 1694 in the farm of Bingaquoy in Firth there lived a man called Edward Chester. To the west of him in Binscarth and Snaba lived Cursiter families. It is extremely unlikely that his name was CHESTER: it could refer to a vanished placename but is quite likely a variant spelling of Cursiter. A hard "K" is still pronounced "CH" among old folks today (as it still is in the Faroes.)"
An interesting question is what caused this spelling evolution. Certainly one factor was the probable illiteracy of most Cursiters at least pre 1850. The spelling of their family name as entered into the parish birth, marriage or death registers, census forms or civil records was left to the whim of the scribe. In most cases these variant spellings were probably pronounced the same. The parish minister, census taker or civil registrar undoubtedly chose the spelling he thought was correct.
In is not uncommon to find what is obviously the same person having one spelling of this "Cursiter" surname in his birth register, then one or more different versions in the various decennial census records and yet another in his marriage or death record. Also as a new minister or registrar was appointed to an area, so too did the spellings change. A person's move from parish to parish had the same effect. In the late 1700's James Cursattar and his wife Barbara Scott had three children in Sanday registered as "Cursattar" and the two more in Eday under the name "Cursatter". My own great grandfather Robert was born "Cursiter", married as "Cusiter" and settled in the USA as "Custer"
Based upon the above one would attach very little significance to surname spelling differences when trying to arrange pre 1850 Cursiters into family groups. Yet in at least one case I did find what appears to be a true family differentiation by spelling. In 1801 the parish ministers were required to submit a list of parishioners who were "poor or indigent" and thus required financial support by the church. William Grant, the minister of Lady Parish, Sanday made a list apparently prepared all on the same day in the same handwriting where he listed a "Robt Cursater age 82, John Cursater age 75 and Jean Cursetter age 43". Perhaps as long as all the entries were made by the same person in the same time period family group conclusions can be drawn based upon spelling. However great care must be taken.
The following sources were utilized:
I. SCOTTISH CIVIL VITAL RECORDS
These are the statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths from 1855 to the present. Genealogically they are probably the single most informative and useful of the Scottish records available. They are fully indexed alphabetically by year. Information found in these civil registers includes:
BIRTHS--Child's name, birth date and place of birth. Parents' names (including mother's maiden name), occupations, ages, present residence(s), marriage date and place and if the father is deceased at the time of child's birth. For some years (1855) this record also lists the names and ages of the child's brothers and sisters and the birth dates and birthplaces of the parents.
MARRIAGES--Bride's and groom's names, ages, marital status, previous spouse(s) names, blood relationships (i.e. are bride and groom cousins), their residences at the time of their marriage, their occupations and the date and place of the marriage ceremony. This record also gives the names of both sets of parents (with the mothers' maiden names), their ages, occupations, and if deceased.
DEATHS--Person's name (including maiden name of woman), age, occupation, usual residence and the date, place and cause of death including the duration of the illness and when the deceased was last treated by a doctor. It also gives the spouse's occupation and name (including the wife's maiden name), and the dead person's parents' names (with the mother's maiden name), ages, occupations and if the parents are deceased. An informant (with relationship to deceased and for some years the informant's residence) and often the place of burial is also given. For some years (1855) it also gives the deceased's birthplace, the number of years he or she lived in the parish, and the names and ages of all his or her children (including the year(s) that any died).
AVAILABILITY--These civil records exist since 1855 and are available on microfilm for 1855-75 plus 1881 & 91 (the census years). The entire sets for all of Scotland (1855-present) are available at the GENERAL REGISTER OFFICE FOR SCOTLAND, New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT, Scotland (phone 44 31 556 3952), They are also available for the individual districts at the local registrar's home or office. Photostats of individual entries are available for a fee from the New Register House (NRH) providing the vital event's date and place is known within about a four year span. Alphabetical annual indices for 1855 to the present for births, marriages and deaths by surname, given name and place are available (LDS and many local libraries on microfilm) and The New Register House in book form.
SCOPE OF MY SEARCH-- I have copied all birth, marriage and death indices for all of Scotland for 1855-85. Each full record was then copied at New Register House. This approach covered all indexed records but would not find Cursiter informants, a bride or groom's mother's Cursiter maiden name, children whose mother's maiden name was Cursiter, etc.
SANDAY and PAPA WESTRAY, ORKNEY - every Cursiter entry, whether related to my family or not was recorded and included in this study. Dates covered were births (1855-1965), marriages (1855-1939), and deaths (1855-1963). For these records I was able to carefully peruse the record books at the registrar's homes. This search uncovered Cursiters that might not be found via the index i.e. Cursiter maiden name of bride or groom's mother, Cursiter informant, etc.
II. PARISH RECORDS
Beginning in the 16th through mid 18th century (depending on the parish) until 1855 (the beginning of compulsory Scottish civil record keeping), the parish records generally provide the most useful birth, marriage, and occasionally death information. Their quality (legibility, completeness, and extent of preservation) varies from year to year and parish to parish. They also, of course, don't normally include "non-churchgoers". However, these records are available on microfilm (LDS libraries, NRH, Kirkwall Library) and also are completely indexed for Orkney by the INTERNATIONAL GENEALOGICAL INDEX (IGI).
These records exist for Sanday in three volumes as follows: VOLUME 1-Cross & Burness births 1758-1819 VOLUME 2-Lady births 1735-1819 Lady marriages 1818-1819 VOLUME 3-Lady births 1820-1854 Lady marriages 1820-1854 Lady deaths 1831-1841 Cross & Burness births 1820-1854 Cross & Burness marriages 1820-1850 All three volumes are found on one LDS microfilm--reference "Orkney Parochial Register, Sanday 26, 101958, D39178, 14505 PT.17"
Information in the Sanday parish records is as follows:
BIRTHS--Child's name, birth date, christening date, officiating minister, and the child's parents (with mother's maiden name) and if the parents were married. The names of two witnesses to the christening were also given but no relationships of these witnesses to the child were normally provided. Unfortunately often rather than the names of two specific people the term "congregation" was listed for the witnesses' names. Very rarely some other comment such as the farm of residence or where the parents' came from (If not of that parish) was given.
MARRIAGES--Bride's and groom's names, date of ceremony, witnesses (no relationships given) and officiating minister. Parents' names were not given.
DEATHS--Rare. For Sanday deaths were only recorded for LADY (none for Cross and Burness) from 1831-41. Generally these death notices gave the person's name, death date or year and sometimes age. Neither the spouse, witnesses, or children were given.
The Sanday parish records were consolidated into two groups as follows:
CROSS AND BURNESS - This includes the southwestern parish (Cross) and the north central parish (Burness). For the early years (pre 1800) North Ronaldsay, a small island north of Sanday, was also reported in "Cross & Burness". For Cross & Burness, the parish records exist from 1758. The quality (completeness) is as follows: 1758-1776 good 1776 "only 16 of 31 births registered - absence of minister" 1777-1792 good 1793 incomplete 1794-ca1804 good 1804-1820 sloppy, sparse, often out of chronological order 1820-1854 good
LADY--This is the northeastern parish of Sanday. Records exist from 1735 and, in general, are of better quality than the Cross & Burness records although there may be gaps about 1790. Per John Wallace of Lettan, a minister once told him that the church roof leaked in a rainstorm causing damage to the Lady records. For Lady births there appears to have been a major "catch up" effort from about 1845-1855 by the minister to register previously unregistered births. During this period whole families were entered in blocks with birth dates extending back until the early 1830's. This suggests that the record keeping in the 1830-45 period originally had been incomplete, and that if a family had children in Lady during this time period and then moved away prior to thee "catch up" of 1845-55, no birth record may exist.
SCOPE OF MY SEARCH--For this Cursiter study all of Scotland's parish records were first scanned via the IGI (an excellent alphabetical index to these records - among other things). Unfortunately the IGI normally gives only christening (not birth) dates and for Sanday doesn't differentiate between Cross & Burness and Lady. One must then go to the original (or microfilms of) parish records to establish the birth date and parish.
I then carefully scanned (via microfilm) all of the original Sanday records. Beyond that (balance of Scotland) I have not consulted any microfilms of the original records - only the IGI. Scanning the full parish records for all of Scotland would be a lifetime's work! As time permits I will however begin some work in "Cursiter rich" areas of Orkney.
PARISH RECORD AVAILABILTY - CHURCH OF SCOTLAND--The following is a list of available Orkney church records for each parish. I have included the LDS church microfilm number. My source was the LDS FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY LOCALITY CATALOG of March 22, 1988.
Reference Books, etc.
Sheriff's Court and Kirk Session Records